Last summer, when I wasn’t at work or at the gym, I spent nearly every moment on Grindr. For those who don’t know what Grindr is, it’s an app for gay men to find other gay men with whom they can have sex with. It’s a hookup app. Since I was fresh out-of-the-closet and eager to find a man of my own, I was addicted to it.
I waited for new profiles to appear on my screen every hour. Unlike other dating apps, Grindr keeps the nearby profiles on a gridded main screen at all times. I could even see how far away each user was in terms of feet. If a new profile appeared 635 feet away from me and they had their six-pack abs as their main picture, I liberally sent messages to them. It didn’t matter to me that some of these people omitted their age, location, or face on their profile. I was eighteen and recklessly making the most of my youth.
I kept my profile simple. It said, “18, athlete, not looking for anything serious.” One thing I admire about Grindr is that people are very explicit about their intentions on the app. Other apps — like Tinder and Bumble — require people to tiptoe around what they want. But not Grindr. If you want sex, you ask for sex.
Some people put odd requests in their profile like “feet stuff please” or “looking for a sugar daddy,” which I found weird, but not dangerous. But those types of requests were rare. A majority of Grindr profiles, however, contained something much worse than these fetishes. They typically contained a common phrase: “no fats, no fems, no blacks, no curry.”
This code meant that a person couldn’t be overweight, feminine, black, or Indian if they hoped to talk to that user. “No rice” is also a common one included in profiles, meaning that a person can’t be Asian. “No irish” simply meant no Irish. “No Latinos” extended to both Latino and Hispanic men — I once saw it written as “no tacos.”
A month into using Grindr, I asked these guys why they would put these racial bans in their profile. They said to me, “It’s a sexual preference. I like what I like, so there’s nothing wrong with saying that.” I was surprised that these guys felt justified in their decision to selectively choose guys based on skin color. I was especially surprised because it wasn’t just white guys who had phrases like “no blacks” in their profile; it was also Hispanic men, Asian men, and even black men.
No amount of convincing would alter their belief that their “sexual preference” targeted specific races and communities in an unfair way. Their bans favored a specific type of guy: muscular, masculine, and white.
After a few months of hopeless attempts, I stopped talking to the guys who marginalized people of specific races and ethnicities. It felt pointless. I concluded that this discrimination existed solely because I was on an app that hypersexualized men. On Grindr, men are treated as objects — not as humans — so they aren’t given the respect that humans deserve. It seemed like a reasonable conclusion to make for an app like this.
But part of me knew that this conclusion didn’t make total sense. Mainly because, in real life, not just on apps, the LGBTQ community focuses its attention on a particular set of people: the “G” of the LGBTQ community. And even further, I’d say we focus only on the white G.
For example, political parties, TV shows, and popular culture revere themselves for including LGBTQ people in their organizations. However, those people tend to only be white, gay men. For the Republican Party, the most well-known LGBTQ person they have is Milo Yiannopoulos, who just happens to be a white, gay male. Harvey Milk was an American politician and a Democrat in the 1960s, who was the first openly LGBTQ person elected in California; he also happened to be a white, gay male. Modern Family, a popular American TV show, has LGBTQ characters of their own too: two white gay dads.
When movies feature LGBTQ people, they’re typically white men. When songs are written about LGBTQ people — consider “Same Love” by Macklemore — they’re typically about white men.
White men dominate the LGBTQ scene. And I’m not saying that white, gay men are bad people; most of them are very wonderful. I just find it concerning that out of all the LGBTQ people we admire, most happen to be white.
After watching a recent Hoboken City Council meeting, City Councilmember Mike DeFusco, when accused of being a racist, said, “it seems absurd that the first openly gay council member elected in this city could be [accused of that,]” as if being gay absolved him from expressing prejudice for other groups. Many LGBTQ people fail to consider that they must maintain respect for other marginalized groups and that being LGBTQ isn’t the only identity many of us possess. Intersectionality — the idea that someone who is both gay and black is less privileged than someone who is gay and white — is a conversation that many of us aren’t having, especially those of us within the LGBTQ community.
The racist codes on Grindr still exist today, even in New York City, one of the most diverse places in the world. LGBTQ people experience discrimination, and yet we treat people just as bad as those who target us.
I end this column with this: a poem written by Danez Smith, a man who, with his poems, reminds thousands of gay people-of-color that discrimination exists even within the LGBTQ community and that they aren’t alone in their struggles. His poem is the inspiration for my column’s title, and I hope that he receives more attention for his wonderful work.
imagine a tulip, upon seeing a garden full of tulips, sheds its petals in disgust, prays some bee will bring its pollen to a rose bush. imagine shadows longing for a room with light in every direction. you look in the mirror & see a man you refuse to love. small child sleeping near Clorox, dreaming of soap suds & milk, if no one has told you, you are beautiful & lovable & black & enough & so — you pretty you — am i.