Latest On Outvoices
Trending around OUTvoices
There are a ton of dating apps out there and they can be so intimidating. That's where Lex comes in. Lex is a free social and dating app that is queer-owned and operated and is designed for the LGBTQ+ community to make lasting connections. The Lex app is a free text-centered social app that was inspired by old-school newspaper personal ads. You can make LGBTQ+ connections worldwide simply by chatting and not having to worry about photos. Lex lives by the motto, “Text first, selfies second.”
We chatted with Kell Rakowski the founder of Lex to see why the dating app was created and how the old-school approach became the focus.
Photo courtesy of Joel Arbaje
What Was the Ah-Ha Moment of Inspiration for Creating Lex?
Kell: There's multiple ah-ha moments in Lex's story. Before we launched Lex the app, it started as an Instagram page. 7 years ago I created the Instagram page @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y soon after my coming out. I was posting images of queer culture and history, as I was teaching myself about lesbian culture – reading all the books, watching all the movies, and sharing the content on IG. While diving into an online archive of feminist magazines, I found a full archive of the lesbian erotica mag, On Our Backs. In the back of every issue were personal ads written by the folks who read the magazine. The personals were hot, smart, and hilarious. The women knew exactly who they were and what they wanted.
1st ah-ha: I thought to myself, I have a community of Insta followers here – why don't we write our own personal ads today?? I added a google doc link to the bio and started receiving submissions. The personals were a hit, quickly I was receiving hundreds of submissions each month.
2nd ah-ha: I could not keep up with the demand and decided to turn this into an app. There's definitely a group of people (LGBTQ) that are consistently ignored and not satisfied with the current social apps out there. None are focused on the queer community. With no tech background or connections, I bootstrapped $50K through Kickstarter and fundraising parties to build an MVP.
3rd ah-ha: I converted the IG community directly into Lex app users, with 40K downloads in month one. We launched right before covid. Folks were using Lex for so much more than dating, to find friends, and roommates, organize soccer games, share kombucha scobies, etc. Lex is so much more than just dating, we are for the queer community. We are building the largest queer social network.
What Did You Want Its Point of Difference To Be, Compared to Other Gay Dating / Hookup or LGBT-Friendly Apps?
Kell: Lex is focused on community connections. We entered the market as a dating app, but the way folks use Lex is for all aspects of their queer lives.
We are building a queer social network – Lex is a place to find friends to meet in a park to play music or fly kites. Lex is for finding another queer to paint your shaved head. Lex is also for hot hookups. We are fluid!
We have built Lex authentically through our community, without the monetary backing of our community Lex would not exist. We are in constant communication with our users, through weekly surveys to paid user testing – Lex is built by queers for queers. Our team is dedicated to building Lex into a safe and healthy social network for queer folks around the world.
How Did the Pandemic Shape or Fine-Tune the Business Model?
Kell: Distance has never been an issue for our audience. Folks would fly across the country or the world to go on first dates. During the pandemic, queers used Lex the same way they always did, except this did halt IRL hookups and hangouts – it did not halt folks connecting digitally and finding creative ways to meet. Folks organized worldwide brunches on Lex, group yoga classes, and 1-1 video dates designing their apartments into faux bars.
Using the Lex App
What Was Great/Positive/Superior About the Old Classifieds That So Many of Us Grew Up Reading?
Kell: Personals offer you a glimpse into the writer’s personality while also being succinct in stating your wants and needs. Personals specifically work with the LGBTQ community because we use words to describe our sexuality and gender identity in humorous, creative ways. Example: Black-Latina femme bottom crybaby, Soft preppy papi chulo, homoromantic ace, Transmasc Dyke Bottom.
Do You Think This Will Be of Interest/Appealing to a Specific Age Group / Demographic?
Kell: We're currently building for Gen Z, and continue to do research to see what they respond to most. Right now, Lex’s demographic is split between Millennials and Gen Z. 33% of Gen Z identify as LGBTQ and that number is only growing. This is an overlooked group of young people that we need to respect and pay attention to! The future is queer.
