Bumble expanded its gender options. But some users say the app doesn't allow nonbinary people to message first.

Jakub Porzycki
·4 min read

Bumble expanded its gender options to be more inclusive of nonbinary users this month. But some users said the app's move, while meant to be more inclusive, left them feeling frustrated after they realized they can't message new matches first.

The dating app, which now lists “nonbinary” as a separate gender identity category, has long sought to subvert gender norms by allowing only women to make the first move. Before the update, users could select only the umbrella categories “man” or “woman,” both of which included the option “nonbinary.”

But some users said that they said tried to change their gender identities to “nonbinary woman,” which is still an option on Bumble, they still couldn’t message people who primarily use “she” and “her” pronouns unless they sent the first message.

“This feels validating and also like a hate crime,” a user named Kay, whose pronouns are “they” and “she,” captioned in a video posted to TikTok.

In an interview, Kay, 23, who wanted to be referred to using only their first name for privacy reasons, said that at first they were thrilled by Bumble's app change.

But Kay said that after they updated their gender identity to the new nonbinary option, they couldn’t message matches who identify as women. They recently matched with someone who uses “she” and “her” pronouns,” as well as someone who uses “she” and “they” pronouns. Kay said that when they tried to message either match, Bumble wouldn’t allow it. Instead, they received a message that reads “Women make the first move.”

“I applaud them for trying to be inclusive, but they’re just completely missing the point,” Kay continued. “I get that their whole shtick is women message first. But if that’s the case, don’t add the gender inclusive options if you’re going to make nonbinary people feel like they are being squished into a woman or man category.”

Bumble didn’t respond to NBC News’ repeated request for comment.

But on Friday, the app announced that nonbinary users will be able to message other users regardless of gender on the dating platform, and that users of all genders will be able to match with each other on the friend finding app Bumble BFF. The news was first reported by Mashable on Thursday.

“We were founded with the intention of empowering women, and we want to create an inclusive environment where everyone can be themselves,” Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd said in a statement. “As part of that mission, it’s important that we continue to update our platform to help create an inclusive community where everyone can feel comfortable.”

Kay did not respond to request for follow-up comment after the news was announced.

Bumble was hailed as a “feminist” dating app when it launched — Wolfe, founded the app when she left Tinder, which she also co-founded.

The app was created to “challenge the antiquated rules of dating,” according to the company’s site. When men and women matched on the app, only women could send the first message. The app has since expanded to include LGBTQ users, but it is still criticized for reinforcing heteronormative dating practices instead of subverting them.

Not everyone has to wait for matches to make the first move, Bumble’s website says.

The app’s new feature allows users, both new and old, to select the umbrella categories “man,” “woman” or “nonbinary.” After they select a category, they can further specify their gender identities with options like “cis woman” or “transmasculine.” The “nonbinary” umbrella includes options like “agender,” “genderfluid” and “gender nonconforming.”

When users of the same gender match, such as two women or two nonbinary users, either party can message the other first. Men and nonbinary users can also message each other first. When the new gender options initially launched, nonbinary users were unable to message women first.

Others echoed Kay's frustration with the new feature on social media.

"Being nonbinary is all fun and games until you can’t message cute women first on Bumble," Twitter user skyaking_ wrote.

Comedian and podcaster Gerrie Lim described the feature as the "most white feminist thing" they've ever seen.

Kay said they feel the feature that allows only women to make the first move is “outdated and just for the bit at this point.”

Bumble could have been more inclusive, Kay said, while maintaining its original ethos by allowing users who aren’t cis men to message one another.

"I get the intent that it's somehow 'safer' for women," Kay said. "But women still get abused from Bumble matches, and Bumble has refused to acknowledge it or remove the accounts of male abusers."

"Literally all they needed to do was say non-men message first," Kay added. "Dating isn't just between men and women."