Welcome to ¡Hola Papi!, the advice column where John Paul Brammer helps people work through their anxieties, fears, and life's queerest questions. If you need advice, send him a question at [email protected]
Recently, I’ve been wrestling with navigating the world as a queer person of color. I feel like sometimes I’m walking around without a map while my white friends both in and out of the LGBTQ+ community have an easier time exploring the terrain: dating, self-confidence, etc.
I am Black, and unfortunately all too familiar with the dating apps where guys will say things like, “sorry, no chocolate.” It’s terribly discouraging. We lack representation in literature, film, television, and I could go on, Papi. It makes me feel isolated. My friends (who are like family to me) always hear me out, but when we’re out in the bars or playing around on the apps, I feel they immediately get attention from other guys. It gives me the message that whiteness is more valued and more desirable.
As a QPoC, how do we remind ourselves that we are strong, beautiful, and desirable in a world and community which often fails to encourage us or advocate for us?
Hey there, Burnout!
I’ll say from the jump that while I’m shelved in the “Hispanic Foods” aisle of the gay grocery store of life, my experience is drastically different from that of a gay Black man. “PoC,” or in other words “anyone who isn’t white,” covers a whole lot of people. It really speaks to the centrality of whiteness that we all find ourselves under this one category by mere virtue of “not being white,” doesn’t it?
I guess the second thing I want to do is get on the same page with our expectations here. This is a column where depressed homosexuals typically ask me how to seduce Brad the Straight Accountant™ in their office, or if it’s OK to hit their boss up on Grindr. (Someone sent in a hole pic once. No text whatsoever. Just hole.) We’re not going to solve racism or queerphobia today in this letter. I mean, if that ends up happening, then great! Really weird, but why not, I guess?
So, yes. You’re not wrong. Racism exists, queerphobia exists, and dealing with both at the same time is a unique hell that often feels like you’re playing the video game at the highest level of difficulty, like you’re playing Dark Souls and the guy next to you is playing Pong. Yes, I’m a gaymer! Yes, Pong can be difficult, but it’s about the metaphor! The point is, it’s tough, fixing it is hard, and the solution isn’t as easy as “loving yourself” or “being confident.” Those things are important. But alone, they are insufficient and platitudinal.
However, that doesn’t mean you’re powerless, Burnout. In your case, it sounds like you’re out in the community and have the potential to cultivate an environment where you’re seen and affirmed. I’m certainly not saying you need to ditch your current set of friends. But I am saying it sounds like you need to make friends who understand where you’re coming from. I’ll put a finer point on it: You need other QPoC in your life, sugar.
Now, before I get accused of being anti-white or something, let me be clear: I’m not advocating for segregation. But just like gays can’t be around straight people 24/7, you deserve the sublime therapy of being around people who don’t need the Woke White Starter Pack just to approach you the right way. Education is great. Friends who don’t share our experiences being willing to listen are great. It requires an energy exchange to educate, though, and if done too often it can leave you feeling utterly exhausted.
And you know something else? Nonwhite people aren’t exempt from prizing whiteness. These things are social constructs, Burnout. They’re not biological truths. That means that to get them to work, they have to be taught. They have to be enforced. They have to beat us over the head until we accept them. No one is totally immune to that, and so I think you need to be mindful of who you want attention from and why you want it.
Yes, it can be hard when it feels like everyone around you is throwing themselves at the white twink du jour, but check in with yourself. Are you looking at people darker than you through a colorist lens? Do you also find yourself desiring whiteness in your partners, even if they aren’t white themselves? Lighter skin, lighter eyes, etc? Noticing these things doesn’t indict you as a terrible person. It just means you have work to do. We all do, and we are the people we can most readily and immediately change.
I hope you find an environment that affirms you, Burnout. I speak from personal experience when I say that those spaces definitely exist, even if you have to do some looking. You’re completely in the right when you say that our larger community often fails to advocate for us, and that’s especially true when it comes to Black LGBTQ+ people, for whom we non-Black people could always be doing a better job standing up for. But that doesn’t mean no one is seeing you. Maybe hit those people up.
Con mucho cariño,