Dating Apps Helped Me Explore My Sexuality & Find My Place In LA's Lesbian Scene

by Allyson Byers
Allyson Byers

I had used dating apps before, but when I set up my new OkCupid profile in June 2014, I made a fresh start. This time, for the first time, when asked how I identify, I said "gay." As I swiped through all the women, my stomach filled with excitement at all of the potential options out there for me. Dating apps helped me explore my sexuality and ultimately helped me become more comfortable with who I am.

I guess I should have known I was gay when I was 14 years old, and rewatched the scenes of Marissa Cooper kissing Alex Kelly on The O.C. I bought the second season DVD set just so I could watch all of their scenes. While all of my female friends talked about Seth being so cute, I wanted to gush about how hot Alex was, but I repressed those feelings since I didn’t understand what they meant. Unlike my friends, I didn't crush on any guys at school — and I didn't understand why so many of my friends wanted to have boyfriends.

Later, in my 20s, apps like Tinder and OkCupid were safe places for me to figure out what type of person I was physically attracted to before I officially came out. I switched my gender settings between men, women, and both as I swiped. I never messaged anyone because I didn't want to lead people on; I wanted to explore my feelings first. Ultimately, I found that I was much more excited to swipe through women than men.

Allyson Byers

Los Angeles has a bigger lesbian scene than some other cities and towns, but even after I officially came out, I had a hard time finding my place in it. I don't have an athletic bone in my body, but I signed up for gay kickball, anyway. The thought of playing gave me so much anxiety, though. Let’s just say I never made it to the first game.

I went to a speed-dating event, but the dynamic was butch/femme, and I didn't feel like I fit in. As someone who identified as femme and wanted to date another femme, there were few options for me at this event.

I also felt like finding my place in the lesbian community meant I had to permanently label myself, and I wasn’t ready to do so yet. I knew I wasn’t straight, but I wasn’t sure about anything else. I didn’t even know how to answer if someone asked me how I identified. And despite being a huge city, there are very few lesbian bars. Even “girls night” at gay institutions like The Abbey are filled with men and couples. There wasn’t a physical space where I could meet women I was physically attracted to.

Enter dating apps. I met a woman on Hinge and had the most amazing first date. That day, I finally learned what it was like to experience true physical attraction and what it was like to really want to kiss someone. I wanted the date — and that feeling — to last forever. I called every one of my friends and told them that I finally understood why they wanted to date and find a partner. I realized the reason why I wasn’t interested in dating in high school was that I was chasing after the wrong gender. While that woman and I ended up just being friends, she showed me that it was possible for me to find love — and to live the life I so desperately wanted.

After that date, I officially changed my profiles on Bumble, Tinder, Hinge, and OkCupid to reflect my queer status. I added rainbow flag emojis and clearly stated that I was looking for women. I chose to identify as queer because that felt like the best label for where I am at this stage in my life. I had one single friend who was a lesbian, so I showed her my profile and asked her what I needed to change. She told me to remove any photos with men, so women didn’t just assume I was straight before reading my bio. Under her guidance, I added photos of me doing things I loved, like trying new foods or tubing on a lake in Wisconsin. I wrote “totally gay” with the emoji of two girls holding hands to make it extra clear that I was only interested in women. I also really played up the fact that I had a rescue dog.

Allyson Byer

I started messaging more women and even meeting up with them in real life. I went on dates with women who I would likely never meet in real life. It was so much fun to just be myself and experience what’s out there. Many of them said the same thing about the LA lesbian dating scene — they felt like there wasn’t really a place for femmes interested in other femmes.

Dating apps helped me become more comfortable with who I am. I didn’t have to put on a show. I didn’t have to put on a sports uniform and pretend to be someone else. Instead, I could gush about my passion for mental health and food, and match with others who feel similarly. I could go on dates with women who pushed me out of my comfort zone in a positive way.

Coming out was a big event in my life, but dating apps made it a little less scary and a lot more fun.