When I write these Op-Eds, I always attempt to present a topic and viewpoint that either is never talked about or approach a subject in a completely different manner as it related to various issues that I see in the LGBT community, and in particular with gay men. When I divulge my own experiences with this formula it is in hopes that I in some way illustrate why I came to that conclusion. But the topic I’m discussing has so many layers that I may be unable to fully quantify the ramifications of what is attributing to this issue.
So when I write about the infrastructure of the gay community I’m hoping to spark some dialogue because I see so many divisive tactics that we have in the community. From internalized homophobia to latent racism I try to shed some of the motivations behind them and how we as a whole can learn from them. And while this issue is about someone’s own personal issues/problems we as a community may also be part of the cause of why this happens.
Sometimes people will do just about anything to feel as though they belong. Because none of us truly want to be alone. We crave some form of validation from the people that we either admire, feel commonality, or that we aspire to be like. And unfortunately race is still an issue within the gay community, despite those that make asinine claims to the contrary with statements like “I’m gay I can’t be racist”. We know that isn’t true. But we hardly see examinations into how this misbelief as well as others affects other gay ethnic/racial minorities. More specifically, we don’t talk about what negative stereotypes and behaviors this group do to themselves and other gay men of color.
I wanted to discuss this specific topic as a result from, believe it or not, a TV sitcom. It all started as a result of my queuing up a show saved up on DVR. There’s a show by LOGO called DTLA that depicts the lives of 30 somethings of all different backgrounds, races and sexual orientation navigating their lives and loves in Los Angeles. The premise of the show is what I always fantasized being gay would be like for me but it wasn’t. Maybe it’s because I have a tendency to romanticize every possible scenario, as we all do. I’m in the south but to be around that many people that are diverse in opinion and get along is hard sought after here.
Anyway, this led into further discussion of shows like Queer As Folk and Noah’s Arc that feature gay male characters as well as the plots, implications and our own desires about the hot cast members. But as my friends and I were discussing the plot along with the eye candy the dramas provide, a friend randomly asked me if I ever felt that race makes me feel as if I actually had to distance myself from other gay African Americans and other gay ethnic minorities. I was at first shocked, insulted that he believed that I would ever limit the human experience by isolating my interactions from people that share a part of my ancestry.
Then a few seconds later I knew exactly what he was referring to. What he meant by that line of questioning was if I felt I needed to distance myself from other ethnic minorities so that I would feel like I fit in with the majority of the gay community. There’s a belief that this happens as a result of tokenism, or when a select few members of a minority are accepted into a community. The minority’s acceptance is supposedly a sign of good faith that they’re not harboring prejudiced ideology. In fact it doesn’t even matter if the group practices this type of initiation as it’s only necessary for the minority that believes this phenomena to be true.
So gay minorities that believe this phenomena to be true and are consciously agreeing to the terms will go out of their way to make themselves stand out. They will show that their behavior is like that of the other Caucasian men in the gay community and not associate with members of other races, especially their own. They feel that it is a consequence to this perceived tokenism and feel that this is more pressure for GOC (gays of color) to assimilate into an ideal of what is acceptable mannerisms and customs commonly associated with gay Caucasian men.
Sounds so outlandish when you think about it but this works in the same way as internalized homophobia. where a gay person will openly condemn homosexual practices and cultures assimilate and show allegiance to a favored group. I wish I could say this is all just theory but I’ve witnessed this behavior and even questioned if I was embarking on it when I first came out. But my philosophy has always been to reach out be inclusive. I’ve never had that reaction where I felt like I couldn’t date my own race or embracing my various racial background as a gay man.
However I do remember a time when I was at a gay club and asked another African American if he wanted to dance and he was so hot. Great smile and laugh to accompany his very muscular physique. He said no thank you and I was fine with that until he leaned over and said “we can’t have the rest of them thinking we’re hoodrats” I was taken back because we weren’t doing anything other than talking. When I asked what he meant he continued by saying that “whites didn’t like it when too much of us are in one place. Then offered to meet me somewhere later if I gave my number and instead of lecturing him, I simply walked away.
Whenever I think of this tokenism happening I refer to my Race and Racism professor discussing this tokenism phenomena that can occur with our innate need to belong. He talked about how on a subconscious level, African American men that journey outside of their native community may do all that they can to stand out and completely isolate themselves from any members. No matter how compatible they are in ideology and insight a person may avoid all interactions for fear that they will be associated with any negative stereotypes. he will even go so far as to laugh at racially insensitive jokes or even engage in using them himself all in an effort to belong. All the while these men will always have an internal struggle of who he is and what he believes constantly challenging his position in the community he is trying to adopt.
My story about the guy at the bar illustrates what my professor taught about how this phenomena occurs with gay ethnic minorities. They will not openly get into dialogue with other gay men in clubs and other hangouts for fear they will be grouped as just another minority that exhibits the same undesirable characteristics. They may openly say something like “I don’t do black guys”, much like you would see from a prejudiced Caucasian’s profile on Grindr or other dating apps. Their need to assimilate and be seen as one of the adoptive community is so strong that they don’t recognize the hatred they’re harboring for a group they belong to and for themselves. This behavior is a clear indication of deficient self-esteem where they may fear association from their race so much that they become prejudiced to it.
Jargon aside, even though this skewed vision that a gay ethnic/racial minority may have is of their own issues and experiences we as a whole community can do more to -prevent this jarring behavior. We can talk about race a bit more. A lot more. Because too often the experiences of what it’s like to be gay and from an ethnic/racial minority is classified as the same experience when that is completely untrue. They are on two different planes of conscious.
Phenomena like this affect all of us because it shows that sometimes we can be our own worst enemies both from members within the community and to ourselves. And that these beliefs, however extreme they are valid come from somewhere. We need to examine that and be willing to give each other a voice so that anyone, no matter the topic, feels like they are being heard and respected. We can all have dialogue because these are things we never talk about.