Online dating is truly the way gay men meet love interests in the 21st century. Websites have given way to apps like Grindr, Growlr, Scruff, Radar and GuySpy all of which allow us to view virtual menus of men and potential sexual conquests.
On the surface, this new arena of dating and hooking up seems streamlined, simple and hassle free. But hidden not so well within those profiles lurks a new phenomenon dubbed “sexual racism.”
“I think it’s fine to put what you like out there on the profile,” explains Erik Frankwich, an Orlando psychotherapist and counselor. “But when you put out negative terms about what you don’t like, it reads as angry.”
Frankwich is referring to profiles that specifically single out race.
“Be masculine, no fems, no blacks and no Asians. Just a preference,” is how one app reads for an Orlando-based man on Scruff, who agreed to talk about his preferences for this story, as long as only his first name was used.
“Apps are for finding sex. Period,” says Allan, who is on a number of these apps and stays logged in most of the day. “It’s so much easier to list what you don’t want, along with what you do want. It gets you to the end result so much faster to get laid.”
Allan says he has a specific type he finds attractive: smooth, gym-defined body, dark hair and Caucasian.
Frankwich believes that Allan phrasing what he likes would be much less offensive than listing what he doesn’t like.
“If you don’t find someone attractive just don’t respond, or simply say, ‘You’re not my type,'” Frankwich says. “Online we don’t know anything about the person on the other side of the chat. All you have is a picture. Don’t be nasty or rude because you forget the other people on the app are real. People complain about political correctness, but it’s common courtesy. Treat people with respect and dignity.”
Tampa Bay resident Javier Perez has seen discourteous gay men on apps ever since he joined the online dating world. He sees racism every day online, he says, from his own community.
“Singling me out because I’m Latino isn’t fair,” says Perez. “I hit one guy up with a casual ‘Hi, how are you?’ and the response I received was simply, ‘Not into Mexicans. Sorry.’
“That hurt! Suddenly I’m a double minority because I’m gay and Latino. And, I’m Puerto Rican, not Mexican, by the way.”
But Allan disagrees with the idea of sexual racism and believes he’s being specific, not offensive, with his profile.
“If you don’t typically find Latinos attractive sexually, why not point that out right away instead of wasting everyone’s time,” Allan asks, who adds that he has no problems ‘hooking up’ with men of Latin descent. “Even the most attractive African-American men just don’t do it for me sexually. I can’t explain it. Sean Combs is a handsome man. But he’s not my type. I’m certainly no racist. I’ll hold a conversation with anyone. But the app, for me, isn’t about that. It’s about finding a way to get naked.”
Preference vs. racism
Racism is racism, regardless of the context in which it is stated or written. That’s according to Andy Quan, who is a blogger who specifically tackles sexual racism on his site, SexualRacismSux.com.
“Sexual behavior is no more justified a place for racial prejudice than any other area of life,” Quan says. “We should stop making racist statements in essentially public forums like personal ad sites. If our sexual preferences have an ethnic or racial bias, we should challenge ourselves to confront those limits and, if we can, exceed them.”
“Narrowing down” potential contacts by listing what one doesn’t find attractive is hurtful and exclusionary, Quan says.
Frankwich, who is white, is used to racism. He says he encounters it every day with elderly patients, and he encounters it socially because his husband is black.
“I’ll chat with someone and they’ll ask me to send me a picture of my partner,” Frankwich says. “So I do, and suddenly they’re ‘not into black guys.'”
Frankwich believes that this sexual racism stems from something deeper than simple preferences. Stereotypes and societal perceptions are a huge influence, he says.
“It makes me angry,” he says. “Someone might be into thin guys, but that doesn’t mean they would never experience a more muscular man. There are people who just have a stereotype in their mind about black guys. They act a certain way. The speak a certain way. More often than not, those stereotypes are off.”
It’s not a giant leap from sexual racism to everyday racism, Frankwich says. He knows of many experiences where his husband has lost business contacts because of his race or “surprised” people because he didn’t “sound” a certain way when he spoke.
“I’ve been told my husband doesn’t ‘act’ black,” Frankwich says. “That’s an offensive statement right up there with, ‘I’m not racist, I have a black friend.'”
Frankwich dated several ethnicities before meeting his husband eight years ago through Adam4Adam.
