Growing up as a closeted gay black teen in the predominately white Chicago suburbs in the early 90s I was pretty naive and saw the world through rose colored glasses: For some reason I had it in my mind that gay white men couldn’t be racist or prejudice because they know what it feels to face bigotry and prejudice themselves. When I went off to the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana I found out this was not the case.
Representation of the LGBT Community In The Media: The 90s
In the mid to late 90s, acceptance of gay and lesbians started to grow around the country from the dark days of the AIDS crisis in the 80s. You would often hear about “lesbian chic” or “bisexual chic” in magazines. The local gay bar in Champaign, C-Street became wildly popular. It became COOL to be a straight person to go there, and it was especially edgy and subversive if you were a straight man. Thursdays was a popular Techno night that many straight people would attend.
You began seeing this in popular culture like The Crying Game (the secret transexual), Philadelphia (tragic AIDS story), Basic Instinct (femme fatale bisexual), Jeffery (lively ensemble drama), Priest (the tortured gay clergy), Clueless (the fun gay best friend trope), The Bird Cage, In and Out (clown comedic antics) and even on network tv with My So Called Life (the gay best friend), Friends (problematic look at lesbians and transgender folks but had its heart in the right place), Frasier(the sit com that handled it the best), the ground breaking Ellen, then Will and Grace. What was largely missing: positive portrayals of gay men of color. (Ricky from My So Called Life excluded). I didn’t know about the groundbreaking Paris Is Burning about the Black and Latino LGBT ball scene till my 30s.
I can think of two black characters from youth, both were negative: Hollywood from Mannequin and Lamar from Revenge of the Nerds. That was it.
Representation of the LGBT Community in the 2000s
The 2000s gave us Brokeback Mountain, Queer as Folk, Milk, Weekend, Looking, among others. Imagine being in your mid 30s till you see a positive and celebratory look at gay African Americans in Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Moonlight and Pose which only scratches the surface. (Though Noah’s Arc made a valiant attempt in 2000s but barely anyone watched), then Karamo on Queer Eye.
One image of gay black men that was popular in media was down low culture…closeted men that often don’t even identify as gay, and often have wives or girlfriends. Some feel so removed from the American gay “white” experience, they identify as “same gender loving” instead of gay. A cult of masculinity exists here highlighting the “homothug”.
Being a Gay Man of Color at a Big 10 University in the 90s
Growing up and going to school in a predominately white environment, I didn’t see myself in the black LGBT community (that I barely knew existed), but simultaneously not feeling like a part of the predominately white LGBT community with their obsession of masculinity, youth, muscle, or the thin and svelte.
I was a graphic design major and I made electronic dance music, so that had me in spaces in college and post college where there were few LGBT people of color, and even less that are out of the closet.
The LGBT student organization at U of I and the coming out support group there were maybe 2 or 3 out black gay men, and no black lesbians or transgender people. I also attended the coming out group on campus, and I was also the only black man in attendance.
The LGBT Scene in Chicago
In Chicago, in the Boystown, Andersonville and Edgewater neighborhoods on the affluent Northside , it was much more diverse than Champaign Urbana, but still predominantly white. My favorite bar Berlin Nightclub which was diverse in the kinds of people who go there, but still mostly white especially on my favorite Friday nights that played mostly techno and electronic dance music. Bars like Big Chicks and the SoFo Tap were always comfortable for me and a good time, while bars like Minibar, and Roscoes were not. But the common denominator was they were all majority white spaces, and I sometimes would feel like on the outside looking in.
The big parties/festival/circuit parties in Chicago were always awkward to me because everyone was muscular and white (and usually on club drugs). Once I went to the bar Hydrate with a friend and I just ended leaving my friends without telling him. My self esteem was so low in comparing myself to other good looking white men, I couldn’t take it and had to get out. I went to a few bear nights and bear pride events like Blowoff, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. Everyone looked the same..white, stocky, and hairy, and there was only a handful of black people there.