For some, finding love is on this year's list of resolutions. Now that February is here and Valentine’s Day approaches, many people are looking for that special someone.
COVID-19 forced many into isolation, seeking connections online. For many queer individuals, the Internet has served as a lifeline and place to connect with other LGBTQ folks long before the pandemic.
According to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), romance scams were up 50% in 2020 thanks to the pandemic. However, many do not consider the adverse consequences of online dating, and they keep running into the same issues. Why? They do not think their personal data is important.
What is the first thing that happens when people meet one another, whether virtually or in the flesh? They share their information! When meeting someone new, you want to share your world. After all, this is how you begin to know someone, but letting your guard down online can have serious consequences.
In cyberland, not everyone is looking for love on dating sites. Oversharing without awareness can lead to severe security and privacy risks. The receiving end may not be who you think they are. They could use your information against you to commit fraud or inflict harm. In a recent case, a Texas man used the dating app Grindr to lure gay men into robbing and assaulting them.
Online, many lie or bend the truth, and sometimes you may not even be speaking with an actual human instead, you may be interacting with a bot that collects personal information and files it into a database to plan a future data breach. Erring on the side of caution and protecting your personal information is paramount.
Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind as you explore the world of online dating:
1. Only use trusted cupid applications
Choose reputable dating sites by performing research first. Many malicious sites and apps are out there, and some are even available in the app store. It should be no surprise that many who download from a “trusted” source get duped. It is up to you to perform your due diligence before selecting a service.
2. Reading fine print does not kill ‘the mood’
We have all heard campaigns of using protection and arguments from some that it kills the moment. When it comes to reading a site's privacy policies and terms and conditions before engaging with potential mates, no one can argue that preparation can kill the mood! To navigate the complex text successfully, look for how your data is protected, processed, stored, and shared with third parties.
3. Be sure your profile attracts love, not fate
Create a profile with your safety in mind that markets yourself authentically. The goal is to attract a suitable mate by relaying interests, hobbies, and preferences. Be cautious providing too much personal information that may harm you. Leave off supplying your full name, address, phone number, place of employment, and other identifiable information. Stick to posting photos of yourself, not those that reveal your home’s background, private details, your location, or any proprietary information exposed on a computer screen or documents resting on a nearby table. Be respectful of your human relationships and do not post photos that contain members of your family or friends, especially without their consent.
4. Indulge in something satisfying, not a scheme
Fraud is the oldest trick in the book, and the nature of the Internet makes it that much easier to conduct. Avoid solicitations targeted with deceptive messages that lure you into performing a task. It may come as a request for a gift card, money, or Uber rides. Be mindful of malicious emails and text messages that include suspicious links, or QR codes designed with deceptive marketing tactics that get you to click on a fraudulent URL.
5. Verify your crush on video, then meet in a public space
Many dating sites have video features now, so confirm whom you’re speaking with by using the video feature. Be wary of anyone not wanting to do so. I get it; some of you may not be comfortable on video; however, what is the difference if you’re meeting someone in person? It is better to be safe than sorry and to eliminate potential catfish. When meeting for the first time, agree to meet somewhere in public and furnish your ride to get there safely. It is not a good idea to invite strangers into your home or get into a car with someone you do not know or trust.
6. Stay loved through increased awareness and security practices
Love and respect yourself by establishing your safety and security boundaries. Implementing good security practices such as: storing strong passwords in a password manager, using multi-factor authentication, adjusting the security and privacy settings on all of your social media sites and dating applications, and having good security software on your PC and mobile devices. These protective measures will go a long way in helping to prevent many of the adverse incidents that occur online.
7. Let someone you trust know they are the ‘third-wheel’ from afar
No, I am not suggesting bringing anyone as a third wheel when you meet your date, though some certainly do, and that’s perfectly fine. However, it is good to let someone you know and trust your whereabouts. You can share your phone location for a limited period or have frequent check-ins with your friend or family member before, during, and after your date once you believe you are safe. For many LGBTQ who are not out, having even one trusted friend with whom you can share your sexual identity is necessary.
