How to navigate dating in the modern world

We live in a society which is developing all the time and gaining new vocabulary when it comes to gender expression and sexual identification. which is a wonderful thing. It can also add new question marks around dating in the modern world. It’s normal to wonder what to expect when you’re branching out and meeting new people. Here are some things to consider.

BY THE ROAM TEAM 8 MIN READ

WORDS TO KNOW
Deadname

A deadname is the name assigned to someone at birth, which usually changes as they enter their journey of gender transition. Using or speaking about someone’s deadname without their permission can bring up traumatic and uncomfortable feelings.

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Gender expression

Not everyone around you will be questioning their gender, but gender is no longer imagined in binary terms, meaning there is a variety of different gender expressions out there.

Gender expression (aka ‘gender presentation’) refers to the behaviour, habits, interests, and physical traits that are socially linked to concepts of femininity and masculinity.

You might find that you date people who look and present as androgynous – neither typically masculine nor feminine. Hair, makeup, and fashion ‘rules’ might be subverted, as well as gender roles and mannerisms. This is an expression that’s linked to gender but that’s also another form of self-expression – it’s part of their personality, so approach it as such.

Asking questions

It’s okay to be curious. The key thing is that you voice your curiosity with politeness and sensitivity. If you want to ask questions, set it up so that your date doesn’t feel awkward or pressured to answer. Adding ‘do you mind me asking about…’ or ‘there's no pressure to answer' at the end of a question enables your partner to set their own boundaries in a comfortable space.

Remember that people who identify as non-heterosexual, or whose gender identity falls outside of the gender binary, often have to explain and justify their existence, so questions might feel exhausting. Because of this, be sure to be respectful. It might be helpful to think of it as a discussion rather than a lesson. It's more thoughtful to have interested and engaging conversations about identity and gender, rather than asking them probing questions about themselves.

Pronouns

Vocabulary is important so, in a first-date scenario, it is useful to establish it from the get-go. It may be that your date has already specified their pronouns to you, but in case they haven't, ask them which pronouns they like to go by. You can also tell them your preferred pronouns, which will give them an opportunity to offer theirs. If they aren’t specific about pronouns, use their name instead.

In order to avoid making assumptions about their sexuality, you can use gender-neutral vocabulary. For example, if you’re asking about past relationships, use the word ‘partner’ instead of ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’. Again, you can offer information about your own sexual preferences to make it known that you’re comfortable discussing it. Don’t be scared to set the tone!

Dating someone non-binary

If you are dating or considering a relationship with someone who identifies as non-binary, the same rules apply. Ask gentle questions with the aim of getting to know them better and understanding their gender identity. The way you treat them around others is also important. Make sure you know how they like to be introduced, and which aspects of their gender identity they are comfortable sharing with new people.

A general but crucial rule is: don’t ask for a non-binary person’s deadname. A deadname is the name assigned to someone at birth, which usually changes as they enter their journey of gender transition. Using or speaking about someone’s deadname without their permission can bring up traumatic and uncomfortable feelings.

It can feel like there are rigid rules when it comes to modern dating, but for the most part, it comes down to common sense. Extend compassion and human understanding to whoever you’re dating. It’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you’re open to understanding why they happened and how best to proceed next time.

Dating is never a test, so remember to enjoy yourself. If you remain receptive and respectful, and expect the same in return, you can’t go wrong.

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