A FEW YEARS AGO I was on a gay dating site and this guy wrote me a friendly message. It all happened so long ago that I forgot what common come-on line he used exactly, but I do remember that in the course of our conversation he asked if I wanted to have sex — right now. This was not an unusual request in these parts. I told him “No,” and his response has stuck with me for years.
“Ugh, you are so sad,” he told me. “Another black guy who is racist against his own people!” He blocked me immediately. I didn’t even get the chance to reply.
I couldn’t believe it. Clearly this guy was going through something, having been burned any number of times by guys, black and otherwise, who are not into black guys. But that’s not why I wasn’t interested in him. He just wasn’t my type. I don’t know, he just seemed dull. I could barely finish his profile because I actually fell asleep reading it. But his message still bothers me today, mostly because it makes a gay male truth painfully clear: that the majority of gay men in America have a race problem.
In some ways, however, my Angry Blocker was right. I’ve never dated a black guy. Sean, Max, Trevor, Tyler* – a grand total of eleven years of relationships with white boys. That’s a ton of pink cock. Since most people date within their own race anyway, often for familial or other cultural reasons, the lack of diversity in my dating pool probably doesn’t come as too much of a shock. But I’m a black gay man who has never dated a black guy, and it’s a topic I’m pretty sensitive about.
I love white boys, but it’s not like if you’re white that’s all you need to get with me. To be clear I love all boys: like, if you are a total top and have a huge/nice penis, call me.
When I was with Max, he would do something and I would go, “You are so white!” and it was a funny thing we teased each other about. When I see a white guy I’m attracted to, I instantly notice his hands and how they are different from mine. I love the way our hands look when we lock them together and I love staring into eye colors that are foreign to me. I love that they are so unlike mine. It’s the disparity that turns me on.
Over the years I’ve seen my “type” of guy become increasingly specific. You need to be skinny, and I hate muscles and guys with too much muscle. I don’t give a shit if you’re “straight acting” or if a purse falls out of your mouth when you speak — because I’m probably the only gay guy on the earth who thinks a femme top is kind of hot. I’m also attracted to tall skinny guys who wear tight jeans, maybe they’re tatted, maybe they have long hair or a half-shaved head or plays in some dumb band or otherwise works in the creative field. Basically I’m only attracted to hipsters and artsy, creative types.
My best friend (a black gay) and I were talking the other day about how conflicted I am about liking white guys, as if there’s something wrong with me and I’m not supposed to be this way. He told me if I’m attracted to hipsters, not just white guys; the brown hipsters are harder to find, but they are there if you’re looking. And he’s right. I sent him an emergency text message a few days ago because I saw this so hot Latino guy on the subway, tall (check), skinny (check), arms covered in tattoos (check), septum piercing (check) and he was carrying a skateboard (bonus!).
I spent my late elementary and early middle school years with my grandmother in Saint Louis, Missouri. Everyone thought the cool kids in my grade were the popular kids who fit in and who everybody liked. However, I was always drawn to a much darker scene. I was interested in the less popular punk rock kids — the scene kids who wore black, played music and dotted their eyes in eyeliner, were the first to get tattoos, had strange haircuts and probably pierced their own ears. There was something really interesting to me about them, something edgy and urgent. Everybody else tried to fit in, and I was drawn to them because they didn’t fit in. Though I wasn’t really a part of their group, I watched from afar and sort of wished I could be like them.
That’s the thing about desire: we fashion ourselves after what we’re attracted to, even when we don’t know we’re doing it. It’s like a reciprocal dance. Some guys go to the gym to bulk up because they want a muscle top/bottom. In the last few years I’ve gotten tattoos and gauged my ears because I find that look sexy on other people, but also because I know it means something to people who like that look, too. That’s why you often see two guys dating with totally similar styles. They’re sending out a message about themselves with what they’re wearing. They’re saying, “Hey, I’m safe. You can date me because I’m just like you.”
But sometimes becoming “like” someone just to get them to notice you can be really stressful. When I was a teenager I used to get so mad when I saw boys of color trying to dress like white boys to attract white boys. You would go to the mall, or even gay spaces, and see so many twinky bleached haired brown boys wearing Abercrombie shirts, as if trying to say, “Hey, I’m safe. You can date me because I am just like you – even though I’m brown.” Abercrombie was such a thing when I was a gay teenager that people would use the term “AFBoi” in their screen name to describe themselves. “Abercrombie” and “AF” was code for white. I think it still is.
The problem is that brown boys often love white boys, but white boys don’t always love brown boys — especially not in America. I don’t think white guys think about or realize how much it affects people when they specify which races they aren’t into. However, they don’t have to think about that, because they are already the center of power around which the entire mainstream gay world circulates. Brown boys all over know what its like to feel invisible in this marketplace of desire. You start to feel ugly because you write some hot white guy and his profile says, “NO BLACKS.” You get skeptical of anyone who is interested in you because you think they only want you for the huge cock they imagine you have, or they automatically assume you’re a top just because you’re black. You identify yourself as black on Grindr but some guy sees you and takes it upon himself to tell you that “you aren’t fully black, you’re mixed with something” as if, somehow, that makes you better.
