My Race is Not Your Fetish
By Lungol Wekina
Dating is hard for everybody.
The anxiety involved in trying to give a good first impression, the fear that you might not be interesting enough, and the possibility that you may actually be alone with a serial killer make for a wonderfully unpleasant experience. Nearly everyone questions whether it’s all worth it in the first place. That is, of course, until, it’s 10PM and you just finished watching the eighth proposal video in a row on YouTube and/or it’s 3AM and you need another human being (or beings, no judgments here) to do sexy things with your pelvic parts.
But dating as a queer man, specifically a queer man of colour, presents its own unique challenges.
I have to admit; I didn’t want to write this article. How was I supposed to address racism and internalised homophobia in 750 words? In 1000 words? And what about femmephobia, fatphobia, and misogyny? I would need an entire book. Maybe three. Examining racial bias in the queer community is a daunting task, but it is a problem that needs to be addressed. I hope, by writing this, to start a difficult, but necessary, discussion.
THE GOLD STANDARD
The queer community is already marginalised – homosexuality is punishable by death in a dozen countries and carries prison time in many more. Australia still considered homosexuality a capital crime until 1949. Despite legalising same-sex marriage last year, the queer community in Australia, much like the rest of the western world, continues to be plagued by secondary marginalisation and a toxic culture of ignorance and exclusion.
On top of the existing marginalisation of queer sexuality, racism is rampant in the gay community. White supremacy is continually perpetuated through queer media by the glorification of a particular type of man, the Golden Gay Guy (GGG), if you will – tall, masculine, young, muscular, and white. It’s seen everywhere. The covers of Attitude, Out, DNA, and other queer magazines are plastered with white guys sporting white teeth and washboard abs. The leads in Brokeback Mountain, Call Me by Your Name, and countless other same-sex male films are masculine white guys with deep voices and big arms. Even our porn stars are overwhelmingly similar in their whiteness, musculature, and apparent masculinity. It has even reached a point where whiteness and straightness are essentially favoured over actual queerness. Straight white men like Scott Eastwood, Liam Payne, and Justin Trudeau have been on our magazine covers because of their proximity to the notion of the GGG. James Franco has appeared on multiple queer magazine covers, despite a history of gay-baiting (the act of alluding to homosexuality to capitalise off of queer interest) and routinely perpetuating bi-erasure (the harmful denial of the existence of bisexuality and other forms of polysexuality and same-sex attraction). Never mind that these men are not queer and are on the cover of a queer magazine; at least they’re tall, masculine, young, muscular, and white.
What does that say to queer men of colour that the community which claims to represent them actively contributes to their erasure and alienation? It says that we don’t exist. It says that rather than embrace and represent us, our community would rather venture outside of itself to indulge in the GGG at our own expense. How can we be seen as sexy when we aren’t even seen at all?
I understand the scepticism this could invoke. I get it. How could the singular image, which constantly bombards a community from multiple different sources and mediums, possibly have any effect on an individual after prolonged exposure? “What’s the big deal? It’s just a magazine cover.” “It’s just porn, it doesn’t mean anything.” But it does mean something. It is a big deal.
If an entire group of people is conditioned to believe one type of person is the realisation of carnal desire, this manifests as a subconscious bias. In this case, a subconscious racial bias.
Illustration by Amy Ge
I have seen this bias present itself in two distinct, yet equally harmful, ways. The first is outright, overt racism thinly disguised as a “preference”. I call this Naked Racism. Dating apps like Grindr are filled with profiles saying “whites only” and “no blacks, no asians”, proudly and unabashedly proclaiming a complete disregard for an entire group of diverse, distinct individuals, who have been reduced to a one-dimensional collection of stereotypes. On the surface, this could be attributed to the perpetuation of the GGG; if you’re only conditioned to find one thing attractive, then it’s only natural to explicitly pursue it. Some would argue that Naked Racism is, in this space, not really an issue because Grindr and other similar apps are allegedly platforms primarily used to facilitate casual sex. If one considers casual sex an extension of masturbation, then racial “preference” isn’t a problem if all someone is seeking is instant sexual gratification where the other participants are purely used to fulfil a fantasy or desire.
The counter to this argument is that no sex is entirely casual. The use of another’s body should always include a level of common recognition, and a failure to recognise the casual sexual partner as a human being deserving of respect, by refusing to even consider entire racial groups as potential casual sexual partners, is dehumanising and unfair. This line of reasoning is even weaker when Naked Racism manifests in spaces, both physical and digital, that are used to pursue relationships outside of just casual sex. Now, by saying “whites only” and “no blacks, no asians”, Naked Racism proves to be a more insidious disregard for the actual non-white person. In these wider spaces, not only are their bodies dehumanised and disregarded, but the humanity and individuality of non-GGG queer men is automatically nullified and deemed worthless in the pursuit of deeper romantic and emotional connections.
