“What about you”, I asked, taking a sip of my drink? “Have all of your boyfriend’s been White?” He wasn’t expecting that. He wasn’t expecting me to turn the question around and he wasn’t sure what his answer to this question might reveal. “I dated mostly German guys. I dated an Indian guy. An Arabic guy”, he answered nervously, letting go of my hand. How often had he thought about ‘it’, I wondered. Minutes before asking me if all of my boyfriend’s had been White, he had been studying the merger of our fingers, which had been casually resting on his stomach. I was surprised when he asked me if all of my boyfriends were White. Did he have his suspicions, and were there semi-complex thoughts and feelings swirling in his mind should the answer to his question be a ‘yes’. If the answer was a ‘no’, would he have been happy? Would he have felt relieved? “I’ve only had one boyfriend. He was Latino”, I said, wondering why we provide details of our exes in past tense. “You never had a Black boyfriend”, he asked, sitting up immediately? “No I’ve never had a Black boyfriend.” He smiled at me. This particular smile was one that I had seen before, and I knew exactly what it meant.
The first time a White, gay man, flashed this particular smile in my direction was after a lecture at UCLA. The lecturer was an artist known for signage installations and homoerotic photographs of young, White men. After his artist talk I thanked him for speaking about his work and asked him if he would take a look my book, a collection of photographic portraits that I had made of family and friends. “You certainly have a thing for a certain kind of boy”, he said, his lips curling upwards into a bow. At the end of this bow, was a sense of self satisfaction balanced perfectly on his almost non-existent upper lip. It was easy to understand what he was getting at. A member of The Boston School, this artist along with many others, had influenced an aesthetic which celebrated young White men as objects of desire in gay magazines. He thinks I have a fetish for White guys. He thinks I don’t like myself, and because I don’t like myself, I don’t find other Black men attractive. He sees my Blackness and that keeps him from seeing the connections between me and the guys in my portfolio. A Black man having ‘a thing for a certain type of boy’ isn’t the same thing as a White man who fetishizes Black, Asian, Latino, or other men who are not White. His grin accented the underlying thoughts behind his statement. Of course you’re exclusively attracted to White men! Why wouldn’t you be? It makes so much sense. Whenever I hear a White man profess an absolute attraction to millions of men who are not White, I immediately recognise that the speaker is aware that his inclinations are ‘unconventional’, given who and what he is. He’s not getting away with this, even if there are consequences for me at some point, I thought. Spying the friend who invited me to the lecture across the room, I held out my hand for my portfolio and exclaimed,“No. They have a thing for me.”
This past July, I observed the misadventures of a friend travelling through Spain on the blue and white screen that many of use to communicate with others. We met at a Toro y Moi concert through mutual friends and went out for drinks afterwards. He casually mentioned that he was German, and that some people had trouble accepting this because “he doesn’t look German”. Are things easier for him there? Is he seen as German? Do they think he’s Spanish? During his trip his Iphone was stolen while he was slept on a train. There were many reasons why he felt frustrated, reasons he elaborated on in a ‘this is not the worst thing that could happen in life and I know it, but I’m still upset’ post. He was particularly distressed because several Tinder matches were lost forever. He’s really friendly and really handsome, but I bet it’s not easy for him to find people who see his beauty, I thought, co-mourning the loss of these potential companions. Were we individually grieving what might have been unrealised, plausible, Tinder moments, or were we grieving over an acute, communal trauma? When I was younger, a landline phone was my only means to associate with other gay men. The Confidential Connection was a messaging service where gay men could record audio profiles. It was free to screen personal ads and to leave messages, but if you received a message you had to pay to retrieve it. This was the perfect way for a young, gay man, barely out of his teens with no computer of his own to meet other gay men. Or so it seemed. “You have a really good voice. So tell me about yourself”, said Bill or Brian or Bradley on the other end of the line. This was probably the second call that I received after leaving a voicemail. “I’m average height, slim, toned, *22, and Black”, I said, sure that he could hear me smiling through the telephone. “You’re Black”, he asked, apparently taken aback? The emphasis I placed on the word yes added an “e” sound to the front of the word, similar to the “e” necessary when saying the word “bee”. “Oh no. No. I’m not interested in African Americans”, Bill, Brian, or Bradley barked before hanging up. As the dial tone chimed in my right ear, I tried to make sense of what had happened. Had I just been rejected by a White man for being ‘African American’? This wouldn’t be the last time I heard something like, “Sorry I’m just not that into Black guys”, or “I’m looking for other White guys. No offence to you.” Had I experienced racism before? Yes, plenty of times, but I had never felt like being Black meant that I automatically wasn’t attractive. Rejection lead to loneliness, and loneliness lead to desperation. The person who sassed The Boston School Artist is also the person who, at this time, played up his mixed ancestry because he knew that this might make him seem more desirable. Never mind that his physical features gave no hint of him being anything over than Black/African, it was worth a try and it worked. He, we, me, I… did it because at the time I felt it was the only way I could find love. It didn’t matter if I ended up with the love of my life, or a love that could only last between sunset and sunrise, I just wanted to be loved.
