Have you been on a gay social / dating app recently? If so you might have noticed profiles that read “No fats, no fems, no blacks” or perhaps “Sorry, not into Asians”. If you’re a rational person you might have wondered why the hell this sort of language is okay. If you’re an ironic person you might even have wondered at the mental gymnastics one must have had to go through as a gay man to justify continuing a cycle of discrimination. How can gay men and women, who experience daily discrimination on the basis of orientation, turn and divide our community even further?
It seems to me that there is a phenomena in the gay community of dressing up our discrimination in pretty rainbow colored veils and calling it by another name. Who has ever heard someone say “it’s just my preference” after, only moments before, saying they would never date someone who wasn’t white, or conformed to their idea of masculinity, or didn’t have wash-board abs and a single-digit body fat percentage? Who has ever felt uncomfortable hearing that certain gay bars are more “ethnic” than others and therefore should be avoided? Who has ever felt rejected immediately based on factors that are completely outside of their control? I’m guessing, as gay men, we all have at some time or another.
Though undeniably wrong the veins of discrimination that course throughout the queer community are also understandable. Many factors work against us in terms of building a diverse and inclusive community. Technology, believe it or not, just so happens to be one of them. Apps like Grinder and Scruff have the power to connect people from all around the world, but do so on the basis of appearance, weight, body type, race, and other biometrical data. They reduce a human being into nothing more than ones and zeros or items on a menu: “I don’t like soda or carrots or cheese. Looking for Michelin Star awarded plates only”. And if a computer can reduce a human being, someone with thoughts and feelings, into nothing more than a resume than why can’t we?
Some say that these apps are meant to be used for no-strings-attached sex and therefore a person has a right to state what they are attracted to. Those same people defend their profiles by stating that it isn’t racism but preference. Sadly, the queer community—and particularly the gay, male community—forgets that we live in a society where rampant racism has now all but been given the green light. They forget that as gay men we are not somehow magically exempt from the influences of our own gender, race, and socioeconomic status. In gender and queer studies this is called intersectionality, or the study of how two or more connected demographics interact and are acted upon.
Asking people to no longer use their dating apps is unrealistic, and fairly counterintuitive, to building a strong gay community. But it’s long past time to take a look at how we use these social apps and decide whether or not they are truly benefiting our community in the way they’re being used.
It’s also time to recognize that these apps aren’t only a cause of these issues but also a symptom of a greater problem.
I say again, the LGBTQ+ community is not exempted from discrimination on the basis of orientation. As a microcosm of the United States as a whole, the gay community demonstrates the current climate of racism and open prejudice that now permeates our culture. But what’s to be done? Is “stop being an asshole” enough of a command to wake up our community? Unfortunately, no.
But taking back our spaces should be our top priority. LGBT apps, regardless whether they are being used to make friends or get laid, need to start being viewed as public spaces. Administrators of these apps need to go to greater lengths to restrict overtly racist and discriminatory profiles. And users need to take a definitive stand by reporting users who conduct themselves in such hateful ways.
If our gay apps are reflections of how our community behaves then the first step has to be ensuring that these spaces are open and safe for everyone to use. In order to bring discrimination and racism to light within our community we must first declare it unwelcome and unacceptable in the places that we gather the most. Whether it’s a digital space where we gather to get our rocks off, a club we gather at to drink and bemoan bad sex, or our neighborhood gym, we as gay men, and members of the greater LGBTQ+ community, have to take greater steps at ensuring inclusivity. We can no longer dress “Satan in a Sunday hat” and pretend that nothing is wrong while members of our community suffer.
It is long past time that we lead by example and demonstrate the power of unity and community by agreeing that racism, prejudice, and discrimination are not “preferences” on our profiles.