The issue of sexual racism is a debate that keeps on raging on amongst members of the LGBT community. Apps like Grindr and Tinder have given many of its users a platform to express their like or dislike for a certain race of people and while some may argue it’s all just a preference, most would say it is blatant prejudice.
Requests like ‘No Blacks’ or ‘No Asians’ have become regular phrases on apps like Grindr with some users going as far as to clump different ethnic groups together based on food. ‘No Rice’ means East Asians need not apply and ‘No Curry’ lets South Asians, like myself, know that I haven’t a chance in hell. Vulgar stuff, right? Well, that depends on what side of the fence you look at things. When users on Grindr who include such phrases in their profile are challenged on their inclusion of such terms, much of their defence comes back to their right to have a preference. And yes, while people are allowed to have preferences, for example I like my men not to be outright bigots, (that’s just my preference guys!), a lot of BME gay men feel that such phrases are blatant expressions of racism which render such apps yet another LGBT space not safe or welcoming for PoC.
“I’ve not had a lot of direct discrimination at me, but I see it all the time” Nasir Alajmi tells me, a 24 year old, Middle Eastern gay man, who uses Grindr as a way to meet new people for friendship and dating. “I don’t think I’ve ever gone on there and not looked at a profile that says something like “No Asians” or “Not into Black Guys”. People can be so blatant about it, it’s something you’d hope people don’t say in public”.
And that’s the thing, people wouldn’t dare say such things in public, so why do users feel they get a free pass to say it on apps like Grindr and Tinder. Nasir told me he thinks it is the way Grindr is designed. “There is something about these gay hook-up apps which somewhat encourages it. Why do you have a section that says what race or ethnicity you are? What is the reason for it? I mean the fact that you can filter by ethnicity says it all really, Grindr know what they are doing. Personally, I think it would be better if they got rid of it.”
On dating apps, a person is able to have their own little shopping list of likes and dislikes in a person. Often these can range between fairly mundane requests like age groups and height but when someone starts to include race into that shopping list, that’s when things get a little blurry. “It’s just a preference! I don’t like Chinese boys so I say that- it’s not rude. If anything it’s considerate!” One guy told me when I posed the question of dating apps and racism being mutually exclusive on an app called YikYak.
However, when I spoke to East Asian gay men they told me that they’re sick and tired of being stereotyped as men with small penises, passive and very effeminate. And because of that stereotype, a lot of gay men immediately see them as ‘less- than’. One East Asian gay man told me, “It’s very disheartening that people in our community see us this way. I messaged a guy on Grindr once and he said he wasn’t into Asians. 6 months later I grew a beard and he was suddenly interested in me because he said I looked ‘less Asian now’- what’s that all about?”
It is true that users of gay dating apps, Grindr in particular, have been known to use the filter option to exclude men based on their ethnicity from their view, there is a trend of many of its users using the feature for the opposite reason. A growing number of users use the filter option have their search results only bring back men of South Asian, East Asian, Middle Eastern or Black ethnic backgrounds in what many argue is a fetishisation of people based on their race.
It’s an all too familiar scenario that I’ve found myself in when using apps like Grindr and Tinder. Being a South Asian man, I will receive messages from other Grindr users and while the conversation appears to be going well and we pass the obligatory niceties, they will always say it or elude to that one sentence that triggers me into rolling my eyes into another galaxy.
‘Oh, you know I’m really into Asian guys!’
“They’ve already objectified you and I don’t want to meet people like that. It doesn’t matter if that’s what you’re into. It’s not me, it’s not what defines me. I want you to be attracted to me because you’re attracted to me”. Said Nasir, who has become used to the barrage of messages he gets from other Grindr users expressing interest in him just because he is Middle Eastern.
I’m usually advised not to take it so seriously and someone saying ‘I really like Asian guys!’ is seen as innocent as saying you like someone because they have long hair. But personally, something doesn’t ring true with me when I am told that these men have a thing for men of a certain race or ethnic background. Being South Asian becomes the primary reason why they are talking to me in the first place and it overrides any other quality I could possibly have. I could be funny, charismatic, or a great listener (all of which I am, just letting you know) but all that is irrelevant because they either can’t or choose not to see past the colour of my skin. The issue I have with that isn’t just that they’re talking to me because I am South Asian, it’s because they are talking to me because of the sexual stereotypes they associate with all South Asian men, as if all South Asian men have the same physical features and characteristics and as long as I have that- anything else about the person is just a bonus. How charming.
I can only laugh when I think back to a conversation I had with one guy, who happened to be white, telling me that he liked me because I was Asian, and when I prodded a little further he told me it was because all Asian men are rough in bed and he loved that. I don’t know where he got such an idea but he instantly thought because I am Pakistani that I must adhere to that stereotype. But such stereotyping isn’t new, it pretty much makes up the fabric of all gay and straight pornography sites with categories like ‘Rough Arab’ and ‘Big Black Cock’ all geared to viewer’s fetishes and kinks. A lot of gay men are using dating apps like Tinder and Grindr as a way to live out their deepest, darkest fantasies.