Just a few days ago, another gay, Black man asked, “Have you ever had a Black partner”? There was probably a long sigh preceding a statement of the facts so far. “They’ve all been Hispanic or White”, I answered, straight away. This question is sometimes painful to answer, but when speaking about this topic, I imagine that there are moments of recognition that some of us might hover over together. It feels less problematic when coming from another Black person, less judgemental, even though I still felt the need to explain why I’ve never had a Black boyfriend. Is this something to be explained? On this occasion I started with the old, “For a lot of guys in L.A., I just wasn’t Black enough”, and finished with the equally valid, “The Black guys that I’ve seen here are just not trying to f*** with another Black guy. They all seem to want to exclusively date White men. They don’t do the nod. They barely seem to notice me.” These personal experiences when meditated on, carry me to finite conclusions. These conclusions, though sound, inevitably lead to various questions. The most poignant question revolving around this subject would be something like: If some Black men don’t want to date me because I’m not Black enough, and if there are others who don’t want to date me because I’m not White, am I less desirable in both cases because maxims of White Supremacy are being enforced by other gay, Black men? In other words are some Black men automatically disinterested in me based on their perceptions of Blackness which are assessed against frameworks of Whiteness?
“I’ve never slept with a Black guy before”, said a ‘colleague’ who had the power to have me dismissed at a moment’s notice. He went on to tell me that just the other night he had made out with a Black guy, and that he was now curious to see what it would be like to sleep with a Black guy. “I bet you all have big dicks”, he said with a drunken sneer. Dodging his question I asked, “What do you think it would be like. To have sex with a Black guy?” He stared at the furry wall in front of us, and I could see that he was really thinking about it. Are our bodies foreign countries they can visit? Are we delectable dishes they can try, chewing us up and then deciding whether or not to swallow or spit us out? “Different. I think it would be different to sleep with a Black man. I’m excited to try. Maybe I can do this one day soon”, he said finally, looking me over. I wanted to ask him why he thought having sex with a Black man would be any different than having sex with a White man, but I never made it to that question. A few seconds after explaining that having sex with a Black man would be ‘different’ he leaned close to me. Then he leaned away and exclaimed, “Black people smell different too.” Sometimes racism catches us off guard. This was one of those times. When I hear White, gay men proclaim with such self righteousness that they cannot be racist, I think about these kinds of experiences. A gay White man, is still a White man. He might get shade walking into events organised by and for people of color. He might receive unwanted attention from non-White gay men. He’ll never know what it’s like to be rejected by men who look like him, and men who don’t, based on his appearance. “I’ve never slept with a Black guy before.” The next time I see him I promise to tell him that the only difference between him and myself is how race affects our lives. I wonder if he’ll find that sexy? He just might!
Isaiah Lopaz, Him Noir.
How do you handle sexual racism? I want to know. Message me at email@example.com