Guest Blogger

No Excludies! Gay Men & Their 'Preferences'

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 24, 2011 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay culture, gay hookup, racial exclusion, racial segregation, sexual preference

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Brian Rainey is a PhD student at Brown University.

There has been a very interesting back-and-forth online about gay and bisexual men's sexual "preferences" when looking to date or hook-up.

grindr_confed.jpegFirst, Alex Rowlson wrote an article for the Canadian queer publication, Fab, criticizing these racial "preferences," saying that "the culture of sexual liberation has been replaced by sexual segregation." In response, Zachary Sire of the Sword argued that stating "preferences" was a matter of "free speech" (which, apparently only applies to people who state "preferences," not their critics). In yet another rejoinder, Cedric DeWittson of Fleshbot points out that attractiveness is culturally conditioned and that people who state their preferences are very insensitive, often doing so with the "terminology of the Jim Crow era." The debate was picked up by Queerty and then the discussion really took off.

The first thing I'm struck by in this debate is the word, "preference." But when someone says, publicly, something to the effect of "no blacks," it is not a racial "preference;" it is a racial exclusion. We need to be clear about what is going on here and start calling these statements what they really are. The word "exclusion" is better because it clarifies what the problem is.

It is not simply the douchy way in which someone says something; the problem is the exclusionary rhetoric and tone. There is a world of difference between "really into other white guys" or "blond hair turns me on" and "only into white guys." The latter is very exclusionary; the former is not. So I think that we should just drop "preference" to describe this game altogether, and just call it what it is: an exclusion.

The Absurdity of Exclusionary Rhetoric

If I were to generalize about what impact these racial exclusions had on me, personally, I would say they have had about the impact of repeatedly hearing "that's gay" as a synonym for saying that something is "bad." It is certainly not the worst problem I've faced as far as homophobia is concerned, nor is it the first place I would concentrate my energy for social change, nor is it as bad as someone calling me a "faggot" - but it didn't help. It reinforced the idea that homosexuality was something negative and something "bad."

When gay and bisexual men (and other MSMs) go on sites where they constantly read, "No [blacks/Asians]" and see it associated with other traits of low value, such as obesity and feminine behavior, it associates one's race and ethnicity with something of low value. Sometimes these racial exclusions will be juxtaposed beside douchy, moralizing statements about "feminine" men (e.g. "If I wanted to be with a woman, I'd be straight"), making it seem as though the author has attached some kind of moral stigma to this particular race.

On one level, the whole damn spectacle of racial exclusions is preposterous, since there are no biological "races," and, even if there are, they would not map onto social races. Evolutionary psychologists say the only physical traits we may be predisposed to liking are symmetry and, perhaps, fertility, not skin color. Just one millisecond of critical thought would show that these exclusions are attuned to social cues, rather than anything "natural."

More absurdly still, apologists for exclusionary rhetoric often insist that their critics are the ones bringing ideology into the bedroom, even though these exclusions are based on modern, European racial categories (you know, an ideology)! So, let's not flip the script: it is the exclusions that force ideology into gay forums and venues that are supposed to be shared with people of color, not those who criticize them.

When it comes to accuracy, it makes absolutely no sense for these racial excluders (let's objectify and reify them for a moment, since they enjoy doing it so much to others) to say "no Asians" when thinking people know that the social category, "Asian" encompasses a dizzying array of phenotypes. And I've always wondered how Indian, black and mestizo Latinos navigate this mess. Racial excluders usually say they are only in to "White and Latin" and then say they're not into "black and/or Asian." But if you're Latino with epicanthal folds or a Dominican with some African ancestry, how is that supposed to work?

Fascinatingly, racial excluders, who are incorrigible categorizers, and who, to hear them tell it are just informing us of exactly what they want, don't say.

The Case for Excludies

On another level, though, broad exclusions make a certain sense as far as efficiency is concerned. Excluders have, in their mind, a prototype of racial group members - inspired by racial hierarchies and stereotypes - and they are willing to exclude a very large number of exceptions to weed out the exemplars they are apparently so repulsed by. Mental efficiency strategies like this do not need to be accurate, but only provide the desired result. Even if excluders debar Asians they find attractive, in their mind, the payoff is worth it because they will be driving away all of those exemplars that they do not find attractive. Keep in mind, excluders don't care about accuracy or complexity, just what they perceive to be efficient.

But it is not just about efficiency, is it? The "excludies" (let's use an even cattier term, since many "excludies" enjoy endearing terms like "fatty" or "fats") reflect existing social hierarchies which is why they are so offensive to many and have such a negative impact.

