One powerful alternative to mainstream dating sites for transgender women and heterosexual men looking to meet is Ilovetat.com. The site is an online dating community where cisgender men can date exclusively from a user base of more than 100,000 trans women and like-minded individuals. Unlike other dating sites, TAT isn’t trying to adjust its approach or target to make trans women feel welcome, it is trans owned and operated. The entire community revolves around valuing and celebrating transgender women.
TAT actively works to connect its massive user base with cisgender men who love trans women. Founder Brett Richmond says, “TAT was created in order to fulfill a need for a true on-line date site for the transgender women and their admirers. TAT is also very inclusive and is not just for transgender people. In addition, we saw a need to match transgender people with admirers from outside of the gay community (i.e. there are tens of thousands of people who define themselves as straight and they are very interested in meeting and dating transgender women.)”
Membership on the site is free and almost all aspects of the site are accessible in the general membership. From private messaging to group chats to membership searches t an an online virtual cocktail bar, TAT is an accessible, safe trans dating space that’s welcoming for trans women and their suitors. It’s a specific and safe digital space that seeks to leap over the hurdles most trans women face in their dating lives. Adds Richmond, “TAT's competition is mainly from large corporate owned and publicly traded companies whose websites are highly commercial in nature. These corporate sites often charge extremely high membership fees and their bottom line is monetary revenue. TAT is different in that its owners are more interested in creating a thriving on-line community.”
Transgender visibility has never been higher. From award-winning shows like Amazon’s Transparent, to the ongoing international discussion about trans rights, it’s clear that awareness has increased. However, despite this slowly rising level of awareness, there are still several challenges. Most of the news stories and opinion pieces circulating focus on the darker side of trans life: the bathroom bills, the high rate of death among trans women, the lack of protection against discrimination and hate crimes. But at the center of it all, “trans men and women are just like anyone else. They want to be loved. However, thanks to a host of complicated issues, being loved is easier said than done.”
Especially for trans women, navigating the dating scene is difficult. The conversation in which she reveals that she’s trans is always looming overhead, threatening to swoop in and ruin all chances of compatibility and chemistry. Furthermore, many trans women are understandably wary and vigilant about their safety as the dating world is full of cisgender men who stigmatize them.
“The biggest challenge was figuring out how to market to the transgender community. Back when we started TAT in 2012, we quickly came to realize that (until very recently,) transgender individuals were marginalized by society at large (think where gays were back in the 1980s.) It is not easy to find transgender individuals and TAT has made the effort to build carefully build its membership base one person at a time.”
“Trans women are taught to feel grateful for any scrap of affection we receive. I’m relegated to the role of teacher and therapist in my dating life,” wrote BuzzFeed contributor Raquel Willis, in The Transgender Dating Dilemma. Willis detailed the difficulties of dating as a trans woman of color. She spoke of the positive and negative reactions to her reveal. She also spoke of times she’d feared for her safety. She even dove deep into the misconceptions that exist and potentially threaten her ability to date without conflict.
At the core of the issue is communication and specialization. Men and trans women need safe spaces to date where they can confidently claim their identities and connect with partners who value and appreciate that they’re trans. It sounds like an easy enough problem to solve, however, the online dating services available to trans people are far and few between.
“While the site name is not politically correct, our members recognize that TAT is a true community of transgender people who are able to network with each other in order to find support while at the same time they have the opportunity to interact with true heterosexual admirers from who are interested in meeting for dates and fun.” Richmond adds. Even as the most well-known dating sites have adjusted their perspectives to welcome trans daters with open arms, it’s still a market aimed at heterosexual and gay and typically the language is aimed at binary gendered folks. One standout is OkCupid, who offers a “How Transgender Friendly Are You?” test in its massive selection of compatibility quizzes. Trans users can accurately select their status as trans when creating a profile. However, even though the network is open to trans daters, there are still problems. In an article for Huffington Post in 2015, Torraine Futurum detailed the types of men she constantly encountered on OKCupid. There were men who got sexual way too fast, men who had empty profiles and shady personas and men who felt they should be given a trophy for dating trans women.
Last November, Tinder updated its dating profiles to allow users the option of selecting their gender identity from dozens of choices. The move was widely praised as a smart, inclusive step forward. However, critics warned that these identity options could be used to target trans women in areas that were less accepting. Match.com also offers a level of inclusion but compared to OkCupid and Tinder, the members who are trans on the site are relatively meager.
There are tremendous complications and difficulties that still exist for trans women. Some of those issues will only dissipate with more education, acceptance and understanding from the broader population. However, with sites like TAT, trans women can bypass a large majority of the roadblocks that they face when dating within a mixed pool of men who just don’t understand.
TAT is definitely on to something — specificity is the key. Sites like blackpeoplemeet.com and jdate.com seek to narrow down the playing field so users can zero in on exactly who they’re looking for. Specialized dating isn’t just a fad or something that’s specific to the trans community. It’s a guaranteed way to make matches and improve outcomes. It’s a surefire way to make trans women feel valued, respected and hopeful about finding love.
Richmond has big changes planned for 2017 including a “re-launch” that celebrates relationships that began on the site.
As reported in The Huffington Post: Laverne Cox, star of Orange is the New Black, has said, “Most men who are attracted to and date transgender women are probably stigmatized more than trans women are — I think a man who is dating trans women, who is a celebrity, or famous or is an athlete or something, needs to come forward — or a musician and needs to say, ‘I love transgender women and [they] deserve to be loved and I’m going to declare that publicly.’ I think those men need some sort of inspiration and hope, so they can live more authentically.” Cox has been a forceful advocate for transgender women. She wants the world to know, however, that “gender policing” hurts everyone, and, in particular, men who date transgender women feel its effects in an intensely harsh way. And, she says, these men (as TAT’s Richmond has asserted) need someone high-profile among them to come out of this specific kind of closet.