Brown & Gay: “Sexual Racism” In Singapore

Speaking to Avinash Vardza Raju, Adrian Tyler, Audi Khalid, Shariff Rizwan, Virein Sudheer and Lery Villanueva. What is their experiences with sexual racism and discrimination against brown gay people in Singapore?

Sexual racism is loosely defined as ‘the exclusion of potential partners based on race.’ But the verdict is still not out yet on whether racial preferences constitute racism.

As a Singaporean Chinese, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about covering the topic of sexual racism. The relationship between race, attraction and discrimination is hazy and convoluted. No single article is ever going to do justice to this heavy topic.

But it’s an issue that deserves more attention. In an effort to spark a much needed conversation about sexual racism in Singapore’s gay community, I interviewed 6 brown gay men to find out more about their experiences.

Dear Straight People,

Meet Singaporeans Avinash, Adrian, Audi, Shariff, Virein and a Filipino based in Singapore, Lery Villanueva.

HOW SINGAPORE SHAPED THEIR TASTE IN MEN?

Avinash: “Growing up in a majority Chinese environment all my life has definitely had an impact on my perspectives on what it takes to be a quintessential eligible male. The standards of beauty that I have been exposed to were predominantly shaped by the Chinese men around me. And on social media as well.”

Virein notes that mainstream media glorifies fairer skinned Singaporeans.

Virein: “ I’d like to say that we definitely tend to be attracted to the image of beauty that is marketed to us. Media glorification of the fair and smooth ethnic majority just reinforces that in our minds.”

As a result, most of them concede that they are predominantly attracted to Chinese guys. Especially when they were younger.

Adrian:I used to prefer dating Chinese guys when I was younger. Coming from a minority race, it seemed to me that Chinese people were often portrayed as more successful as compared to other races. I also felt the need to fit into the majority group. However, now that I am older, I no longer have this preference.”

RACIAL DISCRIMINATION ON THE GAY APPS

Maybe it’s the convenience that a virtual space provides. But it has become commonplace for people to broadcast their racial preferences on gay dating apps.

In Singapore, phrases such as ‘Chinese only’, ‘No Malay’ and ‘No Indian’ are a common sight. When I quiz my interviewees for their take on this social phenomenon, their views range from adverse objection to ‘it’s just Grindr’.

Adrian:

“It is not necessary to state that on your profile. If you feel you have a preference, you need to ask yourself why and how the preference came about.

Shariff:

“It feels very disabling being a part of the LGBT community. To have that small community creating a greater marginalization, it did feel crippling. It disallowed me from being part of an already small community.”

Virein:

“A part of me wants to call them out on it. But, the other part of me just thinks it makes it easier to guess if they would be attracted to me or not. It’s just Grindr after all. Why waste your time and energy on people like that.

The thing that really pisses me off is how people would post things like #BLM on their social media but then have all these racial exclusions on their grindr profiles… that’s just hypocritical.”

Avinash:

To be honest, to each his own. Some people might call it racist, but everyone has their preferences. They’re entitled to it. Yes, socially it does seem to be very off-putting and discriminatory. However, at the end of the day, why would you want to surround yourself with people who choose to be close minded about uncontrollable things such as skin colour and ethnicity? 

I adopt the mindset of – “It’s your loss at the end of the day”

Audi:

I come from the idea that Grindr isn’t that ‘deep’. It’s fast food. What do you feel like having today? Maybe a guy with a hot bod? Maybe the nerdy guy who has the most bizarre kink. So whatever you like, you have a preference. 

However, it would be disingenuous to say (racism) doesn’t exist or to even downplay it. There are people who are deliberately racist. And there are those who are prejudiced from ignorance. Whether it’s the Malay guy who has a huge bias towards the old white man, or the Chinese guy who rejects all Indians. I think what needs to be recognised first of all is that these biases are intersectional, and not all of them are deliberately racist. 

But this is not to say I’m apathetic of those who are personally affected by this culture, having also been on the receiving end many times too.”

COPING WITH THE RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

The phenomenon of gay men broadcasting their racial preferences on dating apps have always sparked fierce debates. Some condemn it as sexual racism. Others view it as a simple matter of preference.

Regardless of your view on the matter, there is no denying that the normalisation of this social phenomenon has an effect on those at the receiving end. Half of my interviewees concede to lying about or hiding their race for fear of rejection on the gay apps.

Adrian: “I would tell them I am mixed. I even came up with a non-Malay name when I was around 16 years old. It was because of the fear of rejection and wanting to fit in.

Eventually, that new name resonated with me more so I decided to change my name on my NRIC (no, I do not have a Caucasian dad).”

Avinash:

“It happened a lot when I was in my mid-late teens. Then the world was comparatively not as woke as it is today about race. I did mask my identity as a mixed race individual. Also because it seemed to be a lot more exotic and in demand back then.” 

Audi:

“When I was (a lot) younger, yes. I think it stems from lack of self-confidence. Though I don’t go so far as to say I’m not Malay, maybe Javanese-Malay (therefore ‘mixed).”

Virein:

“When I was younger, I would hide my ethnicity on Grindr, seeing how much less I was marginalised if I became more “Chinese” and how much easier it was to fit in into predominantly Chinese spaces.”

Although Lery has only lived in Singapore for 2 years, the sexual discrimination here against brown men have similarly affected his self-esteem. While Lery has never lied about his race, he did refrain from putting up his picture on gay apps for fear of rejection.

Lery:

“I tried not putting any profile photo of me to see if it would change things if we had the chance to talk. There was an incident where someone messaged me “Chinese? Local?” I replied “No.” I was blocked.”

BEING BROWN AND GAY IN SINGAPORE

The question of whether racial preferences constitutes racism in the realm of sexual attraction has no clear answer. But answering that question was never the goal of this article.

By showcasing the experiences of 6 brown men, the aim of this article is to spotlight the complexities of the relationship between race, attraction and discrimination in Singapore’s gay community. The experiences of my 6 interviewees might not be entirely representative of what it’s like to be a minority within a minority in Singapore. But I’d daresay many would be able to relate to their answers.

Audi:

“Growing older and having a lot more self-confidence, I hide no fact that I’m Malay. I think I’ve come to terms with that insecurity.”

Virein:

“It has become much clearer to me now that it is NOT up to someone else to accept my own race and culture and I’ve taken the time to grow into my own confidence.”

Lery:

“If they reject me, it’s their loss, not mine. One of the secrets to a happy life is accepting and loving yourself and everything will follow through.“

It took my interviewees years to finally embrace their own ethnicity. But not everyone has the tools to come to that realisation on their own. 

This is especially so for the youths of today, who have access to gay apps from such a young age. I’m not sure what having Grindr during your teenage years is like. But I’d imagine being exposed to phrases such as ‘Chinese Only’ from such a young age does no favours to your self-esteem and mental health.


If you would like to keep up to date with how they are doing, you can connect with them via their IG handles shown in the picture above.


Written by Sean Foo: @mrseanfoo

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