Dating Apps and the Social Wellbeing of Gender Non-Conforming Individuals During COVID-19

Presenter: Connor Holmes

Research Category: Health Sciences
College: Bouve College of Health Sciences
Major(s): Health Science
Graduation Date: 2021
Additional Authors: Claire Yu, Michael Williams

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting physical distancing have isolated many transgender and gender non-conforming (T-GNC) individuals away from identity-affirming communities in social environments deleterious to their mental wellbeing. Building on affirmative findings among cisgender queer individuals, the present investigation explores how T-GNC individuals may turn to dating apps to re-access socialization and community with other queer and T-GNC people through virtual means. Specifically, this qualitative study examines how COVID-19 has altered the psychosocial needs of T-GNC individuals that motivate their dating app use as well as the ability of dating apps to fulfill these needs. T-GNC dating app users (n=13) from across the Eastern United States were recruited through community Facebook groups. With questions grounded in Uses & Gratification Theory, participants completed a semi-structured interview over Zoom videocall to discuss their expectations of dating apps and the gratifications they seek and obtain through app use during the pandemic. Interview transcripts were coded in NVivo 12 using an iterative process of deductive theory-driven and inductive data-driven coding. Preliminary findings suggest a paradoxical experience for T-GNC individuals: increasing dating app use and interactions with other users (still largely romantic/sexual in nature) to supplement lost in-person socialization, while simultaneously feeling incapable of developing satisfyingly deep relationships due to this same constrain on in-person meeting. Understanding the social and emotional needs of T-GNC individuals and the current shortcomings of dating apps to fulfill them can inform alternative interventions to mitigate the burdens of COVID-19 on this population by facilitating community, belonging, and support.