Can a New Queer App Prevent the LGBTQ Community From Splintering?

Q creator Eric Cervini.

Photo courtesy of Q

Q, a “gender-inclusive queer social network” that launches today, is itself a queer creature. Not quite an ordinary dating app and not quite a conventional social network, it aims to cultivate personal bonds between members. Eric Cervini, Q’s creator, told me that he thinks of it primarily as “a platform to meet,” one that allows LGBTQ individuals to find and reach out to one another “in a non-hypersexualized context.” 

Cervini funded the development of Q through a Kickstarter campaign that ultimately raised more than $25,000. According to the campaign description, members would be able to choose from “20+ genders,” and individuals of all sexual orientations would be welcome. Such openness is not entirely new: In February 2014, for example, Facebook debuted 56 custom gender options, almost three times as many as Cervini promised. When I asked him about this, he brushed it off, allowing that it was “a step in the right direction” but insisting that Facebook is fundamentally “a straight space.” With Q, he hopes to provide something else, “a safe space” for “people who identify as queer … to connect with others who are like them.”

To guarantee that Q will start safe and stay that way, Cervini plans to strictly moderate the community he hopes to create. Following a guideline that’s been in place since the Kickstarter began, this means that the app has “two big rules”: “You have to show your face, and you have to display your first name,” he told me. Although Q allows a great deal of personalization, all profiles will initially pass through a Facebook authentication process. In this regard, it follows the model of numerous other apps that employ Facebook as a gatekeeper to ensure that new users are who they say they are.

Here, Q may run up against a problem, given Facebook’s controversial “real names policy,” which has intermittently excluded trans individuals, feminists, drag queens, and others from the site. Though the company has recently moved to allay these frustrations, its rules remain problematic for some. Admitting that this may create problems, Cervini told me that Q would work directly with its members “if someone is having an issue.” This flexibility is admirable, but insisting on the importance of “real selves” to Q’s community may lead to similar conflicts, especially as the community grows.

Q in action.

While Q invites difficulties by shackling itself to Facebook, that connection ultimately reveals something important about the app’s intervention in contemporary LGBTQ politics. Instead of presenting itself as a true alternative to Facebook—or any other “straight” social media platform—Q seeks to differentiate itself from other ostensibly queer apps and services. From the first paragraphs of his Kickstarter campaign, Cervini was clear that his implicit target was actually the existing complement of queer hookup and dating apps. “Right now, the largest LGBT+ app prevents access to everyone but men,” he wrote, implicitly alluding to Grindr. The accompanying promotional video stressed this point further, suggesting that such apps restrictively insist on particular kinds of masculinity.

All this demonstrates that Q isn’t really about correcting the “straightness” of Facebook. Instead, it’s about the exclusivity of apps targeted specifically at LGBTQ users.  “I don’t think anybody goes on Grindr and says, This is a fun place to be,” Cervini told me. By contrast, Facebook is mostly fine, and may even be necessary; it’s just not enough for some of the people Cervini hopes to serve. Likewise, though many queer people find it difficult to use primarily heterosexual dating apps like Tinder in a way that suits their desires, Q doesn’t exist primarily to challenge them. Instead, it seeks to allay the failures of supposedly queer outlets, most of which, according to Cervini, leave those who are “non-binary [without] a lot of places to find people who are like them.”

The larger stakes of this endeavor stretch beyond the ways we live on the Internet. Trans-exclusion, for example, remains a problem in many otherwise welcoming queer circles, online and off. These sectarian divisions have, of course, always divided LGBTQ communities, constantly challenging the suggestion of variegated unity evident in the rainbow flag. To some extent, however, recent rights victories may have intensified these divides. In times of more pressing crisis, necessity inspired activists—and those for whom they fought—to embrace their heterogeneity. As the urgency of that era has waned, so, too, have some of the collectivities it produced.

Cervini, who is currently conducting graduate work on pre-Stonewall LGBTQ history, acknowledges these trends and suggests that Q seeks to help correct them. “I think it would do our movement good to bring people from all backgrounds together to cultivate empathy,” he told me. He points to the Mattachine Society and other organizations of its era as partial models for what he wants to achieve. And while it’s important not to lose oneself in nostalgic utopianism, it’s also easy to admire his goals.

There may still be reason for skepticism: If Q devolves into a dating app that lets its members seek out those exactly like them, it’s unlikely to help overcome fragmentation of LGBTQ communities. But if, as Cervini intends, it can become a venue for connections of all kinds, it may satisfy broader needs than those of the heart.