In honour of LGBTQ+ history month, Alexander Benjamin discusses the particular prejudices he has experienced as a Black man in the gay community.
While I’m now an out and proud member of the LBGTQ+ community, this hasn’t always been the case. Torn apart by family's expectations regarding sexuality, masculinity, and religion on one side, and on the other constantly battling negative, hurtful, and harmful stereotypes and comments jetted out by my own community has made it an even slower process. Being a double minority, rejected from both sides, has forced me to question my personal identity - a confusing and destabilising experience for a young person to go through. Going to sixth form and then later university has allowed me to meet new people from incredibly diverse communities with different mindsets and opinions who made me feel comfortable in my own skin. Despite this, negative attitudes, perceptions and outright hostile behaviour such as racism, fetishisation and stereotyping persist, particularly within the gay community.
First entering the gay scene, I decided to take the brave plunge into the world of Grindr. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the app, I’ll fill you in: it’s a gay dating app usually targeted at those looking for hookups. Displaying a picture on your profile is optional; people can remain completely anonymous. As a result, this has the unintended consequence of giving some people too much power to show their true heart and voice their honest opinions, which are unfortunately often racist. Some people blatantly display these views in their bios, stating “no Blacks or Asians” and even having the cheek to add “just a preference sorry x”. Warding an entire racial group away from you is not a preference. Preferences in their own right are not the problem, almost everyone has a type, but that doesn’t mean you can exclude an entire race. In doing so you’re essentially saying that there is no way you could ever be attracted to [insert ethnic minority here] people solely because of the colour of their skin. Even more worryingly, it took the death of George Floyd and a whole social movement for Grindr to get rid of the race filters they had on the app. Although I’m now able to laugh at these profiles and consider the racist bios as red flags that help filter out the trash, it’s hard to forget the insecurities I felt when I first downloaded the app. I can’t believe I used to preface a lot of my conversations by asking people whether they were into Black guys or not! I no longer seek the approval of others to feel validated, I’m Black and beautiful and no one can tell me otherwise.
On the flip side, you have some people who are the polar opposite, they crave Black men as if we were a rare species. Some will talk about their fantasies to “try some Black chocolate”. Some may see nothing wrong with this, which is exactly the problem. Imagine if someone only liked you because you have blonde hair or because you have green eyes and for those reasons only. At first, the idea of fulfilling a fantasy appealed to me, but now I can’t think of anything scarier: having men want me as if I were some sort of new toy they get to experiment with. I now steer clear from people who describe me using words such as “chocolate” or “delicious”, or who instantly and only compliment me on my skin colour.
Over time I plucked up enough courage to add a picture to my profile. Pleasantly surprised by the seemingly complimentary messages I received, I found myself becoming too attached to the opinions of others, an unhealthy and dangerous rope to walk. These messages were very often followed up with asking if I’m well-endowed, my favourite position, if I’m ripped; questions you’d expect to be reserved for a pornstar casting. I came around to realise that they are fact-checking to see if I match up with the huge, muscled, well-endowed, hyper-masculine giant they’ve been led to believe all Black men to be as a result of stereotypes fed from society, be they from porn, television, or general media. Upon realising that I don’t match up to the stereotypes that they’ve created in their heads, the interrogation and replies end. For some time, I had ingrained these heightened, unrealistic expectations in my mind. Never being the hyper-masculine guy that is so craved for in the gay community, I felt inadequate. However, as I’ve met more and more people in the community, I’m aware that not everyone has such expectations and I’ve become more comfortable with who I am and what I’ve got!
I’m aware that such negative attitudes persist for other ethnic minorities with similar negative impacts on their mental health. With age, I’ve become wiser, and I don’t let such views and opinions shake me the way they used to. There are others, like myself, who may be struggling to find their way in a community which already struggles with mental health problems, and has higher suicide rates than the general population. There’s still plenty of work to be done within the gay community in order to make it a more inclusive environment. Yet, while being a double minority hasn’t always been easy, minds are changing. I also know I’m on the right path now; I just hope others can find their way to that path too. Hearing the experiences of other Black gay men has given me the strength and wisdom to reach where I am now, I hope sharing mine will be able to help others.
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