I am a 58 year old African American who came out at 18. I have 40 years of experience being out in Los Angeles, the Bay Area and in NYC. I experienced far less discrimination in the gay community in the 80’s and 90’s than I do now. I have tried to put my finger on why that is.
Apps and other vehicles of gay social media, in my opinion, have done a great deal of aesthetic grooming, promoting through Instagram and porn sites a nearly universal, if painfully narrow, taste for a very predictable white male ideal, be he the ideal bear, the ideal bodybuilder, the ideal daddy, or the ideal twink. Perusing the myriad of gay oriented Instagram accounts where male beauty is not only celebrated but also more or less worshipped, as a person of color, and particularly as an African American or an Asian, one clearly sees how undervalued we are in the eyes of our gay peers. We’re nowhere to be seen. Only the occasional token black male is featured and when he is, he is one type. There is a range of African American looks from blond haired and blue eyed to dark as black coffee, but it seems that only the dark as black coffee phenotype is marginally interesting within the gay aesthetic and, I suspect, it is only included as a bone thrown to fetishists. Where I do see black men most represented in gay social media is in the realm of catty, comical, trashy memes and drag, which together amount to black gay cyber-minstrelsy.
I have a racially ambiguous look (for some) and it is always telling to me how responses to me change when I say that I am not Egyptian or Indian or Brazilian, as assumed, but African American. One guy approached me and made a flirtatious game out of guessing what my Latin American nationality was. He asked if I was Cuban, and I said no. He asked if I was Puerto Rican, and I said no. When he exhausted his list of potential ‘exotic’ ethnicities he finally said, “Okay, I give up. What are you?” I answered, “I’m African American.” He looked disappointed and burped out his judgment: “Oh. I’m not into black guys.” And just like that he walked away. As long as I was Latino, even an Afro-Latino, he was attracted to me. When he learned that I was not Latino but African American he walked away. Nothing about me had changed but his perception of me. Seeing me from across the room was enough to draw him to me and compel him to speak up. But saying “I’m African American” to him was enough to kill his attraction and completely disinterest him in pursuing further conversation with me.
There’s another side of how my ambiguous look is perceived, however. A friend had a guest from Italy who had expressed a strong desire to meet a black guy. My friend thought his Italian guest might like to meet me. We met at a party. The Italian was polite upon meeting but said no more to me than hello and walked away. Another friend who knew that the Italian was looking to meet a black guy mused, “Well, come on. When someone says they want to meet a black guy, they’re not talking about you!”
One college POC “friend” who grew up picking lettuce among other undocumented farmworkers in Central California actually said to me, “You’re really good looking, but I bet your grandfather looked like a gorilla, didn’t he?”
The ugly list of my experiences like this in the gay community could fill volumes. I will leave you with this, which speaks to Brice’s reflection on aging: I was at the Sunday Beer Bust at the Faultline here in Los Angeles. I was in my mid-40s and in my physical prime. An aging white man crossed paths with me as we squeezed between presses of carousing men. As he approached me our eyes met and he stared unabashedly at me. He said, “You know, you’re easily the best looking man in this place, but when I was young I never would’ve even looked at you.”
I’ve never forgotten those words. They spoke volumes about this subject.
You cannot truthfully say black men are not victims without standing in their shoes. “Victims” is probably not the best word at any rate. Subjected to, exposed to, receivers of … perhaps.