This article with words by Stuart Haggas @GetStuart and photography by Chris Jepson: © www.chrisjepson.com @chrisjepson first apperared in FS Magazine here.
IS THE GAY SCENE RACIST?
“I actually feel physically sick at the sight of too much black flesh” - white gay man aged 27 from London.
Over 850 Black, white, Asian, South Asian, Arab and mixed race gay men shared their thoughts on race and racism with FS. More than two-thirds of the men from the Black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds had personally experienced racism on the scene. Stuart Haggas reports on the results...
WARNING: some of content in this feature may be offensive to some. FS does not condone it but felt we needed to present the responses honestly.
RAINBOW COLOUR SCENE
In the FS ‘Racism on the scene survey’:
- 80% of Black guys,
- 79% of Asian guys,
- 75% of South Asian guys,
- 64% of mixed race guys
- and most of the Arab guys who responded said they’ve personally experienced racism on Britain’s gay scene.
Some of the stories were common: many recalled being ignored on the scene or being blocked or called racist names on apps. For some the racial abuse went much deeper. Of all the racial groups, it was only among the Latin guys that a minority (35%) had not personally experienced racism.
About 63% of Black and South Asian men said that racism is a bigger issue for them than homophobia.
Peter is a 23-year old Black man from Leeds. He lists some of the things that white men have said to him on the scene. “Does monkey want a banana? I love nigger cock. Show me your gun. Want some fried chicken or watermelon? Cheeky chimp, c’mon I’m not the police you know! And many, many more,” he says. “I could sit here all day and tell you about them. Drag queens and their comments – there is a line, and every time I pass a drag queen who is MCing/DJing, I think to myself ‘please don’t make a racist comment…’”
“I’m more conscious of my skin colour than my sexuality,” says Gerry, a 35-year old mixed race guy from Glasgow. “People comment more on my skin in a derogatory manner.”
“White guys will generally only talk to a Black guy in a bar because that’s their sexual preference,” says Carl, 47, from London, “otherwise they will ignore you.”
“I seem to be the last person to get served in a gay bar,” says Sean, 27 from London.
“The only approach I’ve had at a gay bar was when I was asked if I supplied drugs,” adds Wayne, 47 from London. “Terrible behaviour that was not only insulting, but humiliating, since I thought the approach made was due to a romantic intent.”
“I am a proud and open Black gay man,” says Vernal Scott, author and diversity consultant working with Naz, who provide sexual health and HIV support for London’s Black and minority ethnic communities. “I am therefore a ‘double minority’, if you like. I experience crap from both angles. I can’t say one hurts less than the other if you find yourself racially profiled on one hand, and then made to feel like an outcast in a gay club – or trying to get into one! But life must go on. We have to learn to feel good about ourselves on the inside, despite external challenges. We have no choice but to stand on our own two feet.”
OTHER SHADES OF RACISM
It’s a similar story from Asian and South Asian gay men. Shabbs is a 31-year old South Asian guy from Coventry. “Going to a gay pride event and hearing racist comments from gay men directed towards you makes you feel unwelcome in a community you want to be a part of,” he says. “I’d rather be somewhere that’s homophobic than somewhere that is racist, because I can pretend I’m straight. I can’t pretend to be a different skin colour or race. So racism is a bigger issue for me.”
“I think they’re both equally as big problems as each other,” adds Raz, 28 from London. “Racism is just more widespread – as a gay ethnic minority I suffer both, versus a white gay male who only deals with one.”
“It’s mainly ignorance. People just refer to me as Indian. I’m not – I was born in Britain and my roots lie in Sri Lanka,” says Nimalan, 29 from London. “Being gay means I am part of a minority group. But attitudes on the scene mean that I don’t fit into the gay scene.”
“I have been made to feel excluded in gay bars where bar staff ignored me,” says Sarwar, 46 from London, “or doormen asking if I got their order for takeaway. A drag queen selected me to humiliate in public, by saying I should cover my beard or the crowd will get nervous. Gay publications do not promote LGBTQ men of colour, only Black/mixed-race men. There is a diversity of men of colour that gay publications fail to highlight.”
