Racism in gay dating exists, and it sucks a lot. Studies have shown that gay men of color receive fewer responses on dating apps, and Asian American gay men in particular get written off as desexualized and undesirable and experience fetishization. As a gay Asian American man, I have faced my fair share of dating microaggressions and mishaps, ranging from being fetishized because of my race on Grindr to having (usually white) men lose interest in me when they realize I have strong opinions about social justice, instead of being a submissive Asian wallflower. While these instances have felt hurtful, over the past few years I have adjusted my attitude to come to a more empowering conclusion: I really do not care about what white gay men, as well men in general, think of me, because I can love myself outside of validation from men.
I started thinking about the pointlessness of pursuing love from gay white men upon seeing the prominence of gay white men everywhere. Movies and books like Love, Simon and Call Me By Your Name focus on the desires of (conventionally attractive) gay white men. Shows like Glee, Queer as Folk, Modern Family, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, etc. include gay and queer male characters who are almost exclusively white. It is not just the whiteness of these characters that feels repetitive; it is also the tiredness of their romance-centered narratives, in which gay white men feel incomplete before they find a romantic partner, with some even engaging in unhealthy behaviors to maintain a relationship. Due to the increasing visibility of these narratives, I can see why gay men of color feel pressured to secure love from and feel desired by gay white men. However, observing these narratives makes me wonder: why, as a gay Asian American man, would I want to reproduce these same patriarchal stories of using a man to complete myself when I am already a complete person?
It is important to acknowledge how queer relationships can replicate patriarchal patterns, ranging from abusive tactics to basing our self-worth on whether a (oftentimes white) romantic partner will love us. Feminist writers have inspired me to think about patriarchy in queer relationships, to consider how the struggle for gay white men’s affection reminds me so much of how women are taught to base their self-worth on if a man provides them with attention and affection. I understand that queer love gaining recognition and representation is revolutionary – especially queer love between people of color – given how we as queer folk have faced discrimination based on our sexuality for the majority of history. However, despite what the media brainwashes us to believe, you can create a meaningful life and be a healthy, self-aware person who strives to make a difference in the world without a romantic partner. In fact, it may even be easier to do so without a romantic partner, given how romance and relying on someone else for our happiness can distract us from accepting ourselves.
Yes, fighting racism in queer dating is important, and it is also important that we gay Asian American men learn to love ourselves without the approval of gay white men. We can center queer narratives that focus on our lived experiences, romantic or not. As Rebecca Solnit writes about in her iconic essay “Whose Story (and Country) Is This?”, we should question how white men’s stories garner the most sympathy, as well as how their perspectives and desires receive the most value. A connection of mine once said that he felt grateful that he could feel close to me, because as gay Asian American men we are often conditioned to compete for gay white men’s affection. When he said this, I thought, yeah, fuck that shit, because getting a white man to love us is unrelated to our worth as people, especially when we have so much work to do within our own communities, like fighting toxic masculinity and anti-blackness.
I want to inhabit the leading role of my own life story, not play the romantic interest of another (white) gay man who felt incomplete before meeting “the love of his life.” Sure, I have felt attracted to men – including white men – and have dedicated more time than I wanted to on those crushes. But, without a boyfriend, I have cultivated loving and amazing close friendships, gained admission to a top-ranked Psychology PhD program so I can practice therapy, research, and teach, and I have gone to therapy and have cultivated a strong relationship with myself and my values. As a gay Asian American man, the intersections of my race and sexuality have emboldened me to examine how intersecting systems of oppression affect marginalized people’s mental health. I feel so excited to continue exploring these ideas while building a life full of meaningful relationships, with a romantic partner or without one.
I definitely did not delve into the complexities of bisexuality, the experiences of trans individuals, etc. in this post so I recognize that as a limitation. Still, I’d be curious about what your thoughts are on this issue, especially from fellow queer men of color and gay Asian American men in particular! It is also my birthday today, so, yay. Now that summer has arrived let’s hope for more posts soon, because I have many, many ideas. Until next time, dear readers.