No, I Don’t Care If White Gay Men Want Me

Racism in gay dating exists, and it sucks a lot. Studies have shown that gay men of color receive fewer responses on dating apps, and Asian American gay men in particular get written off as desexualized and undesirable and experience fetishization. As a gay Asian American man, I have faced my fair share of dating microaggressions and mishaps, ranging from being fetishized because of my race on Grindr to having (usually white) men lose interest in me when they realize I have strong opinions about social justice, instead of being a submissive Asian wallflower. While these instances have felt hurtful, over the past few years I have adjusted my attitude to come to a more empowering conclusion: I really do not care about what white gay men, as well men in general, think of me, because I can love myself outside of validation from men.

I started thinking about the pointlessness of pursuing love from gay white men upon seeing the prominence of gay white men everywhere. Movies and books like Love, Simon and Call Me By Your Name focus on the desires of (conventionally attractive) gay white men. Shows like GleeQueer as FolkModern FamilyCrazy Ex-Girlfriend, etc. include gay and queer male characters who are almost exclusively white. It is not just the whiteness of these characters that feels repetitive; it is also the tiredness of their romance-centered narratives, in which gay white men feel incomplete before they find a romantic partner, with some even engaging in unhealthy behaviors to maintain a relationship. Due to the increasing visibility of these narratives, I can see why gay men of color feel pressured to secure love from and feel desired by gay white men. However, observing these narratives makes me wonder: why, as a gay Asian American man, would I want to reproduce these same patriarchal stories of using a man to complete myself when I am already a complete person?

adam silvera and benjamin alire saenz picture

Two of my favorite YA authors who write about queer teens of color, Benjamin Alire Saenz (left) and Adam Silvera (right). Check out their books! Pic taken from Saenz’s Twitter, @BenjaminAlireSa.

It is important to acknowledge how queer relationships can replicate patriarchal patterns, ranging from abusive tactics to basing our self-worth on whether a (oftentimes white) romantic partner will love us. Feminist writers have inspired me to think about patriarchy in queer relationships, to consider how the struggle for gay white men’s affection reminds me so much of how women are taught to base their self-worth on if a man provides them with attention and affection. I understand that queer love gaining recognition and representation is revolutionary – especially queer love between people of color – given how we as queer folk have faced discrimination based on our sexuality for the majority of history. However, despite what the media brainwashes us to believe, you can create a meaningful life and be a healthy, self-aware person who strives to make a difference in the world without a romantic partner. In fact, it may even be easier to do so without a romantic partner, given how romance and relying on someone else for our happiness can distract us from accepting ourselves.

Yes, fighting racism in queer dating is important, and it is also important that we gay Asian American men learn to love ourselves without the approval of gay white men. We can center queer narratives that focus on our lived experiences, romantic or not. As Rebecca Solnit writes about in her iconic essay “Whose Story (and Country) Is This?”, we should question how white men’s stories garner the most sympathy, as well as how their perspectives and desires receive the most value. A connection of mine once said that he felt grateful that he could feel close to me, because as gay Asian American men we are often conditioned to compete for gay white men’s affection. When he said this, I thought, yeah, fuck that shit, because getting a white man to love us is unrelated to our worth as people, especially when we have so much work to do within our own communities, like fighting toxic masculinity and anti-blackness.

I want to inhabit the leading role of my own life story, not play the romantic interest of another (white) gay man who felt incomplete before meeting “the love of his life.” Sure, I have felt attracted to men – including white men – and have dedicated more time than I wanted to on those crushes. But, without a boyfriend, I have cultivated loving and amazing close friendships, gained admission to a top-ranked Psychology PhD program so I can practice therapy, research, and teach, and I have gone to therapy and have cultivated a strong relationship with myself and my values. As a gay Asian American man, the intersections of my race and sexuality have emboldened me to examine how intersecting systems of oppression affect marginalized people’s mental health. I feel so excited to continue exploring these ideas while building a life full of meaningful relationships, with a romantic partner or without one.

holland neverland music video screenshot

Screenshot of openly gay K-Pop idol Holland’s music video, “Neverland,” for the sake of representing nonwhite gay men! Though K-Pop has its issues with glorifying whiteness, fat-shaming, etc. but, that’s maybe for another post.

