The hard reality of dating as a person of color in the gay community.
It’s Valentine’s Day, 2015. I’m at a party, but no one catches my eye. Instead, I’m swiping left and right on Tinder, hoping to find someone who either looks like Captain America or has his personality. Immediately, my eyes stop on a photo of a fairly good looking brunette. In his photo, he has a short comb over with tapered sides and piercing, olive-green eyes. He’s got a strong jawline and even through his T-shirt, I can tell this man lives in the gym. He is better than Captain America—he is real. We match. I am in glee, like a teen whose high school crush just said hi to him. So, I send him a message.
“Hey Chad, how’s your Valentine’s night so far?”
Almost half an hour goes by. I start pacing back and forth from the kitchen and the living room at this obnoxiously loud party, where everyone is incoherent at this point. I sit down next to the makeshift table, surprisingly sturdy for a door laid on top of two stools. I tap my toes incessantly, staring at people playing beer pong on the faux-table, wishing I could join them. Damn, I thought, he probably thinks I’m lonely—reaching out to someone on Valentine’s Day. He must think I’m desperate. Was my message too short? Was it too long? Should I have said a simple hey? More minutes pass.
Finally, my iPhone lights up. There’s a message.
“Sorry, I don’t date Asian guys.”
What? What did this guy just say to me? I was confused. This was one answer I didn’t expect to get back. This man doesn’t date Asian guys? What year does he think it is? It made me feel like I was back in middle school, getting bullied for being Filipino.
As a person of color, there is a sense of acrobatics that must be performed in order to maneuver in the gay dating world. Diving head first, like what I did, with no prior knowledge will be a rude awakening to any gay guy—especially if he isn’t white. Truth is, people of color have a harder time in the gay dating world.
Sebastian Gallegos, a twenty-one-year-old senior at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, has had his fair share of bad dates and one-night stands. As a Chicano and self-proclaimed “gay-as fuck,” Gallegos is veering off white guys due to his past experiences with them.
“Me being Chicano and brown—because there are a lot of Chicanos who are white-passing—in the gay dating world you definitely see the issue of colorism,” Gallegos explains. “I have always noticed that it was always easier for me to interact with men of my skin color or darker.”
Gallegos has had plenty of experiences of either being hypersexualized and fetishized or turned away due to the color of his skin. He says that on many occasions, white guys have focused solely on his ethnicity by telling him that he was “spicy” and “bringing the heat.” He finds these “compliments” offensive because it tells him that the person only sees his ethnicity and not him as a person. Many men of color have similar experiences of being objectified when dating or hooking up in the gay community.
Jalen Coleman, twenty years old and a sociology major at SF State, says that he gets more attention from white guys because of his skin color. Coleman, who is a mix of black, Mexican, and Native American, has a darker skin complexion and appears more black than his other ethnic backgrounds.
“A lot of the attention I get is a sexual thing,” Coleman says in a defeated tone. “I feel demeaned because they just see me for what a black person represents.”
Coleman has been asked what part of Africa he comes from or if he is part of gang. He has had guys invalidate all of his other ethnic backgrounds because what they mainly see is that he looks black.
Gay men of color are put in a situation in which the color of our skin or our ethnic background is the most visible part of who we are. According to a survey in FS Magazine of over eight hundred and fifty gay men in London, a majority of men of color felt that they have been on the receiving end of racism. In the survey, eighty percent of black guys and seventy-nine percent of Asian guys said they have been discriminated against or objectified.
“People expect the big-ass dick and that our top game is strong,” Coleman states, referring to how he sees gay men depict black men.
As an Asian man in the gay community, I am also reduced into a certain category. People, mostly white men in my experience, will message me with the assumption that I am a submissive bottom. I have gotten first messages along the lines of: “Can you take this dick, Asian boy?”
“If you diminish us to a caricature, you invalidate our feelings and how we experience life as a gay person of color in America,” Coleman says.
There is an extensive argument within the community about “preference vs. racism.” Liking blondes over brunettes is one thing, but it gets a little dicier when people write “No black guys” or “No Asians” on their dating profiles.
Mickai Mercer, twenty-one, says that his experience as a person of color in the gay community varies between each person he encounters. Mercer, who is multiracial—Puerto Rican, Indian, and black—says that he has experienced being objectified by men of color and white men. Mercer also sees people, white and colored alike, declare their “preference” on dating apps. However, he believes that it’s not a preference when people choose not to date certain races.
“You’re closing yourself off to a lot people,” Mercer says. “A person’s race doesn’t define them, and these people are not taking into account the individual’s personality.”
Grindr, one of the most popular gay hookup apps, came out with a web series called “What the Flip,” where two gay guys switch Grindr profiles to see what it’s like in the other person’s shoes. The first episode focused on the age-old argument of preference or racism by switching a white guy and an Asian guy’s profile. The white guy did not realize how much flack Asian men and people of color as a whole get in these apps.
“Racism is being oppressed or segregated because of your racial background or skin tone,” Gallegos says. “And that’s what happens when people say, ‘I don’t date this or that race.’ You’re segregating a race.”
Someone who indicates their preference for or against certain ethnicities may not be an outright skinhead racist. However, the act of excluding people is what we of color see as racism.
“I don’t think it’s full-out blanket racism,” Coleman Thrower, twenty-year-old studio art major at SF State says. “I do think there is a lot of prejudice behind it.”
Thrower, who is black, has experienced racism in the gay dating world—he was once told to pick cotton. However, he says that wanting to date within your own race is not necessarily a bad thing.
“You want to date somebody who is coming from the same perspective as you are,” Throwers says. “They have gone through the same experiences as you and can fight through whatever struggles you’re going through with you. That’s different from someone who says, ‘Oh I like Mexican, Asian, and white people but I don’t want to deal with your kind.’ That’s when it becomes a problem.”
It hurts to experience being turned away from someone due to your race or skin color, but it also doesn’t feel any better to be objectified based on those things. It may not seem like outright racism, but for people who cannot change the color of their skin, it does feel like there is no difference between preference and racism. The gay community has a long history of being oppressed, yet at times we are our own worst enemy.
“No matter what people say, especially in a community where we can be really mean to one another—never forget your individual legacy,” Coleman advises.
It’s no secret that the gay community in Western culture is dominated by cisgender white men, especially in the media, but that doesn’t mean that the community has to adapt to this. Race or skin color should not be something that deters you from getting to know a person.
“Every race has their stigma, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a preference,” Thrower says. “But preference should not have anything to do with race.”
It’s not all doom and gloom for men of color in the gay dating and hookup world. We can find our own personal successes, whether it be learning from failed experiences or finding a partner. It won’t take a few bad apples to ruin a fruitful community. For every person who refuses to date a particular race, there are plenty of men who will find all men attractive, like my partner of almost five years.
Our race, just like our sexuality, is not something we can change.