The 'Values' of Racism

Excludies are one more reminder of the value that society puts on black people and Asians - like "that's gay" reminds us of the negative implications of homosexuality. Just this week, the widespread racism in the NYPD, something that is certainly not news to most blacks and Latinos in NYC and even some whites, has been exposed once again. It is just another example of the daily racism people of color face of which most white people are blissfully unaware, or have the luxury of thinking about abstractly (an exception to this might be the confrontations with police at the OWS protests where plenty of white people have experienced the NYPD acting like armed goons).

Some people say that what excludies do is none of anyone's business and that people should not be made to feel guilty about their exclusions. But statements made in forums or venues that are supposed to be shared with people of color are public business.

Also, the reality of HIV and other STDs has already created a situation where healthy gay men should evaluate and reflect critically on their sexual behavior and desires, anyway. STDs force us to realize that what we do in the bedroom can have far-reaching repercussions for ourselves and others, and that fact imposes (or should impose) on us, whether we like it or not, a certain mindfulness about our sex life. Perhaps we all, excludies and those harmed by excludies alike, could use more reflection in this area.

Something that "feels better" or may be more efficient, sexually, needs to be tempered by the health concerns of the gay and bisexual male community. Analogously, in a country where the social disease of racism runs rampant, there should be some critical reflection on our sexual behavior and desires.

Everyone is, for good reason, worried about the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. We are, to our shame, less concerned about the containment of social sicknesses.

Personal Decision Making

There are, of course, limits. Among black people, sometimes, dating white people can be viewed with extreme suspicion. Or, when someone sees a young person of color and an older white man together, they might have many questions, perhaps reflecting a suspicion of the racial dynamics behind that relationship. Or if a person of color is turned down by someone, they might suspect race had something to do with it. But when it comes to people's actual relationships and sex partners, this is where the line must be drawn.

We can analyze rhetoric, language and to a certain extent social behavior in a particular context, but we cannot rightfully impugn motives for personal decisions. If they are not trumpeting their racial exclusions in public, people's personal sexual behavior can be left alone.

We should also keep in mind that finding someone sexually attractive is not ultimately a barometer of racism. Leaving aside the issue of fetishization even, racism is more insidious and too complex to be spotted simply in people's racial attractions. After all, even segregationist Strom Thurmond had sex with a black woman. Or, if someone is attracted to Latinos, but rants on about how they are taking over the community and stealing "our" jobs, they are still racist, attractions notwithstanding. This is why it is important to clearly state that we are opposed to language, images, rhetoric and larger social practices that are exclusionary, not necessarily personal preferences.

The problem is that there is a large group of gay and bisexual men who think that they can be as contemptuous of the psychological impact racism has on people of color as they want to be.

(img via Queerty)


Recent Entries Filed under Living:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.


I've always felt the same way when I saw in a profile or heard someone say "I'm not into [blacks/whites/Asians/Latinos/etc.]" or "I'm only into ______ guys."

It's one thing if you prefer certain phenotypes over others or even to find certain phenotypes unattractive -- that's true of most people, myself included. But it's quite another to write off an entire racial or ethnic group. At best, that's superficial and, at worst, racist. In any given racial group, there's always a broad range of phenotypes, so beauty -- whatever your personal standards thereof may be -- should be recognizable independent of racial or ethnic background.

Bravo! I am in total agreement with this. This entered my own sphere of experience following my ventures into the tumbler Douchebags of Grindr, which was both hilarious and eye-openingly sad. And I explored the issue again after I saw a post on Towleroad featuring performance artist Ely Kim's new piece "Not Into Asian".

I really can't contribute more than what you've laid out so well. I just noticed the same absurdities in my own recent experiences and I'm glad to see that others are also willing to tackle this pervasive issue.

This is an issue I've given a lot of thought. As a gay black man, I encounter a lot of people whose online profiles explicitly say they're not interested. It's kind of disappointing to read the profile of someone who sounds great only to hit "not into black guys". It's like being told "go away".

If someone absolutely must state their racial preferences I find some ways more tactful than others. "WM for same" gets the point across without being too jarring, for instance.

The more hookup-friendly a site is, the more it brings out people's assholish behavior. Racial preference/exclusions are common on craigslist and A4A, but I can count on one hand the number of OKCupid profiles that do this. But men aren't known for being polite when they're thinking with their dicks anyway.

Anyone who can't meet someone in real life and has to resort to personal ads is probably not someone you would want to hook up with any way.

Paige Listerud | October 24, 2011 10:53 PM

So your article mostly addresses "excludies" by racial profiling. What do you think of "excludies" like "no fats, no femmes, no bisexuals"?

I think the author did address those:

"The "excludies" (let's use an even cattier term, since many "excludies" enjoy endearing terms like "fatty" or "fats") reflect existing social hierarchies which is why they are so offensive to many and have such a negative impact."

...