8. Allow a cupid to strike you with their arrow, and not from a fraudster
Enjoy your time meeting other people and developing something that could be long-lasting or last one night. By increasing your awareness of the risks to your physical and digital safety, you’ll be able to protect yourself against the dangers that lurk online.
If you do not feel comfortable with someone you’re speaking with, block them. Someone's behavior may cause red flags, and you may even wish to report that individual if they’ve violated you or the terms and conditions of the site.
If someone is trying to inflict harm on you, threatens you, or incessantly harasses you online, you should contact the local authorities and report the incident. They may encourage you to file a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Division (IC3), depending on the severity of the situation and whether the incident happened online or at your local address. If you are uncomfortable addressing the incident with the authorities or need assistance navigating law enforcement, consult with a cybersecurity expert who understands and supports the LGBTQ community to assist with that process and help keep you safe.
Wishing you love and harmony, meeting your new loves online safely.
Tom Kowalski outvoices.us
About the Author
Tom Kowalski is the founder and CEO of REP, a cybersecurity risk and reputation advisory firm. Tom’s differentiated background in cybersecurity, crisis communications, and reputational risk allows him to effectively manage clients' digital risks and mitigate online threats that affect their assets, reputation, and well-being.
Several years before founding REP, Tom was the target of online harassment. The lack of laws governing social media and tech companies, combined with difficulty finding justice, led him to create his company.
Today, Tom eases the burden of worry for other LGBTQ victims and helps individuals achieve safety and peace of mind. He also helps organizations manage their cybersecurity risks, specializing in cybersecurity policies. Part of Tom’s work involves analyzing corporate security procedures, focusing on how their current strategies affect all individuals. Tom designs and improves policies that better govern an organization's security program and lower the risk of adverse incidents.
REP is a certified business of NGLCC (National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce) where Tom is an active member of the New York City chapter. Tom is also an active member of cyber security and risk organizations ISACA and the FAIR Institute.
The number of couples who meet online, in all age groups, continues to grow.
A whopping 39% of heterosexual couples and 65% of same-sex couples who met in 2017 met online.
This was reported in a new study, “Disintermediating your friends,” by Michael Rosenfeld, from the Sociology department at Stanford University.
Eighty-five percent of those who've tried online dating are under the age of 55, according to Pew Research Center. Two age categories, however, have seen the most growth. The 18-24-year-old group tripled to 27% in 2015 over a two year period. Also, the 55-64-year-old group that's tried online dating doubled to 12%. Men make up more than half of those in online dating sites and apps.
According to The Knot 2019 Jewelry and Engagement study, 22 percent of couples meet online and end up getting engaged.
Online dating has led to numerous committed relationships and marriages. But as too many can attest, it's not all fun – and there are plenty of games. In fact, according to studies, more than half of users lie on their online dating profiles. It's often fairly innocent (though frustrating to those who uncover the deceptions) in regard to their age, weight, or height.
But catfishes (scammers who lure people into a sham relationship) are a whole different breed. They lie about nearly everything, including posting stolen photos to beguile and lure victims. In 2016 alone, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center received
15,000 complaints under the category of romance scams and confidence fraud.
Most, however, likely don't get reported. We've all heard a well-publicized of someone losing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to an online catfisher. But the truth is, it's far more common than most people realize.
Financial gain, however, is just one of the motives of catfishers. While many are out to scam people of their hard-earned cash, others have different sinister intentions. Some are seeking sexually explicit videos or photos for either personal use or to post online. Some catfishers find it an effective method for identity theft.
Tragically, pedophiles also catfish to groom and lure children. Even adults are sometimes catfished for the purpose of causing physical harm. There are also those who do it for revenge, to catch an untrustworthy spouse, or to live an alternate reality. In the end, regardless of the catfishers' motives, victims often experience emotional trauma, as well.
Here are some particularly eye-opening facts:
- Women make up 64% of catfishers.
- Fifty-one percent of online daters are married(though most lie and say they're not).
- At least 10% of dating profiles are catfishers.
How do catfishers choose their targets?