Mo, 28 from Leeds has been called a ‘Paki’ and a ‘terrorist’ by other gay men. “I think racism is as big a problem as homophobia, and both need to be tackled,” he says. “You would think that the discrimination homosexuals encounter would make them more mindful of their judgements based on race.”
“Let’s not forget that racism isn’t just white versus others,” adds Ishan, 35 from London. “I frequently hear Asians disliking Black guys or even each other. Often we stereotype ourselves.”
Apps are a prime vehicle for sexual racism, with some profiles openly stating a preference for ‘White only’ or ‘no chocolate, rice or spice’.
“I have messaged guys and simply had responses back saying ‘no Blacks’,” says Martin, a 26-year old Black man from London.
“It’s especially common on gay apps,” says Matt, a 32-year old Asian guy from Bristol. “When I’ve had a profile photo that wasn’t too obvious whether I was white or Asian, I got people chatting with me until the moment they realised I was Asian, then suddenly they either went completely silent or I got told that I’m not their type.”
“I’ve been blocked on apps because I am South East Asian,” says Ari, 39 from London, “or thought of as Muslim, even though I am not a Muslim. I have had abuse sent through messages, saying ‘go back home Paki’ or a question asking if Allah is happy I am on here.”
“You get used to it,” says Shabbs. “I just wait for guys to approach me on apps, so I don’t have to deal with any of the possible hateful/hurting comments if I was approaching someone.”
Others are more philosophical. “Is being ignored on Grindr really a form of racism?” questions Alex, a 28-year old Asian guy from London. “I guess if you are not into Asians, you just aren’t – and there’s no point time-wasting. So for me whilst this is frustrating, it’s not totally unacceptable. However, it’s intolerable if this involves explicit categoric refusal on racial grounds, e.g. ‘I’m not into Blacks’; ‘no fem no rice only muscle’ on the apps as profile statements.”
In many cases, it’s the vocalising of racist stereotypes that cause offence. For Black guys, that stereotype often relates to cock size.
“It is assumed all the time online that I am a top because I am Black and bigger built,” says Martin. “And not just a top, but a power top. It is assumed I am hung.”
“White men will often come up to me and tell me that they like black cock, I’m their fantasy fuck, and they have a strong desire to have my big black cock inside them,” says Andrew, 48 from Manchester. “This can be intimidating as they have no idea of the size of my cock. I feel like an object. The other line is they know all about me as their last boyfriend was Black.”
“Many men just assume I have a huge cock, and are disappointed when it’s unveiled,” Sean admits. “Also I get approached by many submissive white bottoms wanting me to dominate them.”
“It is more the number of men who assume I’m a top because of my race, or the whole BBC schtick,” agrees Matt, 27 from London.
“’How hung are you?’ I fucking hate that question. With a passion,” says Peter, 28 from Coventry. “As if there is nothing else to my being.”
“I don’t know if everyone goes through this, but at one point I started to feel upset that I was not born white, just so other gay men could approach me without the same ‘I wonder if he’s…’ look on their face,” adds Sean.
“It’s a complicated thing,” Peter admits. “It’s a stereotype that has lead to me having a number of sexual encounters. Who doesn’t love some attention? But when the attention is only due to the stereotype, it gets exhausting. I feel sometimes as if I’m treated like some sort of trophy or achievement.”
Asian and South Asian guys face similar issues based on negative stereotypes.
“Asian men are always assumed to be rent boys or gold diggers,” says Zan, 38 from Nottingham. “And usually presumed to have a small penis and therefore treated as a bottom.”
“It seems that the older the Caucasian man, the higher the propensity for them to pursue Asian men,” says Michael, 43 from London. “Bizarre, but that is my observation.”
“The stereotypes held for Asians are the same for South East Asians,” adds Ari. “Some older white males think that as they are showing us attention, then I should be grateful. Some younger white males think that I am a submissive bottom and my cock is small. I am neither of those, and hate having to put up with this level of ignorance. People think by saying this type of nonsense they are being honest, but it just shows how rude and inappropriate they are.”
