Within the LGBTQ community, dating and meeting new people is already much harder than it is for heterosexual, cis-gender individuals. In addition to the relatively small size of the community, there are factors that can make it difficult for LGBTQ people to date, such as being in the closet and fearing publicly dating. Moreover, the fixation and glorification of white men in the LGBTQ community have greatly influenced how people of color are viewed in the community as well as how they view themselves and others within their racial and ethnic groups. Similar to nonwhite racial minorities, transgender people also face extreme visibility and invisibility at the same time; they are targeted for their identity, but are silenced and ignored when demanding equal rights within the community. Minority and trans voices still have yet to be heard on a large scale. The way in which LGBTQ issues are presented and discussed outside of the community is largely representative of the cisgender white gay male experience. The general experience of cisgender white gay men can in no way embody that of a trans woman or a gay man of color. Although LGBTQ people are marginalized in our hetero-normative society, there are still individuals within the LGBTQ community that hold privilege due to their gender-identity and race. The lack of visibility and representation for LGBTQ people of color and for the transgender community acts as a barrier towards inclusion and safety. The use of a gay white man’s experience to portray the entire LGBTQ experience fails to acknowledge the broad and multifaceted backgrounds of the LGBTQ community.
Dating apps, such as Grindr, have provided spaces for LGBTQ individuals to meet and date other people, and have catered to people’s preferences by offering filters for age, body type, race, and more. Users of these apps have taken advantage of these features to display their negative and hostile view towards minorities. In a study done to investigate the prevalence of sexual racism in LGBTQ dating spheres, Denton Callander, Christy E. Newman, and Martin Holt identified said problem as “a specific form of racial prejudice enacted in the context of sex or romance” (2). They surveyed gay and bisexual men in Australia, asking them questions to find out whether they viewed sexual racism as a problematic occurrence within the LGBTQ community. In addition to this survey, Callander et al. had these men take the Quick Discrimination Index, which is “a standard survey instrument that measures attitudes on race and diversity” (Allen). Seventy percent of participants stated that sexual racism does not qualify as “a form of racism” and sixty-four percent of them believed that having a racial preference is in no way discriminatory (Allen). While this data may simply seem to be a harmless representation of people’s opinions, Samantha Allen explains in her article “‘No Blacks’ Is Not a Sexual Preference. It’s Racism” that the individuals who don’t see sexual racism as a problem are the same people who do have discriminatory preferences.
Hostility towards minorities on dating apps can be seen through racially charged statements such as “no rice,” “no spice,” and “no curry,” which are statements used to describe Asian and Latino men (Allen). Not only are these individuals blatantly rejecting entire groups of people, but they are also reducing minority people to the foods associated with their cultures, which is dehumanizing. The Quick Discrimination Index revealed that men who received scores indicating that their views of racism were skewed and problematic also revealed in their surveys that they had little to no problems with sexual racism and preference. In an interview with Samantha Allen, Denton Callander explains that sexual racism is simply “plain old racism disguised in the language of desire” (Allen). Those who are seen as desirable reflect the Eurocentric beauty standards of society and such standards are just as present in the LGBTQ community.
Minority LGBTQ individuals are the recipients of discrimination stemming from colorism. Colorism fuels the idea that lighter skin and more European-like features are more desirable, and is extremely influential in dating preferences within the LGBTQ community. This form of discrimination is troubling in the covert ways in which it is applied to others and the constant denial of it. Donovan Thompson describes his experiences with colorism in the black gay community as a dark-skinned man constantly receiving backhanded compliments such as “you’re dark, but good-looking” (Thompson). The deep history and complexity of anti-blackness and colorism in America have created internalized hate within the black gay community. As a racial minority in America, it is already a struggle to feel included and accepted. When one is both a racial and sexual minority, exclusion is a difficult reality to live with and some take steps to feel included; in turn, one ends up rejecting themselves and their own identity. As explained by Thompson, “There is something so profound about the notion that someone would have a preference or an uncompromising attraction for an image so unlike his or her own reflection” (‘I Don’t Normally Date Dark-Skin Men’). It is not necessarily that individuals have an issue with being black; however, they want to emulate European features to feel wanted. This desire to feel wanted can have a consuming effect on people, as explained by Michael Arceneaux in his article “What To Do When White Men Don’t Want You.” He expresses that many of the black and minority men who call out racism within the LGBTQ community after experiencing rejection from a white man are still succumbing to the effects of racism it by communicating the desire to be noticed by white men. Even though their motive lies in the wish to call out Eurocentric beauty standards, Arceneaux explains that occupying oneself with sexual racism does little and asks readers, “Why be so focused on the ‘preferences’ of an idiot? Why continue to make whiteness the center of the world and perpetuate this notion that we have to belong?” (Arceneaux). Yes, sexual racism is a plague within the LGBTQ community; however, in Arceneaux’s opinion, consuming oneself with it only contributes to the glorification of white men and the degradation of non-white beauty.
