Founded in 2014 by early Tinder VP Whitney Wolfe Herd, dating app Bumble‘s claim to fame was that women “make the first move” — meaning that for straight couples, only women can message their matches first.
Eight years later, discussions around gender and sexuality look a lot different. Now, the app is changing its gender options and nonbinary experience in a partnership with LGBTQ rights organization GLAAD. For matches with at least one nonbinary person, either person can message first. When talking to men, women still make the first move. Further, Bumble BFF users can now connect with people of any gender, whereas previously they could only match with users of the same gender.
This comes after a pilot version in which nonbinary users weren’t able to message women first, as well as an expansion of gender options on Bumble earlier this summer. Previously, Date users were only able to choose whether they wanted to date men, women, or both. Now, both Date and BFF users are able to choose men, women, nonbinary people, two out of three, or all. (There are further options within those buckets, such as specifying if you’re cis or genderqueer, but you only search by those three.)
Expanded gender options on Bumble.
The move to enable users to match across genders is a significant product change, Bumble told Mashable, and one that requires a great deal of testing and user input analysis. It has taken into account critical feedback from customers in an attempt to be as inclusive as possible. The app had always intended to evolve the pilot and expand the user experience, and will continue to do so based on user feedback.
Bumble’s “women make the first move” ethos has always been smudged for queer users. If two men match, for instance, obviously a man can message first. According to some of its nonbinary users, the gendered rules signal a bygone era.
Some users experienced the pilot, in which they couldn’t message women first, before the new announcement and felt ambivalent. When TikTok user Kay (@stupidfairyfox) noticed they couldn’t message a woman, they captioned a now-viral TikTok, “This feels validating and also like a hate crime.” Kay, like the other nonbinary users interviewed, requested to go by their first name only for privacy reasons.
The statement was mostly a joke, Kay told Mashable, but said it was actually affirming that Bumble understands they’re not a woman. Ashley, another nonbinary Bumble user, agreed. They told a queer-led Discord group they’re in that not being able to message a woman was “the most affirming experience [they’ve] had in months.”
Despite the affirmation, however, Kay disliked not being able to message first. They attempted to trick the system by changing pronouns and labeling themself as a nonbinary woman instead of nonbinary, but that didn’t work.
The pilot led Kay to use the app less, and they believe the switch to nonbinary users being able to message first is a step in the right direction. “The whole ‘women message first’ thing is just super-outdated since adding gender nonconforming people to the mix,” they said.
Ashley echoed that sentiment. They believe nonbinary users being able to message first will make it easier for queer people of all identities to date on the app — and that the switch “showcases pretty clearly that gendered rules on dating apps won’t ever work well if you actually want to be inclusive.”
Gender search options on Bumble Date and Bumble BFF.
Women making the first move has “always been a flawed motto,” said nonbinary user of Bumble BFF Gerrie, “and when you build on top of that, of course, things will be shaky.” They were frustrated with the piloted version, and, like Kay, changed their gender to get around the feature (that worked on BFF though it didn’t on Date).
With the restored ability to message first, Gerrie said they look forward to using the feature and changing their settings back. They acknowledged Bumble’s efforts in working on these features, but said it’d mean more if the app reflected on the “women make the first move” motto it’s based on.
Then again, Gerrie knows queer people aren’t going to find liberation in a tech company. “But,” they said, “maybe you could use Bumble BFF to build a community and go from there.”