“Are you Latino?” I am disturbed mid-conversation by an African-American gentleman in a pub in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
“You don’t look Asian at all.” I am disturbed by my Latino friend in Central Park when I discuss such anecdotes.
Recently I’ve been getting a lot of subtle “suggestions” about my ethnicity ranging from the usual “you just look white to me” to “you shouldn’t lie on your Grindr profile about your race. You’re not mixed, you’re obviously Filipino.” Followed by a gentle “Bye Asian” when I tried to educate the gay race expert on his mistake. As a Dutch-Moluccan gay man, I realized pretty quickly that my background wasn’t common or understood in America when I read a play my first year here in which two White American characters were discussing pretending to be from a country that no one has ever heard of “like Indonesia.”
Because I am mostly white European I usually slip under the radar of such micro aggressions. My “white passing,” “ethnically ambiguous” privilege allows me to move in white spaces without much suspicion while simultaneously seeming non-threatening to people of color. Something very interesting occurs to me when I try to date other men, however.
Dating has always been hard as a foreigner in America. American queer and social cultures are substantially different from their Dutch cousins. The thing that has been most difficult to deal with is the rigid boxes and unwritten rules that gay men impose on themselves.
White American gay men like to date (or have sex with) someone “they could be brothers” with, and in order to find their brothers they divide themselves up in tribes like “twinks” or “jocks” to filter out all the men that “they’re just not into.”
Or of course, you get the reverse: Gay men who just really want their exotic spice and eat it too. Fun fetishist behavior made easy by gay dating apps.
Where does this leave gay men of color in relation to one another though? A black friend of mine once explained to me his experience that black gay men don’t tend to be very nice to one another as they feel threatened in their tokenism within their group of gay friends. When he mentioned it I realized that I knew very little, if any at all, queer men of color who dated within their own race or even dated another man of color.
You might have noticed how before when I mentioned different kinds of micro aggressions I’ve experienced that both white men and men of color are the culprits. Now, it should be common knowledge that we live in a racist society and no one (including myself) is safe from discriminatory thoughts, but the problem of “racism in the queer community” always seems a bit difficult and more vulnerable to me.
Consider that most gay men haven’t just simply been beaten down for their own sexual identity, but also have been played out against each other. Growing up, most gay men are forced to hide their queerness in one way or another, and even when we come out of the closet, often we still go through long phases of rejecting other gay men because “I might be gay but I’m not that kind of gay.”
Liberal heteronormative society–like the one I’ve experienced in the Netherlands–dictates that we can be gay, but not too gay. As we say in Dutch: “Just act normal, that’s crazy enough.”
Living in this society, however, causes severe trauma to gay men. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage on April 1st, 2001. And still, Dutch queer men are substantially more likely than their straight counterparts to inflict self-harm and experience depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental illnesses (Officially 1 in 5 Dutch gay men suffer from these issues).
These statistics haven’t changed since 1996 regardless of the legalization of more queer-friendly laws. Because of such statistics, it is extremely important for any queer community to create spaces where we treat each other the way heteronormative society won’t. Despite this we tend to see the exact opposite; we don’t just internalize our homophobia, we internalize our entire hate.
Racism, after all, is a mental disease–a mutation of a dated survival instincts or reflexes within our brains that enable not only negative heuristic thinking in response to ethnic feno- and stereotypes, but also systematic violence and oppression.
We as gay men, unfortunately, are sometimes more vulnerable to problematic thought processes as a result of our trauma. This might be a harsh thing to say, but it’s essential to realize that surviving shouldn’t only make us stronger but also wearier.
So check the shade of your pain before you come for someone else. Be conscious of the fact that you can date whomever you want but don’t need to emphasize on what you don’t want to set yourself apart in queer spaces. And the next time you want to start a philosophical discussion about that part Asian guy’s penis size at the club, maybe reconsider.