Skin Deep: Gay Racism Comes Out
These four men, ripped and showing off sexy bodies, all fall into the "hot" category. Given the chance, which one would you take home?
If your first thought was the white guy, does that make you racist?
Most people would say that it doesn't. As Asian-American writer Alexander Chee said in his commentary "No Asians" for Out.com, "I’ll be the first to say desire is not a democracy, but a dictator. Sex is not fair; it’s just sex."
Yet in the world of gay dating—and specifically online dating—rejection and racism often walk together like BFFs. Last November we presented a post called "No Fats, Femmes, or... - The Ugly Side of Online Dating" in which readers debated their disgust for the body-facist side of gay dating while at the same time only seeking partners with cut, muscular physiques. And as Chee points out, those specifics are often closely followed by comments of a more racist nature.
"The no Asians proclamation is usually accompanied by no FATS/FEMMES/POZ, as if being Asian is something treated with a visit to the gym, doctor, or behavioral therapy," he writes. "There’s a temptation here to try and litigate with the no Asians crowd — 'How can you say you’re not into Asians? What about Harry Shum/BD Wong/Daniel Dae Kim?' — but that’s really beside the point." And while a man's carnal urges may lean him in one direction or another, Chee explains that "race-based rejection was, in the old days of real-life cruising, silent. Likewise your reaction. If someone rejected you because of your race, you didn’t usually hear about it unless you pressed your case. But men who put NO ASIANS on their profile are not stating a preference."
This more obvious example forces one to consider the images used to portray gay people in LGBT publications, websites, and advertising. Traditionally founded and run by white, middle class men, these outlets often featured images that reflected these gay men or their tastes. As the cry for equal representation rose up one would see some diversity, but even then the people of color would generally look as though they'd been raised in a white, middle class, suburban neighborhood. This isn't an issue from the 1990s, but a situation that's very much alive today. Even on TV the gay men you see are usually white: Nate Berkus, Brad Goreski, Mitchell and Cam on Modern Family, and Kurt Hummel on Glee. In a recent CNN commentary, African-American writer Rob Smith presented the following:
"When I log onto my computer in the morning... I will undoubtedly see images of people who don’t look like me attached to stories written by other people who don’t look like me. Above the page... are ads for various products... modeled by people who don’t look like me... When I’m on the train, I read my favorite gay magazine. I can’t remember having ever seen someone who looks like me on the cover. When I read it I see more ads - for underwear, cologne, cruises, hotels, and clothes - with people who don’t look like me. None of the writers look like me, nor are there any stories about anyone who looks like me. When I finally see an advertisement with someone who shares my skin color, the advertisement is for HIV medication."
This point is seemingly supported in Gay.net's own Eye Candy section, and yet at the same time it will raise another point to consider. Eye Candy is the highest-trafficked section of the entire website, and from time to time readers comment that the model selections are too white. And yet when we put an African American or Asian American in a post, fewer readers click to check it out. The same can be said for the "Featured Members" section on Gay.com's home page or newsletters. Gay.com members come in all shapes, sizes and skin colors, but across the board when they visit the site they click on member images in this order: All-American white guy, light-skinned Hispanic or Latino man, Mediterranean/Italian/Brazilian/"unknown race" men, and Asian men tie with black guys, though the lighter skinned the man, the better clicks.
So is the lack of equal representation in gay media a subtle form of racism, or just business? While we strive to balance out the look of the two sites because we do feel that it's important on multiple levels, at the end of the day companies and advertisers need people clicking on their articles and advertisements. And if readers leave a site because it doesn't reflect their personal lives or tastes, then those companies could very well go out of business.
Perhaps the real argument is the most obvious one: Having been born within the mainstream society, we come to the LGBT community with all the baggage society has instilled in us. CNN's Smith offers this anecdote, which shows just how invasive the mentality can be. "After having a few drinks with my friend, I walk home through the garment district in midtown Manhattan. I see a gay male couple walking hand in hand down the street... Their relaxed and happy faces turn frightened when they see me, and they immediately cease holding hands and separate. On this late night in an unfamiliar area of the city, I am not seen as a member of the LGBT community. I am black. I am male. I am a threat."
And as for the dating world, while it would be doubtful to see "No Blacks!" written on a profile, Asians seem to be fair game. Smith, Chee and Jewish writer Terry Levine all cite Grindr as a key example of where this attitude can sometimes be displayed. Chee and Levine even referred to images like the one to the right, where a user will state things like “I'm Blocking more ASIANS on here than the Great Wall Of China!” Chee says of people who go this far, "...you’re not only racist, it’s even weirder than that: You’re looking for a fellow Asian hater to date. You’re using the disguise of a semi–socially acceptable way to say you’re a racist and looking to hook up with other racists. That’s fine. Just change your profile to RACIST, SEEKS SAME instead."
Levine acknowledges that while Sk8er Boy's profile is probably meant to be funny, it's not. "It's an insidious sort of racism couched in humor, one that winks at the notion that it's okay to denigrate Asians or Indians or blacks simply because they're Asians or Indians or blacks..." He adds that this gay man (and many others like him) won't necessarily be burning crosses on anyone's lawns anytime soon, but it's still racism, and bigotry within the gay community on any level should be viewed as unacceptable.
"We all have 'preferences' and that's certainly our right," he says. "But we don't have a right to make people feel inferior because they look different from us— any more than straight people have a right to make us feel inferior because of who we choose to love. Not in this day and age. Not after all we've gone through. Not anymore."