The Color of Queer Love

This Village Voice article by Brad Sears, about interacial couples among the gay population, wafted into my inbox a few days ago and has been sitting there ever since. I knew I wanted to write about the subject, because it’s one that I’ve been asked about on this blog before, and I’ve never felt like I gave very good answers. But every time I’ve approached it with the intention of writing something, I hesitated.

Maybe it’s because of my own experience. Or maybe it’s because on the map of the American psyche (and perhaps that of western culture) where the territories marked “race” and “desire” meet is written “Here be dragons.”

Anyway, I finally decided to go there.

Sears covers a lot of territory in his article, and I wasn’t able to follow everywhere he went. Of course his approach can’t help but be different from mine. He’s the white half of one interracial coupling, and I’m the black half of another. That alone means different experiences.

I’ve been asked a lot of times about my experience being in an interracial relationship and I’ve given answers, but I never felt like I really addressed the subject. Maybe it’s because addressing that experience means bumping into some issues that aren’t exactly a walk in the park to deal with.

Come to think of it, given my friends’ reactions to my partners, I can’t say the LGBT community goes easy on interracial couples. Or maybe I just don’t understand the more positive nuances of “dinge queen.” Even friends who haven’t directly criticized my partner choices hardly let them go unnoticed. Most dismissively generalize that I’m “into black men” based on a sample of one.

And I can’t say my responses to them indicate an untroubled mind. When I was younger, I’d defensively counter with an exaggerated list of my white partners. Later, I deployed the model-U.N. defense: “But I’ve dated Asians, Latinos, and a member of the Andorran petite nobility!” More recently, I quietly but firmly state that surely their exclusive same-race dating pattern requires as much interrogation as mine.

I’ve been on the other side of that coin, faced the same kind of inquiries, and responded with the same kind of defensiveness. But where a white gay man in an interracial relationship can find himself facing thinly veiled suggesions that he has an ethnic fetish, a gay black man (from my own experience) faces not-so-thinly-veiled suggestions that his half of the relationship is based on some degree of self-loathing of either himself, his race, or both.

For my part, I’ve had run-ins before with other black gay men who take a dim view of a black man dating or being married to a white man. I don’t pretend to know why some feel that way, but it often leads to the equivilant of the “Do you still beat your wife?” question, which is “why do you only date/or date so many white men?”

There’s no good answer to this question, and I usually found myself taking the same defensive stance that Sears too, making a point to go down the list of black, Asian, Latino, Indian and Arab men I’d dated. Of course that answer was never good enough, because I either dated “too many” white men to satsify he interrogator, or because I dated white men at all. Before I know it, I’m back to square one for a gay man: defending my right to love whom I love.

But a good number of the men I’ve dated have been white. And so is the one I married. Why? Does it matter why? Based on my personal experience, it could be for any number of reasons. I wasn’t, for one, raised in an insular black community. From earliest memory, my environment was always pretty well mixed racially. The church was the closest thing to an all-black community that I grew up with, and the crucible of coming out alienated me from that community early on.

Coming out had the same effect on my relationship with my black peers, from whom the fiercest rejection came. (There is, as has been noted, a price for that rejection.) I’ve met with that same reaction as an adult, from other African Americans who’ve come upon me and my date at the moment, or upon me and my husband. When there is hostility expressed (we are, after all, a “double whammy” for some people — gay and interracial) that hostility is almost always directed exclusively at me. Not at my date, during my single days, and not at my husband. It’s a hostility I’ve almost come to expect.

Could that have something to do with it? Again, does it matter?

I have to admit, at a certain point during my life as an adult gay male, I came to a couple of realizations. Having one too many white partners whose pillow talk consisted largely of going on about the color of my skin made me realize that to some men my face made me a fetish object, and perhaps in some ways theirs made them the same to me. Even in that context, it’s impossible to be completely removed from the reality of race, and the power and priviledge awarded or denied each based upon it. James Hannaham’s Village Voice piece speaks to that particular issue pretty effectively.

Beware the chocoholic! Within minutes of meeting you, he will inform you that he exclusively dates men of your race. He will flirt with you by complimenting your skin tone, comparing it with his own (no, really), trying to impress you with how liberal he is, and assuming that you’re interested in “dialoguing about race,” when all you want is a cold beer and a kiss. Remember, anyone who likes you based primarily on your color can easily find someone else of the same hue nearby. Feel free to encourage the chocoholic to move to the next Negro down.

I had to stop and ask myself whether I was incapable of finding men of color, and especially men of my own race, beautiful. I had to find that out, and find a way to make a change if it turned out to be true. At some point after that I made a conscious decision to widen the diversity of men I dated and considered potential mates to include men of color including other black men, instead of narrowing the field to only men of color or only other black men. For me, I think it worked

What I realized is soemthing that Sears points out in his article.

Historically, gays just haven’t had the numbers to live apart. Using the best estimates available, there are about 281 million of them and 6 million of us. We are more likely to interracially couple for the same reason different-sex Hawaiian couples (a whopping 30 percent) do. Because of our limited and somewhat isolated pool, we’re thrown together more and don’t have as much latitude to exercise our same-race preferences.

To some degree, that’s true. There’s always been a degree of mixing that was just necessitated by the marginalization of queers. I’d never lived anywhere that had a black gay community so speak of — at least that I knew of — until I moved to DC. Here the gay community is largely segregated, though you will find some men of color in the predominantly white gay community, and vice versa. The exchange, though, is not quite equal, for white gay men in the black gay community need only go back home to regain the priviledge that come with their whiteness in this society. A black gay man is still black, no matter where he goes, as Sears also notes.

