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How Queer People of Color Are Combating Sexual Racism

"There's more out there than Cliff, who works at Google and takes selfies hiking with his dog."

Kyle Casey Chu

"No Fats, No Fems, No Asians, No Blacks": If there were ever doubt that gay men can be as racist as straights, just fire up a gay dating app, where that sentiment can still be seen. And if there were ever doubt that the gay community is working to combat its racism, too, one need only look to how it's been deplored in feature-length documentaries and even publicly castigated by LGBTQ celebrities of color.

But those are baby steps. Sexual racism is far from the only way queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) experience discrimination—just ask them about the social exclusion, LGBTQ media erasure, systemic violence, legal discrimination, and lack of institutional representation they face daily, among other struggles. And while straight people of color experience many of the same challenges, one shouldn't forget that the "dual minority" status of QTPOC often compounds the discrimination they face in the world. They thus face unique challenges in dealing with that discrimination.

On social media, QTPOC are banding together to form mental health groups and community forums in an effort to "decolonize" their mindsets and unlearn internalized racism. And a common question emerges through these efforts (and QTPOC-centered conferences, nonprofits, film festivals, web series, zines and more): Should QTPOC stop dating white folks altogether?

After all, who has time for the racial exoticization and discrimination (both subtle and blatant) that often accompanies white dating? While QTPOC separatism isn't an entirely new concept, it's one growing in popularity. There's now a QTPOC-specific dating app, and an emotional support group for QTPOC who date white people has amassed more than 1,800 members on Facebook.

I solicited QTPOC social workers, artists, and educators from across the country to speak to the challenges and benefits of racially and politically conscious dating. And unlike "No Fats, No Fems," their responses are hardly monolithic.

"It's common for white guys to expect you to share their worldview and experience life the same way," said Latinx Chicago-based barista Sebastian Rodriguez. "It's jarring to have a white person argue about how I personally experience being Latino in a majority-white nation. I got tired of dating white guys, because it was frustrating, and I inevitably felt disconnected from them."

Michael Dominguez, a Seattle-based mixed-Latinx therapist, recalled raising this exact issue with his current white partner, which produced different results: "At one point, I remember getting upset with my partner. He was dismissive of a race-based comment another white person made that really pissed me off. This was his first serious relationship with a QTPOC. It was also our first fight, and our first disagreement over a racially motivated situation. I remember thinking: If he can't acknowledge that this hurts me, I can't do this. But something clicked, and he said something like, 'It doesn't matter if I'm not offended by that, it matters how this is affecting you.' We wouldn't still be together if his continually showing up wasn't a core piece of our relationship."

Many echoed that frustration with getting white partners to see beyond their race. "Many of my white exes treated my experiences as a QTPOC as being too subjective," said Muriel Leung, a Los Angeles–based Chinese American doctoral candidate. "But at the same time, they expected me to accept their experiences and opinions as white people as unquestionable, objective truths."

"One time at a gay bar, I gave my then partner Dane (who is white) the task of ordering the exact same drinks I had just ordered for us," said Mason Smith, an Oakland-based Afro Latinx artist. "Dane got faster service and two extra free drinks, but argued that that wouldn't have happened outside of that bar. If your wanting to believe in a 'just society' is stronger than empathy for your partner, then it's never going to work."

Beyond the invalidation of QTPOC experiences, almost every interviewee expressed how pervasive racial exoticization can be among queer communities. While it's a widely discussed issue that extends well beyond the LGBTQ experience, some scholars contend it may be more prominent within LGBTQ communities, because of its perceived cultural emphasis on physical appearance and casual sexual encounters.

"On the apps, people come at me like 'sup chocolate chip,' as if I'm something to consume rather than interact with," said Smith. "White men call me habibi… that's what my grandma calls me," said Nader Madanat, a Houston-based Arab American drag performer. "I hooked up with white men who asked me to speak Spanish to them, while they said, 'Sí papi,'" said Daniel Gonzalez, a Chicago-based Latinx musician. "It's embarrassing that I have to say anything—to explain how that can make someone feel."

For others, navigating exoticization wasn't necessarily simple. Neha Deshmukh, a New York City–based Indian American social worker, remembers a point in her life when she would concede to the nickname Princess Jasmine. "It was exoticizing and fucked up," she recalled, "but strangely made me feel beautiful. I had so rarely felt appreciated at my alma mater, a majority-white college, that I was hungry to be desired in any way. And at 19 years old, being exoticized was the only way I knew how to experience appreciation."

So the logic follows: If dating white people is so hard, why not just date other QTPOC?

For Leung, dating QTPOC can produce unique challenges in its own right. "I've nursed this fantasy that one day I'm going to find a perfect queer radical brown partner," they said. "But dating other QTPOC can be hard. When your trauma encounters a trauma of similar magnitude, it can become this compounded mass, and then your relationship depends on how you negotiate that."

Wo Man Chan, an Asian American poet in Brooklyn, agreed: "It's been hard to date other queer immigrants, because while there is connection and joy, it is painful to see my traumas reflected in others, and when you're both devitalized by the same worry, it can be exhausting."

No matter how they go about accomplishing it, most QTPOC share the same goal: finding politically and racially conscious partners who will validate them as people. And that doesn't always mean writing off white people altogether.

"I graduated from college militantly anti-white," said Neha. "My ex, who is Colombian, felt differently. She told me: 'You can't just react by hurting something that has hurt you. You need to create something new.' So I chose to only date people who had good politics. Now I only fuck with people who affirm who I am."

Vincent Jones, a black educator based in New York, emphasized how limiting mindsets like "only date other QTPOC" can be. "Every opportunity I've had in life I didn't know existed before they came to me," he said. "It's important that we make room for the unexpected."

Ultimately, the advice of Per$ia, a San Francisco–based Latinx drag queen, rings true: "Be more open. Don't let societal bullshit prevent you from trying something new. There's more out there than Cliff, who works at Google and takes selfies hiking with his dog."

QTPOC illustrated by Kevin Cakebread

Follow Kyle Casey Chu on Twitter and Instagram.