For such a huge city, there are only a few black LGBT bars in Chicago, the most popular is the Jeffery Pub in the south side of the city that I JUST found about a few months ago after being a part of the LGBT scene in Chicago for 20 years. The popular house music night, Queen, by famous international DJ Derrick Carter at Smartbar attracted more people of color.
One bar in Boystown, Spin had a hip hop night but the bar closed down. There is no space for LGBT people of color and youth to be in, so they come to the affluent Boystown neighborhood on the north side of the city.
Some just to walk the streets if they can’t get into clubs or hang out near the Center on Halstead LGBT center. While some of these kids were innocent and trying to escape the live they had on the south side, the few bad apples ruin it for everyone, which has created a tension in Boystown. A controversial take back the neighborhood initiative began. What exactly were they taking the neighborhood back from? From “thuggish” black youths.
A popular club Progress began a no hip hop music policy. A leaked email from management went out and there was a uproar along with protests by Black Lives Matter.
Late at nights in the 2000s, black transwomen prostitutes would roam the streets of Boystown. Sometimes I would be drunk coming out from a bar and talk to them. Once one stole a 20 out of my hand and ran laughing. But I thought she needed it more than I did.
Another time a black teenage girl stole my iPhone as I was texting someone and ran off with it. It happened so quick, I couldn’t even register what had happened to me. She quickly disappeared around a corner. My friends said it was wise I didn’t run, because I had no idea what was waiting for me on the other side.
A popular thrift shop Beatniks in Boystown had an incident when the cops were called on a patron who pointed out a jacket was sold with a confederate flag on it.
It seems like the Black Lives Matter movement post George Floyd in 2020 has caused a reckoning in the Chicago LGBT community. When it was discovered black bar staff, drag queens and supporters were being mistreated and their concerns about racism were ignored for years by the local bars and promoters, swift action came with many of the bars making a commitment to be a more diverse and fair place.
The LGBT Dating Scene in the USA
Dating can be difficult for people of color in the US and other western countries like the UK and Australia. If I go see my favorite electronic music artists like Robyn or Bjork who have a large gay fanbase, there are close to no black people of any kind at these shows.
In a bar I’ll see so many attractive men, but I’ll never go up to them in my fear of rejection, I always wait to be approached. It’s how I met my Croatian boyfriend, who was a graduate student at the time.
I was an early adopter of using the internet for dating way back in 1995. I put an ad on an online bulletin board service offered by the university looking to meet another gay man. I was terrified the person may reject me because I was black. I did not reveal my race to the person until several email exchanges later. I got lucky, he was attracted to black men.
In 1996 I moved on to AOL chat rooms, and in 2000 the now defunct gay.com , and then the “dating” apps like Grindr and Scruff in 2010.
Web 2.0 dating sites and gay dedicated smart phone apps changed everything, since you could show pictures and what you were interested in. Gay men are very specific as to what they are looking for, especially looks wise, weight, height, muscles, age, body hair, drug usage, HIV status, and of course race. It almost seems like you are customizing a car or ordering a pizza. If you don’t hit the right spot on this matrix, it seem like you have no chance. In the early days it was not unusual to see things like “no blacks, no Asians” or even worse “no spice, no rice”. It became so bad some apps had to do a campaign to combat it. It seems like things have improved with less people stating their racial preferences, but they are most likely concealing it.
In the bigger cities, people are more open minded and was easier to date than the suburbs. In the suburbs, it is much worse. Being Generation X, everyone seems to be Generation Z and Millinials. Another problem of the gay community is ageism(an another topic for another day), even if daddies have been in vogue lately but I don’t look like a DILF, and I feel too black and too old to be attractive to anyone.
Living and Traveling In Europe
The one place it was easy to date and meet people was living in and traveling in Europe. I was a hit on the European LGBT websites like Planet Romeo and Gaydar all the time, and while I was traveling. I believe it was a combination of more open minded attitudes in liberal Western Europe, and a more of curiosity/ novelty in the Balkans. That could feel like objectification and fetishization. I was treated more as a fascination or novelty. I got so many messages about “wanting to try a Black man for the first time” or “what’s it like to be with a black man”, and of course asking the stereotypical question about my endowment and prowess in bed. I was a different species and not human. I often joked and told them “that we are all black when the lights go out”.
