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Dichotomous Desirability: A Gay Man Of Colour's Dilemma

13/10/2016 08:16 | Updated 13 October 2016

Logging onto familiar dating or hookup applications, such as Grindr, Tinder or the like, always evokes a sense of excitement mingled with a strange sense of foreboding for me. Of course, the excitement is perfectly understandable: who will be waiting behind profile No. 567 today? It could be the man of my dreams. The one with whom I decide to eventually 'settle down', live out the idealised version of suburban bliss and take many excruciatingly cute Facebook snaps. Or, as is more likely the case, it could be a series of unanswered 'Hey's'', 'Hello's' and 'Looking good dude's,' and the stiffened silence that follows my unsuccessful conversation starters. If I am lucky, I may get a few rapid responses demanding more pictures or information. These are generally followed by an equally quick and rather curt, 'Sorry bro, not my type,' (once again, this is if I'm lucky - usually more pictures are met with the equally stiff silence mentioned before). This is the recipe for foreboding; more recently, the excitement has become tinged with greater and greater amounts of foreboding.

Sounds depressing? It is indeed. I can imagine many readers thinking one of two things at this point: either I am grotesquely unattractive and it would stand to reason that my dating life is worse than the aftermath of a run-in with a vicious hyena, or I should ditch the world of online dating and get myself to some kind of real-life meeting space - such as a gay bar or club. These are both perfectly rational points. In terms of the former, I may not be the best person to judge my own attractiveness level objectively. However, I will say this: I do not have three eyes, I stay reasonably fit without becoming obsessive and I do not have an altogether unpleasant smile. As we know, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder and I certainly could never be everyone's cup of tea (clearly, I could provide them with a steady flow of mixed metaphors but that's an altogether different blog post). However, by the sheer power of statistics and the fact that diverse tastes do exist, I should at least fit a few people's ideal of attractiveness.

It's not all dismal and dreary: I certainly have met many guys for dates and casual encounters but my premise here is that my ability to meet guys in virtual spaces is ultimately constrained by the colour of my skin - or rather, more accurately, by the guys' perceptions of what it means to be a person of colour. In many virtual dating spaces, whiteness is dominant and people of colour merely inhabit these spaces as 'unwanted guests' or as 'fetish objects'. This is not an attempt to vilify any individual white males. Instead, it aims to dig deeper: into the culture of pervasive whiteness that exists not only in virtual spaces but also in so many real-life spaces. Research on this topic reveals insight that whiteness is the default setting, alienating those of other races either overtly or covertly. After using Grindr on four different continents, I have largely found this to be the case in almost all settings.

This brings me to the latter of the two options presented above: what about going out into real-life spaces and meeting guys there? Some may argue that 'old-fashioned' dating is better: you can immediately assess attractiveness based on the information gained through your senses and you can make a much more accurate decision. In addition, the methods of rejection are generally subtler in real-life encounters - much less ego-injury. Despite some clear advantages, the problem with this is two-fold: firstly, it is simply more convenient and less effortful to engage in online dating. After all, the digital revolution happened for a reason. Secondly, many of the challenges identified for people of colour in virtual spaces still apply in real-life scenarios. The feeling of being 'othered' and participating from the sidelines can be even more acutely painful in face-to-face encounters.

For the slightly less aware amongst us, the thought that is probably surfacing right now goes something like this: 'if they don't want you, why bother? Just stick to your own kind or go after people who like you'. As deceptively simple - and possibly even empowering - as this may sound, it is dangerously misguided. This kind of thinking ultimately does a great deal more damage as it actually perpetuates the status quo in the long run. It is not necessarily that I want to date a white guy or that I desperately want them to find me attractive, I do not. However, advising me to 'stick with my own kind' or to 'forget about those guys' is akin to telling people in wheelchairs never to be seen amongst walking people ever again and to stick together at all costs. While I certainly don't mean to pathologise 'people of colour' status in any way, this analogy illustrates my point.

So what do I want as an outcome? To get more hits on my profile? More dates with hot guys? More responses to my frantic greetings? I guess that those would all be fantastic but ultimately, I would like us all to examine our underlying beliefs about what constitutes desirability and why it is that certain people could never be desirable for us. What is it that gives certain races more social currency than others? And if we go far enough, we will probably realise that the only thing stopping any of us from diving headfirst into the ocean of diversity and abandoning our comfortable little boats is our own, very limited, very damaging ideals of desirability.

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