I definitely did not delve into the complexities of bisexuality, the experiences of trans individuals, etc. in this post so I recognize that as a limitation. Still, I’d be curious about what your thoughts are on this issue, especially from fellow queer men of color and gay Asian American men in particular! It is also my birthday today, so, yay. Now that summer has arrived let’s hope for more posts soon, because I have many, many ideas. Until next time, dear readers.

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34 Comments

Filed under Personal, Society

34 responses to “No, I Don’t Care If White Gay Men Want Me

  1. Happy birthday, Thomas, and thank you for such an important post!

  2. Bravo, Thomas. Well shared. I sense and feel your strength.

  3. x.w

    Hi Thomas,
    Happy Birthday!
    This new post along with your last post has reminded me so many issues I’ve faced when I tried online dating in the U.S.. I am a straight asian woman but I see a lot of similarities on some problems you’ve written here.
    I wanted try out dating apps because every girlfriend I have known then had tried. I’ve heard good and (lots of ) bad stories from them so I was curious. I felt that I was in a strong place in my life and I wanted to see how bad/good it was. After six month I decided it was not my game. I think the biggest problems are what you mentioned here: racism; and the stereotyping for asian women. So many times I felt confused and I couldn’t figure out a better way to “filter out” the people I didn’t want to spend my time with.
    I talked with a very close friend about how I felt. Interestingly, as a white woman she totally agree with me and she hated how a lot of white men behave on dating apps.
    I also read about a survey online that year, one dating site shows their data tells (in the straight dating game) the most popular profiles are of white men, and then asian women. I remembered it said black women and asian men were among the least popular. I was very upset after reading that. My friend and I both agree that while dating online, people’s issues, like racism is magnified for many reasons. But how do we tell from personal preferences from fetish in a short period of time ? And to know if a person has hidden racism issues? I wanted to be able to know quicker because I want to protect myself and also I don’t want to invest too much time on dates which are not worth it. Maybe I will figure out some day… ;P
    But I am sure you are filtering out many people who are not for you, by being who you are and keep your standards. I also believe that by being who we are, we will eventually attract the right kind of people in our lives to love, and to be friends with.
    I agree with you that people can do many great things without a romantic partner. I think people FEEL “completed” when they find their great loves. It’s a great feeling but I don’t think a person’s life or a human being needs to be completed by someone. Therefore, I also think that the validation coming from whether a person has a wife /husband/ a partner is just stupid. Another thing of the validation from the love of white men (to asians)—oh my gosh, it is still a big issue which I definitely see among the asian women I’ve known, and it is even worse here in my country.
    While all those issues are ongoing I think eventually when we meet the right person it doesn’t matter who he is, and how he looks. It is not for the sake of dating/marriage, it is just because they are kind and strong and overall great person, right? (haha i’m a hopeful romantic).
    Again, I wish you a great birthday and a wonderful year ahead!!

    • So appreciative of this thoughtful and deep comment! Ugh, even though I’m grateful for the solidarity I’m sorry you’ve had similar experiences of racism through dating. I agree with you about wanting a quicker way to filter people out; I’ve joked with my friends that I wish I could send every guy who’s into me a Qualtrics survey with a few questionnaires so I could assess his level of feminist thinking, his compassion, etc. just so save us both some time. You’re definitely not alone in the pains of the dating game.

      However, I most love this comment because we both agree about how we can do so many wonderful things without a romantic partner, as well as without the socially constructed idea of feeling complete. I’m definitely cheering you on as you pursue your goals, relationships, etc. throughout the year and so glad we got to e-meet. (: Hope to hear from you soon!

  4. Happy birthday, Thomas! I hope your day is kind to you. 🌻

    This is such a great post, and I’m always so in awe to see how you’re so eloquent and thoughtful, no matter what you write.

