Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What Do Gay White Men Say About Gay Men of Color When We're Not Around?

I can't believe I never asked myself the title of this post before? Not until the scene in Sunday's episode 2 of Looking in which Patrick, Agustin and Dom were discussing uncut penises and the probability that Richie, the Mexican guy with whom Patrick was about to have a first date, would have one. (He didn't -- so much for racial and ethnic stereotypes.)

As I watched and listened to their exchange at the beginning of the episode, which was titled "Looking for Uncut," it dawned on me that I have no idea what white guys collectively think about black guys because I've never been privy to one of their conversations about us when there wasn't a black guy in the room. Isn't that when they're likely to show their truest colors (pun intended)?

If white men who are complete strangers have no qualms about asking me for the measurements of my penis as an ice breaker (Is it true what they say about black men?), who knows what they're saying when I'm not in the room? What does a white guy who is about to go out with me say to his friends? What do his friends say? Do they talk about the prospective size and shape of my manhood? What do they say about it after the morning after?

A friend of mine in Argentina once gave me an earful of the things that his former roommate used to say about black men when we weren't around. At the top of the list: We all smell bad. The few times I met the ex-roommate, he was perfectly nice to me. I wondered if he was holding his breath the entire time, lest he catch a dangerously ripe whiff.

A year ago, I went to a bar in Melbourne where a stand-up comic told a story about the first time he ever slept with a black guy -- "a black bear," he specified, emphasizing the final word, presumably for comic effect. Though he meant "bear" in the gay sense of the word (a large, hairy man), I thought it sounded more pejorative and racist than funny in this context, an extension of the stereotypical image of the black man as a feral beast.

When he began to tell the story at the top of his routine, I'm pretty sure he had no idea that there was a black guy in the room (we were in Australia, after all) until just about everyone in the bar turned around and looked at me. As I stood there, suddenly self-conscious, trying to appear as insouciant as possible lest everyone think I was a bad sport, I wondered how he would have changed his telling of the story had I not been present. If he had known I was there beforehand, would he have told it at all?

If Patrick on Looking were a stand-up comic, his date with Richie probably would be part of his routine in a future episode. When he and Richie made it to his bedroom, and he pulled down Richie's pants and got to see what I assume was his first Latino penis, his reaction was hard to read. Was he relieved, or was he disappointed? The scene rang truer than perhaps any other in the first two episodes of Looking, for I've seen that indecipherable reaction before and, like Richie, I "tripped" over it. I only wish I had responded to it the way Richie did.

"I think we're looking for different things," he said. That might be more original than "It's not you, it's me," but it translates to pretty much the same thing. He was out of there. For the record, I wasn't a fan of Richie. His affected nonchalance -- moving rather than dancing to Erasure's "A Little Respect," coming on strong on the BART in episode 1 but playing aloof in episode 2 -- translated as the cold front in "hot and cold," the kind of ambivalence that makes me want to ditch dates and dump boyfriends. So I wasn't sad to see him go. But I get why he did it: He didn't want to be a part of one of Patrick's future dating routines.

As for the one about "black bears," I had a brief chat with the comedian after the show. Did I mention that I had interviewed him about a year earlier for Time Out Melbourne when he staged a one-man show about Grindr during the 2012 Midsumma Festival? He had no idea what I looked like since it had been a phone interview, and I didn't remind him of it.

I wasn't honest with him either when he asked me how I liked his "black bear" story. What was I supposed to say? I told him it was funny, though I had found it egregiously offensive. Why is his first time with a black guy fodder for any act, much less a comedy one. Is sex with a black guy a joke now?

He'd have to get the truth about his work from someone else, though. At least after his experience with the "black bear," he knew the truth about black men (if one black man is able to reveal it). I, on the other hand, will probably never know the truth about white men, unless I someday master the art of being a fly on the wall, or blending into the crowd when a white Australian comic is about to share a black joke.

But if what I saw on Looking comes even close to nailing it, I'm probably better off in the dark.
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