To Be Black, Queer and Dating in 21st Century Britain

There is so much hurt in this game of searching for a mate, of testing, trying. And you realize suddenly that you forgot it was a game, and turn away in tears.” – Sylvia Plath

I’m almost 26 and the topics of my future, legacy and family are on my mind a lot. Over the last 8 years I’ve done a lot of thinking and soul searching to truly determine what it is I want out of life and who it is that I would like to share that life with. Growing up Black, queer and West Indian, I’ve realised that I am constantly traversing terrain which has never been mapped out for me. Effectively, that involves a lot of trial-and-error and produces questions I don’t have the answers for, but which need answering.

This year has been the most transformative year for me in this half of the decade. I’m accomplishing goals I set many years ago, my personal friendships and career are thriving and I’m beginning to make a positive impact on my community on a wider scale. However, as an avid planner and self-reflector, I’ve realised I struggle to apply the same goal setting to dating as the pool is tiny. My mother always taught me to watch people and patterns and my father always told me to protect my head and heart from those who would seek to take advantage of me. They both lived and breathed the Kweyol proverb of ‘Pwéson ka jwé èvè glo, mé i pa sav sé glo ki ka tjwit li’ (you never know who you can trust or who will betray you) and they were right.

The one thing I have learned in this life is that it can be a fairytale but that the happily ever after won’t be for you because the way our world is constructed doesn’t deem it so. People like to deny it, but the personal is political and it is painful. The dating world is no different. Being Black and queer has shown me how you can be many things simultaneously – feared and yet fixated upon in equal measure, secretly desired yet seldom publicly claimed, hypervisible yet invisible and often fetishised in place of real, true love and attraction.

I’ve dated people from a wide variety of backgrounds since my teens and my list of things I’d turn a blind eye to is fast dwindling. I don’t tend to seriously date that many people. I normally can gather whether or not we will gel in the initial talking stages early on as there are very few people in this life I’ve met who truly understand me or my experiences. As an introverted extrovert, I try to go where my energy will be matched.

My first dating experiences were with white men. I didn’t see any Black queer men around me growing up in the North and white men were the dominant group. When I was younger there were a lot of things I used to laugh off or nervously meander through awkward racially charged comments such as “I’ve never had a Black guy before”, “Is it true what they say? (hehehe)” or “I just LOVE Black guys”. All of these comments are based in fetishisation and anti-Blackness. They position Black people (specifically men in this context) as exotic pleasures to satiate some odd desire rather than human beings. If I interact with white men, these kind of comments still crop up and it’s beyond tiring.

My most successful (medium-term) romantic encounter with a white man highlighted to me that regardless of how supportive a white partner could be, their whiteness will always be present. The man in question had moved from his home country to another in north Europe. He was describing how people treated it and likened it to “a kind of racism”. I had to stop that interaction right there to explain this could not possibly be racism because all the participants were white; it missed the core part of racism – race. It showed me how people want to liken every difference in treatment to racism, which then trivialises the seriousness of and systemic nature of racism itself, especially when it affects you.

My last encounter with a white guy was a timely reminder of how plenty of white men are complicit in engaging anti-Blackness and was the last straw. We had a long standing connection and I decided to go enjoy life and have fun. He was cooking breakfast for me and I then joined him to watch some television. It turned out a Little Britain skit was on which involved blackface and jokes with racial undertones. This guy was chuckling along. I wanted better out of life and decided to up my standards.

I decided to protect my mental health and stick to dating men of colour (including Black men) exclusively because PoC solidarity is a thing, right? Well…it isn’t.

I started seeing an Asian guy who seemed interesting and we got on well. We were walking out and about in town and talking about each other’s cultures. “Oh yeah, Indian families really don’t like Black people, like the racism is mad. It’s a thing, like being discouraged from dating Black people.” He chuckled. I was open mouthed that he seemed unphased by such blatant anti-Blackness in his community. The connection we had soon crumbled not too much later as the relationship lacked a proper spark.

I then went on a date with a guy who was living in London but was from Hong Kong. We both seemed to get on initially so we went for drinks. He was detailing guys he tended to date and said that he particularly likes guys who are “Black but like, not Black Black”. I was completely confused because I am ‘Black Black’ myself. Was he trying to say men like me were too Black to date or that he wanted light skinned/biracial men? He couldn’t particularly clarify his statement when pressed on it when I asked if he meant men like me (monoracial men) and responded, “Oh, you know what I mean”, with a wink. We started talking about cultural events in London and I explained the importance of Carnival. He then explained how he knew all about the twerking and sexual dancing we “did”. I gently explained he was wrong and the difference between wining and twerking. He thought he knew better as “it will always be twerking to me, haha”. I thanked him for his time and made an excuse to leave.

I then decided it was time to look in earnest for Black men to date so as to avoid exposure to anti-Black comments, fetishisation and people deciding to bastardise my culture. It was quite the struggle. There were few in my area and they had made their “preferences” clear.

