The skin game
One of the reasons I wanted to wait to respond to the question posed on March 17, 2009’s entry concerning race is because I wanted to view the situation in a club outside of the South. Before I continue, I would like to add that I welcome comments and constructive discussions here; however, if I do say something that is insensitive or irresponsible, I invite anyone to point it out.
To paraphrase a concept articulated by Obama during his campaign: We can’t talk about race until we talk about race.
In the the Carolinas and Georgia, where most of my experience in clubs has occurred, there is a residual tendency to treat Black men as un-/non-/anti-sexual Others who are tolerated for “diversity’s” sake. I do not notice this overtly generalized and dismissive treatment towards Latinos, nor towards Asians; however, it does seem that White dancers with red/orange hair and fair skin fill a niche as equally narrow as Blacks seem to do.
I am sensitive about race and other parameters for identity, but I am not afraid of discussing them in simple terms.
So, as an experiment, when the dancers at Secrets in Washington, D.C. asked me last night what it’s like at Swinging Richards in Atlanta, GA and PT1109 in Columbia, SC, I said candidly, “You can do well, depending on the night. I’ve noticed that Black dancers struggle there, even if they work three times harder. That’s not the case for Latinos and Asians. Although overt racism in the traditional Southern mode is mostly gone, Black men are still mostly invisible as sexual entities to gay white men where I live.”
I started this conversation specifically because there was a Black dancer in the room, and I wanted to see what his response would be, in terms of being in D.C. (which for some reason people presume isn’t connected culturally to the South just because there are some embassies there and a few people who can read and write in French).
This was his response: “He’s right. White dudes in the club normally look past me. I do well at private parties where I have been booked specifically.”
“Why is that?” one of the White dancers asked.
“Well,” the Black dancer said, “look at magazines. What do you see?”
“White faces,” I replied. “There still aren’t anywhere near enough non-White models representing beauty. We are taught what is beautiful by what is implied, not simply by what is said.”
“For a long time I made most of my money off women,” the Black dancer added.
“Women don’t tip,” another dancer immediately chimed in.
“Yeah, they do,” the Black dancer shot back. “That was my whole career for years. But it’s not just the South – Black dudes don’t usually do well in New York City either.”
“It seems to me,” I said, “that women are often more sexually adventurous in their tastes, and that men often define their preferences more rigidly. And,” I added, just so that the Black dancer wouldn’t think that Devon “White Boy” Hunter has it made in the shade, “it’s not enough to be White. I’m completely invisible next to Brad. He’s the default setting for gay white male desire.”
“Yeah,” one of the Latino dancers added thoughtfully. “He’s blond haired, blue eyed, fair skin, perfect complexion, and built like a Greek god.”
“Mhm,” I added. “I’ll never be tall. White isn’t good enough: I’m short. I’m not hating on Brad: He’s perfect. He really is exquisite. But next to him, I might as well be Black.” (To which the Black dancer nodded in agreement and understanding.)
This is such a complicated, convoluted conversation in American culture. On the one hand I felt as if my thoughts had mostly been confirmed by this dialogue; however, there was the nagging part about Black guys not doing well in New York City. If what he says is true, then racism isn’t a Southern tradition (as so many presumptuous Yankees like to assume), but an American tradition (which definitely doesn’t make it any less awful just because racism ain’t a Suthren thang).
So, to more pointedly address the question of what my experience has been, in terms of interpreting how race affects gay male entertainers: White is the default preference for the manufacturer’s setting; Latino, Asian, Indian, and Native American are all exotic enough to be sexually alluring, despite their ethnic features; and Black is invisible. What I have seen is that White and Latino entertainers make the most money, that Asian dancers are often watched with some degree of skepticism at first, and that Black dancers (when they aren’t discouraged) are forced to work far too hard. And yet all of this can change, depending on issues surrounding personal style, attitude, stature, body type, and exotic features (e.g. an Asian dancer with blue eyes). And yet those individual nuances are lost if a patron completely marks the Black body in his mind only enough to avoid walking into “it” like any chair.
I personally feel that there is a specific gap in the training of gay desire. There are simply not enough Afro-centric (or other minorities’) faces in the “All-American” homoerotic publications. People want what they see: So long as Black men aren’t held up as objects of beauty unto themselves on par with men of other races, Black entertainers will be relegated to Blacksploitative sexual imagery. I have met very few Black male adult entertainers who did not actively seek to align themselves with the clichés perpetrated by MTV and BET. What’s worse, the few Black dancers I’ve known who weren’t “ghetto” made even less money than their “hard” counterparts.
Is there not a space or two in one of Abercrombie’s group-shots of 13 nubile honkies for a little more realistic portrayal of our cultural landscape? What’s even more problematic is that I often sense that Black men who aren’t thugs are even more displaced outside of gay desire than their bruiser counterparts. Where do Black men in general (and non-Gangsta Black men specifically) fit within the framework of gay masturbation material?
Hear, hear for equal opportunity exploitation! 😀