“Human sexuality is complex and constantly shifting,” says GMFA’s Matthew Hodson. “Perhaps it helps some feel more in control of this complexity if they can pigeonhole people according to what are often quite ridiculous stereotypes. Of course not all Black men are dominant tops with huge cocks, and not all Asian men are submissive. I’m sure most of us want to be respected as individuals, but fantasy and stereotyping and standardised porn narratives can warp the way we treat and respond to each other.”
For some Black men, it’s not the racist words but the objectification that is most demoralising. In fact, 82% of Black men who completed FS’s survey said they personally feel sexualised or objectified by white men on the gay scene.
“I was sleeping with someone just this week, who on the date was perfectly normal,” Martin says, “but then as we lay together came out with phrases like ‘my little Black boy, I love the taste of your Black skin’, ‘yes my little nigger, suck this white daddy’ and tried to ‘compliment’ me by saying I wasn’t Grace Jones black, I was ‘mulatto’”.
“It slightly annoys me as I always feel like my skin colour is being fetishised,” adds David, 23 from London. “I get messages like ‘I’ve never had sex with a Black guy before’ like I’m a rare collector’s item.”
“Sometimes it is very clear that some guys just want to have sex with you for the experience of sleeping with a Black man,” explains Mickel, 30 from Birmingham, “and a lot of the time you just become a fetish to white men. They have no intention of going out with you, they just want you for sex.”
“People only tend to want you for sexual purposes and don’t see you as relationship worthy,” agrees Jord, 20 from Wolverhampton.
“It’s about being a fantasy,” agrees Steve, 46 from Bristol, “which leaves little room for reality, and if I don’t live up to that fantasy I’m less of a Black guy because of it.”
“I’m personally mixed race, but I tend to get told how they wanna take my big black cock,” says Josh, 20 from Reading. “I’m a bottom for one thing, and prefer not to be objectified!”
“Even though my personal profile on various online dating apps states that I’m looking for a relationship, and that I’m totally disinterested in sexual hook-ups, I still receive nothing but sexually explicit messages,” says Wayne. “They are either asking about the size of my cock, sending me pictures of their cock/arse, or asking if I will let them suck me off. It’s incredibly demoralising!”
Some Asian and South Asian men also identify with the notion of being objectified by White men on the gay scene.
“Usually I feel sexualised and objectified by older white men. I think some see me as an easy target for a quick shag,” says Shabbs. “I’ve noticed this since I was 19. When you’re young it feels flattering, but as I’ve gotten wiser you see how they prey on the vulnerabilities we have in our South Asian culture. Many of us are unable to come out to families and have to be discreet about our sexuality. Sometimes you feel like a fetish, a curio object. Often I get messages like ‘I’ve never been with an Indian guy before’. I’d rather be seen as an individual than lumped into a single colour-defining category. But then again, if they’re hot… yeah, I can be just as shallow!”
“I feel that many white men only want to sleep with me as a sexual conquest, and would be less inclined to date me,” adds Minesh, 27 from London.
Others admit to feeling overlooked rather than objectified.
“I feel a bit invisible,” says Vish, 27 from London. “Asian men are generally overlooked by white men.”
“White men on the gay scene very rarely look at South Asian men,” agrees Gucci, 32 from London.
“I’d just be happy to be objectified as a sexual being,” adds Gilly, 35 from Leicester.
Do these racist actions and attitudes affect the mental and sexual health of Black, Asian and other gay men from ethic minorities? “There are significantly higher rates of suicide, self-harm and mental ill health among Black gay and bisexual men,” GMFA’s Matthew Hodson acknowledges. “Of course you can’t just say this is purely the result of sexual stereotyping or experiencing racism on the gay scene, but it is clear that there is a major health challenge here which needs to be addressed. We also see higher rates of HIV among Black gay and bisexual men, despite data which suggests that there isn’t much difference in risk behaviour or HIV knowledge between Black gay men and white gay men.”
“Naz is behind a series of initiatives specifically designed to address sexual health and personal development from a Black LGBT perspective,” adds Vernal Scott. “We have a lot of work to do to redress the damage caused by the negativity experienced by our communities. The impact is quite corrosive, causing Black gay men to present late with HIV and other infections because they anticipate services will not understand or be conducive to their cultural experience.”