I found it very hard to actually find any Black men to even consider dating. I was like…where are they? I ended up coming across a couple but they were only interested in dating white men exclusively. I had no idea that this was a thing at first but then I heard more and more that “snow queens” were in fact common. I always found Black men who refuse to date people from their racial/ethnic background rather odd because there is an internalised racism complex there for certain. The socialisation we grow up with in a white supremacist society is too strong. It teaches us that our Blackness is ugly and that ugliness can only be alleviated by proximity to whiteness, which is ‘good’, ‘pure’ and ‘beautiful’.

An American friend of mine when living in London said he noticed something rather peculiar about Black men in the British queer dating scene. “There are SO many fine men, but they are all on the down-low or only want white men! I don’t get it! I can imagine dating here is very hard, especially if you want a Black partner”. There we had it. My best friend (who is a dark skinned Black woman) and I then detailed the way that white supremacy has negatively impacted Black people in the UK, to the extent that it’s uncommon to hear a Black man openly state he wants a Black partner when dating before widening his dating pool. His eyes widened – “What is going on in the UK?!” We chuckled, rolled our eyes and sighed.

I then ended up dating two Black men. The first relationship seemed great on paper but it didn’t work out in reality. You can like similar things but that doesn’t mean it will work in a romantic context and don’t be naive to think it will! The second guy seemed to think I was wonderful and everything he was looking for and more, and then all of a sudden got cold feet and started making excuses (a big bugbear of mine). That act got old real quick and the connection fizzled.

In the discussion around dating, we often forget that accessibility to the wider dating pool of people is heavily affected by various things including body size, skin tone shade, accent, formal education and hair texture. It’s not as simple as just ‘getting out there’, especially if the buyers in the market refuse to accept what you’re selling because it’s fundamentally unacceptable to them because of how they’ve been conditioned to think. The same applies to apps. I rarely use Tinder because the engagement rate is drier than the UK was this summer and Grindr is a pandora’s box of odd racialised fantasies and impossible-to-reach fatphobic body standards.

I’d discussed interracial dating, pro-Blackness and love with a very close friend who is Black. He comes from a country with lots of homophobia, so being out in the UK is a kind of sanctuary. He previously only wanted to seriously date Black men but as he commented to me, “I’ve been waiting for a Black man for three years and none have really shown up for me. I’m not going to die celibate to be pro-Black”. He had started dating a white guy and he was happily in love and had never been loved like this before (having previously dated some Black men). It was an example of how you can want to date men from your community but if your preference doesn’t prefer you, what you have is not a preference, but a fantasy. My friend chose love rather than the quite likely potential of never being partnered up, especially if he was waiting only for a Black man.

It’s a sad state of affairs that Black queer people in the UK face. You could get lucky and avoid all of the above but it’s likely you’ll face some, if not all of it at some point on your dating journey.

I can see myself being a parent but I can’t picture myself with a ring on my finger at all or even having a long-term partner. I would love to experience happy, non-toxic love free from anti-Blackness or any kind of fetishisation with someone who gets me and my culture (I know, it’s a lot to ask for right?) but I just cannot see it happening, be it with or without a Black person. To some that might seem sad, but I’m currently going through life planning to fly solo. At least I know I can’t disappoint myself and I can always hold myself down. As the one and only Beyonce said, “Me, myself, and I, that’s all I got in the end, that’s what I found out, and it ain’t no need to cry, I took a vow that from now on, I’m gon’ be my own best friend”.

5 thoughts on “To Be Black, Queer and Dating in 21st Century Britain”

  1. I genuinely appreciate you sharing this because although I don’t understand how it is to be a queer black man who is darker-skinned and visibly black (specification matters because we all know who has the most bias presented against them), but I am a dark-skinned, visibly black-“plus sized” monoracial black woman who is also West Indian and first generation.

    I have only had one experience with anyone before and the person happened to be a white British guy. He was strikingly someone who claimed to be worldly and loving to all, but made it a point to remind me that my beauty was only my personality. My looks were disregarded and he had a definitive type. He would make statements like, “Yeah but she’s gorgeous/extraordinary looking,” and it was all odd at the time but it was years ago. He became very embarrassed when his friends found out we had something going on and ended up telling a mixed-race African girl he was seeing that I was stalking him instead. Through that, there was a war on me by people I didn’t know, I was laughed at, called a stalker when we would be in mutual spaces, etc. For years, I had rumors spread about me all to be believed because the “well, she’s unattractive and just jealous of this gorgeous mixed girl,” is a trope that plagues many like me.

    Needless to say, five years later, I’ve not had any further experiences with men. I’ve always admired black guys but they were never checking for me for obvious reasons being I do not reach their physical quotas. You have to be an exception when you’re someone of my demographic and I’m not. I appreciate black men and their beauty, but I am troubled by their identity and what they represent in society. Colorism is a large problem that leaves me out of options when it comes to “my men”, being of my race and or ethnicity.

    I appreciate your vulnerability and it’s brilliant to hear your perspective. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I often find it strange how people remove how race affects your dating options in this country. I really felt the whole ‘I can’t die celibate and problack’ line but it’s quite unfortunate that people deem ‘preferences’ as complicately seperate from the current racist working of society.

    A true shame.

  3. Isaac, you are a PHENOMENAL writer! I enjoyed reading about your very unique experiences – thank you for being so candid.
    You will meet someone who you can share your life with, who makes you laugh, who has your back, I truly believe that. X

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