One thing about catfishers is they're pretty slick when it comes to choosing their victims. Senior citizens are frequent targets. But catfishers scam people of all ages. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission found that of all fraud victims surveyed in 2016, 21% fall between the ages of 30-39. Those in their 40s and 50s are a close runner up.
Catfishers also look for those who are desperate for love, gullible, or sympathetic. Such people are easy to woo, guilt, or manipulate in a variety of ways and feed right into the catfisher's hand.
How to protect yourself from the get-go
Catfishing has been around since long before the internet. But the world wide web provides catfishers an endless supply of prey while making it easier to conceal their identity. So, whether you're in an online dating site or app and even in social media, keep your fisheye peeled and follow these precautions.
First, know the red flags to look for before you begin communicating with someone you don't know. Some catfishers provide detailed, elaborate (but deceptive) profiles. Often, though, their profiles are incomplete and vague. By providing such limited detail (other than, perhaps, a very attractive photograph), they're able to capture the interest of more potential victims. It also gives them the advantage to make things up as they go that best fits their victim's wants, needs, and desires.
Photos are another big clue. If they have no photo, this can be a red flag. Also, does their only photo look extremely dated? You know, the ones with that orangish hue that date back to the '90s. Or does the photo look like it came straight from GQ or Glamour? Of course, many are smarter than that. Even when the photos look kosher, they might be stolen from someone else's social media profile. So always do a reverse image search. Just right click on the photo and select 'save image as'. Then go to Google images. Drag and drop the photo into the search bar. If Google shows identical results for the image, do some investigative work.
Also, watch for broken English in their messages. If you notice odd language such as 'I would like to get to know you', be wary. It might indicate they're from a foreign country commonly known for catfishers. On the same token, some scammers use broken
English intentionally. They do this to weed out those intelligent enough to easily catch on to them. Catfishers want to invest their time in those who seem to be gullible. Another reason they may intentionally use broken English is to create the illusion they lack sophistication. This gives them the advantage that you won't suspect they're crafty enough to be a catfisher.
On the hand, beware that many, and perhaps most catfishers don't show broken English. Plenty of catfishers are American, or English is their native language. Good English doesn't necessarily deem them legitimate.
When you begin communicating with someone online, ask for their full name, and beware if they won't tell you. Then do an online search for their social media profiles, job information, places they've lived, and anything else you can learn. If you can't find the person online or something doesn't seem right, cut your ties.
If someone you haven't met starts getting romantic quickly or comes out with the “L” word before you've ever met, be suspicious. It's true, some legitimate relationships have started out this way, but it isn't the norm. It's fairly common, though, with catfishers who quickly try lure you into a phony whirlwind romance. They often move quickly and begin talking about a relationship, being in love, or a future together before you've met.
Most important, regardless of how perfect or real someone seems, don't allow yourself to get emotionally involved before you've met in person. In fact, once you've done the investigative work above, try to meet for coffee as soon as possible. That way you don't waste time or risk getting emotionally entangled with a fraud. Some people have found themselves reeled into years-long sham relationships without ever having met their predator. They only learn after wasting years of their life and sometimes all of their savings.
More ways to recognize a catfisher
Be wary if:
- they're often difficult or impossible to catch on the phone.
- they're unwilling to video chat.
- they always have an excuse for why they can't meet you in person. They may claim to be out-of-state or the country. Also, they often claim, repeatedly, to be dealing with a major crisis or set back. This is to gain your sympathy, so you'll accept it without question.
- they won't provide their exact address, especially even after professing their love, an extended courtship, or asking to borrow money. (It should be noted for women's safety, however, never give your address to someone you haven't met and gotten to know well in person.)
- they try to manipulate you by shaming you, playing on your sympathy, or being overly charming, complimentary, or empathetic.
What to do if you've been catfished or suspect it
If you suspect you're communicating with a catfisher but are uncertain, gather everything you know about the person, print their profile, communications, and photos. Then share it with trusted family and friends for objective opinions.
Also, report catfishers to the dating or social media website where you met. Then file a report with the FBI at https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
I have clients who tell me that it’s painful for them to walk down the street and see all those happy LGBT (or straight) couples.