"When gay and bisexual men (and other MSMs) go on sites where they constantly read, "No [blacks/Asians]" and see it associated with other traits of low value, such as obesity and feminine behavior, it associates one's race and ethnicity with something of low value. Sometimes these racial exclusions will be juxtaposed beside douchy, moralizing statements about "feminine" men (e.g. "If I wanted to be with a woman, I'd be straight"), making it seem as though the author has attached some kind of moral stigma to this particular race."

However, the "bisexual" one is interesting, because I personally have never encountered anyone who specified not wanting a bisexual male. In fact, it seems like the more "bi" or "not-gay" or "also into chicks" you are, the more desirable on apps like Grindr. It's really interesting if you've encountered the latter. I would really like to know what sort of things you've experienced and what, if any, explanation is given by guys like that. :(

Brian Rainey | October 25, 2011 8:34 AM

Hi Paige:

I think that all exclusionary rhetoric is a sad commentary on how gay, bi and other MSMs relate to one another. All of these exclusions reinforce a negative social experience. So, saying, for example, "no fats" will reinforce a person's experience with fatphobia.

But it is also important to keep in mind that each one of these social experiences has its own dynamics, roots, and manifestations. Racism is a particularly entrenched, deeply structural problem that often goes unnoticed, which is why I focused on it here. Its effects are profoundly damaging in ways that even people of color cannot always appreciate or articulate. You probably won't be followed around in a store or stopped disproportionately by the police for weight; you will if you are black or brown. The generational poverty in a family probably can't be traced to weight; but it could possibly be traced to race. I would also argue that, culturally speaking, weight does not have the kind of essentializing, permanent "stain" that race does. Even if we acknowledge that weight and body type are influenced by genes, there is an understanding that weight is malleable in a way that race is not.

With the "no femmes" issue, we have a different problem. Because most of the people on these sites and in other gay social spaces are men (with a few MTFs sprinkled in), they will not have much direct experience with sexism. Nonetheless, I do think "no femmes" rhetoric leaves gender stereotypes and sexism unexamined. Second, I think some of it is just homophobia. They have internalized stereotypes of gay men as "effeminate" and project that onto other gays or recoil in horror when they think about it or see it.

I also think it is interesting that these "no femmes" people are just as mean and obnoxious as they want to be while waxing on indignantly about the dreaded "bitchy queens" they tell us they are so tired of. Unsurprisingly, the irony is lost on them.

Thanks for your comment, Paige.

"The generational poverty in a family probably can't be traced to weight; but it could possibly be traced to race. I would also argue that, culturally speaking, weight does not have the kind of essentializing, permanent "stain" that race does. Even if we acknowledge that weight and body type are influenced by genes, there is an understanding that weight is malleable in a way that race is not."

Well, there are studies that show that "fit" people earn more money and get more promotions than other people, but in any case why should poverty have anything to do with whether someone is desirable or not? I seriously doubt that "excludies" are thinking of money when they exclude people based or race.

"No fatties" is indeed every bit as demeaning as "No Blacks" *in terms of choosing partners*. Yes, I am aware that black people have it worse than fat people. But in terms of choosing partners, both are insulting and (IMHO) wrong.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | October 25, 2011 9:15 AM

It's important to note in this discussion that there doesn't seem to be any suggestion that stated racial preferences/"exclusion" should somehow be subject to laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, etc. If these were ads for renting or selling real estate, empoyment, etc., such a question would be proper, because at least from a federal perspective, they would be "in commerce". Hopefully we don't get to the point where a zeal for "political correctness" starts a clamor to try and interject a legal or regulatory aspect into this discussion. However, if prostitution were a legal business (as it is not in almost all jurisdictions), that issue might become a legal one.

Why isn't there a suggestion that these exclusions are in fact just as ugly as the discriminations that are against the law? Why doesn't a very discriminated against minority call out its members who engage in such exclusions.

I'm afraid I have to agree with DB, but I do so regretfully. I find the online cruising sites to be entertaining, but that is all, a form of mental masturbation. The assholishness that I see online makes me leery of an IRL rendezvous with anyone posting a hook-up ad, or even a "let's meet and fall in love" ad -- and I say that even though I have experimented with posting such ads myself.

(But always half-heartedly. I still can't decently answer the "Tell us a little about yourself" essay question without making the reader want to grab their hair, scream at the top of their lungs, and run into the Black Forest for greater relative safety. But I digress.)

Regarding the "excludies" issue, I only note that when I lived in L.A. a found that being a cruising guy who is HIV-positive was no big deal -- so many guys were poz that the negs got to think not much of it, since everyone practiced safer sex anyway. Now when I move back to the midwest, I find that being poz renders one to a parish status -- the obligatory barebacking attitude is so prevalent that I have dropped out of that scene completely. To me, it seems that the entire American fly-over region is still in denial about HIV/AIDS, even as the epidemic goes into is fourth decade. It is very sad -- and not only because I can't get laid.

Typo -- damn that auto-correct! -- middle of last paragraph, "parish" shd be "pariah" ...