The rise of hook-up apps has offered greater freedom, in particular to gay men, but for some it’s a passport for expressing racism they wouldn’t show in the real world. So just how racist are we when it comes to choosing potential partners? Jarlath Gregory asks some gay men of colour about their experiences in Ireland. Photos by Babs Daly.
This article was originally published in the December 2016 Sex Issue of GCN, which is available to read online here.
Last year with the same-sex marriage referendum, the Irish LGBT community joined together in strong solidarity to push equality across the line. But while we pride ourselves on mutual support, there are issues of discrimination and exclusion within our community that we need to address, not least around race.
We may congratulate ourselves on being one of the most welcoming gay scenes in the world, and on being part of an open and accepting country that voted for gay marriage, and while socially the gay scene might seem to reflect this, it’s not the same when it comes to sex. Jordan Boguus, Javier Sequera and Andy Cheung have all been living in Ireland for some time, and they’re here to talk about the issues that gay men from ethnic minorities struggle with when dating.
Some people say that having experienced discrimination themselves, gay people are less likely to be racist. Do you think the gay scene has a problem with racism?
Jordan: I know what you mean – people who go through discrimination are less likely to replicate it. Here, people are just getting used to people like me, so I think gay culture in Ireland
is kind of discriminatory. But I don’t know if it’s in their nature, or they’re ignorant, or apathetic towards it.
Javier: I think sometimes so. Because you can see on Grindr, Hornet, any app, some profiles that say ‘No Asians’ or ‘No Latinos’ or ‘No black people’. That’s racist.
Andy: I haven’t been on the gay scene that much, so it’s mainly on the apps. When I go to a bar I don’t go to hook up. I don’t necessarily know if guys are being racist. I’ve only seen a handful of profiles saying ‘No Asians’, because everyone knows they shouldn’t say those sort of things, but they kind of feel it. If I have a body shot, people might message me, but as soon as they know I’m Asian, they’ll block me.
Do you feel gay men expect you to fit a stereotype?
Jordan: Absolutely, yeah. I’m meant to be the sassy black one. I tie my hair up, and they’re like, ‘You look like The Weekend, or Kele!’ I’m not that one black person you know. I’d say only two percent of gay men in Ireland see me for who I am. I’m not like, woe is me. People see my colour and the way I’m built and they expect me to be a certain way.
Javier: Definitely. In gay life there’s vanity to deal with. If you don’t have the perfect body or a good-looking face or you’re not tall, it’s hard to fit certain stereotypes. And there are stereotypes with race, like people expect a black man to have a huge penis.
Andy: I feel like if you’re on the edge of the community, you’re more likely to feel that pressure when you interact with other gay people, especially in terms of dating. There’s like the whole need to be ‘masc’ nowadays. It’s body issues, it’s how you act; it’s down to the tone of your voice. And then there’s the flipside of guys who are only into Asians, where you have to meet people’s fetishes.
Are gay men more racist on dating apps than in person, say, in a bar or club?
Jordan: Yes, because it’s faceless. Everyone’s a keyboard gangster. I don’t know if I’ve experienced overt racism. Maybe they just don’t reply, whatever. But there have been one or two occasions where guys have been like, ‘Sorry, not into black guys,’ and I have a problem with that. I also think everyone’s a tiny bit racist. There’s overt racism, then there’s racist thoughts – it’s always the intent behind it. ‘Oh, I’ve never been with a black person before’ – that’s the number one thing people say. I’m not a phase or something.
Javier: It’s easier to be a racist on an app, saying ‘No Latinos’ and all that. When you’re in a bar, and you’re drunk, or you’re high, people don’t care. Of course they can be racist, but maybe because of the alcohol, or they’re wasted, they don’t have a problem making out with any guy. But it’s easy to be racist on gay apps.
Andy: There was one of those anonymous guys who propositioned me on a gay app, and when I said no, he started using racist epithets. He was saying really racist things like “Get out of my country”, telling me I’m not Irish even though I was born here and have an Irish passport. He wanted me to take a photo of my Irish passport! It was ridiculous. I managed to troll him back and got him to block me, but that’s how weird it got.
Keep reading to see what our interviewees have to say about preference, how they deal with racism and how Ireland stacks up against other countries.
What do you think of gay men who exclude potential partners because of their ethnicity, and then say, ‘No offence, it’s just a preference’?
Jordan: I don’t think it’s their choice; I think it’s institutionalised. I’ve had many an argument about this. I used to have really problematic views on transgender people, and then you learn that that’s what the media has told you. You look at it yourself, and you’re like, these are people; you see them for who they are. You don’t hate the person, you hate their culture, and it’s because of what you’ve been told about their culture, but you haven’t looked into it.
Javier: That’s difficult. If you just want to have sex with someone and you prefer a certain type of person, that’s maybe good. In an ideal world it shouldn’t matter if someone is black, Asian, Latino, whatever. The world is so diverse and that’s good. But with some people, the way they’re educated, they think there’s only one kind of guy for them. I cannot change that. It’s a social problem.
Andy: There’s a fine line. How long before preference becomes discriminatory, really? Is it okay to say, ‘I prefer not to have Asian friends’? I don’t know. When people say that, what I want to know is, why? Why aren’t you into Asians? Depending on their answer, you might feel like it’s just a preference, or not. There’s a cultural model that we sort of all have, where we’re exposed to a kind of ideal image, and they don’t want to move away from that.
Is the Irish gay scene more or less racist than other places you’ve been to?
Jordan: Oh, my God, more! It’s more ignorance, though. I’ve been here 14 years and I’ve seen it happen. I went into school and they weren’t racist, they just didn’t know what to do with me. They didn’t talk to me because they didn’t know if I could speak English. I had an injury once, and nobody would treat me because they thought I had HIV. That’s because they didn’t know any better. Fourteen years ago it was the right thing to say ‘coloured’. People only started mass migrating to this country in 2002. I think there’s been an exponential increase in what Ireland has done with its immigrants, but I can’t expect them to get it just like that.
Javier: I don’t know many places. In Mexico, sometimes we are racist between ourselves. You go to a bar and you see some guy, tall, blond, green or blue eyes, you’re going to see all these guys around him. Because it’s different. Oh, look, there’s a Gringo, let’s go! He might be handsome or whatever, but just because of the colour of his skin? That’s stupid, I think.
Andy: I think it’s all about scale. Here, there are people who are racist and people who aren’t. In London, or New York, there are more people, so there’ll be more of each. Like homophobes, you
get them everywhere.
What’s the best way for LGBTs from ethnic minorities to deal with gay racists?
Jordan: Find your own people and stick with them. Go out there. Find your people, live your best life with them.
Andy: I don’t even care. I see these profiles and I’m like, cool man. I don’t give a damn. I’m not going to talk to you. If you’re an Asian guy, new to the city, and you see the profile that says ‘No Asians’, of course you’re not going to talk to this guy. Maybe there’s another guy who says nothing about the colour of your skin. I would probably talk to this guy. I just ignore those kinds of people.
Javier: Bring the issue up. A lot of the time when you’re on the apps, and you come across racism, there’s a sense of being attacked, and of isolation. If you’re in a social circle with other people who experience racism, you get a sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’. I think the important thing is just try to not let it bother you. Be friendly with anyone. Hopefully that’ll change people’s perspectives.
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