“It makes me feel so lonely and unwanted,” they say. When you’re single, and people around you “appear” (and I use that word deliberately) to be much happier than you - so in love, arm-in-arm with their gorgeous partner - it’s tough not to compare your lonesome, solitary self and feel you’re lacking.
Feeling alone and unloved is common to us all, coupled or not. If you live the Hallmark card life - you have a wonderful, perfect partner and the two of you regularly enjoy sunsets on the beach and great sex by the fireplace, followed by hours of hugging and kissing – then this column is not for you.
For the rest of us, who live in a place called Reality, feeling alone and isolated is all-too-common. The remedy? Self-love.
Even if you’re in a relatively happy couple, you know that most of your married life isn’t like a Hallmark card. But after seeing all those media images of happy, perfect couples, you may think there’s something wrong with your relationship and wonder: “Why are my partner and I living a life with romantic moments few and far between, not to mention the ongoing boredom of paying bills, buying dog food and just getting through the day without killing each other?"
If you’re single, you may feel even worse, asking yourself: “Why am I alone? Am I a total loser, spending yet another Saturday night alone? What’s wrong with me?”
The common theme here is, “What’s wrong with me?” The good news is: there’s nothing wrong with you. The bad news is: It’s harder than hell to love yourself when your expectations are crazy-high.
How did our expectations get so unrealistic? In some ways, it’s all about selling things. Businesses sell us things by creating idealized ideas of how life should be. The end result of buying these media images hook-line-and-sinker is that we feel we’re doing our relationships all wrong.
We need an antidote to this “poison” of media-induced craziness. We need self-love.
Want to improve your self-love? Start by being aware of the things you say to yourself about love, romance and relationships. Notice if you’re critical or harsh to yourself. Many of us have such tough inner critics that when we make a mistake in the relationship department, this inner voice beats up on us, saying things like, "You are so stupid” or “You’re such a loser; who would want you?”
The next time you are disappointed in yourself, try a little cognitive therapy: replace your negative self-messages with neutral or positive ones, like, "I made a mistake. No big deal.” Or “Yeah, I screwed up, but I won’t make this mistake again."
For you lucky folks in contented relationships, ponder this question: Should you love yourself more than your partner, your children and/or your friends? Should you put your love for yourself before your love for them?
I believe that while love for others is extremely important, self-love must come first. Are you cringing right now? Does this feel too “New Age-y” for you? Self-love has become a cliché; yet so many of us in the GLBT community are Masters of People Pleasing: we put the needs of others before our own. This is the essence of co-dependency – pleasing others first, putting ourselves last.
Self-love isn’t narcissism. Being in service and giving back to our community is important, but even hard core 'people pleasers' can see that when you love yourself, you can more easily give love to others. Self-love is a powerful gift of kindness, compassion and appreciation that you give to yourself. Even if you don’t have a friend in the world right now, you can give yourself the gift of self-love and know that you deserve it.
Ready to ratchet up your self-love? Try this exercise: Get up off the sofa, put down the remote, and stand in front of a mirror. Look yourself in the eyes. Take three deep breaths. Ask yourself (out loud): “What can I do for you today?” or “What do you need today?”
Don’t be surprised if you start to cry. Many of us aren’t used to being in touch with what we need; it can be an emotional moment. Now listen to the answers you get: this is the real you speaking. If you’ve been out of touch with yourself lately, your answers may surprise you.
You may expect to hear, “Go to the gym and don’t eat all that junk food” but what you actually get is, “Be kind to me today, let’s go out and walk around somewhere pretty and then have a nice lunch and a glass of wine.”
I invite you to make this whole month about self-love. It’s hard to love your partner if you hate yourself. If you have a partner, by all means, shower him or her with affection…as long as you shower yourself with affection first. You’ll have more love to give your partner if you’re already feeling it for yourself.
If you’re single, resist the temptation to beat yourself up because you have no hot date for the weekend. Instead, try the mirror exercise and see what your “inner” lover would like. Whether you have a 25-year-relationship or you’re new in town and know nobody, give yourself a healthy shot of Self-Love and see what happens.