Please. Not Another Dumb Stereotype About Black Men
My date body-shamed, “black”-listed, and friend-zoned me in six sentences.
I thought Dirk was different. That’s why I flamed him on Grindr. He didn’t look like every other guy on the Berlin grid. It wasn’t just one thing — not his unkempt longish bleach-blond hair, not the eyeglasses, not the lip ring, not that he was fully dressed. It was the total package. On a grid full of carefully cultivated posturing, he was a little off. I liked it.
During several screens of conversation, he didn’t ask what I was looking for, what I was into, if I was a top or a bottom, or whether I was hung. He didn’t even ask to see more pics. I was so impressed that we upgraded to WhatsApp, where, after a few days of friendly chit chat, he asked me out on a dinner date.
Once we were face-to-face, it didn’t take me long to realize that we weren’t quite in sync. As we ate our spätzle meals, our eye contact was as awkward as the extended silences. As for the conversation, we spent most of our time together talking about the interior design, which included a vintage television set that was playing some black and white program that looked a lot more interesting than anything that was happening at our table.
A change of venue to a nearby gay bar didn’t change our date dynamic. Thank God for the framed vintage photo of Audrey Hepburn with a moustache and the illustration of a naked unshaven woman assuming a power pose on the wall!
When you have to dig into your bag of tricks and pull out the old “What was your first impression of me?” routine, you know you’ve hit a wall. Ironically, that ended up being the most revealing moment of the date. It was when Dirk inadvertently admitted that he’s a slave to cliches about gay black men.
Now when you’ve been black and gay for as long as I have been, you get used to typecasting and stereotyping. Been here, heard that, from “Black don’t crack” to “Once you go black…” to “Is it true what they say about black men?” But Dirk dropped a bombshell I hadn’t heard before.
“Well, how should I say this?” he began. “You know how gay black men are always muscular and masculine? I noticed you were like that, too.”
Something in his tone told me he wasn’t paying me a compliment.
“But after talking to you, I can see you’re different. I enjoy talking to you.”
The subtext of his words sent me into an inner rage that I stifled with silence. He was basically saying that his first impression of me was that I look like a stereotype. To him, I was just another common-looking gay black man. If I had arrived with the same muscles and the same level of masculinity but with white skin instead of black skin, I probably would have been sexy, not a stereotype. My personality would have enhanced the first impression, not reversed it. He was body-shaming and “black”-listing me.
It’s funny how gay white guys are almost always aware of the variety among other gay white guys, despite the abundance of interchangeable Caucasian muscle on any Grindr grid. There’s as much variety among gay black men on and off the grid, but some gay white men, like Dirk, don’t see it. Just looking around the bar, there were at least five black men other than me, and we all had different body types, styles, and haircuts. I considered pointing this out to Dirk, but I resisted. I wasn’t going to break my recent vow to stop blacksplaining racism to gay white men.
I already understood the psychology behind Dirk’s narrow view of gay black men. That’s all he sees. The rest of them might as well be invisible. Although he was the first guy I’d heard put the muscular-and-masculine expectation into words, I knew Dirk’s assessment was hardly unique among gay white men. He was reducing us, as so many before him had, to specific supposed physical attributes. Robert Mapplethorpe must have been nodding in his grave.
If we don’t fit the sexualized version of what a black man is supposed to be, we might as well not exist to some men of other races and ethnicities. They won’t respond to our tight from-the-neck-up portrait shot the way they would to one posted by a white or Latino or Middle Eastern guy. They swipe left or keep scrolling, forgetting the face as soon as it’s no longer on the screen. They need to see a little more black skin to get turned on. It’s like a double-edged penis. Our black sexuality is why they notice us, and it’s also why they put us in a box.
I admit to inadvertently playing into the fantasy about the gay black man. In my Grindr profile pic, I’m shirtless and my trousers are slung low enough to offer a peek of underwear. But I’m not the only person on the grid posing provocatively. There are so many chiseled torsos and equally revealing close-ups on the grid, and most of them are whiter than mine.
In bars and clubs and in the street, there are masculine well-built white men everywhere. And somehow, to Dirk, you’re only a cliche if you’re muscular, masculine, black, and gay. I’ve never even thought of myself as being particularly masculine. On a scale from 1 to 10, I tend to hover around 5 to 7. But Dirk needed to see “masculine” to fit me into his narrow view of gay black men.
To his slight credit, he was no longer judging my book by its cover. He’d opened it up and he liked what was on the pages. (Clearly his reading material was more scintillating than mine.)
“You’re actually someone I could see myself becoming friends with,” he said.
I wasn’t sure if this was his way of friend-zoning me, and I didn’t care. My first impression of him was a good one, but my second impression was the one that would stick. So much for the dependability and durability of first impressions.
I thought Dirk was different, but the date was doomed as soon as it began. What he saw when I entered the room was the dealbreaker. It revealed too much about him and almost nothing about me.