An illustration of the GUU with a banner stating "welcome freshers" and an LGBTQ+ flag
Credit: Ciara McAlinden

The Chronicles of a Black Gay Fresher

By Alexander Benjamin

Dating apps, dancefloors and downright racist encounters

Starting university for me was an opportunity to explore who I am as a young, Black, gay man. I figured that going to a new city with new people would allow me to fearlessly express who I am without the worry of bumping into unpleasant old classmates or disapproving family members. This was coupled with the excitement of knowing I would meet new people, make new friends and, if I’m lucky, have a cute guy in one of my tutorials. Eager and starry-eyed I hadn’t truly considered the larger differences there would be in leaving home and heading to Glasgow. 

Something I had never considered was the vast difference of demographics between my home city Birmingham and Glasgow. Birmingham is a multicultural city, with 42% of its population being non-White compared to around 12% in Glasgow. This wasn’t a problem for me until I realised that for some, I would be a novelty, an intriguing new-found spectacle. Going out during Freshers week was sometimes a unique experience. Understandably, everyone wants to make friends, however some people take it to the extreme, being overly keen and randomly throwing out phrases such as “yass queen” and “slay” when I hadn’t done anything to warrant it. I didn’t really think anything of it until I got a message at 2am one night from a girl I had met the previous night explaining how she was from the middle of the countryside in Ireland and needed a change from seeing White people. I was torn: on the one hand she seemed so nice, yet on the other hand I could not stop cringing. Never in my life had I been asked to school someone on African/Black culture because she was such a fan of “jazz and hip-hop”. While I do love hip-hop, I know little to nothing about jazz. It also renders the budding friendship artificial in my eyes as I feel like this person only wants to be friends with me because of the colour of my skin. Why can’t people just act normal around Black gay people?

With the best intentions, people often made remarks of how “I remind them of Rickey Thompson”, or how we’re “so similar”. As much as I love Rickey Thompson, I know for a fact that I do not look like him or even have the same personality as him. If I did, I would have started my own YouTube channel by now! In a similar vein, I am often mistaken for another Black person on campus. Frankly, these comments didn’t bother me as I viewed them more of a warning signal: steer clear! These can often be the type of people who also “don’t see colour” and “find Black people interesting,” failing to recognise that Black people can be very different from one another. I also think that those people would be very disappointed once they find out I’m introverted and cannot dance, and as a result don’t match up to the idea of me they have in their head. As in most cases, comparing someone to someone else rarely ends well.

I was generally pleasantly surprised by how I was treated on dating apps. The bar is low, remember, embarrassingly low! That means to say that while I still received creepy messages, often with racist undertones, they were no more prevalent in Glasgow than they were in Birmingham – as I said, the bar was very low. Nevertheless, I grew tired of using dating apps when I realised they were affecting my mental health, constantly being pulled every which way by people who either fetishized me or were repulsed by me. I have already written about the trials and tribulations of a young Black gay person on apps such as Grindr, so I won’t bore you with the gory details …  I will say that if you are already familiar with what using apps like Grindr can be like in other cities in the UK, the experience won’t be too dissimilar in Glasgow; I still found it both nauseating and tiresome.

Generally, I found that people have good intentions. While being Black and gay has brought up some interesting situations, they have never been scarring. It is mostly down to some people having very few encounters with Black people, and especially Black and gay people. All in all, Freshers’ week was a fun experience, although I wish some people were aware of how ignorant they can come across.


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