“I’m attracted to black men, sure, but I’m not attracted to all black guys,” Frankwich says. “I also didn’t exclude others. I found my match and he happened to be a different race.”
Quan echoes Frankwich’s view of sexual racism. It’s not simply a matter of gay men expressing what they desire on social apps and profiles.
“Racism seems to be more acceptable there because we have fought so many battles over our right to our sexual preferences,” Quan says. “Many men hold their sexual preferences as sacred, even if they contradict other beliefs they may have. This is confusing because some people who abhor racism in general life still behave in a racist way in their sex life.”
Allan disagrees. He says that his body’s reaction to specific types and races is biology, nothing more.
“It’s ridiculous to say that simply because I don’t want to have sex with an Asian dude, I’m suddenly a racist bigot,” he says. “It’s like saying I hate women simply because I don’t find them attractive. Sorry. That’s just not the case. I’m gay, not sexist.”
When told about Allan’s comparisons to his lack of sexual attraction to women to that of Asians, Quan seemed unsurprised.
“I don’t consider it racist to not want to sleep with men of other races,” Quan says. “Boring, perhaps, but not racist. But people can express that preference in racist and unwelcoming ways. That’s what sexual racism is.”
Frankwich admits that while his husband is African-American, he doesn’t find all men of color attractive. He also doesn’t find all white men attractive.
“I’m in a relationship with a black man, but I didn’t exclude all other races when I was dating,” Frankwich says. “If a profile says a person likes light skinned men with tattoos, that’s fine. But simply saying no Asians, no blacks, is just offensive. That’s racist. It’s how you phrase it.”
And comparing homosexual attraction to interracial attraction is not possible biologically, according to Quan.
“And attraction to someone’s gender is not the same as attraction to someone by skin color. I think gender (attraction) is a generally biological thing with a bit of cultural and social overlay. People are not born attracted to white, brown or yellow people.”
Are minorities too sensitive?
“Making up a thing like ‘sexual racism’ is a way for men who can’t get laid to blame someone else,” Allan says. “If you’re not having luck getting laid. Maybe take better care of yourself. Go to a gym. Eat better. Dress better. That’s where presentation really counts.
“But not wanting to have sex with a black man doesn’t make me racist.”
When asked specifically about his social life, Allan says that a majority of his friends are Caucasian. But that he works and socializes with a number of African-American people as well.
“Listen, I have no problem with black guys at all,” he says. “Honestly, it’s rare that I see color when dealing with day-to-day life. Is the bank teller black? Is the person pumping gas next to me black? I rarely notice. But when it comes to seeing a man I find sexually attractive, that person never happens to be black.”
So does the term “sexually insensitive” make more sense? Maybe. But that could apply to the broader practice of singling out other “undesirables” in profiles.
“We’ve all seen, ‘No fats, no fems,’ listed in profiles,” Frankwich says. “It goes back to how things are phrased and remembering that real people are reading what you put out there.”
There is hope that minds can change. In fact, Frankwich admits that he has learned a lot since his days growing up in Pittsburgh, where use of the N-word was a daily constant.
“I don’t know how I escaped that other than social work and the classes I took on diversity,” he says. “I learned about oppression by gender and race and I was able to become aware of it. We all have our blind spots and we hate being called out on it.”
By saying “no blacks and no Asians” on a profile, Quan adds, an individual may not see the broader picture or how that can be harmful to others.
“What we don’t think about is how it feels for other men to read these things,” Quan says. “Imagine how it feels to read ad after ad that excludes you based solely on your race. Imagine, for a moment, that you were in a minority in the country you were born in and kept reading apparently endless profiles saying you weren’t desirable.
“It just might ruin your day, wouldn’t it? Do you really want to help make other men feel bad about themselves?
But in the “me-me” world of social apps and hook-up sites, that perception of how ads impact others is unlikely to change. Allan, for example, doesn’t foresee changing his profile in the immediate future.
“There are men out there who don’t like stocky white guys like me,” he says. “I’m okay with that and learning that up front lets me know where I should and shouldn’t spend my time on the apps. We’ve all heard people say that everyone is not everyone else’s type. We all have preferences and experiences that we want to have or that we want to repeat.
“I can’t control what I find attractive any more than a straight guy can control his attraction to girls.”