Naked Racism has become marginally less socially acceptable in the past few decades. Anti-discrimination laws protect me from losing my job for being Black, and the gradual social progress seen in modern society makes it far less likely for me to be publicly called the n-word for being a mild inconvenience to someone else. However, these standards disappear in the online world of blank profiles and grainy photos. The guaranteed anonymity of many
digital spaces, and the lack of accountability this entails, emboldens
users to abandon basic courtesy and social etiquette for an explicit
expression of racist rhetoric.
Despite the year being 2018, this behaviour is an unpleasant throwback to the racial aggression characteristic of modern history. Naked Racism may seem shocking to those outside the gay community, but to those of us within it, it comes as no surprise. The fact that it exists is problematic enough, but the culture that allows its presence is indicative of a much larger systemic issue marginalising people of colour.
This system of marginalisation also presents itself in what I like to call Closeted Racism, the inverse of Naked Racism. On one side of the spectrum, Naked Racism is characterised by the dehumanisation of people of colour through exclusion. On the other, Closeted Racism is characterised by the dehumanisation of people of colour through fetishisation.
It’s tempting to claim that it’s better to be loved in the dark than to not be loved at all, but Closeted Racism is a complex issue that needs to be further unpacked.
Closeted Racism reduces men of colour to a collection of racial stereotypes that inform desire in a way that idealises non-white men instead of excluding them. When taken at face value, this type of attraction is seemingly harmless – if men of colour are now the object of fascination instead of repulsion, there is no longer a need to discuss racism. This optimistic reading misses the objectification of men of colour in this equation as well. Both Naked and Closeted Racism define men of colour by their respective racial stereotypes; one uses them to justify evasion, while the other uses them to fuel a fetish.
Fetishes are a normal and healthy expression of human sexuality when practiced consensually with other adults without infringing upon the health and safety of others. There’s nothing wrong with fetishising my feet or my ears or my body hair – none of these things are exclusive to any particular group of people, and have arguably never been the basis of significant, widespread discrimination. However, the fetishisation of my Blackness is problematic because it has been, and continues to be, the basis of significant, widespread discrimination and marginalisation. Sexualising me for the colour of my skin reduces me to a collection of stereotypes that have been assigned to everyone that has my skin tone with a complete disregard for the nuances and distinctions that make us unique individuals.
A predominantly pervasive stereotype is that of the hypermasculine, aggressive Black man. This particular trope has been historically used to vilify Black men and support the racist belief that we are unruly, savage brutes, incapable of being civilised or of behaving with dignity and respect. In a sexual setting, this stereotype assumes that all Black men are rough, dominant tops (the partner that anally penetrates in the cisnormative, homosexual male sexual model) that manhandle their bottoms and indulge in wild, rugged intercourse. Although this type of sex isn’t inherently problematic, the existence of this racist stereotype fails to give Black men the space to nurture and embrace their own individual sexuality. The expectation for all Black men to behave in this restrictive, one-dimensional manner is a classic example of Closeted Racism. Instead of treating Black men like individuals with their own unique tastes and preferences, Closeted Racism feeds a culture wherein only one way exists for queer Black men to participate in the queer community, and any sort of divergence is punishable by exclusion and segregation.
I’ve heard it argued that stereotypes aren’t necessarily a bad thing – that there are “good” stereotypes which give Black men an upper hand in the pursuit of everything from casual sex to long-term relationships. I’m going to tell you now that there is no such thing as a good stereotype, because all stereotypes are damaging and their very existence perpetuates racial biases that benefit no one.
Let’s take the “BCC”, for example. For those of you unaware of this abbreviation, BBC stands for “Big Black Cock”, the obviously false stereotype that all Black men have baseball bats swinging between their legs. I only recently learned of this, and trust me, I was just as surprised as you are now when I realised that the guy I was chatting with was asking for a photo of my junk instead of a screenshot of my favourite article from a certain British media outlet (shout out to Urban Dicktionary for clearing that one up for me when he kept sending me question marks). Apart from being extremely objectifying and crudely presumptuous, this stereotype has historically contributed to the characterisation of Black men as immoral predators with a proclivity for sexual violence. The obscene largeness of their sexual organs was common in racist caricatures, created to dehumanise Black men and liken them to apes and gorillas.
In a modern context, this stereotype has evolved into a form of Closeted Racism that places the value of a Black man squarely between his legs. The fetishisation of Black men assumes that unless we have the twelve-inch flesh pipe to justify our use, we are simply unworthy of being pursued. This blatant objectification reduces Black men to nothing more than instruments of sexual gratification whose characters and personalities are extraneous and unimportant.
Both Naked and Closeted Racism feature a flagrant disregard for the humanity of queer Black men and other men of colour. Both systems rely on harmful stereotypes to reduce Black men to objects, to be either crudely fetishised or callously discarded. This is unacceptable. 2018 needs to be the year where no one has to apologise for being themselves. The queer community needs to do better. We aren’t just a whole bunch of young, white, muscular men – we’re Black, we’re femme, we’re fat, we’re old, we’re everything in between and so much more. Our culture needs to evolve into one where racism, either Naked or Closeted, is unacceptable. We need to lower the pedestal we use to raise a select few and celebrate the ground that we all stand on.