Gay men like me felt our sexual orientation as an ineffable presence as long as we can remember. As a child, I ogled Omri Katz in Hocus Pocus, enjoyed playing with girls and their dolls and wanted to be Ginger Spice. When it comes to the modern fight for equal rights, it's imperative that we remind our straight counterparts that we were born this way.
Gay white men were born gay, but they were also raised and socialized as white men — the social group vested with the most privilege in America. But here's the brutal truth: The social privilege of whiteness still affords them a disproportionate amount of power in the gay community.
That privilege elevates white, gay men above men of color. They cover both gay and mainstream magazines. They lead primetime shows about gay men. White, gay men set the standard against which other gay men's attractiveness is measured. If we hope to eradicate racism within the gay community, white gay men must acknowledge their privilege — and the way it's used, in ways subtle and not, to denigrate minorities.
As a Latino gay man, I know firsthand that my skin color affects how I interact with the larger community. Like other black and brown gay men, I feel the effects of racism in everyday interactions with white gay men. But perhaps the most casual and most common place minority gays experience racism is in interactions on apps like Grindr, which to some degree have replaced gay bars as a nexus for dating and hookups. According to a 2012 study, just over 75% of young, gay men have used Grindr to find sexual encounters.
On apps like Grindr, gay men brandish their racial dating preferences with the same unapologetic bravado that straight men reserve for their favorite baseball team.
Like this man who just wants to "keep it white or Latin." Or this guy who is "not into Black or Asian." One user kindly requests that Asians "don't make contact" while another lumps black men, Asians, old men and fat, hairy men together into a group of untouchables. Finally, there's this man, who says he's only into white men and if you're anything "less than" that, he's not interested. All those examples are from one site. From this year. From this month.
Calling these preferences racist isn't just conjecture: It's science. For instance, a 2015 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that race-based preferences correlate strongly with negative attitudes about minorities.
"Sexual racism is closely associated with generic racist attitudes, which challenges the idea of racial attraction as solely a matter of preference," the researchers wrote.
You may be born gay and white, but you were not born perceiving Asian or black men as unattractive — or wanting to keep any racial group out of your bedroom, for that matter. Unlike one's sexual orientation, race-based dating restrictions are socially constructed — not innate. Rather than deny or defend racial dating restrictions, gay, white men should admit that they stem from prejudice. It doesn't mean you're a bad person: If you're white and raised in America, there's no way not to be racist. Acknowledging that you harbor racist attitudes and beliefs is the first step to combatting racism in the gay community.
"People who make it a point to state that they have racial preferences ... need to examine some of the biases they have that lead to what they call those preferences," said Kevin Nadal, executive director of the City University of New York's Center for LGBTQ Studies, in a September 2015 interview with Mic.
I know what you're thinking: It's not that serious, it's just Grindr. But it is serious. Grindr is the new watering hole. How you comport yourself on there matters.
When gay men of color use Grindr and encounter sexual racism, the effects are damaging. Faced with constant messages that signal gay men of color are less valuable than their white peers, black and brown men experience internalized racism, decreased self-esteem and psychological distress, researchers have found.
Another 2015 study found that sexual racism, which the authors called "largely indistinguishable from generic forms of racism," leads men of color to "disconnect" from apps and, by extension, the larger community. According to the study, 84% of gay and bisexual men of color experienced racism in the gay community, and 77% of those men experienced stress as a result.
"Our findings highlight that sexual racism — as an expression of racism generally — is an ongoing issue for men who seek out other men online, and that men engage in a range of strategies for mitigating the negative effects of racial prejudice in this domain," the researchers wrote.
For those who want to simplify the search for a compatible partner, rather than use language that frames your desires according to racial categories — no this, no that — frame your desires around specific acts and qualities you like. It could actually get you laid faster. Wanna play a sub bottom? Just say so. Wanna take it from a hung top? Say it loud and say it proud.
It's the duty of anyone who cares about racism in the gay community to call it out when they come across it. Words have power. By calling out racist language, we can interrupt decades' worth of hard-wiring that says branding minorities as undesirable is okay.