    I’ve noticed how romance always seems to become the focus where queer characters are concerned as well, and be the aspect that “defines” them – and I really hope that, going forward, writers will put more emphasis on how being your own person above all, and valuing yourself outside of your romantic relationships, is so much more important.

    Also, I’ve been wanting to read something by Adam Silvera for the longest time, and I’m definitely going to prioritize one of his books now.

    • Thanks so much Lily, for the birthday wish and this kind comment! Yes, I’m also eagerly awaiting the day when queer characters will exist and also have storylines that do not solely or only center their romantic lives. Glad we’re on the same boat there. Hope you’re well, sending you warmth and bookish thoughts!

  5. Happy birthday and thank you for highlighting these issues so boldly yet carefully and helping get conversations going.

  6. Happy birthday! And thank you for posting — somehow they always come when I need them the most.

  7. Happy belated birthday, Thomas!
    As a gay Korean (European) woman, I have not openly faced racisim from white lesbians, but I have felt the double whammy of the sexual and cultural divide. But then again, I’m not actively a part of a LGBTQ+ community nor have I any dating experience, so take this with a grain of salt :9
    I’ve learned from the documentary series “Queer Britain” that gay men have to face a lot of racial prejudices and are pressured to aspire a certain body image – there was an interview with an Asian gay man who (apparenlty having internalized the prejudices and stereotypes) described himself as inferior to white men and how happy he would be if a white man deigned to date him. It was horrible to watch and left a bitter taste. I applaud your fortitude and healthy conviction that you are not incomplete by yourself and that you do not need a white man’s validation to be happy and fulfilled.
    After reading the caption about Holland, I searched a bit around and apparently quite a few of the entertaint agencies didn’t sign a contract when Holland said that he wanted to incorporate contents relating to his sexuality in his album. 😦 Korea has a looooong way to go. I especially find its blind importation of all things America (framework, arguments, even the negative reactions) troubling.

    • Thank you Eugine, for the birthday wish and your thoughtful comment! Ugh that interview that you write about makes me feel so sad and angry, about how so many of us are socialized to aspire for a white man to love us. I’m glad you’re able to experience your emotional reaction and articulate it after consuming that media and I really am grateful for your encouragement surrounding my own conviction to feel complete on my own. And ugh, that sucks how Holland went through that, but I’m glad he persevered and has made a splash in the industry. I’d def be curious to hear more of your thoughts on Korea’s importation of all things American (b/c there’s definitely an idealization of whiteness in Kpop, and in many other places too). Hope you’re doing well and hope to hear from you again soon!

  8. Kendra Lee

    Happy belated birthday!

    This post was so well thought-out and touched on so many important issues that I wish I could take you out for coffee and good IRL conversation.

    I was completely blind to the racism in the LGBTQ community until recently. I’m white. And most of the time I was dating I was blackout drunk (not proud of that, it’s just my truth). But when I moved to Atlanta and started marching in support of Black Lives Matter, I noticed how few gay folks turned up for the marches. I was STUNNED. As my gay, black, preacher friend points out, “HRC is willing to use civil rights rhetoric but not willing to speak up for black lives.” True. And I believe we could extend that to a lack of willingness to stand up against whiteness.

    Your point about “reproduc[ing] these same patriarchal stories of using a man to complete myself when I am already a complete person” was also spot on. I chased the notion of completing myself with a relationship the ENTIRE time I dated. Not until I got sober almost 10 years ago did it ever occur to me that I am enough in and of myself. So are you.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I loved it.

    • Thank you so much Kendra, for your birthday wish and for this thoughtful comment. Your vulnerability about your dating experiences and how you were once blind to the racism in the LGBTQ community is so appreciated, and I especially appreciate your points about how few of us stand up against whiteness as well as how we often use dating to try to complete ourselves, when in reality we are already complete (or can work toward that completeness in other ways than pursuing a romantic partner). I’m proud of you for getting sober and for putting in what sounds like a lot of time and effort and energy into yourself. And, if you’re ever in the DC/Maryland area, let me know and we can potentially make that coffee get together happen. (:

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  11. Hi Thomas!

