Sunday, December 1, 2013

‘You can heal yourself with my cuddles’ – my weekend on Tinder, Part 2

This is the second part of my Tinder experiment - to read part 1, click here.
Saturday: When I wake up and check my phone, I have 11 new messages, one of them telling me that I got a ‘sexy look’ – just what you need to hear after a night of white wine, Kirsch and cheese fondue.
Jean-Claude*, who already started talking to me yesterday, finally has given me an answer as to whether he minds that I’m in a wheelchair: ‘Not particularly, it’s not contagious, right? ;-)’. No it’s not, Jean Claude, love your sense of humour, babes.
George, a silver fox in his 40s and quite attractive, is continuing the flirty exchange we had yesterday. He calls me ‘red’, which makes me feel like Joan from Mad Men. Meanwhile Jason, 35, just wants to make me ‘cum’ but again he doesn’t mind that I’m in a wheelchair. I politely decline.
I spend way too much time on Tinder, yet again, liking another 50 guys or so – and all of that before breakfast. After I have taken a shower and feel slightly better – that is until I see Jaric’s  (37) message: ‘Can I ask you something?’ He obviously really does want to, because he didn’t wait for answer. ‘Why are you in a wheelchair?’. I ask him why he wants to know. ‘Are you paralyzed?’ ‘Do you live alone?’ ‘Do you drive?’ I didn’t realise they are doing the ATOS assessments now via tinder. I ask him why he cares so much and is trying to assess me, and he tells me he is not, but just trying to figure out whether we can meet. ‘You can heal yourself with my cuddles!’, he promises. Better go and heal yourself, dude. I might hit you up again when I have a cold.
This would have almost put me off Tinder for good, were it not for Carl, 30 a Scotsman who recently moved to London and looks a little bit like my husband (handsome!). Via Tinder, we discuss the Scottish independence, and while we’re at it, women’s rights and abortion. Carl is one of the few guys I started talking to first. Eventually I tell him that I am on Tinder for research, and as him about his feelings about my wheelchair. He says that he didn’t notice at first when he ‘liked’ my picture, but when I started talking to him he checked my pictures out again and noticed, but, in his words, it ‘didn’t phase’ him. We now follow each other on twitter. Due to my conversation with Carl, I neglect George, the silver fox, a little bit. ‘What are you up to next weekend, Red? Would you like to meet?’ He does not mind that I’m in a wheelchair and does not stop flirting after I ask him about it, so he must have noticed from the start. They are actually decent, attractive men on Tinder who want to go on dates with me!! When I tell this excitedly to my husband over coffee, he just gives me a blank stare. ‘Why wouldn’t there be?’ For him it is normal that guys would find me attractive – he married me 2 months ago, after all. I feel a bit stupid and ungrateful after that, and go easy on the Tinder for the rest of the day.

Sunday: I decide the Tinder experiment has got to come to an end. I start by confronting all the guys I have been chatting to with my disability. Sunday morning is as good a time as any to ponder whether you would hook up with a lady on wheels, right?
Andre, 33, who is looking for ‘no-strings-attached fun’ has not noticed I’m in a wheelchair, even after going through all of my pictures, but he says he does not mind because I got ‘a pretty face’.  Toby, 38, who is clearly looking for a girlfriend, also didn’t notice. As soon as I tell him, though, he starts googling places with good access for dates. Bless his heart.
Simon (37) didn’t realise I was disabled, but when I ask him about my disability he openly tells him that he wouldn’t have flirted with me if he had noticed my chair and that he cannot bring disability and sexuality together. Oh well.  Chris, 30, meanwhile has a different issue. He chats me up, saying ‘I like your necklace, like your wheels, love your hair but your tag line sucks.’ What’s wrong with a Cher lyric?? A lot, apparently, and he tells me that Cher has not released a good song since ‘If I could turn back time’. Babes, please! The banter between us goes on for a while, but does not lad anywhere – as is the case with many Tinder conversations. I decide to change my tag-line from the non-descript Cher lyric to ‘She-Devil On Wheels’ – not because Cher’s ‘Woman’s World’ is not the best song I have heard all year, but because I wonder whether it changes anything if I hint at my disability in the tag-line. Apparently not. I do notice however that the guys who are interested in ‘real’ conversation, not just super speedy hook-ups, tend to notice my wheelchair (and generally do not seem to mind) more than the other guys.
A good example for this is Aaron, in his 30s: He tells me that he noticed the wheelchair after the match, before he messaged me. He says what first caught his eye and made him ‘like’ me was my red hair, my ‘geeky-artsy vibe’ (thanks, I guess?!), my skin and my cleavage. Fair enough. At first, he thought my tag-line was a reference to a B-movie or roller derby (Whip It, Aaron!). We continue talking for a while – we have a shared facebook friend who we both do not know very well, but we soon find out that we have more in common. I quickly tell him that I’m on Tinder for research, but he keeps on flirting with me in a subtle, gentle manner and still wants to meet me. I politely decline and tell him that I am married, which, like all the other guys on Tinder, he takes really easy (apart from one guy who scolds me: ‘Do not waste people’s time, Nina!’). However, we are now friends on Facebook now and had some interesting conversations about the advantages and disadvantages of Tinder. As a guy, apparently, it is not very easy to get any ‘likes’ on Tinder at all if you do not look like James Bond. Not even my advice, to choose a profile picture where he is holding a cute pet helped, apparently. Personally, I ‘liked’ every guy who posed with a puppy and even started talking to most of them – never underestimate the power of puppies! While for me, Tinder was mostly a massive ego boost, if I were a guy, it might have been the complete opposite.

