I’m quickly approaching my 25th birthday and have come to the realisation that I’ve never been in a long-term relationship. And not for lack of trying. That's not uncommon among millennials, but as a Black gay man, I've begun to wonder how my race has affected my chances of finding love. I like to think of myself as someone who’s adventurous when it comes to love and sex, someone who’d never rule out potential partners or new experiences. But when I discussed my issue with friends, other queer men of colour, they all said I have a type: white men. I tried to deny it, but when I thought about my dating history, I realised that my friends were right. While I may flirt or develop friendships with other Black gay men, I’ve never seriously pursued a relationship with one. When I’m on Tinder, the men I’m more likely to swipe right are usually athletic white men between 21 and 30. And when I scroll through Grindr’s grid of faceless torsos, I find myself only messaging guys with complexions lighter than a paper bag. Even in person, when I’m trying to muster up the courage to talk to a cute guy, I first wonder if he’s "into black guys." I hate myself for even having to contemplate these things, and I’m now left asking myself: Why am I not drawn to other men of colour? And the more I think about it, the more complicated the answer seems. I grew up closeted in a very religious community. The only gay people I saw in the media were white, and the few Black queer celebrities that I knew of, like Wanda Sykes and Michael Sam, were in interracial relationships. My childhood in the Black church led me to believe that Black people were inherently homophobic — a myth — and that the only Black men who were gay were on the down low or infected with HIV — also a myth. Within my own family, I had two gay uncles who died of AIDS-related illnesses before I was 10. They were estranged from our family, partly because of their health and their sexual orientation. I never had the chance to speak to either one while they were alive, but I often wonder what advice or mentorship they could have provided me as a young Black gay male coming of age in such a sheltered environment.
When I’m trying to muster up the courage to talk to a cute guy, I first wonder if he’s 'into black guys.'
When I finally came out in college, I was at a predominantly white school. Many queer folks were closeted, and of the few who were out, most of them were white. After graduating, I moved to New York, and though here I was able to find queer friends who are also people of colour, we are still always in the minority at gay bars and clubs. A friend of mine, who is Latino, once asked why I didn't approach Black men in bars. I replied, "Look around — I'm one of three Black guys here." There’s a clear lack of queer spaces in POC communities, and that definitely affects the ability of men of colour to meet one another. But while the absence of queer POC-centric establishments is definitely an issue, many of the other Black men I see at gay bars around Manhattan and Brooklyn are booed up with white men, too. Could we all be perpetuating internalised racism by consciously, or even unconsciously, excluding Black men and other men of colour as romantic prospects? And in doing that, are we only reinforcing the politics of desire that deem Black people less attractive? When I read a recent essay by Michael Arceneaux, his words hit me hard. He questioned why Black men in particular want so desperately to be acknowledged as desirable by white men who have no interest in dating outside their race. He wrote, "As Black men, we need to value ourselves so much that no outside force, no prejudice — even one guised as preference — can make us feel second place." Clearly, this dialogue wasn’t only happening in my head. A larger conversation about the racist, fat-phobic, and misogynist language of gay dating apps has also begun, which has allowed me to see that my dating prospects may also be a result of problematic societal messaging. Statements like "no fats or fems" or "no Blacks or Asians" litter profiles in hookup communities on Grindr, Jack'd, and similar platforms. Thankfully, marginalised queer communities have started to call out those hurtful comments as acts of discrimination rather than statements of preference. All of this has shed a glaring light on my internal struggle. About a year ago, I came across an article entitled "28 Questions for Black Men Who Only Date White Men." Each question from the article was a damning indictment of my apparently not-so-simple dating choices. Do you feel more attractive dating white men? How do you view yourself? These questions forced me to think critically about my intentions with the relationships I sought out.
Statements like "no fats or fems" or "no blacks or Asians" litter profiles in hookup communities on Grindr, Jack'd, and similar platforms.
The truth is, I am insecure about my Blackness — which is painful and embarrassing to admit. As a Black writer who writes about issues of race and culture, I can’t help but feel a certain sense of hypocrisy when it comes to my dating habits. As a dark-skinned Black man, I have faced both overt and subtle instances of racism from white gay men. The ways in which I have been objectified and fetishised by them has often made me feel that I’m only good enough for sex and not for a relationship. I’ve received messages that said, "I love BBC," or "I never been with a Black guy before," or, on the opposite end of the "no Blacks" spectrum, I've seen white men who are "not into white guys, sorry." When I'm dating a white man, I occasionally feel like I need to confront the issue of race head-on and acknowledge the difference in life experiences between me and my partner. It can be frustrating, but also deeply enriching, to teach someone about my cultural upbringing. But the older I get, the more I find myself wanting a partner who can relate to me without needing to be taught. I’ve become increasingly drawn to the concept of Black love, which celebrates Black couples and affirms Black pride within relationships, and I eventually want to experience this. There are also times when I feel like my white partners are trying to overcompensate for their whiteness. They start social justice conversations, bringing up racism and homophobia almost as if they're trying to prove how down they are. It makes me wonder why they’re interested in me. Are they using me as an experimental phase? Does it give them a sense of moral superiority around other white people, as if they are more progressive? Does it make them feel less guilty about gentrifying the neighbourhood? My understanding of relationships is developing, as is my knowledge of race, but I’m still unpacking how my sexuality really relates to my Blackness. As I continue on this road to self-discovery and acceptance, I often think about my gay uncles who died, and I wish they could have been a part of this journey. Now that I’m aware of my pattern, I’ve had to confront my own personal feelings of anti-Blackness and internalised racism, which has made it difficult for me to love other Black men and love myself. These feelings of self-loathing have not only affected my ability to develop intimate relationships with other Black men, but also friendships. My insecurities about my identity are hard to talk about and even harder to write about, and it’s increasingly exhausting to engage in this dialogue with Black men who don’t get it or white men who don’t understand it, either. At the end of the day, I’m not ashamed to have dated white men, and I’ll continue to do so. Who I do or do not date isn’t going to solve racism, but if I really am as woke as I say am, I have to unpack how my Blackness and queerness influence the way I see myself and potential partners. I want to be able to wait patiently for the partner I both desire and deserve, and to welcome him in whatever form he comes. But I know it’s not that simple. Maybe I’ll have to be single a little longer until I have a better understanding of myself — and I’m starting to realise that that’s okay, too.