We might not like to admit it, but sexual positions within the Gay community, whether declared or perceived, can act as a currency used to navigate the Gay world. Whether it be sharp quips about tops being toxic thanks to their alleged take-no-prisoners sexual attitude, or barbs at the gworls, or the bottoms who stand accused of being messy and in constant need of drama, sexual position stereotypes are as prevalent as they are numerous. But what makes us be one or the other, or neither or all at the same time? Why do some of us feel naturally inclined to be one thing and stick there, while others buck the trend and explore? In this series, Queer Sexual Economics, we seek to answer some of these age-old questions.
This is the third installment in the series.
“NO FATS, NO FEMS, NO ASIANS!” If you are a Gay online dater, then you are likely familiar with this disclaimer. In recent years, this femmephobic, fatphobic, and racist declaration on dating profiles has become the latest battleground for social and racial justice, fomenting revolts in pockets of minority daters internationally, and directly igniting conversations around what daters mean by saying that certain prerequisites of race, physicality or social presentation are influenced by “preference,” how such dichotomizations encourage ever-growing toxicity and lack of self-worth among Gay daters, and what the roots of all these toxic dichotomies are.
After the death of George Floyd and the resultant Black Lives Matter social justice movement in 2020 in the US and the rest of the world, dating apps exclusively catering to Gay men like Grindr, Scruff, and Jack’d, removed “ethnicity filters” from their platforms. It was such major news that even publications like the Huffington Post and the Rolling Stones covered the shift in the Gay dating app landscape. But this was a whole two years after a recommendation made by researchers in Cornell University to do so, in a paper addressing racial bias and discrimination in dating apps, had been made.
Data Never Lies
The Cornell University paper pointed out how dating apps generally coral daters of the same race, the result being that “Serendipity is lost when people are able to filter other people out,” according to Jevan Hutson, the lead author of the paper. The paper even quoted OKCupid’s founder and data scientist Christian Rudder who commented on the matches made on his site, “when you’re looking at how two American strangers behave in a romantic context, race is the ultimate confounding factor.” Such factors, however, aren’t unique to American daters, as Spartacus*, a Black Gay Caribbean man living in one of China’s first-tier cities will attest. He admits that “I didn’t find Asian guys attractive until I moved to China. Growing up I never saw many Asian guys. I only dated Black and Latino guys.”
OKCupid’s data results have been quoted over the years as they highlighted the disparity among dating groups within the American context. The results consistently indicated that White men and Women are far more likely to date, and far more likely to consistently exclude two groups – Blacks and Asians, and in particular, Asian men and Black women. And even in cases when Black men were desired, it most likely involved what the Cornell University paper calls “positive discrimination” or fetishization e.g. “Black men are sexy.”
“Well, to be honest, here I am more fetishized. I’ve dated many Asians before but 90 percent were just interested in having sex like [they see it] in the pornos or experiencing sex with what they would refer to as a BBC,” Spartacus says of his experiences dating as a Black Gay man in China. We have highlighted such instances of fetishization under the myth that all Black men are hugely endowed, sex-crazed beasts who fit the stereotype of the archetypical Black adult entertainer in especially American produced adult films, entirely doing away with the possibility of Black men being Bottoms, or submissive, and needing that very same experience they are required to perform. Black men’s softness and sensuality aren’t assets in this dating market and are entirely done away with, and along with it, Black men’s humanity. “Very rarely have they ever expressed interest in going on an actual date, let alone openly date you and introduce you to their close circle of friends or family,” says Spartacus.
Conversely, Black men and women, according to the OKCupid study, were as much as ten times more likely to message White daters. These patterns were even more true within Gay dating spaces, according to a survey conducted by Manhunt.net, a Gay and Bisexual male dating app. In conclusion, the paper states that “discrimination between potential intimate partners on the basis of perceived racial identity is closely associated with generic racist attitudes (i.e. racism in non-intimate contexts) . These findings challenge the narrative of racial attraction as simply being a matter of innate personal preference…” So what truly goes into how we view each other, and especially racialized individuals, as potential dates, or even worthy hookup partners or experiences, most especially in as unique a dating environment as China?