never underestimate the power
of puppies!
It was very refreshing for me to be not reduced to my wheelchair – when going out, it is quite often the first thing that people notice (which, I guess, partly explains my penchant I developed in my early twenties for big skirts, glitter and sparkly handbags: Notice something else, already!!). On Tinder, if you are female and have a fairly regular looking face, you’re good and it’s a wonderful little tool to play with, to keep you entertained and get a nice little ego kick out of. It really surprised me that for the majority of guys, my disability did not play a role at all. I do wonder why some many guys did not notice I’m in a wheelchair: An assumed nondisabled identity seems to be a given in the world of online dating, just as much as when I was 15 years old. While some guys just do not seem to engage properly with the profiles of the people they talk to, some seem to actively block the wheelchair out.
My biggest surprise on Tinder, apart from its strange addiction-forming power, was that about half of the guys seemed to be interested in real conversation, a date and not just a quick hook up – it seems slightly less sex-obsessed that Grindr, although there might be regional differences with Tinder (I heard the New York Tinderers are quite dodgy). At least in theory, the basic profiles lead to objectifying, but more so of faces than of bodies.  Personally, I found it a positive experience, although slightly addictive, and I have yet to hear about a relationship that was formed via Tinder. But then, crazier things have happened and there are some really decent, handsome and smart guys on Tinder – I wish them the best of luck.

*All names of Tinder guys changed.

Friday, November 22, 2013

‘You can heal yourself with my cuddles’ – my weekend on Tinder, Part 1

A few weeks ago, the fabulous Stella Young started a discussion about Tinder on facebook. Tinder is the dating app du jour, and has been touted as the Grindr for straight people – a hook-up tool, basically. In her post, Stella, who is single, wondered what the Tinder experience would be like for herself, a wheelchair user, but could not quite bring herself to give it a go – she was too worried to attract creeps or to ‘bump’ into someone she knows on Tinder. This is possible, because Tinder matches you with people who are within a certain radius from each other, and, as you use your facebook profile to log in, also shows you mutual facebook friends or facebook likes.

As a newly-wed who isn’t that bothered anymore how many creepy guys are out there, or about guys who might reject me because of my disability, I decided to act as a guinea pig for Stella. One of my PhD chapters focuses on disabled burlesque artists, after all, so I am very interested in attitudes towards sex and disability. Way back when I was 14, I met my first boyfriend in a chat room (gosh I’m old) so I had some experience in online dating. I remember vividly how my-teenage self was in anguish every time I revealed my disability to a guy online – often after weeks of talking. Tinder is hugely different to those chat rooms: You get to flip through lots of pictures of the sex you are interested in, and press ‘like’ if you find someone attractive, and ‘nope’ if you don’t. If you want to, you can also read the person’s ‘tag line’ (quite often something very impersonal, such as ‘Don’t be shy, talk to me’ or ‘Your move’) or see additional pictures, but in reality you only engage minimally with those people at this point, and quickly move on to the next person. If you ‘like’ someone and they have ‘liked’ your picture too, you get a notification that there has been a match, and you get the option to start chatting. If someone does not ‘like’ you, you are unable to contact them and vice-versa, so in theory Tinder is very efficient and does not make you feel rejected. As all your matches live or work relatively close to you, it is then quite easy to arrange date, if you wish to do so. But how does Tinder work for people who are disabled? I was determined to figure it out, and so I spent a weekend on Tinder – with permission from my husband, of course.

Friday: I carefully choose the pictures to set up my Tinder profile. They have to fulfil three requirements: a) not make me look like a troll, b) show that I’m in a wheelchair and c) not have my husband in it or show me in a wedding dress. This proves to be difficult. I want it to be obvious that I’m in a wheelchair, but at the same time I don’t want the wheelchair to be the primary focus. Eventually I find three I can use – in all of them parts of my wheelchair is visible, but they also show off my face, my hair and my, erm, cleavage.
My Tinder profile picture
As I am flicking through the first 20 pictures or so of guys, I am positively surprised how attractive most of them are – this clearly isn’t an App for the desperate. I make sure I ‘like’ a wide spectrum of guys: Ones I find genuinely cute or interesting looking, and also ones that seem creepy, desperate or funny, judging from their picture. Within seconds I have about 10 ‘matches’, and I find it amusing and strangely addictive to flick through dozens of pictures, but I’m a bit confused – if all those guys like me, why is no one talking to me? I decide to be bold and say ‘Hi’ to two of them. Nothing. Stella informs me that her Tinder-savvy friend ‘NEVER’ makes the first move but waits for guys to talk to her, so I flick through some more pictures, ‘like’ another 50 or so (about half of the guys who come up), and then do something else for a bit.