A few days ago I saw a screenshot of some guy’s Grindr profile on a blog and it said: “Not interested in black guys.” The thing is that this guy was black. I couldn’t believe it. How could somebody express such specific disinterest in their own race like that? Though, to be fair, I do know plenty of white gay guys who specifically do not date white gay men. However, what made it even worse is that somebody in the comments said, “I wouldn’t fuck a black guy either. He’s just being honest. If you are attractive enough to get a white guy, why settle?”
If you are attractive enough to “get” a white guy? Is the market value of white gay men that valuable? Even though I’ve never dated a brown guy before, I have also never, ever said “No black guys” or listed shelves of races I wasn’t into. I just don’t use race to close myself off to people that way.
Race is such a problem in the gay world that I didn’t even know people thought I was attractive until I moved to Paris for a few years when I was in college. That’s how lonely and isolated I felt in the American gay world. Not because I felt that I was actually ugly but more that I sensed that my being black would always be a minus.
When I first set foot in Paris almost a decade ago now, I learned that boys of every race thought I was attractive – including North African guys, who are hot as shit. I could barely move down the street without some new person trying to get it in, and I’m putting it this way because it was actually as aggressive as I’m making it sound. I was asked to model. I was asked to be in porn. There was the hot guy at my Arabe du coin, a bodega in my neighborhood, who asked me to suck him off every time I went in the store. There was the taxi driver who told me I wouldn’t have to pay my fare if I gave him head. Man, French guys really like blowjobs. Then there was the guy who squeezed my ass cheeks to eternity on a crowded subway car. There was no shortage of guys interested in me anywhere in France or Europe more broadly. It was all very exciting because at 20 years old, in my, let’s say, five years of being sexually active, I never felt so valuable, so desired by people regardless of our skin.
When you are a gay boy of color growing up in America, it’s hard to find images of your value in culture, let alone in yourself. You almost never see gay versions of yourself on mainstream TV. You’re not in the porn, and when you are the thing is given some ridiculous title like Django and you are fetishized for your fat 280-inch black thick cut dick with a mushroom head that you use to pound on some poor, unprepared white twink. That or some different white guy is passed around a bunch of black/Latino guys in an orgy, servicing all those dicks, a flick with some creative title like “Black Dicks, White Ass.” Pick whatever formula you want. In porn, black guys are virtually never shown as beautiful in the way that white guys almost always are. If you are black or Latino, you can be sure your race is animalized. If you are Asian, you can be sure to be feminized.
Beautiful white boys get to say hurtful things like “No Asians” or “Not into Black guys,” or otherwise they speed straight to the point:
“Only into other white guys. I’m not racist. It’s just a preference.” Of course.
It’s true that in gay online spaces, lots of colored boys say things like “no white dudes” or will specify that they are only into their own race, but that’s not quite the same as when white guys say it. It doesn’t have the same sting because white gay men are always in a position of power. You get the sense that brown bodies who are only into other brown bodies are creating communities for themselves and probably don’t want to participate in anyone’s dumb Django fantasies.
When we say that we’re not into a certain group of people because it is “just a preference,” we are lying to ourselves. The reality is that the great majority of our preferences, likes and desires are shaped by media and all the stuff we surround ourselves with. When the multi-billion dollar gay porn industry is 10,000% white dudes fucking other white frat bros, of course, you’re going to think you’re only attracted to other VGL hot masculine straight-acting white guys under the age of 30 with 2% body fat! It’s not actually a preference at all — more like something you learn from all those years you’ve spent masturbating to porn. The media has everything to do with how we learn to relate to other people and how we perceive “others” more specifically.
Think about it for a second. It just doesn’t make sense to say you are not attracted to an entire race of people. That’s why I’ve always thought that when people say “I’m not attracted to X race,” what they’re actually telling you is that they’re not attracted to the sensational way that particular race is framed by the media, the discursive image of that race that we see on TV. Brown boys all over have dated or had sex with at least one fine ass white boy who was like, “Wow, you are so unlike all the other black/Asian/brown/ Latino people I know.”
The difficulty with talking about desire is that it’s kind of a hopeless loop. I don’t know why I’m primarily attracted to hipster, creative, artsy types of guys. It’s just what I like. And that’s the issue: we can all scream until we’re blue in the face about gay racism. Every white gay dude in America who doesn’t like black or brown guys can read this essay and it is not going to suddenly make them realize that they have been missing out all along. At the end of the day desire is personal and not even the best research results or compelling arguments can compete with “Well, it’s what I like.”
People just want to be normal. They want to be safe and earn a nice living, excel at the workplace and have a great life with somebody who is going to be there for them. Through sex and relationships, we bring people into our family, introduce them to our friends, invite them into our lives. We open ourselves up to our lovers and sometimes literally, your bottoms. That’s why we go with what we know, what’s safe, and why we have such trouble letting in anything that’s going to make life difficult or weird.
There has to be a certain degree of similarity for any relationship to work. But I like when things are challenging. That’s what makes life interesting.