When My Date Called Me the 'N' Word

You have to love the intricacies of gay dating. Well, OK, you don't have to love them, but you can at least appreciate them and chuckle at some of the hilarity they produce. When two men get together, anything is possible. The interactions I've had with the guys I've dated have varied, and while I'm no expert on human behavior, I have come to the conclusion that the way a man romantically interacts with another man has a lot to do with his upbringing, his lifestyle, and where he is in his own coming-out process. Gay dating can feel like a complex activity, and sometimes I wish it came with an instruction manual. It certainly would help me out in the long run.

I recently met a guy on Jack'd. Yes, in between the constant book promotion I do on social networking apps, I actually score a few dates from time to time. This guy is Puerto Rican (just like me), and we are in the same age range (give or take a few years, with me being the older one). After chatting on the app for a few days, we met up on a humid Saturday night for frozen yogurt and a stroll through Tompkins Square Park. Honestly, it was so hot that evening that I could have slathered froyo on my entire body in hopes that it would cool me down. But in spite of the unbearable heat, it was a perfect first date. The conversation flowed without any awkward pauses, and he was engaging and very charming. In our current iPhone world where people rely on messaging as their primary form of communication, what more could I ask for?

Things seemed to be going well until a few weeks later, when he called me the "N" word during a playful exchange over the phone. I immediately stopped laughing. It's bad enough that I have to deal with terms of endearment such as "dude," "buddy," or the even more affectionate "bro" in my dating adventures, but now the "N" word?! When I heard it during our conversation, it stopped me in my tracks. Did this guy really think it was OK to call me that because he and I are both Latino? I switched gears and jumped on my soapbox, telling him about my distaste for that word and how I did not want him to use it with me again. I felt like a lecturing schoolteacher as I continued to hammer home my point of view. It's funny how you can go from goofy romantic to rabid militant in seconds. I thought we had moved past it after that night, but then I heard him refer to me as that word again a few days later. Just like a broken record, I went on to repeat my stance on the "N" word, only this time, I felt like the nagging wife who doesn't "let it go" even after her spouse concedes, which would have been ideal if that were the type of relationship I'm looking for.

I'm sure many people could engage in hours of debate about who is entitled to use the "N" word. (We already know Paula Deen is on the list of people who aren't allowed to use it.) I also know that the lines around the "N" word are somewhat blurred, since hip-hop artists use it in their lyrics, and some people within different ethnic groups incorporate it into their everyday dialogue. Some might think I could also use it, since I am of Latino descent and thus a minority. Here's what it all boils down to for me: I am Puerto Rican. I grew up in a neighborhood in the Bronx where I was surrounded by other Latinos and blacks. There were a lot of urban influences around me, and they were reflected in my slang, my accent, even the way I dressed. However, none of these things gives me carte blanche to use the "N" word. The neighborhood I was raised in and the color of my skin don't matter. I understand the history of that word and wouldn't feel comfortable using it in a salutation or in a playful manner. That same reasoning also means I don't like being called the "N" word -- even if it comes from another Latino and is meant to be harmless.

It's funny, because as a gay man, I always thought my biggest concern would be being called the "F" word. I'd never even given thought to how I would handle a racial epithet -- and from another gay man, no less. We as a country seem to be at a crossroads when it comes to the racial issues that we've turned a blind eye to for years. Contrary to what "Juror B37" recently said in her Anderson Cooper 360 interview following the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, race still plays a role, period. I'm probably a little more sensitive to that these days as a result of all the Zimmerman trial coverage, and I'm sure that had something to do with my passionate response to my date's faux pas. It certainly has got me examining my interactions with both other members of the LGBT community and other people of color.

What happened to the gentleman in question? He's no longer in the picture. While I can appreciate that not everyone is the same, this was one of those instances where our differences would have caused problems down the road. Even after explaining on two occasions how I felt about the unflattering word he had used, I could tell he really didn't understand. I've learned that in circumstances like this, it's best to just walk away and say, "Nice guy, but he's just not for me."