A few Black guys said they don’t mind it when close friends or other Black men use racist words.
“I’ll admit amongst Black friends I don’t mind,” says Steve. “I don’t allow white friends the same privilege because I don’t know for sure if they mean it or not.”
“I always mind when it’s from white men,” adds Andrew. “From other Black men I will accept it as it is ironic, but I never use such terms.”
Some guys admitted that it can be acceptable, even arousing, during sex. “Yes, as a turn on in the bedroom,” says Wesley, 33 from London, “but the right time and place and on my terms!”
But the vast majority said they don’t like it under any circumstance whatsoever.
“It’s very cringing,” says David. “I don’t even call myself, or like to address my friends in such a manner, as I know the history of it and I just don’t feel comfortable saying it.”
“Definitely not,” says Sean. “I draw a line and tell the other guy not to use such language.”
The vast majority of Asian and South Asian men agree to not liking racist names or behaviour under any circumstance.
“When it’s genuinely banter, then I’ll take it as much as I give in return,” says Matt. “But I still feel it’s cheap and unintelligent humour.”
“It’s not a nice thing to say to anyone in any circumstances,” says Zan, 38 from Nottingham.
“I would correct/challenge people I know if they called me those names,” says Sarwar, 46 from London. “No, I would not accept it.”
FS asked everyone who completed the survey to rate different ethnic groups in terms of attractiveness. ‘White’ came out top with everyone except with Black and mixed race guys, who rated ‘mixed race’ first and ‘white’ second. ‘Mixed race’ came second overall, followed by ‘Latin’, ‘Arab’, ‘Black’, ‘South Asian’ then ‘Asian’.
Equally revealing is how different ethnic groups rank themselves. ‘White’ and ‘mixed race’ men both ranked themselves first. ‘Latin’ men ranked themselves second. ‘Black’ and ‘Arab’ men both ranked themselves fourth. “Asian” and ‘South Asian’ men both ranked themselves fifth.
Does how we rate white men compared with other ethnic groups have any parallels with racism overall?
“The low ranking of Asian men makes me less confident in approaching or messaging other guys, as in the back of my mind I always feel that my Asian-ness will decrease my chances,” admits Raymond, 26 from Brighton. “More-over, I’m not confident approaching other Far East Asian men, because of this stereotype of Asian men only fancying White men.”
“It generally feels to me that the gay scene is primarily geared to white males,” says Jason, a 32-year old Black man from London, “and I sometimes feel like I have to justify to myself that it’s OK for me to be here too.”
“I feel white men aren’t interested in race issues because the gay community is an exclusive club not an inclusive club,” agrees Dele, 47 from London. “The gay community is for you if you are gay, white and male.”
“White guys have greater visibility in the media and their attributes, success and sex appeal is much more in our faces,” says Vernal Scott. “Frankly, it is still rare to see ethnic gay men in the media, and you never hear about our successes outside of music and the arts.”
“It’s likely that the surrounding culture has an influence on what people find attractive,” agrees GMFA’s Matthew Hodson. “If all we see on the covers of magazines, in movies and adverts is just a very specific set of physical types, it’s not surprising that we take this on board in some way. Just do an image search for ‘hot gay men’ – you’ll need to scroll down some way before you come across anyone who isn’t white, even further to find an image of someone Asian. It’s not necessarily the case that the same race-based preferences will be reflected in other cultures.”
But if it’s the case in Britain, what can be done about it?
“When our self-esteem is high then we choose to be with people who respect us and not treat us like disposable sex toys,” Vernal adds. “Racism is particularly repugnant when it comes from a community that should know better. But sadly, it’s a fact that oppressed groups often oppress other groups. It is important to understand that racism is often unwitting, but this isn’t always the case; it is often blatant and very, very painful.”
“It comes down to treating each other with respect,” Matthew continues. “I don’t know that the gay community is any more racist than any other section of society, but it’s clear that there are some people on the scene who hold vile and completely unacceptable views. As gay men we all know what it’s like to be marginalised, to be outsiders and members of a minority. We’ve all experienced prejudice and discrimination first hand. It’s sad and pathetic that we still inflict the same on other members of our community.”