This happened quite a bit living in Croatia because I honestly thought I was the only out gay Black man in the relatively conservative, Catholic, country.
When I arrived I put a message on the local LGBT website gay.hr that i was looking for a power transformer so I could use my American computer there. A guy answered me saying he had one and I could buy it from him. I met him for a drink and he gave it to me. He was nice but talked about himself for the entire time we were having our coffee. I later found out he was a friend of a friend. My friend told me the guy told him “I didn’t want to give him any signals because I’m not into black guys” First of all, he was the one who answered the ad (he had seen my picture),and second, it was totally platonic, and third, I gave off no flirtatious signals what so ever. How could I, there was no room for to speak.
People were very interested in me in the Zagreb gay clubs when I lived there and when I would return to visit. People would hit on me, dancing with me and sometimes, groping me…with out my consent. It was a strange thrill because it never happened in the States. I even met a very outgoing Croat lesbian who told me she loved black people and offered me to smoke a joint. She was very knowledgeable about all the strains of marijuana from all over the world. I would call her an expert.
I ran into a black British man once in the club who was so excited to meet another gay black man living in Croatia.
I was very upset to hear that two black American serviceman were assaulted in a straight club in the town of Zadar. But all my friends told me they were not surprised because of its location, and Croatia still being relatively conservative, even though they do have civil unions.
This behavior also can happen Stateside. There are white men who only date black men or people of color. So when I do meet a white man who is interested in me, I’m constantly asking myself, “are you interested in me as a genuine person or are you objectifying me, or am I flavor you never tried?” I try to figure out their dating history to see if they have only dated other black men, or have they dated both white men and people of color.
I often wonder what if I’m their first experience dating a black man. Some interracial couples have issues over things like culture, food, sports, meeting each other families on holidays, explaining things like systemic racism, white privilege and micro aggressions.
There are specific terms for white men who only date and have sex with people outside of their race like “rice queen”, “potato queen”, “snow queen”, “yellow fever” ,“bean queen” ,“curry queen” and of course “jungle fever”.
Racial dating preferences are normal. It is natural for people to be around people who look like themselves and share culture. It’s much easier to relate to. But minute you are born, you are bombarded by print, tv, movies and now the internet and social media you white straight beauty standards.
You can’t help but build up bias and prejudice, especially if you don’t live in a racially diverse area, which my home town was not.
Even I have had to confront my own bias since I’ve only dated white men myself. My only excuse is growing up in a town that was 80 percent white, and all my friends and teachers were white.It was my only choice. Since my hobbies and interests were in comic books and electronic music and design are predominately white.
I think if I had more exposure to Asian and Black men in growing up and seeing positive portrayals in the media, I think my attraction in men would be more diverse. It’s always been a source of shame of me, and felt self hating and a “race traitor” or a sell out.
Racism In the Pornography Industry.
It’s well know that the porn industry is racist with categories like “black on white”, “white on Asian, “Hispanic on white”. In these scenarios blacks, whites and Hispanics are seen as the masculine dominant sex partners vs the feminine submissive partners. The black partner is always well endowed, with the porn labeled “BBC” (big black c*ck). You can also find this terminology on web sites and apps dedicated to only having sex. You can even find it on Twitter.
Up until the 2000s all you could find was predominately white porn like Falcon and Colt Studios. But sites like Tim Tales, Bad Puppy, Corbin Fisher, Bel Ami, Sean Cody still sell the white, frat, jock and Twink fantasies of the 90s, throwing in a Hispanic or Black man every once in a while for “diversity”.
Racism, sexual racism, diversity, and fetishization/objectification are all topics the LGBT community need to face in the Western World in the age of Black Lives Matter in 2020. If the already dying LGBT nightlife scene can survive the coronavirus epidemic, will things look any differently and more diverse? Or will things be exactly the same?