Anyone following the hype over U.S. basketball star Jeremy Lin will have observed the thick layer of racism lying ponderously over the media. One not-so-witty journalist rightly lost his job over the headline "Chink in the Armor," after Jeremy's recent setback, but the public statements of some athletes and the reactions in the press showed that race still matters, and racism is yet a fact of life.
As a hopeless (or hopeful?) sentimentalist, I like to think that there exists a global community of gay men and women who, in the face of discrimination and prejudice, all love and respect each other regardless of skin color, a worldwide brother- and sisterhood with common interests, similar outlooks on life, and shared values. Yeah, right!
How deluded this idea is was brought home to me during last year's visits to several American and European cities. Almost every major metropolis with a gay scene has separate bars for Asians, and even for Asian-lovers, both of which have to endure a plethora of derogatory denominations, from "rice queen" to "potato queen" and a whole lot of edibles in between. (Do you know what a banana is? How about an egg or yolk? Or a coconut? Don't ask!)
A look at online profiles will bring the same disheartening revelation: the gay world is full of narrow-minded, bigoted racists. Prowlers proudly pin their racism and prejudices on their profiles: the favorite "no fems, no chubs, no Asians!" reminds me of the old "no dogs or Chinese" store signs of pre-war Shanghai, and I shudder.
On my U.K. book tour in the lovely city of Manchester, we listened to natives explaining why Poles were good for a hot one-night stand (no pun there, I was assured), but not really boyfriend material; why one should always avoid Arabs and Turks ("they smell and lie"), and that Asians -- no offense to my husband, or indeed to me -- were only suitable for old queens or really ugly guys. "They are only after your money anyway."
The amount of racial affinity is staggering. Even in big metropolises like Madrid and Milan, we counted far more profiles of young men looking for men who were "alike" in age, looks, and muscle development than we found explicit interest in otherness and delight in racial difference. The more subtle date-seekers qualify their predilections with the moronic "no offense, it's just my taste."
The author Andrew Holleran described the gay world as a social melting pot, the gay disco that most democratic of institutions, where construction workers meet lawyers on equal terms. Apparently they do mingle, as long as the both share approximately the same genetic makeup. No Moroccan construction workers for that Danish lawyer, please.
As a biracial couple, we are especially attuned to such attitudes. My Asian husband tends to like or dislike cities by the number of friends we make on social apps -- thus Boston is better than Los Angeles, and Berlin better than London. We made a test and changed his app picture to show only his torso. His dedication to healthy cuisine was rewarded by a whopping 143 Hi!s in half an hour! Of those, 140 disappeared or blocked him when shown his -- and you must believe me here -- absolutely gorgeous Asian face. I won't tell you which city, but we ain't gonna visit there again, I tell you.
Go through any magazine in a Western bookstore or your local porn shop and you can count the number of ethnic cover boys on one hand. "Ethnic" is of course itself a Caucasian-centric term. The fact that it, along with "Interracial," is a category on many websites is a sign of how far away we are from an equitable, accepting society in which the color of one's skin does not matter. That Jeremy Lin has to be an Asian-American athlete rather than just an American basketball player is simply ludicrous.
To compare notes, we interviewed the owners of two straight dating website for this article, who told us that Asian men did not have a big following, whereas Asian women were fairly easy to match with desirous Caucasian husbands. In general, the straight bars and pubs we surveyed had a higher percentage of racial diversity than any of the gay venues. In Asia, of course, Caucasian are invariably in high demand and are often treated better than their arrogance deserves. Perhaps because there are so few to go around? So is it racism or just a matter of supply and demand?
It is difficult, if not impossible, to show scientifically whether gays are more racist. There is, however, an interesting hypothesis evidenced in many literary works. It says that homosexual attraction often starts with a desire to identify with the partner. A straight man may love, adore, or mistreat his girlfriend, but he never wants to be her. Most homosexuals find out about their propensities by falling for a guy they adore, envy, or desire to emulate. "Heterosexual roles are reciprocal, not reversible ... but homosexual roles are often redundant and a form of admiration or envy," Edmund White writes in his insightful biography of Jean Genet. "The first act of homosexual love, then, is impersonation."
If that is true (even as just an early developmental stage), then racism may indeed be more prevalent amongst gays. It is easier to identify with a member of the same racial group. If part of finding someone "hot" is a desire to be that person, then it helps to share the same skin color, or language, or education. If "I want to be like him" is the driver of queer puppy love, then the impossibility of changing one's racial makeup may be an underlying factor of racism. Hence the overwhelming presence of the phrase "seeking likewise" on Grndr profiles.
Incidentally, the extent of self-delusion involved is really mind-boggling. In one European city, one guy explained that "gays are all shallow and narrow-minded, with loads of hang-ups," that he himself was "laid-back, open-minded, and cool,"' while his profile on GayRomeo still read "28 yo, 182cm, 79kg, athletic, fit, looking for same. No chubs, no Turks, no Asians." How very open-minded!
Racism is, of course, just one aspect of the rejection of otherness that I find so misplaced in the gay community. My consolation is that I am way past dating and really can't be bothered to deal with people who tell me that I "could have done better than an Asian partner." But it still hurts to see the people I would like to associate with exhibit the same traits as the proverbial redneck.
I am still a sentimental dreamer, and so I have another theory to offer. I believe that most of the intelligent, free-thinking, race-blind men and women with whom I want to experience my idealistic global kinship are simply too smart and well-settled to hang out in bars or waste their time on social apps with a bunch of fakers. They are all living in the suburbs with a boyfriend or girlfriend -- or both! -- who have a different skin color, an impossibly cute accent, and a penchant for spicy cooking. Hey guys, wanna have lunch?
In a previous piece on HuffPost, Marten Weber wrote about being gay in an Asian society.
His latest book, Gabriel, deals, amongst other things, with racism and standards of beauty. Learn more at martenweber.com.