    Thank you for sharing yet another interesting post to read. Of course, I can’t say it’s completely relatable for me personally but I definitely can empathize the feeling of wanting to be wanted by someone else (not particularly by a white guy though). And I’m not going to lie, I do feel lonely sometimes with a lot of my friends in happy relationships, but I also think that I’ve become more comfortable with my singleness this year than I have in the past. I’m glad that you’re loving yourself and that you’re feeling fulfilled by enjoying your time with friends and accomplishing academic/career related goals. :’)

    Since you mentioned Holland and therefore some K-pop, I just thought you should check out SHINee’s Taemin’s latest comeback from the end of last year if you haven’t already. Because he’s rather thin compared to other idols, I think a lot of people and fans find him more effeminate than most idols. Anyway, while promoting “Move” Taemin said that he wanted to make a statement of breaking gender stereotypes by mixing both masculine and feminine styles with the choreography and overall vibe of the song. The song is also a great jame so I think it’s worth a listen when you have time!

    Anyway, I hope that you are well and that school isn’t too stressful! Hopefully, you celebrated on your birthday and/or took a weekend off for yourself. 🙂

    • Sigh, I think I messed up somewhere on the coding… but here are the links I had originally wanted to share.

      Taemin’s “Move” MV

      Taemin talking about the comeback

      • Thank you for your thoughtful comment Summer, I always love hearing from you! I appreciate your honesty about the feeling of wanting to be wanted, because 1) I think we all experience that feeling and can examine why it is that we potentially project all of that longing onto wanting to be wanted by a man or a romantic partner, as opposed to other worthwhile people and 2) to make meaningful changes in our lives, I think we have to honor and accept our feelings first. I’m glad you’ve felt more comfortable with your singleness and am grateful for your encouragement re: spending time with friends and accomplishing other goals.

        Also, thanks for hitting me up with these Taemin links! I’ll check them out as soon as I can – but for now, though I can’t say anything with much depth b/c I haven’t read much, I’m glad he’s addressing issues of gender stereotypes.

  12. Insightful and strong as always, Thomas 🙂 You lead such a thoughtful and fulfilling life, and I’m sure that will continue to be the case, whether another man chooses to see and share that with you or not.
    And it’s belated, but Happy Birthday. Wish you all the good things.

  13. Wonderfully written! I was starting to forget my own worth there; thanks for the reminder that I’m awesome even without the validation of White Gays. ALSO, I wanted to give props for calling out anti-Black attitudes in the Asian community; I find it hard to support Asian artists because so many of the appropriate black culture and try to pass it off as their own, which is…. SO cringe-y.

    • Thank you so much James, your kind words mean a lot to me! Yay at us remembering our own self-worth and not relying on validation of white gays. Also, I appreciate your appreciation of calling out anti-blackness in the Asian community, we definitely need to do better. Hope to hear from you again soon!

  14. For a long time, I have said I don’t know why racism and stereotyping is frequent in the gay scene especially from gay white men of which I am one. Its such a shame it continues out there and you carry on being a strongly opinionated man it is men like that I have always been drawn to regardless of race so you keep doing what you are doing and find the love that’s right for you.

    • Yep, it’s so important that we discuss the racism and misogyny within the gay community, otherwise we will never improve! Glad it sounds like you are educating yourself on these topics and I appreciate your support. (:

  15. Very thoughtful and insightful post. Well done on your brave notes on highlighting this issue. Its a shame that this discriminative culture exists in gay community; a community that constantly fighting against inequalities.

  16. Rida Imran

    Thank you for covering such an important topic Thomas.

  17. Happy birthday Thomas..
    I really enjoyed this post a lot..♡♡♡ thank you for sharing…
    If you’re interested about knowing more of LGBT history..feel free to check out my latest post… 🐙
    Xoxo.. 🌹

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