A group within the LGBT community which experience both discrimination and fetishisation on gay dating apps emphatically is Black men. The stereotype of the black man being dominant, having an extremely large penis, being rough in bed and borderline aggressive is an idea many users on gay dating apps, adopt and see no problem in enforcing. Even worse than that, there are examples of cases where users on Grindr have called black men the N-word and likened them to monkeys after their advances haven’t been reciprocated. Interesting to note here that to note here that such objectification isn’t just at the hands of white gay men, in fact, many gay men of colour have been known to fetishize black men in the same way.
Black men are objectified from the get-go on gay dating apps and when they challenge the status quo they’re met with derogatory racial insults. Fed up with the constant barrage of ignorant and racially fuelled requests and abuse they get on dating apps; some black men have taken to social media to expose the true extent of what they experience.
When I spoke to Derrien, 23 year old, black gay man, he told me, “I’ve stopped posting screenshots (on Twitter) to the same level because I would get people making jokes about it in my Twitter mentions. I would think to myself it’s not funny so you must not be able to empathise for you to laugh about it.”
He told me that the reason he started posting screenshots of the messages he would receive on Grindr and Tinder was because he wanted to see what other people’s reactions would be. He found that many of his own black friends weren’t at all shocked by the messages as if to ask ‘What do you expect?’. When he would show his non-black friends Derrien told me, “something just wouldn’t compute with them. They would see it and just shrug their shoulders and be like ‘oh… okay.’” But on Twitter Derrien would get private messages from other gay black men sharing their own experiences with him and thanking him for speaking up for gay black men.
Sadly, it is an issue that isn’t being addressed or tackled seriously enough by mainstream gay media. You only have to peruse Buzzfeed’s LGBT section to see countless articles in the vain of ’25 Worst Grindr Conversations… And you won’t believe Number 6!’ These articles do little in asking why some users on Grindr think it’s okay to ask a black man ‘Will you be my BBC (Big Black Cock) tonight daddy?’ and instead see it as hilarious internet fodder, and something that those on the receiving end should just laugh about because it’s never that serious.
But for Derrien it is that serious, he has even gone as far as to write on his Tinder profile ‘Black men are humans not walking dildos, so treat me accordingly’ in hopes of deterring those who fetishize black men. “Everyone tells me Tinder is not as bad (as Grindr) but it’s just as worse for this sort of thing,” Derrien said. One man, who happened to be White, told him that the issue of other gay men fetishising Black men as just sex objects with large penises and nothing else is ‘only an issue if you make it one.’
“If you’re not going to respect me then leave me alone because I don’t need that. It’s not validating and your attention is not flattering to me.” He has reached the stage where seeing ‘No Blacks’ on profiles on Grindr is less likely to offend him but rather help him weed out the bigots amongst the pile. “Have that on your profile. Good! So I can block you and move on with my life. I’m not going to cry about it.”
These sentiments that are echoed by Curtis, another gay black man who told me he regularly receives messages from other men on Grindr who are only interested in whether he lives up to the myth of the black man. “Obnoxious questions like ‘How big are you?’ are part of the territory that comes with using apps like Grindr, but I usually just read it and block them.
Derrien told me that not everyone has quite reached that stage yet. It takes a long and arduous time to know you are worth more than a means to explore someone’s fetish. This train of thought hasn’t been adopted by all gay BME men who frequent on gay dating apps, with many of them choosing to perpetuate the stereotype put upon them based on their race. For everyone BME gay man refusing to be objectified as a fetish or kink, there are two other BME gay men identifying themselves on Grindr as ‘Big Black Cock Tops’ or ‘Rough Dom Arabs’.
So that makes me think, how can we as Gay BME men cry foul at the prejudice we experience on apps like Grindr and Tinder, when our very own actively play up to the stereotypes put upon them for validation and attention? It’s like a never-ending vicious cycle.
It’s not all bad however, there have been conscious efforts to both address and tackle the problem of sexual racism within the LGBT community. Most recently, RuPaul’s Drag Race finalist Kim-Chi, who is South Korean, used his time on the show to shed light on the racism he experiences both in person and on apps such as Grindr. It’s a step in the right direction but other people think the apps themselves should be doing held accountable for championing change too. Nasir told me, “Apps like Grindr maybe don’t cause racism amongst gays but the way they’re designed does encourage it and they do have a responsibility to make it clear that it isn’t okay”.
It’s all very easy for me to sit here, as a South Asian gay man and make claims of racial discrimination within the LGBT community and complaining that they continue to go unchallenged because unless it happens to you, you’re not to know. But when we are telling you about it, don’t just huff and puff and roll your eyes thinking BME gays are just being overly sensitive. More needs to be done to open up a healthy conversation about a whole plethora of problems that plague the LGBT community because it would be silly of us to think we’re not without our faults. And once that happens perhaps articles like this one, that draw attention to racial discrimination isn’t just seen as niche pieces that only ‘those ethnic gays’ can resonate with.
Pictures courtesy of Nasir and Derrien