TRAWLING through a grid of shirtless men on Grindr for sex or companionship has become an omnipresent pastime within the gay community.
Often all that stands between someone online and an evening blowjob are a few salacious messages and a badly-lit nude sent between the sheets.
However, for queer people of colour who don’t emulate the restrictive [read: white] beauty standards often set on social dating apps, navigating sex online can be a battleground.
A battleground that either renders them invisible or as the object of someone’s fetish, with the line between racism and ‘personal preference’ sparking much contention.
Melbourne-based Theo was once messaged on a gay dating site by a Caucasian man who wanted him to role play as a slave, with the man playing the part of ‘owner’.
“It’s racism that exists in the wider community that replicates in the gay community with the same kinds of power structures,” Theo said.
“I’ve had people approach me and start a conversation with preconceptions around black men they’ve learned from the porn industry which are deeply and inherently racist and dehumanising.
“It relates back to the slave days so you’re pigeonholed, and when guys meet you they expect you to be a violent, dominant top with a 12-inch-cock.
“And when you don’t respond they can get aggressive and unleash a torrent of racial slurs, screaming obscenities like ‘n****r’.”
As a gay man with an African father and an Aboriginal mother, the intersectional discrimination and racism Theo has faced may be varied, but it’s certainly not limited to heterosexual spaces.
He believes racist attitudes in gay men often manifest on mobile apps like Grindr or Scruff because the Caucasian men perpetrating them are able to do so in a relatively anonymous way.
“It emboldens people and gives them a sense of entitlement,” he said.
“They can hide behind their screen display or their ‘preferences’ as they like to call it, and perpetrate straight up racism.
“The whole ‘othering’ and fetishisation of dark skin and black people usually comes from ignorance. Guys think it’s a compliment to say ‘what does black taste like’ but I think it’s dehumanising.”
When people either fetishise or deride Theo for the colour of his skin online, he believes there are no shades of grey: it’s racism, either subtle or overt, and not simply a ‘preference’.
To tackle this he said more gay men need to be educated on Australia’s Anglo-Saxon, white-dominant and patriarchal society.
“I think it stems from Australia being a somewhat tolerant but unaccepting country,” he said.
“People measure you by how well you assimilate but they aren’t fully accepting of your differences.
“White men will only accept your differences if they align with their own pre-conceived ideas about how you should be. They need to get out of their bubble and approach people of different ethnicities as actual human beings.
“We need to initiate education and conversations where people question why they have these ‘preferences’ and not simply see it as okay.”
When fellow Melburnian Justin Edge jumps onto gay hook-up apps he often faces a revealing double standard: more men will chat to him if he doesn’t have a photo than if he does.
Growing up in the U.S. black and gay, Edge found that a lot of African-American men would have a blank profile as a means to avoid warding off prospective suitors.
“It’s like you’re chatting to me because I don’t have an image but as soon as I do show an image you won’t have a bar of me because I’m black,” he said.
“Some ethnic guys will hide their face on their profile because they’re afraid of the reaction they’ll get.
“It’s mostly subtle racism but I don’t think people realise the effect is has on someone.”
While Edge feels more comfortable and confident right now, he doesn’t discount the harm that racist attitudes can have on younger queer people of colour as they begin to explore their intersectional identities.
“When you’re younger and growing up and trying to define who you are, to be rejected because of your skin colour can cause you to have issues about your race,” he said.
“And then to only see images of really attractive white men in the media and online, it plays into how you see your body and sexuality.
“With me even today, I was on Grindr earlier and every time I see guys with body pictures I’m like fuck it makes me want to work out more – like, is this what people want?’
“Especially when you’re younger and you’re trying to understand yourself it has a huge impact.”
On one end of the spectrum Edge gets guys fawning over him for being black and at the other end guys that aren’t interested in him at all for the same reason.
He said it causes him to second guess most encounters with men who express interest, wondering if there’s an underlying or covert racist attitude beneath the conversation.
He chalks racist attitudes in the gay community up to ignorance.
“It’s partial with what you see in the media. You have these [white] images that all gay people are seeing and this is what they identify with as they explore their sexuality through porn, billboards, and the media,” he said.
“So when they’re ready to date that’s what they’re attracted to.
“A preference is ‘I like granola’, it’s not excluding an entire race. I think It comes down to a lack of understanding and ignorance.”
Edge said to help fight the racism that persists within gay communities in Australia, more people of colour need to be given visibility.
“I think the best way to tackle it would be more diverse representation in the country,” he said.
“Find ways to include people of other colours in different events like Pride March.
“It comes down to experiencing more as well. There aren’t too many gay black people here, but they do exist.
“Get them on television, on the radio, and at events – representation means a lot more than people realise.”
While Theo and Edge connote racial fetishes and desires online with racism, there are others who deem it as nothing more than a mere preference.
Alexander Montgomery is an Asian man who exclusively dates white men, something he discovered at the age of 19 after dating his first Caucasian boyfriend.
He said it was a magical experience that shaped all of his future predilections in the bedroom.
“It’s situations, circumstances, and your environment that mould you into the person you are today, and for me it was being with my first white partner for 18 years,” he said.
“I was also brought up in the church with a predominantly white congregation and grew up with white people around me.
“Before I met my ex-partner I’d dated other races, but the sex was bad. One man’s meat is another man’s poison, and white men are definitely my huge porterhouse steak.”
A feeling more deep-rooted than a sexual proclivity, Montgomery perceives white men as being inherently superior to other men in society.
“If women are from Venus and men are from Mars, Asians and Caucasians are from totally different galaxies – and I can say that because I’ve been there, done that,” he said.
“The white race is superior to me because they have a lot to offer and let’s face it, why are we speaking English today and why is it the universal language?
“Yes I would love everyone to be equal but someone is always on top and you know what, the white race is currently tops.
“I think an opinion is like an asshole, everyone has one, and we’re all entitled to our own.”
When it comes to the much-contested line between personal preference and sexual racism, Montgomery believes the line doesn’t exist.
“There is no line, it’s a pure preference,” he said.
“People who say it’s racist are morons because they should check up the definition of racist in the Cambridge dictionary.
“There’s always a fine line between expressing a preference and being a vile, disrespectful, and rude person on Grindr, but I’m just stating my preference because I don’t want to waste other people’s time.”
Montgomery said when he sees other non-Asian men articulate their disinterest in Asian men on gay hook-up apps, it doesn’t bother him.
Rather, he believes gay men are entitled to flatly state their opinions in these online spaces.
“I’ve been rejected by guys who say they don’t want Asians but does that make me a big sook, does that make me jump and pull out the victim card – no,” he said.
“We’re all individuals and we all have our own opinions, don’t crucify people just because they might have their own preferences.
“That’s what makes this place beautiful to live in, accept everybody for their differences and let’s all be happy in the gay community.”
Montgomery’s position on sexual racism or ‘preference’ is a controversial one, one that many with the lived experience of racism – sexual, or otherwise – could discount in seconds.
Whether it be Caucasian men propositioning Theo to role play as a slave, or other Caucasian men entirely disregarding Edge and African American men across the board because of the colour of their skin, when contentions around desire and race are brought into the bedroom, it’s hard to dismiss them as simple ‘preferences’.
Theo believes the attitudes some Caucasian gay men hold around people of colour don’t exist in a vacuum.
“People like to think countries like Australia are post-racial but we’re not,” he said.
“There’s still this belief that we’re the inferior race, and that definitely comes out in the gay world.
“Race does matter, and race does have implications for people. We need to destroy the white patriarchy.”