In choosing partners, the longing to feel comfortable with one’s identity and sexuality can be expressed in these preferential and discriminatory ways. Interracial dating in the gay community is common, despite the racial preferences that many display. However, there are some in the group of interracial daters who purposely date outside of their race because they harbor negative perceptions and feelings towards themselves, succumbing to the harmful narratives about their identities. Aaron Barksdale investigates his dating experiences as a black queer male and explains that he has only dated white men because of his insecurities surrounding his race. He states that he has identified a pattern of only liking white men on dating apps and believes that growing up in a religious environment contributed to his notion that all black people are homophobic. Barksdale also had two uncles who were ostracized from the family because they were gay and had AIDS. Because of this, he developed the false belief that black men were the only people who had HIV. These environmental factors led to his negative views of blackness and influenced him to seek out partners that are not black in order to feel wanted. As noted by Barksdale’s experiences and his tendency to separate himself from his racial identity when dating, the connection between race and sexuality can be internally divisive. Some are turned away by their racial and ethnic communities because of their sexuality and in turn reject their very own identity when dating. Even within some interracial relationships, insecurities still show up because there is a constant need to be validated by someone else of a different race, a race that society holds in higher esteem than all others. Barksdale acknowledges this in saying, “The ways in which I have been objectified and fetishized by them has often made me feel that I’m only good enough for sex and not for a relationship” (Barksdale). Fetishization of black and minority bodies further supports and points to the reality of sexual racism. Frequently, minority LGBTQ people are either rejected or hypersexualized and objectified solely for sexual purposes.
Racial rifts are among many of the divisive realities that continue to separate the LGBTQ community. Amongst the gay male community specifically, masculinity is often privileged and femininity is seen as inferior. As a result, some individuals may harbor internalized homophobia, affecting their treatment of others in the community as well as their own self-perception. In addition, internalized homophobia is another source in people’s preferences when using dating apps. A notable indication of internalized homophobia is femmephobia, which is the dislike of feminine attributes in men and the desire to reflect masculinity. Being uncomfortable with one’s sexual orientation can cause someone to try to model heteronormativity and masculinity in attempts to cover up their sexual identity. Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz and Brandon Miller have investigated the role that masculinity and femmephobia play in online dating in the gay community. They explain that there is a correlation between masculinity and femmephobia, as the more anti-feminine you are or portray yourself to be, the more masculine you appear. According to Miller and Behm-Morawitz, “This femmephobic framing demonstrates adherence to a masculine ideal within the gay male culture, an ideal promoted by an anti-effeminacy attitudes and the privilege of masculine presentation” (Miller and Behm-Morawitz 177). They explain that homosexuality has always been aligned with femininity and, because homosexuality has historically been demonized, femininity in men has been rejected. As a result of the demonization of femininity, many gay men attempt to distance themselves from this identity because of fear and internalized discomfort with their identity (Miller and Behm-Morawitz 177).
Not only do racial minorities and victims of femmephobia experience hardships on dating apps, but so do transgender individuals. Many dating apps lack features that are trans-inclusive and that would allow transgender people to correctly identify themselves and safely date. However, with changes to existing dating apps and the creation of new dating apps, the transgender community is finally being represented in the LGBTQ dating sphere. In her article “Why Doesn’t the Trans Community Have a Legit Dating App Yet?,” Raquel Willis explains how apps like OkCupid are making steps towards becoming inclusive of all gender and sexual identities. She writes, “In November 2014, the site released what should have been a game-changing number of gender and sexuality options-20 new gender identifiers and ten new orientation options” (Willis). Allowing people to freely express their identities is harmless and simply provides a more welcoming space for everyone who wants to date on the app. Other apps have been created that veer away from the typical uses of highly sexualized dating apps. Willis explains that an app known as GENDR is one of these unconventional apps:
On GENDR, the brainchild of even producer Barry Brandon and experiential marketing consultant Christine Courtney, dating and sex take a backseat to loftier goals: Establishing a safe community for transgender people where sharing one’s story is part and parcel of the user experience (Willis).
By focusing the app on friendly and meaningful interactions, the creators of GENDR have established a space in which transgender people are not only looked at as sexual beings but rather as people with important stories that should be heard and validated.
