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.