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! 😀

Author: Devon Hunter

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  1. At last! You have said something that has NOT been my experience. In discussing preferences with my gay friends, I long ago realized that we like totally different things. So much so that, no matter what little group I am with, whether at the beach or camping or at gay conferences, we never seem to be “competing” for the attention of the same guys. Thus I question the “manufacturer’s default setting” idea. I, myself, do not match that default setting, if there is one. I have always liked shorter guys. I can’t tell you why; I don’t know. But I realized that every guy I was ever infatuated with was a head shorter than I. I’m not a dominating person, so it has nothing to do with control. I don’t know what it is. But your height is perfect. Your friend Scotty is too tall for me. And too smooth. A big complaint I have about the dancers at Richards (and one reason I seldom go there) is that they are all too smooth. They have removed all body hair. They might as well be women. I love body hair, which seems almost to be outlawed in strip clubs. I also like black or dark brown hair, not blond hair. Maybe it is because I was a blond back when I had hair, so blond “ain’t no thang” to me. A lot of guys like fat “bears.” I don’t, but for those who do, it seems they reeeeeeely do! I don’t think we know WHY we are turned on by the things that turn us on. I wonder if this black/white thing works in both directions? Admittedly I do not often go to strip clubs, but I have never seen black patrons lining up to tip tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed white strippers, either. But I have watched them tip Indians and Latinos. I have not seen many Asian dancers. Beyond the “default setting” thing, there is one area of agreement about the “nonsexualization” of blacks. There is one big thing that did “nonsexualize” black men for MY generation, ant that was the ten billion naked black men we all saw for years and years while we were growing up in National Geographic magazine. We NEVER EVER EVER EVER saw a naked white man ANYWHERE. It was not legal to send pictures like that through the mail until 1967 (I was 12) and even after that it was a few years before it started happening. Not until 1973, when I was in college, did Playgirl magazine get started, and those were the first pictures I ever saw of naked white guys. Incidentally, the first naked man I ever saw “in person” was after I got to college. So, there was an exceptionally highly charged “forbidden” eroticism attached to white men for me, but naked black men were a dime a dozen and I think this really did nonsexualize them. Why would they all be naked if they were sexual? The fact that they lived naked all the time must mean that there was no sexual feelings there. Of course, this was not a conscious thought, but I think it worked subconsciously. Last year I was watching a cable program on the Travel Channel called “Going Tribal.” A white British guy was traveling among naked black tribes, involving himself in their rituals. Quite often he got completely naked with the “natives.” This program showed everything; the naked natives’ black genitalia flapping all around. But the white British guy’s genitalia was always pixelated. Nobody else’s was pixelated; just his. Because apparently, to the censors, he was the only sexual creature there. Everyone else was so nonsexual that it was totally safe to let the little children watch. Their heads would only explode if they saw a WHITE man naked. And so, all the little white gay boys watching the series may be unwittingly becoming nonsexualized to blacks. I don’t think it is because we don’t see enough blacks in other media, because we don’t see many Latinos or Asians either and they are still considered sexual. I think it is because we saw TOO MANY naked blacks and got desensitized to them. I can’t speak for generations younger than myself, because the christian fundamentalist missionaries covered the world and by the late 1970’s, there were hardly any naked black people portrayed in National Geographic magazine anymore. They were all standing in the jungle wearing discarded lime green double knit polyester leisure suits and Nike t-shirts. So, in summary, I don’t agree with the tall white blond default setting, and any nonsexualization of blacks is all Nat Geo’s fault! 🙂

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  2. Ironically, when I first came out a few years ago I purposely would not entertain the thought of being with or sleeping with another black man for so many ignorant reasons perpetuated by media stereotypes (not smart, all are thugs, etc). If you observe major feature adult films, top selling adult gay magazines, etc, there is almost always a white model/star on the cover. Blacks in such roles have been stereotyped as just having a 12 inch cock and that is the only asset that seems to be mentioned and/or displayed. There is hardly ever a focus on their faces, bodies, etc. To me, this has been such an effective marketing tool to promote white as being totally beautiful and blacks just being as good as their dicks are big.

