Listen, Gaymos, OkCupid Really Wants This to Work

OkCupid and the gays have had something pretty special going for a while now. Without relying too heavily on trite relationship metaphors, they love us for our potential for advertising dollars, not our sexual orientation, and that means a lot to us. OkCupid decided early on that unlike their online dating competitors, they were going to treat gay members like the regular old customers they were, and the effect has been that now roughly 99.9% of the gay women I know have accounts on OkCupid. And they’ve really followed through on that implicit promise, including us in their really kind of groundbreaking dating analytics projects. Remember when they proved with science that we aren’t sex-crazed psychos who want to convert straight people into similarly crazed homosexuals?

Now OkCupid is taking things to the next level – they’re not just treating us equally, they’re paying attention to the specific challenges we face. Now, those who identify themselves as gay or bi can opt to hide their profiles in searches from users identified as straight. OkCupid says this is for three reasons:

* maybe you’re not out to everyone yet
* maybe you don’t want straight dudes hitting on you
* maybe you enjoy clicking checkboxes on web pages

These are pretty astute observations! If you disagree, think about this: how many other people have come to the conclusion, all on their own, that you don’t want straight dudes hitting on you? That’s what I thought.

Maybe this isn’t a big deal, except to you personally as an individual who wants to keep the possibility open of meeting a cute girl with an appreciation for postcolonial literature and a great haircut but who also wants to avoid having your creepy dudebro cousin with the Tucker Max quotes in his Facebook profile out you. Maybe, though, this is something else? Maybe this is a (profit-driven, revenue-focused) company who is not only acknowledging that queers are potential consumers, not just deigning to include them in its conceptual market in a perfunctory sense, but is actively working to court them by providing features that they know they want?

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In the short history of companies consciously marketing towards gay people, most companies have peaked at “recognizing our existence.” For instance, marketing gay travel by putting “Gay Travel!” on the top of your website, working on the assumption that queers will be so grateful that you remembered they exist that they will flock to you in droves. It’s harder to think of examples of what OkCupid is doing – looking at gays like any other segment of the market, trying to figure out what they might want in a product and then giving it to them. They didn’t have to do this – I’m pretty sure that every single gay girl I know would have kept their account even if OkCupid hadn’t come up with this. But they did, which is like saying hey, girl, I don’t want to rush things or whatever, but I think you’re pretty special, and I want to treat you right so that you stick around. And I mean, if we weren’t looking for someone to say that, would we be on OkCupid in the first place?

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1130 articles for us.

52 Comments

  1. The best part is the message you get if you click on a straight peep’s profile: According to your settings, you don’t want to see or be seen by straight people. It gives me quite the giggle.

  2. Even though I’m not bothered by straight guys since I’m bisexual (I just wish there were LESS of them and more bi/gay girls, since queer girls are the reason I’m on the site – guys who like girls are easy enough to find IRL) I’m so happy they’ve added this feature. I’ve seen so many profiles of gay girls on okcupid with long stuff explaining to men that lesbian = no guys, no matter what porn says, and heard so many stories about gay women getting messages from dudes being all “You’re just gay because you haven’t experienced a dick like mine!” that this feature has really been a loooooong time coming.
    And the feature doesn’t just cover orientation, but other features like age, location, and compatibility score. And if you’re there for relationships or dating you can block people who are just looking for sex.

    • Oh never mind, I realized that they now have a little box for that under your orientation and it was separate from the “who can/cannot message me” stuff under Settings.

      Even though it doesn’t really apply to me, again, I’m glad they’re doing it. I’m glad that they address this problem specifically of straight men harassing lesbians, and not act like it’s something that gays also do to straights. Nice to see that the okcupid guys are finally starting to check some of their straight privilege.

      If I ever decide I’m only interested in dating women, I’m glad I have the ability to keep straight dudes off my page.

  3. In rural land it seems OKC is the best way to meet other lesbians, and I’m so glad they added this feature. For every chick who looks at my profile there are two dudes in their thirties.That’s just… not anything against people in their thirties, but I JUST turned 21. If I met you in public and would call you “sir” we’re not going to be involved in some three way.
    And what are you thinking when you look at my profile? You aren’t looking for your soul mate I know that much.

  4. AWESOME! I got on OKCupid to find queer girls and said “I’m a bi girl after girls” and I still get chatted up by random straight guys. Already got one of those, thanks.

    (I did find my lady lover on OKcupid :D)

  5. Nothing to do with ok Cupid, but I am ridiculously excited that a corporation presumably mostly comprised of straight people managed that oh-so-difficult calculation that lesbian = no men wanted.

    I find it incredibly frustrating when straight guys hit on me — I don’t believe that I show the slightest bit of interest, but because I dont sport a buzz cut, sleeve tattoos and awesome boots, I am somehow fair game, even after I tell them I am not interested, that I am gay and would they please remove their arm before I sue them for battery.

    Thanks for listening to my rant ladies, I feel much better now.