The call for equal rights for the LGBTQ community has long been centered around cis gay men and women, with the transgender community being silenced. While the fight for gay rights was both necessary and momentous in American history, many in the cisgender gay community forget and ignore their relative privilege today. The issues faced by the transgender community may be similar to those of racial minorities and others in the LGBTQ community; however, the transgender community experiences hatred and discrimination that others in the LGBTQ do not. In fact, cisgender gay males have been blatantly transphobic on dating apps. In his article “Grindr’s Trans Dating Problem,” David Levesley interviews transgender individuals who have had negative experiences on Grindr ranging from invasive questions to statements wishing for their deaths. In addition, he reports on the alleged deletion of transgender people’s profiles on Grindr although the corporation denies such actions. Although they denied it, the only accounts targeted in this deletion were those of transgender people. The reality of dating for transgender people, as described in personal testimonies in Levesley’s article, is one of unpredictability and potential danger. Levesley interviews Nick Fuentes, a genderqueer man who shares his encounters with transphobic and queerphobic men on Grindr. He explains how trans and queer bodies are both hypersexualized and assaulted for not resembling typical gender norms. Another man interviewed by Levesley who identifies himself as “Keith” acknowledged that his interest in transgender individuals is rooted in the fetishizing of their bodies (Levesley). The fetishizing of transgender bodies is both problematic and dangerous because it is a form of objectification that aims to exploit transgender people solely on their physical aspects. Those who fetishize transgender bodies and attack transgender people exhibit their privilege and their feelings of superiority by treating trans people as if they are less than human or less-deserving of safe environments.
Dating as a transgender individual can be difficult because of the ignorance many have about the transgender community. In her article “Trying to find love as a transgender man,” Tiara Chiaramonte reports on the dating experiences of one transgender man named Devin Gutierrez. Chiaramonte writes,
While Gutierrez has gotten top surgery and had his breasts removed, he has yet to get bottom surgery. That meant straight women were ‘looking for something I don’t have.’ And if he dated lesbians, he realized, those women would have to confront their own sexuality as well, because they’d be dating a man. (Chiaramonte)
Gutierrez’s struggles with dating highlight the misunderstandings that are prevalent in our society regarding transgender bodies. Chiaramonte points out that “Just 33% of trans people report undergoing some form of gender-conforming surgery. And 21% of transgender men are not interested in having gender surgery, according to the Human Rights Campaign” (Chiaramonte). One does not have to experience surgery in order to assert and feel comfortable with their gender identity.
Besides outright attacks and rejection on dating apps, there are people, such as author and blogger Chad Felix Greene, who explicitly attack the transgender community and attempt to invalidate their experiences. His statement, “We had to fight, they just had a little surgery and blended in with the crowd,” shows the antagonism and disrespect that many gay men feel towards the transgender community (Greene). Greene, who states that he used to consider transitioning when he was younger, believes that those who transition have more privilege than gay people. This absurd argument reflects the idea of “reverse racism” in which some white people claim that they experience from minorities. In his article, “What is ‘Reverse Racism’? Here’s Why it Actually Doesn’t Exist in the United States,” Philip Lewis explains how reverse racism is a concept made up by the privileged when their power is being challenged or called out. He gives the example of BET, a channel created to give black Americans a platform for their work and talent to be recognized. Such a channel is not “reverse racism” as noted Zeba Blay, a writer for the Huffington Post Black voices twitter account because white people are “the default race” (Lewis). Greene attempts to use an argument similar to that of “reverse racism” in stating that transgender people creating their own movement infringes on that of the gay movement. However, within the LGBTQ community, cisgender gay men, specifically gay white men, are the default group, making them more privileged than the transgender community. What Greene chooses to ignore are the alarming statistics displaying aggression and violence experienced by transgender people. The Human Rights Campaign has reported that at least twenty-one transgender people were killed in 2015, and in 2016, twenty-four transgender people have been killed, the majority of them being people of color. Although he believes that the community “won’t shut up about it,” “it” referring to the demanding of equal rights and treatment, personal testimonies and data indicate that transphobia and anti-trans discrimination are real and problematic (Greene). There is no need to turn members of the LGBTQ community against each other. Trying to argue that you are more oppressed than the other simply invalidates one group’s experiences and does nothing to address the issues; the two communities within the larger community can advocate for their own rights while being allies for the other group’s struggles.
The need for more solidarity and intersectionality within the LGBTQ community reiterates the fact that a community that has long been invisible in society also has its respective issues with visibility from within and outside the community. Issues such as racism, internalized homophobia, and transphobia come fully to life on LGBTQ dating apps when people subconsciously or consciously harbor negative views towards racial minorities and minority groups within the LGBTQ communities. The marginalized groups have experienced repudiation because of their physical attributes, “feminine” men people are shamed online because they express themselves without hesitation, and transgender people are harassed and killed for freely living and expressing their identities. In addition to having dialogue about such issues, we must look critically at the roots of these issues. If we are to ever establish an effective path to reducing and eliminating such issues, the causes of problems must be understood. The damage done by the history and ongoing occurrences of racism, homophobia, and transphobia will never fully go away. There will always be a group of people feeding into these mindsets and institutions as seen in LGBTQ dating apps. Being oppressed doesn’t mean that an individual will not oppress others. As seen in the interactions in the LGBTQ dating world, some oppress others because they feel threatened by equality, come from backgrounds where oppression was the norm even though they experience it themselves, or feel superior because they are oppressed less. We must educate ourselves about these occurrences so they become a part of our common dialogue and so that they are not continuously perpetuated to a point of normalcy.
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