Tinder is set up like a game – after you have been matched with a guy, you get the option to either start chatting, or to ‘continue playing’ – and what you play with are the profiles of other people, and their pictures. Tinder is extremely objectifying, but I wonder: As it only allows someone to approach you who you have objectified too, reduced to their profile picture, does this make it somehow okay?

I have a brief moment of 'uaaaaargh' when I come across the profile of an ex-boss of mine. His profile picture is a bare-chested selfie, where he is sporting his usual smug grin. His wife and children are not in the picture, of course. With some other guys I seem to share a mutual facebook friend here and there, but it doesn't bother me. I wonder whether it would bother me more to come across aquaintances if I was on Tinder to actually get a date, not just as a social experiment. I guess the same principle applies here as does to Grindr: The people you come across on it have engaged in the same act as you have, so you should feel equally ashamed, or both not ashamed at all. I also don't see why there should be so much stigma attached to it - Tinder seems like a relatively safe way to engage in what thousands of people do in clubs and bars every night. If anything, I think the facebook connection add a false sense of security - if I can, at least in theory, easily look this person up, and if this guy even is friends on facebook with that lady I once met at a gig 3 years ago, how dangerous can he be?

After about half an hour, I have about 5 guys talking to me. One of them greets me with the words ‘you are exquisite, Nina’. So far, the tinder experience is certainly soothing for the ego. Two of the guys I am talking to seem very eager to hook-up and suggest a blind date during the weekend. Both of them are roughly my age and fairly handsome. Dan* works in the city and our talk mostly consists of sexual innuendo, disguised in a conversation about coffee. Unfortunately he does take it all a bit too far when he compares his love-making skills to an extra-shot latte. Good luck with that in the future, Dan. I initially agree to meet Dan, and also agree to meet Josh, who is roughly my age but a bit taciturn. But all of this seems a bit too easy – neither of them has mentioned y disability with a word. Has our society changed so much since I am not on the market anymore? Am I that old? Has dating turned into a level playing-field? Become crip-indifferent? When guys have approached me in real life to chat me up, in at least 50% of the cases my wheelchair or disability comes up within the first 15 minutes, and I tend to be reduced to my disability. On Tinder I get reduced to my face (which apparently is 'nice' and 'sweet', according to some generous Tinderers), and my hair, specifically my fringe, which apparently classifies me as a 'vintage bird'. Oh brave new world, where my hair and my disability are of equal interest!

Another picture on my Tinder profile
Unsatisfied with the results of my ‘research’, I ask both of them: ‘Do you not mind that I’m in a wheelchair?’, and for a very brief moment, I feel 14 again. This bittersweet moment is interrupted with a message from Dan, saying: ‘No I am presuming that doesn’t inhibit coffee drinking, or anything else other than walking/stairs? ‘, and a minute later Josh informs me that he hadn’t noticed, but that he still wants to meet me, and am I free tonight? I rejoice at these indifferent attitude towards my disability, and dutifully inform them that I am married, on here for research but really grateful for their time. Both of them take this, as well, incredibly easy and wish me a nice evening or good luck with my research. During the next few hours, I have a few more contenders, and a remarkable amount of guys does not seem to register that I’m in a wheelchair. One guy stops talking after I ask him whether he minds my wheelchair, while two more ask me more or less directly whether it inhibits sexual activity, and when I answer in the negative, they are as keen as ever.

A very different experience I have with Conrad, who is 52 (and certainly not in the attractive/interesting looking category): Almost straight away, he tells me how great it is that I don’t let my chair ‘cramp’ my ‘style’. When I ask him what he means, he waffles on, saying that ‘it would be easy to let it define’ me so ‘it’s great’ I don’t ‘allow it to!! Thumbs up, smiley!!’ When I tell Conrad that his view is slightly ridiculous and offensive, he doesn’t get it, just as he doesn’t get the irony of what he says. Whatevs, on to the next one – Mike, 33, who greets me with a simple ‘Wow!’. At this point I am starting to feel strangely addicted to Tinder, so much that my husband, who is usually the most patient, sweetest guy in the world, is getting angry and tells me off, so I shut off my phone for the night. Grumpy husband aside, I really like Tinder and the ego boosts it seems to offer so far.

Check back for Part 2 of my Tinder experience in a few days! Have you been on Tinder? If so, how do you like it?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

My blog has moved...

I have started doing a blog over at Disability Arts Online about disability in the media and culture.

So far I have written about:

 - The blind cook Christine Ha who won Masterchef US

- How an online magazine mistook Viktoria Modesta's prosthetic leg for a fashion faux pas

- and how Channel 4's show 'Undateables' is inspiration porn at its worst

Since I am doing all my disability related writing there, and still write regular articles at Love My Dress about my wedding preparations, this blog inactive.

See you on DAO or on Love My Dress!