  6. OKC’s new “see and be/or not be seen” options are really great, but I still have a problem with the limited sexual orientation options available. Why is there no “Queer” option, but only “Straight, Gay, or Bi-sexual” options? This is hindering the search for potential partners and it hurts to see that OKC also subscribes to the limited gender spectrum that most other social outlets do.
    OKC, I thought you’d be different.

    I sent OKC admins an email about it in the “feedback” section under “Contact Us”, I hope you will, too.

  7. Just a little PSA: I wholeheartedly disagree that OKC has done anything resembling “trying to figure out what [gay folks] might want in a product and then giving it to them.” Among the litany of complaints among queer OKC users, the constant messaging from guys and couples is always the first and most frequently mentioned. I personally went as far as sending them a complaint about it, and I doubt I’m the only one. Yes, let’s give credit where credit’s due—I think that the squeaky wheels deserve credit for this one. OKC went way up in my estimation for actually listening—not man do—but I really don’t think they came up with this all on their own.

    Anyway, I bring it up in the hopes that people will keep pressure on them to make more queer-friendly changes, like (as someone has already mentioned here) allowing users to choose between more than three sexual identities/identifications, and (please, please, PLEASE) acknowledging more than two genders/sexes.

    This is a huge step, but they’ve got a long way to go. Let’s applaud the direction they’ve taken and push for more.

    • They have a new feature where you can rank people’s profiles. Totally rating down every bi-girl-with-a-boyfriend-looking-for-a-threesome I see who lists herself as “single.”

      (FTR I have no problem with nonmonogamous people, just those who are dishonest about it. If you’re in a relationship, whether open or not, with someone else, you are not single, and people who are looking exclusively for other singles are therefore not looking for you.)

  8. The hetero-normative questions still piss me off to no end, but they’re user-generated, so I don’t know if OKC will do anything about that.

    “Would you consider being in a relationship with someone who has had homosexual sex?” Come on, really?

  9. i’m a fan of the okcupid. i’m newly single and decided to take my profile “seriously”. I haven’t gotten any creepy dude messages, yet, but i’m not the exact perfect candidate for male attention (i’m not complaining!).

    i appreciate what they’re trying to do. they could be better.

  10. I got this email a few days ago and it triggered a bunch of thoughts, not all of which are positive.

    Background: I joined OKC when I was first coming out and listed myself as Bi for a hot minute before I came to my senses and realized I was so, so homogay. If I had a choice, though, I’d probably choose my orientation as just “queer.” It’s all so fraught with meaning and baggage and having to choose from one of three boxes for orientation and two for gender reinforces heteronormativity and the gender binary in a way that I’m just not comfortable with.

    As for this, I’m not sure I feel comfortable with a “secret” switch for lesbians (did gay men get this email too? They tailored the text to women on the email I received..) that hides them from the rest of the world. I get the intent but it still feels pretty squicky, particularly since there was no wider announcement to the world. Also, I have lots of straight friends on OKC whose profiles I’ve saved to my favorites — what happens to those if I choose to hide my profile? Also, can gay/bi men see my profile? It’s just not clear and without any explanatory text anywhere except in this email, it’s hard to get answers.

    It’s the same problem as on facebook — user control in terms of privacy and in terms of how one gets to define oneself.

    • While I understand that lots of people would like to be able to define their own gender and sexual orientation, I’m not sure how you would code for that and adjust the matching algorithm to compensate for user-defined fields like that.

      If, for example, you set your gender to F and your sexual orientation to Gay, it’s relatively easy to set search parameters: other Fs who are looking for Fs. Easy-peasy.

      But if you had user-defined fields, and someone set their gender as “butch boi bottom,” and their orientation as “queer,” would they just get results including everyone? What if they were only attracted to transmasculine tops? How would you define the search parameters for that?

      You would have to make a list of every single possible way someone could have identified themselves to include in the search results for people who identify as “queer.” On such a large scale as OkCupid, it would be impossible to keep up. The current framework of the site’s functions would have to be scrapped.

      It would be a coding nightmare to have user-defined gender and sexual orientation fields. Eventually, you have to check a box somewhere, or the algorithms will not work.

      One way to rectify this is to have more boxes that say “FTM,” “MTF,” “Genderqueer,” etc, but no matter how many options there are, there is unfortunately no way to please everyone.

      The reason user-defined gender/SO fields could have worked on something like Facebook is that gender and sexual orientation are not an integral component of the site’s functions–friend “suggestions” are made based on high numbers of mutual friends or shared work/education.

      People cannot be accurately represented by code, and nowhere is that more apparent than when dealing with such touchy subjects as attraction, sex, and love. Eventually, you have to ask yourself “is this doing the most good for the most people with what we can work with now?” and draw the line somewhere.

      • I agree to a point (I used to program for a living) but I think with some careful thought they could implement a happier compromise. For instance, it’s not that hard to have a third choice for gender which is fill in your blank, which would then give you an option of seeing men, women and/or people who used the third category.

        The sexuality question should just be open-ended and let you fill in the blank as you wish. As far as I can tell, the matching algorithms should be fine as long as you can say “I’m looking for women who like women and [third category] who like men” or what have you. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s a hell of a lot better than what’s available now.

