Before you started having conversations about your sexuality with your nearest and dearest, did the dating apps on your phone know?
That was certainly the case for radio presenter Nick McCluskey. He was 15-years-old when he started to realise he was gay – and he found the idea of coming out pretty daunting.
Nick, 23, from London, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘It was kind of this big, intimidating thing.’
That’s why he turned to dating apps. ‘In terms of exploring my sexuality, it was definitely easier to use apps like Grindr or Tinder,’ he says. Although he’s quick to add: ‘Of course, I was too young for Grindr, so I got banned on there.’
Nick uses the word ‘intimidating’ a lot when he talks about coming out. ‘We hadn’t had an openly queer person in my family for many, many years,’ he explains.
‘I think one of the reasons I didn’t tell them I was gay was purely because, in our family, it was kind of unheard of. To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t normal.’ On the apps on the other hand, Nick was one of many.
And coming out on a dating app is much more simple: it’s a case of just toggling a different gender to search for as you swipe.
It’s perhaps easy then to see then why someone would explore their sexuality online as a first port of call.
Melissa Hobley, global CMO of Tinder, tells Metro.co.uk that the company has heard of this kind of thing happening ‘time and time again’.
Indeed, Tinder’s new Future of Dating Report found that over half (54%) of 1,000 surveyed LGBTQIA+ identifying 18-25-year-olds said that they were out on a dating app before they were out to friends and family.
And it’s not just the younger generation utilising apps in this way. Mum-of-two Nicola Chan, 40, took to dating apps to explore her bisexuality when she was 38. In a relationship in the time, and not openly bisexual, the apps were an accessible way learn more about her identity.
‘Looking for any relationship at that age was strange anyway, because I’d been married for 16 years,’ recalls the mind and body confidence coach. ‘When I was last single, there hadn’t been social media or apps.’
Nicola’s new partner at the time (who she’s no longer with) knew her thoughts about her sexuality, but not that she was talking to other people this way.
‘He just thought that sexuality was more about having sex with someone,’ she says. ‘And so for him, he was like, “If you want to go have sex with someone, you could go do that”, but he didn’t understand that I wanted to speak to people and build a relationship.
‘I spoke to loads of other people who were in the same position as me. People who were married and curious about their sexuality, and hadn’t been able to do anything about it because of their relationship. Apps just made it more accessible to do that.’
Counselling Directory member Daniel Browne goes so far as to say dating apps can be ‘a safe haven’ for LGBTQ+ people who don’t feel like they can come out publicly.
‘[They] can [come out] on the apps because other users get it a bit more than their families, friends and wider society might,’ he adds.
‘In an ideal world, everyone would be free to be out, proud, and accepted. While the current reality is different for a lot of LGBT+ people, sometimes the only place it’s possible to be out is on a dating app.’
Daniel also points out that people who aren’t straight may well find that they have to come out again and again as the years go by to new people – whereas on a dating app, you select the right filter, and its done.
‘Certainly, my experience as a gay man is that I first came out at 15,’ he adds, ‘and I have come out every year since then.’
Is there a ‘right’ time to come out?
Hayley Quinn, dating expert for Match, says how and when you come out is a ‘deeply personal’ decision. Only you can know what’s right for you in this regard.
She adds: ‘For many LGBTQ+ people, before they feel comfortable to accept that label, they may feel like they want to explore relationships online – whether that’s dating, or building friendships and communities via social media.
‘Counter-intuitively, this can then be the first place someone feels safe enough to disclose their orientation.
‘Whilst it might sound like the best idea on paper – to come out to friends and family first – not all people will have the privilege of feeling safe enough to do so.’
When it comes to the practicalities, there are some secretive queer daters who take measures to hide their faces on the apps, but Daniel says there’s also an ‘unwritten code’ in the community that you do not out anybody you see online.
‘Of course,’ he adds, ‘not everyone adheres to that unwritten rule and that’s a risk to anyone who does not want to be out publicly or to family and friends.’
Ultimately, whatever your reasons may be, where, how, and when you come out is very much your business.
Counsellor Charlie Gould-Smith tells us: ‘Whilst there might still be a risk that your dating profile could get back to someone you know, and all that implies; there is a chance it won’t. And it comes with the hope that you find someone who loves, accepts, and fully appreciates you for who you are.’
After her relationship ended following her app exploration, Nicola, who now has a girlfriend, Rafaela, felt comfortable coming out in Liverpool, where she’d recently moved to.
Now, her friends back home in London know her truth, as do her children.
‘I changed my WhatsApp profile picture to one of me and Rafaela. My eldest daughter saw it and asked, and I told her,’ say Nicola.
‘She, like my youngest, literally said the same thing: “Big improvement on the last one, I never liked him.”‘
But Nicola’s parents, who she says she doesn’t ‘really feel accepted by’, were still not aware of her sexuality at the time of writing.
‘This article is going to [do] that,’ Nicola tells us.
As for Nick, after coming out on the apps, he came out to his mum and his brother, before an extended family member accidentally outed him to almost everybody else.
‘They reacted quite well,’ he recalls. ‘They didn’t react how I feared.
‘Some of them still don’t know, and they probably won’t because they’re very old and there’s not really any added value in telling them anyway.
‘As soon as my family found out, and it was clear that they accept and love who I am, it meant I could tell anybody.’
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