Dark Side of the Moon
Enough conversations have been had about the fetishization of the Black male form, with this form of fetishization being traced back to slavery and the image portrayed of Africans and subsequently, of Black people as savages who rut like beasts. This image has been perpetuated in many different ways over the centuries and in recent decades, be it in the “thug” archetype played out in TV series, to the stoic Black man portrayed as unfeeling and almost robotic, to the sassy Gay sidekick in more recent, “inclusive,” works of TV, and most insidiously in pornography, where titles featuring Black actors often contain the words “Black thug,” “Black Beast,” and a host of other animalistic references in contrast to white titles that refer to male performers as studs, give them professions like plumbing or teaching, and can even embody the father-figure role in age play scenes.
An interview conducted by Asia Boss, a YouTube channel focused on telling the stories of people from and in Asia, in the streets of Shanghai a few years ago showed what the consensus on Black people in China was, and arguably continues to be. When asked about where they get references about Black people from, many of the interviewees quoted scenes from classic gangster films from the US in which the Black actors are often cast as the antagonists, or thugs and criminals.
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Though the interviewees showed a tolerance for Black people in Chinese society, it was with reluctance and an unconcealed concern about the criminality of Black people. “I dated a Chinese guy for nearly two years and I was treated like a dirty secret, he dated a white man 3 weeks and everybody knew, he posted him all over his social media as if he was some trophy,” intimates Spartacus, adding “I find White men are placed on a God like pillar here.” Spartacus’ experiences are likely a result of a combined fetishization of the Black body with a deep disdain for Black people as expressed in the interview.
“The most toxic trait I believe is linked to colorism and materialism, this is perpetuated by the media dictating what is socially acceptable and setting the standard of beauty,” says Spartacus. Those interviewed, to this point, also showed a lack of understanding as to why a controversial incident of Blackface performed on national television could have possibly been considered offensive by Black people both within and outside of China. In a similar video produced by Vice News and uploaded on YouTube as recently as July 30, such sentiments of Black people being deviant vectors of disease and freeloaders in China were echoed by an Afro-Chinese mixed-race interviewee who recounted her experiences of growing up mixed race in China and being told that had she been a mix of White and Chinese, then she would be considered far more desirable.
The Flip Side
Despite inaccurate, unfair, often outrageous depictions and perpetuated stereotypes of Black men in China, Black daters, and Black Gay daters in China still prolifically date, and do so with locals. “Here, getting laid is like going to a fast-food restaurant. As a Top, I can get ass on demand. The first time I came to my city, I created a Grindr profile, and literally within 30 minutes I had over 100 messages asking me for my exact location and if they could come over now and a plethora of nudes, I felt like an Adonis,” admits Spartacus. However, as expected, it is not often a straight road to sexual gratification, or even happily ever after if that is what you are after as a Black dater in China.
Strict performance expectations are set where the famed prowess or even deviance of the Black male is expected to come through in full force in the size of his penis and his prolific virility. Daters of other races aren’t above asking for exact measurements of one’s member and explicitly state they want it big and Black! Anything that doesn’t fall within these mythical parameters might be begrudgingly entertained, but is oftentimes dismissed, with the “shopper” holding out for the ideal “Black experience.” Even within friends’ circles where one might expect some softness to be allowed, shaming, especially perceived bottom shaming is wielded as an effective tool to keep the femmeness out. as Spartacus explains, “if I ever did anything remotely effeminate my friends would tease me by referring to me as a bottom or say ‘stop acting like a bottom’. I have teased bottom friends but never in a malicious manner.”
It is arguably worse in this sexual and dating market if you identify as bottom or vers, breaking with the myth of the buck or stud built to endlessly mount and derive pleasure from brutally penetrating others. You are of no real value, and fall under the same category as the undesirable Whites who don’t have the social status to trade for sexual access and favor, albeit lower, since Whiteness itself can still be profitable in and of itself. This is proven by the experiences of Black, African daters who, even when the much desired Top, are overlooked for the more appealing Black American or some such configuration of a more exotic, authentic, yet less dangerous Black man as African is still synonymous with contracting HIV/AIDS, a conflation of histories between America and Africa.
In response to this, daters aren’t above lying about their race or even reconsidering their preferred position to, themselves, trade in this specialized sexual market. Vers Black men claim to be tops while bottoms might claim to be vers, all while also possibly claiming an affected way of speaking or a fictitious nationality, to be deemed more desirable. Prevailing sentiments against dark skin, certain nationalities especially from Africa, veiled or open hostility within Gay dating and public spaces against Black people, and a general societal alignment with Whiteness and Westernization, all converge to make China a far more hostile dating environment for Black Gay men, whether African or otherwise unless one is willing to give in to fetishization and a negation of the self.
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