Who hasn’t Googled a potential date? If you’ve never done it, you’re missing out on the first line of safety before stepping out on a date with a total stranger. The most popular benefit of the search engine makes trusted information available for everyone to help them make informed decisions every day.
While the LGBTQ+ community tends to face the same dangers that straight people do when it comes to dating both in real life and online, the nature of societal and cultural attitudes towards homosexuals have driven them to use online dating apps and sites nearly twice as much as heterosexuals, according to a 2020 survey by global think tank Pew Research Center.
Filipino LGBTQs have also long proven to be savvy in using the internet to date. Thirty-three-year-old local writer Koji Arsua, who publicly shares stories of his dating life on social media, has had it figured out for years. He came of age when being gay was not as accepted as it is today, and has been meeting men online since 2005. His history affirms the data that LGBTQs are more reliant on online dating than heterosexual people.
“I’ve tried a lot of platforms: Guys4Men, Downelink, Fabuloush, PlanetRomeo, mIRC, Grindr, Tinder, and Bumble,” Arsua says. “But I feel like for the most part, we face the same challenges as the straight community. We all hope to meet someone who would really like to just do laundry and taxes with us.”
Ghosting and other perils of online dating
Times have changed from when dating apps were seen as an embarrassing last resort to meet people. These days, online tools like Google Search, YouTube, and social media platforms are available to verify what people tell you. You can look them up and learn of their values and principles, whether you’re being catfished—things that raise red flags, and hopefully green flags too.
The bigger issue for everyone, however, is always safety. Because online dating is especially a little more hazardous—because you don’t know who you’re getting until you meet them—doing everything you could to stay safe may end up being a matter of life and death.
If you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community, dating couldbe a little riskier, with the dangers of catfishes and suspicious or violent bigots masquerading as homosexuals abound, just to name a few.
“I feel like everyone faces the same risks as straight people when it comes to online dating: horrible dates, being catfished, and bad people with ulterior motives,” Arsua says. “A hazard that may be more common to us due to existing social stigma is exposure to HIV. While it is a concern for everyone, social stigma and discrimination make the queer community more vulnerable to exposure.”
Like any responsible person, Arsua does a bit of detective work on guys he matches with before their first date.
“It’s not FBI levels of investigation because I want to get to know my date naturally, but I’ll Google him to see if he is who he says he is,” Arsua says. “I think more people should do a quick background check just to confirm their dates are real.”
“I understand that not everyone is on social media, but zero online presence will definitely make me curious. Aggressive behavior, like being mean to people in the service industry or not understanding consent, is a major red flag that should never be ignored.”
His advice is to always tell a loved one where you will be, propose going to a public place on the first few dates, trust your instincts, and just leave when you don’t feel comfortable.
“The verification features of these apps are important. Some allow users to connect their profile to their social media accounts so you can see if they are who they say they are. Others have a video chat feature so you can call and get to know each other better before exchanging phone numbers or email addresses,” he says. Such safety tools should be used to minimize risks or at least, not go blindly into a situation.
A social and cultural bellwether
Online dating has become a social bellwether of sorts. Like Arsua shares, there used to be a premium on masculinity among gay guys.
“I’ve had guys ghost me because I was out and effeminate. One guy stopped talking to me because of the sound of my voice. I get it, some guys are in the closet. There’s still a level of internalized homophobia today but I don’t think it’s as widespread. These days it’s common to see guys on dating apps wearing makeup or gender-bending clothes. I matched with a drag queen once!”
But as a dating veteran, Koji knows by heart that one’s value doesn’t depend on your “popularity” on dating apps. “My self-worth used to be tied to my appearance and I used to get sad if I didn’t get a reply or match with someone I found attractive. I now find fulfillment in other things: my relationship with my family and friends, my hobbies, and my work. Being rejected on dating apps doesn’t bother me anymore.”
One source of fulfillment is his advocacy of the SOGIE Equality Bill. “It’s time to pass it because it protects everyone from discrimination, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. According to LGBTQ+ influencer Thysz Estrada on the Ang Walang Kwentang Podcast, ‘sexual orientation is who you sleep with. Gender identity is who you sleep as. Gender expression is what you wear while you’re sleeping.’”
For its part, Google is very proactive in promoting digital responsibility and internet safety, both globally and locally, through building innovative products and programs, putting in place product policies that enable them to respond to new and evolving issues online, and working with local communities like NGOs and LBGTQs.
To Arsua, though, it can’t hurt to have even more safety features introduced online. “I’m not sure what that would look like since we already have a lot of safety features in place, but when it comes to online dating, you can never be too careful.”