I’ve had a few brutal break-ups in my time, but love and war — or rather, lust and war — have never been more bruising than they were one night at KM Zero in Buenos Aires.
Marcelo had lost the battle, but he was still going down fighting. He’d spent hours aggressively trying to kiss me, and his dramatic reaction to repeated rejection (knocking my whisky and Coke out of my hand, spilling it everywhere) earned him a swift kick in the shins. When I walked outside of the bar several minutes later, he was shouting his side of the story to two cops he’d flagged down.
”Me dio una patada! N — — r! N — — r!”, he screamed, pointing at me.
That night, the BAPD, who pretended not to hear Marcelo’s racist outburst, detained me for five hours while investigating the kick. I didn’t miss the irony: Had I been a woman, they probably would have excused my reaction as self-defence (as one female KM Zero bartender who’d witnessed part of the showdown described it to them), perhaps even castigating Marcelo as a sexual predator.
Although I was released without a blemish on my record, there has been lasting damage. The sound of Marcelo calling me a ”n — — r” still rings in my ear.
I’d been called the N-word numerous times before that night, but never by someone who’d just been hitting on me. I always assumed that a guy couldn’t possibly be racist if he wanted to have sex with me, but I’ve continually been proven wrong in the decade since I left the United States to move to Argentina and later Australia. In fact, in the last 10 years, I’ve been called the N-word about a dozen times, and on each occasion, it’s been by someone who’d been pursuing me moments earlier.
How could that happen when I’ve apparently never been more desirable? During my years in the U.S., where white and blue-eyed rule the mainstream gay scene, I was always somewhat invisible as a black man. So I wasn’t expecting the rush of attention I suddenly received from guys abroad.
But as I quickly realized, I’m an item on a checklist for many non-black gay men outside of my homeland. In countries where there are so few of us, places like Argentina, Thailand, and Australia, the desire I encounter is often driven more by curiosity about the sexual prowess of black men — and our rumored ”BBC” (aka big black cock) — than any of my own individual qualities. I’m a thing, not a person. In other words, when gay white men instigate a white-on-black one-hour stand, horny and racist can be an unfortunate packaged-deal.
When I first arrived in Australia in 2010, I was prepared for the worst. I knew the country had its own history with racism, although the reaction to me was, for the most part, superficially positive. As in Argentina and Thailand, I was a rarity, an exotic black man, an often-objectified curio, but despite the source of their interest, that famous laid-back Aussie charm was enticing.
I soon discovered, however, that the N-word is alive and well here, and, for some, ready to be dropped at the slightest provocation. For ”Friendly guy” on Grindr, all it took was two words from me.
Friendly guy: “You got a place to f — k in?”
Me: “Not you”
Friendly guy: “Why n — — r?” You think you are too good?”
I wonder how “Friendly guy” would have reacted if a white man had replied as I did to his tawdry opening line. I suspect he would have let it go. After all, anyone who makes the first move with any regularity on Grindr knows that rejection is part of the experience.
Of course, when someone sees me as nothing more than ”BBC,” as so many non-black gay men unfortunately do, they don’t think of me as an equal, or even as human. All I am is ”BBC.”
Thankfully, this isn’t an overarching “white” thing. The white men I have dated are not the problem. Even when it’s been lust, not love, at first sight, they’ve been able to see the real me beyond the “BBC.” I couldn’t imagine any of my white exes ever using the N-word. The white men who play the “BBC” and “N” card, the ones who see me only as my race, are typically ones who approach me through no effort on my part.
Unfortunately, as any woman will confirm, you can’t always control the attention you receive or from whom it’s offered. I’m sure the N-word was ringing in the ears of many black female slaves (and probably some male ones) as they were raped by their white masters. Those violent encounters may have been far more extreme than any unwanted attention and racism I’ll ever experience, but the parallel is clear.
“Just because he f — ks you doesn’t mean he respects you,” an insightful writer once declared. I’d amend that to “Just because he wants to f — k you doesn’t mean he respects you.” I owe my awareness of this truth to guys like Marcelo and to dating/hook-up apps/websites like Grindr and its forerunners, Gaydar and Manhunt.
For all of its flaws and faults, Grindr can be illuminating in ways bar talk and pillow talk might not be. For me, it has shined the harshest, most unflattering light on the rampant racism in the gay community, which can be linked as much to desire as to the sexual exclusion of entire races and ethnic groups.
In this day and age of Grindr, anonymous online bullying and Donald Trump, everyone pretty much has permission to say what they want and be who they truly are from the moment of first contact or shortly thereafter. Now horny and racist, once closeted qualities that were furtively stuffed in the shadows, are out and about like never before. They sometimes even hold hands in public.
N-word aside, that’s not an entirely terrible thing. Better to face the harsh, ugly truth of these undesirable bedfellows out in the open than to unwittingly end up under the covers with them.