This spring, Badlands, a bar in San Francisco’s Castro district, was accused of scrutinizing the bags and IDs of black patrons more closely than those of whites. This is the very problem that led to BWMT’s creation in 1980.

Sears has it about right when he says this too.

At bottom, choosing a mate is a highly individualized and muddled process. While a racial fetish or color blindness may get you from the bar to the bedroom, it’s not going to get you through the drive home from Thanksgiving with his resentful maiden aunts. The same-sex census couples are cohabiting after all, and more than a quarter of them have been together for over five years.

It won’t get you through five years of living together, making a house a home, and raising a kid either.

At bottom, it’s impossible if not also unwise, to make hard-fast rules about how anyone or everyone should go about choosing a mate. After all, according to some people I should be married to a woman, but I know down to my bones that’s not a possibility for me, if I want to be happy. I have the audacity to think I deserve happiness, whatever the color of the wrapper it comes in.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
This entry was posted in Current Events, Gay Rights, Race. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Color of Queer Love

  1. rea says:

    If we can’t accept everyones’ right to love whoever they chose, what is the point of the gay rights movement? We might as well go back in the closet . . .

    John Lawrence and his partner Tyrone Garner fought for gay rights all the way to the Supreme Court and won. Here’s a picture of them:

  2. B says:

    Great post.
    I too grew up in a racially mixed community so have never had any qualms about dating anyone I wanted, regardless of skin tone or origins. I later moved to a more segregated society where Chinese people live in ChinaTown and there is a “black” postcode and virtually no Asians to speak of. I became involved with a black man in this new city and experienced a huge amount of hostility from black women across the board.

    Just a different perspective


  3. ronn says:

    Great post. I share many of your views, although I think it’s been a bit easier for me since I’m in a relationship with another man of color (he’s Taiwanese American, I’m African American). Of course, I still get teased as a Rice Queen by some friends, but after nearly five years together — interacting with each other’s family and friends and such — they ought to know better.

  4. RainbowDemon says:

    Hi Terrence,
    I was a member of BWMT (New Haven chapter) in 1984. We had an approximately equal number of Black and White members and even some other “races” mixed in. I was living with my Black lover at that time.
    I also have a son from a previous relationship [he’s 29 now, and lives next door, in the apartment above our garage]. My partner now, is the same race that I am [an X-Orthodox Priest], but ‘back in the day’ my ex-wife made me go to the psychiatrist with her to say goodbye to our son, who was being placed in a “special school” because she had no control over him at home when I “left her for a man”, as she so bluntly puts it.
    It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, and believe me I protested, but she would never let him come to live with me, although he was allowed to visit. After the psychiatrist visit, I wasn’t allowed to see him, but I did everything in my power to stay in his life.
    About 2 years later, [after my man died from ARC syndrome…] I got back together with my ex-wife and we took our son out of that “school” -at my bidding. I think we worked out all the damage that was done to him from that horrible experience.[not to mention the emotional wreck that it made of me]…
    I won’t bore you with any more details about my love life, but the ex-wife and I divorced in 1990, after my son was old enough to understand.

    The whole point to this is, that Love really is blind. We fall in love with whoever love points the finger at. But with LOVE comes many responsibilities.
    We should, at least I have always accept[ed] everyone as the person that they are, no matter gender, race, or any other factor… Just Human Beings. Equal in every sense. I’ve never had sexual preferrences, really in that sense. Finding the true worth of an individual is really the best treasure we can ever hope for in life, and people who put themselves behind those false roadblocks of catagorization are the real losers in life.
    Everyone should be left to choose whomever and however and even whatever makes them happy in life, after all… it is too short not to be happy.

    Peace, Bro…

  5. PBCliberal says:

    Rea, I’ve never understood the myopia of the gay rights movement; the myopia of so many minorities that the right so effectively maniupulates in getting us to fight with each other.

    You want to see outrage? Have a look at the scorched earth surrounding a bi woman, active and with some position in the GLBT community, who marries or enters a LTR with a man!

    All of a sudden, people who were spouting “right to love whom we want” are using words like usurper and carpetbagger.

    Love sometimes strikes when you least expect it, and the people who should be most supportive based on their own experiences turn out to be the most judgemental.

  6. Bravo for this great post. My natural inclinings have always gravitated towards members of other races. I have always wondered why, but gave up trying to figure it out. It is what it is, to be cliche. And go figure, I end up initiated into an Afro Caribbean religion.
    Your post hit the nail on the head though: At the end of the day, it simply does not matter. People are people, and race is nothing more than color of skin and the thin veil of a different culture.

  7. Cederico says:

    I think the issue you are running into is that there are so many black gay men who only date white or latin boys.  I was one of those men admittedly. 

    There is in my view a problem with this type of attitude.  There is usually a lot behind this choice…low self esteem, low regard for oneself as a black man, reaction to black homophobia, lack of actual eleigible black men in the area, etc.  

    The problem is not that you or any other black man can find whites, latins, or asians.  The problem is the outright rejection of your own kind…in reality you are rejecting yourself.  A black gay guy who is comfortable with his self as a black guy,  thinks he is as good as any other type guy, think his looks are attractive…will not likely in my view reject dating other black men.  

    We all glorify the fact that interracial relationships exist, yadda yadda.  I have no problem with them in fact I have had two white male lovers.

    But when have we seen a celebration in the gay or gay black community of black on black love.   I haven’t seen it in the cities I have lived or visited….maybe in bigger cities like Washington, New York, or Atlanta black-black couples are more existent. 

    I really think a black guy who exclusively dates white or another group really needs to examine the reasons…and not skirt the issue of whether he unconsciously has a problem with his own reace.

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