Navigating Non-Binary Hook-Ups

September 4, 2020 5 min read

A few weeks ago, I drank too much red wine and made the hazy, impulsive decision to reinstall Grindr. We’re still under lockdown restrictions in the UK: at the minute, fucking someone from another household is literally against the law. Fucking isn’t the same as window-shopping though, so I chose to indulge myself and soon felt my heart-rate quicken as the familiar, burnt orange logo flickered across my phone screen.

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with hook-up and dating apps. I was assigned male at birth, but I identify as non-binary and generally present pretty femme. This is always the first challenge. My camera roll is full of selfies that demonstrate my partial mastery of an iridescent eye look, but they’re not exactly suited for an intimidating grid of oiled-up, shirtless torsos. The second is the ‘pronoun’ section in the bio. I use ‘they/them’ pronouns, but disclosing that on a dating app which prioritises convenience and minimises communication often feels like a pointless gesture. Sure, I’d like the guy sucking my dick to respect my gender identity, but is it really a huge issue if I’m never planning to see him again, anyway?

Obviously, I’m over-simplifying. Grindr is made for hook-ups, but I’ve built solid relationships and even friendships with guys that I’ve chatted to. There’s also the fact that ‘non-binary’ looks and feels different to me than it does to others. For me, it’s an umbrella term for anyone whose identity falls outside ‘male’ and ‘female’. Now I don’t experience intense dysphoria, so while navigating hook-ups can be an absolute shit-show, it’s rarely traumatic in the same way it can be for trans people and people of colour. Systemic discrimination on the app is well-documented: writer, Otamere recently outlined just how deeply-entrenched these stigmas truly are, and Grindr even interviewed several trans people about transphobia they had experienced on the app.

These stories all reveal what kinds of bodies are privileged on hook-up apps: white ripped and masculine in the most rudimentary terms. Deviations from this norm are sometimes welcome, but the fetishisation and stereotyping are real. In my case, being femme means I’m presumed as a bottom. It’s the first message most of us receive: “top or bottom?” It’s a short but loaded question, especially for me – I was raped at 19 years old, and now only have anal sex with guys that I know and trust. Believe me when I say that these conversations are a boner-killer, so I’ve found inventive ways of getting around them.

First of all, let’s be real and admit that the gender binary does none of us any favours. Men are conditioned to fuck like virile, perpetually horny animals, whereas women are conditioned to either feel shame about their sex drive or be passive, submissive and, of course, willing to fake an orgasm. This is, thankfully, changing with the rise of more intimate, realistic porn sites like Lustery, but communication is the key to a good fuck, and asking if I’m top or bottom doesn’t cut it. 

Now, if a guy asks about my pronouns or what I like in bed, I’m specific: eat me out, spit in my mouth (post-pandemic, of course) and throat-fuck me all you want, but make sure there’s a codeword scrawled on the walls and don’t bother guessing what I’m into without checking first. Yes, you can call me Daddy if you really, really want – but if I’m buying you dinner, you will refer to me as the gender-neutral ‘glucose guardian’. 

Of course, not everyone on Grindr is an asshole – I’ve had guys use the correct pronouns respectfully and not challenge me at all when I tell them anal is off the table. Yet there is still unmistakably a culture on these apps which is relentlessly binary in its thinking, and which can make a quick fuck feel like the digital equivalent of Mount Everest for marginalised people across the board. This culture needs to change not just because society is changing, but because thinking about sex in binary, straightforward terms is limiting our pleasure: it’s this binary attitude that’s sustaining the orgasm gap, and the stigma around pegging despite plenty of straight, cis men absolutely loving it.

The more we find new, more specific ways to talk about sex, gender and sexuality, the less frustrating our experiences on hook-up apps will be. Imagine a world with better orgasms, better dirty talk and less discrimination: this could be the future if we start thinking of less binary ways to approach sex. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a glucose guardian, feel free to hit me up.

Jake Hall
« Jake Hall is a London-based freelance writer fascinated by everything from sex and sexuality to music and culture. » All posts →