They’ve become the bane of my gay existence, words I’ve come to expect every time I log onto a dating/hook-up app. Among the Grindr and Scruff messages I receive on any given day, there always seem to be one to a half-dozen variations on the same tired thing.
I love black men.
I love black c**k.
I’m dying to try black.
Usually, the sender is white or Asian, but occasionally he’s Latino, Middle Eastern, or some other racial/ethnic qualifier besides black. I guess the authors of said sentiments expect me to be grateful I’ve gotten their attention and jump for joy like Sally Field accepting her second Best Actress Oscar. He likes me! He really likes me! (Field actually said, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me,” but let’s just go with the urban legend.)
Here’s the burning question that keeps me off my feet: Does the alleged compliment have anything to do with me as an individual (the way Field’s second Oscar win did for her), or is it all about the person who’s written it? Should Bridget Jones do a backflip every time someone says she (or he) loves chick flicks? Should every 40-something woman be flattered when a 20-something guy announces that he loves older women? Would saying that even be considered good game?
“My skin color might help categorize me, but it’s too broad to define me or even describe me in any specific, meaningful way.”
Yes, I may be black, but I’m also gay and tall and American. Oh, and I’m a man. If someone says, “I love American men,” or, simply, “I love men,” I wouldn’t automatically accept it as a personal compliment. Should I? My skin color, like my sexual orientation, my height, my nationality, or a woman’s age, might help categorize me, but it’s too broad to define me or even describe me in any specific, meaningful way. In the context of Grindr/Scruff, “I love black men/c—k” is gratuitous and pointless. If someone messages me, he obviously like what he sees. Does it really matter how he feels about black in general?
Some might think I’m splitting hairs here. I should just let it go, right? They’re only words. True, but those words are loaded with subtext. So many things in life are already about race. Why does attraction, diminished to such a sweeping generalization, have to be another one of them – even when it can get me laid?
Why make “I want you” a race thing at all? Why can’t it just be a me thing? I can’t speak for everyone (although I occasionally do – see my Scruff response below), but my gay black friends and most gay black men I’ve spoken to about “I love black men/c—k” agree on one thing: Like me, they would rather be singled out for qualities that have nothing to do with race, the way gay white men in the Western world can take for granted they’re being singled out for their individual qualities whenever anyone approaches them on or offline. (It’s a different story for GWMs in Asia, but that’s a topic for a different post.)
There are so many characteristics we can mention, ones that are actually unique and specific to whomever we’re pursuing and not an entire demographic – his smile, his eyes, his way with words. To borrow from Tina Turner, what’s black got to do with it?
When I take issue, it typically doesn’t go over well. “Lighten up. It’s a compliment,” or “Be grateful,” they’ll often respond, clearly unwilling to probe any deeper because, well, they’re horny. A few have hurled the N-word at me, which is hardly surprising. The N-word usually isn’t far from someone’s lips when everything is about race.
To be honest, the expectation of gratitude frustrates me more than the N-word (which I get so often on the apps that it no longer fazes me). It implies I’m so unwanted that I should just accept whatever scraps I get and run with them.
Are those scraps even mine to accept, though? “If I were white and someone said, ‘I like white men,’ would anyone expect me to take that as personal flattery and be grateful?” That’s a rhetorical question. The general consensus is that there’s too much variety among men of European descent for one “compliment” to apply to them all.
But when you’re black, or Asian, you’re presumably interchangeable with all other black or Asian men. You get lumped in with everyone in your ethnic demo, for better (“Black don’t crack,” “Black guys are hung,” etc.) or for worse (“All black men are dangerous,” “I’m not attracted to Asian men,” etc.). Either way, we lose, because we lose our individuality. We merely represent the group and vice-versa. It’s like whoever is doing the stereotyping, or the “complimenting,” hasn’t seen anything beyond color and ethnicity.
As much as it burns my eyes to read, “I love black men/c**k,” I give the locals in Thailand (my home away from wherever I happen to be calling home in any given year) and India (where I just spent five weeks, and where gay men are particularly free with the racial references) a sort-of pass for cultural reasons. They are not accustomed to seeing black faces on the grid and probably haven’t figured out how to respond appropriately.
Guys of European descent can’t use that excuse. Black men have been in their midst forever now, if not in person, in their pop culture. They should know by now that we’re more than our skin color and ethnicity – you know, just like white men are. But for too many of them, white Westerners are the only people they never judge, or embrace, or dismiss, based solely on their ethnicity.
I’ve accepted that most people will never look at me and not see my skin color first and foremost. But in these Trump-ed-up times, when so many are once again showing their true colors when it comes to color, it’s even more important for us all to be mindful of the implications of what we say and what we write, even when we’re horny and not necessarily thinking straight (no pun intended).
In other words, happy hunting, but let’s give the race card a rest. If we can’t find something nice to say about that guy we’ve spotted on the grid that doesn’t revolve around his race, maybe it’s best to not say anything at all.