An article in the Daily Life “I only date hot white girls” prompted me to dig out this post from way back. I wrote this back in 2003 as a volunteer for the Victorian AIDS Council for its regular column “ComMENts” in the gay paper MCV. The following year I went to work for the AIDS Council in an HIV prevention role. I recently celebrated my tenth year in HIV work, but it was actually a concern for sexual racism that led me into gay men’s health promotion. This is one of a series of pieces I refer to in a recent post on Croakey, co-authored with Suzanne Nguyen, about defining everyday racism.
Sexual Racism. Is it a real problem or just activism’s latest buzzword? Are you a sexual racist?
Sexual racism is hard to see at first, because it looks just like personal sexual preference, and we’ve been fighting for freedom there for decades. So when someone says ‘I’m just not attracted to Asians’, is that privileged speech that is immune to criticism? Maybe not.
The rumblings started online with the ‘Sexual Racism Sux’ (SRS) campaign launched last year  by three Sydney activists, targeting chatrooms and personals and the exclusionary language you can find there. ‘No GAMs’, or ‘No GAMs, Fats or Femmes.’ Online it’s easy to say stuff you’d never dare say in ‘real life,’ but the effect it has is real.
The SRS Campaign doesn’t argue that guys who ‘prefer’ only GWM’s are racist. Instead it criticises exclusionary expressions of sexual preference: ‘We’re not saying you’re supposed to change your preference,’ says Peretta Anggerek, ‘We’re just asking for people to be decent.’ That sounds fair enough, when ‘I prefer Caucasians’ will do the trick.
Already a ‘Freedom 4 Gays’ counter site has been set up to attack the SRS-ers as ‘sexual nazis’, ridiculing the idea that net users should say what they’re looking for instead of who they refuse to consider. ‘Freedom 4 Gays’ writes, anonymously, that he’d have to list every single nationality except the Asian ones. But if he’ll consider anyone but an Asian person, it’s not hard to call him a sexual racist.
The real question is difficult: is the problem the expression or the exclusive preference itself? The exclusive preference has all sorts of nasty power effects. It isolates non-white people as the objects of a racial fetish. It creates small racial ghettoes where the scarcity of the few white guys who’ll date non-white guys inflates their market value, and the dating power that goes with it. It reduces the pool of potential friends and playmates: if you’ve ever felt the scene was too small, this is one reason why.
Expression matters, too. Culture is the collective sum of our attitudes and interactions, so tact and positive expression make for a kinder culture. We live everyday with the alternative: men insisting on their rights, especially their right to denigrate others, and it has a real effect on community health. Depressed individuals are more likely to engage in risk-taking and self-harming behaviours, like unsafe sex.
In a broader sense it creates a divided and stratified community obsessed with policing the borders of each little social niche. Sexual racism re-marginalises people who have already been marginalised by their ethnic communities because of their sexuality. It’s pure hypocrisy to call for acceptance and understanding of sexual difference, then to deny the same to people of different cultures.
Many guys do already advertise their preference in positive terms, saying ‘I prefer’ instead of ‘not into.’ Racially exclusive sexual preference may be something that only diminishes over time, in a generation or two. The first step, a step we can take now, is to recognise the exclusive attitudes that deter and discourage baby queers from considering anyone except white guys as attractive and as full sexual citizens. In the meantime, you don’t need to want to fuck someone to treat them with respect.
Cultural and environmental factors are difficult to change, but cultures change when enough individuals do. The bitchiness, emptiness and hell, the boringness of the scene – and we’ve all felt it – have a lot to do with the people it excludes, and our fear that one day we’ll be excluded, too. (Anyone here afraid of ageing?)
The SRS campaign doesn’t ask people to take personal responsibility for the racism of our whole culture – only for the part their expressions of sexual preference can play in it. Even if you disagree with the concept, giving thought to it is a good start.
Author note: Since writing this my position has actually shifted; I’m now a lot more inclined to argue that we should take personal responsibility for the racism of ‘our’ (by which at the time I meant ‘white Australian’) whole culture. As I’ve moved from activism into health promotion practice and now social research, I’ve become a lot more interested in arguing that the system of preferences itself is racist, not just the way those preferences are expressed. Also, this was clearly written before I worked in HIV prevention — people who live with depression are sometimes more likely to take risks and other times less likely; it’s not the slam-dunk predictor of HIV infection that my statement here suggests it is.
What do you think? I welcome constructive responses in the comments section below. You can also reply to me directly at twitter.com/onekind.