That online dating in general is a harrowing ordeal for most is a statement of fact. Numerous shows and articles have outlined the perils of dating online, with dating apps like Tinder and Bumble offering a peek into human psychology with regard to the art of the modern mating dance. There are pages on Instagram dedicated to posting screenshots that expose hilarious, often disturbing exchanges on dating Apps with everything from soliciting nude pics, to outright insult when pursuers – often men – feel rejected.
Hardly a day goes by that I am not doubled over in laughter from stories shared by friends and acquaintances, even strangers in China about their dating lives. Be it in public WeChat groups, private messages, or even over a loud conversation in one of Beijing’s watering holes, the stories are often filled with intrigue, deceit, misadventure, bad judgment, and regret. One thing that they all have in common, however, regardless of the victims’ gender, sexual orientation, or race, is that they are all experiences with online dating.
Surveying the Waters
But if straight online dating can be compared to a tour through a haunted house, then Gay online dating is nothing short of scenes from the Final Destination horror franchise. Laced with racism, fatphobia, femmephobia – the practice of discriminating against feminine-presenting Gay identifying men, ageism, classism, and what some might argue is an overemphasis on casual sex, the Gay online dating experience is a microcosm of every rights movement in society, so denigrated within a group in which one would expect to find acceptance. It is a competitive marketplace where everyone tries to market themselves as the “best product” while themselves becoming astute buyers in a marketplace where other “venders” aren’t above deceit in the form of old photos, misleading bios, and inevitable bad sex.
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An article by Huffington Post titled 10 Reasons Why Dating is Really Hard listed among some of the pitfalls of Gay online dating – a second adolescence – saying “We get to test new waters, try new things, and explore a whole new world full of men, sex, drugs, alcohol, and it’s dangerous. When we partake in all of these new things, we’re at an age when we have disposable incomes. We aren’t being monitored by our parents, and we have the world at our fingertips. The cherry on top of all of this is that this usually happens in a big city, or at least some place bigger than the hometown we grew up in, where excess is welcomed.” Such sites, it also points out, promote unrealistic expectations which can be attributed to a childhood in the closet where Gay men learn to be the best at everything, leading to having unreasonable expectations for themselves and inadvertently for others.
Beyond that, sites like Grindr, Tinder, and Scruff used most by Gay men to find potential dates have been linked to high-profile criminal cases. Stephen Port known as the “Grindr Killer” is a convicted British serial rapist and serial killer was sentenced to a sentence in November 2016 in connection to the murder of four gay men who he met on various Gay and Bisexual dating apps. In order to lure his victims, he made up fictitious claims about his background, posing as a graduate from Oxford and a service member in the Royal Navy among others, after which he proceeded to drug his victims with gamma-Hydroxybutyric Acid (GHB) on which his victims were found to have overdosed following autopsies.
These are hardly the only cases to be found around the world. When it comes to the victimization of Gay online dating apps, at best the victims are robbed or swindled and left shaken, and at worst, they become fatalities as perpetrators use the GPS feature in these apps to locate potential victims, luring them to secluded locations before killing them. In countries where homosexual acts are still illegal, such sites have become lucrative cash-cows for blackmailing syndicates who, many a time, work with or are part of the country’s police force to extort money from potential victims, threatening them with exposure and jail time. Kenya, in East Africa, has seen a marked rise in such activities, and even though the country is fairly liberal on its views toward homosexuality as compared to neighboring Uganda, more and more men, especially in the country’s capital, Nairobi, fall prey to these extortionary tactics. The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK), a sexual and gender minority rights NGO even created hotlines where victims of extortion could call to receive help.
Circling the Boat
China’s online dating scene in particular, whether Queer or straight, is rife with pitfalls. Apps like Tantan are a source of particular dread to daters both foreign and locals with everything from language barriers, catfishing, overly photoshopped images, solicitation, and outright racism. On any given day, in one of their four WeChat groups, DateNight China Podcast hosts and group administrators Rachel, Nathan and Michel preside over courts of broken dating dreams as group members, mostly straight, share their online dating disasters, themes that the trio explore in their podcast series and articles published on their WeChat microblog.
It seems being straight doesn’t protect you from being hoodwinked while in the pursuit of love, or a more temporary fix. And neither is being Gay. Grindr and Blued – a more interactive version of Chinese Grindr – for the Gay men are wells of horror stories that never seem to run dry. The need to have a foreign experience leads many in these apps to be pugnacious with their pursuits, which simply comes off as rude and entitled, as they solicit the infamous dick-pic while making value judgments on perfect strangers based on their race, complexion, and nationality.
Black Gay men are often left holding the shortest end of the interracial online dating stick, with their, shall we say “trunks” being highly coveted by foreign experience poachers. Overt racism, which, at times, one might excuse as ignorance or a semantics issue, is part of the “hunting process” as they ascertain just how big their potential trophy actually is. “When people see me they expect me to be this big dominant top with a huge dick but when they meet me and see how feminine I am it’s a clusterfuck!” declares Jevon, a Barbadian friend in the port city of Guangzhou. His comment exposes yet another stereotype widely held not only in China but globally about Black men: Their inherent masculinity which is also sort after. “I don’t think people expect black guys to be feminine,” Jevon explains, “We’re only known for our masculinity.” This believed masculinity goes along with the image of Gay Black men as sex objects to be experienced, enjoyed, maybe dated, but never for too long, because, even when not overt, there is still great opposition to Black-Chinese interracial relationships whether they be straight or Queer.
Texas native Allen Bradshaw knows all too well about these dynamics as a foreigner who has lived, worked, and dated in Beijing. He is one of the many friends who often regale me with their tales of horror from the Chinese meat market and at times posts screenshots of conversations gone awry on his Instagram moments much to my amusement. My question to him after each failed online dating attempt, and after swearing for the umpteenth time that he will quit all the Apps is, “Why do you keep doing this to yourself?”
Bradshaw answers this question and more in this episode of Piquing Duck.
Listen to the podcast on Spotify or Anchor here.
Photo: Courtesy of Allen Bradshaw, Alamy Stock Photo, Unsplash, Getty Images
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