        • While that’s a good idea in theory, I think creating this ambiguous third category isn’t the best way to go about things. It’s too broad, and I don’t think it would serve as many people as it could potentially alienate.

          Unfortunately, at the end of the day, OkC is a for-profit company, dependent on paid accounts and ad revenue. The time and expense required to add in the third option would not be matched by the potential for increased revenue. Not yet, anyway. It would be inopportune to implement a third option as a business strategy at this time.

          Honestly, I wish there was a way to satisfy everyone, but I’m struggling with how to go about doing that.

      • BTW, I think what you bring up with regard to the literal codification of sexuality and gender by machines is a fascinating topic and something I’m hoping to write about soon in a paper. Taken with the privacy issues highlighted by this post, I might even have a dissertation!

  11. I’ve been a member of OKC for years, back when I didn’t have a life and those quizzy things were void-fillers. I bounced around between “bi” and “gay” on that stupid site for so long that I thought people I was friends with would start questioning my sanity.

    And now it doesn’t matter cuz I can hide all that? IDK. I guess my immediate reaction (I got the email) was confused. So I’m out (yep, it’s true) but I can hide my orientation from people that I don’t want to know? But I live in a very small town of 4000 people. Don’t they *all* know? The bartenders I see every week: they know. My hairdresser and everyone else at my salon? Yep. They know.

    Do I get hit on by men? Sure, sometimes. Usually when I’m out with friends. Honestly, I think it’s sort of flattering. It’s really flattering when I giggle and say Sorry sweetie, I like girls. Why couldn’t I have gotten that sort of attention when I was going through the whole “omgi’msoconfused!” portion of my life? Sheesh.

    Maybe us rural girls just don’t get any attention so it isn’t an issue. IDK.

  12. Thank you for this article!!!

    I had an account at pinkcupid.com and I hated it because you have to pay to message anybody and there were barely any girls in my area and since I read this article I opened an ok cupid account and OMG! There are way more gay girls than I thought in my area. :D

    I feel like I died and went to heaven. Now to work on getting a coffee date…..

  13. I’m excited about that new feature. The first time I got a message from a guy saying “I know you’re gay but…” I was wishing there was something like this. Yay OkCupid. Also there are SO MANY gay ladies near me I have a lot in common with. I had no idea.

  14. FYI, I got a shit ton of replies to my profile on OKC, but nothing’s come of them. Well, one still might, after waiting months, but not yet.

    I already met someone on Craigslist who I have hung out with several times now and been physically intimate with, who just told me she wants something more than platonic. And I’m thinking YES. Okay. I have never had sex before. This should be interesting.

    I know CL is full of shady people, and maybe I am just good at weeding them out, but I never have issues and am not afraid of that. The anonymity is often better than the overdone, self-absorbed, boring, formulaic profiles on OKC.

  15. I am a bi man and got harassment from gay men and straight women. I reported it and the told me that I can hide from straight women. I didn’t want to hide from straight women I just wanted this woman off the site. All of my straight dates did not work out well anyway. So I went back to my original philosophy – ONLY DATE Bi women and gay men who identify as QUEER – far less hang ups and much more fun.

  16. I have an okcupid profile, and I don’t really think the site’s all that great. I still go on it, sure. And I’ve chatted with a few people on there. What I don’t understand is why, after it tries so hard to understand its users, it sets up quick matches with people who have 15% (according to their quizzes) in common with you. How does that help me?

    • Answer more of the questions. The more you’ve answered, the higher the percentage will be for people to be considered “quick matches” for you. I answered a whole bunch of them back when I had an account (I’m in a relationship now) and my quick matches were all 80% or higher.

      Also, this isn’t the same thing, but you can go to your messaging preferences and filter out anybody who is below a certain percentage. When they send you messages, it will say “This user does not pass your message filters.” There are filters for other things, too – for example, based on gender or sexual orientation, based on location, based on age, etc.

  17. I love my Okcupid account and I’m glad there are others out there promoting it – hopefully more and more queers will flock to it and maybe I will get a “quiver” from a cutie in my area.

  18. Hey guys! My name’s Dana and just wanted to say love the site, my girlfriend showed it to me. I’m a lesbian and wanted to share a little bit of me and my girl’s story! We found each other on OkCupid and chatted a few times. Then talking on there upgraded to Facebook, then texting, then finally hanging out (: The moment we saw each other we exclaimed a sigh of relief that neither of us were any different than what we looked like in our pictures.. if anything she looked more beautiful than ever. We’ve been together for about 2 weeks now and I honestly have never felt so strongly for someone in my entire life. She’s my inspiration and motivation every day when I wake up to make it the best day I can. She’s the most amazing woman I’ve ever met in my entire life and I’m so happy that I’ve been blessed with such a beautiful person inside and out. Just wanted to throw in our little story and wanted to say it’s so awesome to see websites making it personal and not just for random hook-ups or whatever. But any who! Thank you for taking the time to look over this (: Great site keep up the good work! <3 With love, Dana

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