    Im confident that this has spilled over into other arenas such as being a dancer. I think people get used to and accept what they are familiar with and what they have been told is beautiful. It only makes matters worse in the southern region where racism seems to be a bit more direct than in the northeast (where i’m from). Honestly, if I were to go to a gay club/bar or strip club in the south, I wouldn’t expect to find many other black patrons, let alone black dancers. What does that say about southern stereotypes?? This might explain why the tips aren’t as big for the black dancers in the south. Just a thought.

    However, in NYC there are establishments where most of the dancers are latin or black. I will say, as it pertains to your mention of tips in the blog, that culturally alot of minorities are not exposed to the protocol of tipping. Fortunately, I come from a middle class family and have been afforded the luxary of attending 2 prestigious schools where I earned a BS and MS degree respectively. Due in part to my upbringing, education, and company I keep, I understand the standards of tipping. unfortunately, so many minorities don’t really grasp the concept. I think this explains why blacks don’t necessarily receive the higher tips whether the patrons are primarily white or fellow minorities. The other caviat is that many people, especially minorities don’t have a genuine respect for the job that you and your colleageus do. I think they get caught up in the sexual aspect and ignore the fact of thats how you pay your bills (they see it as just fun). I don’t honestly think it has everything to do with not wanting to tip a black dancer, although I could be wrong. I’ve been to bars that are primarily frequented by blacks and hispanics and I’ve observed that they rarely even tip the bartenders and the only time they’ll be generous with the dancer(s) is when their fantasy allows them to think their dollars will keep the dancers’ attention on them the entire time.

    Overtime, I’ve still maintained my preference for hispanics and whites (b/c its just what i like more), but I no longer go out of my way to not see what a black guy has to offer. I’ve actually been observing the reasons why white guys like black guys. Based on my experience, there have been 2 types of white guys that gravitate towards me.

    1.) is the guy who is more caught up in the fact that I’m black than
    just being caught up in the fact that I’m a nice guy. This is so
    offensive to a sensitive guy like me b/c growing up, I’ve always
    had issues being the only black kid in class, or the only black kid
    in my circle of friends. I find it offensive b/c even after trying to
    explain that I’m not some piece of meat for you to show off to
    your friends, they still dont get it. It takes me back to a place
    where I question whether or not people see my worth. Instead,
    I’m left feeling like I’m simply their trophy piece that warrants
    them bragging rights b/c they are involved with a black guy.

    2.) is the guy who understands his preference is for men of
    color that includes latin, asian, etc. These are the guys I really
    wish there were more of b/c they dont see color at every glance.
    They respect you for being who u are and its not about treating
    you like a display piece.

    Anyway — I’ll step off my soap box (for now:-)

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  3. oh wow… that is a very interesting point about the pixilated white penis against all the flapping black penis… i’d never considered that before…

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  4. curt: is it common for gay black men who are not “thug” to avoid or ignore gay black men who are? i know that minorities often have an intra-community dialogue about self-hatred, but to what extent is there a rift between thugs and non-thugs amongst gay black men?

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  5. devon: it would be inapprpriate for me to make a blanket statement by answering “yes” to your question. from my perspective, i can say that in the black community where homosexuality is not really embraced, being seen with a “thug” adds to the discretion factor that many minorities feel compelled to maintain (the downlow brother). people won’t suspect you’re gay if you’re walking down the street with the most masculine acting guy…will they??? additionally, there is an assumption that a “thug” is a great lover and not be able to offer much more than a good romp in the sack. i’m quite sure that “thugs” are just as intelligent, if not more, than some people running major corporatons..i don’t ignore “thugs” b/c of any form of self-hatred or hatred towards my own race. it’s more about not settling below the standards i have in choosing a partner. i prefer to have a partner who i can take to corporate functions or other social settings and he’ll be comfortable networking or holding a decent conversation. in NYC, you’ll find “thugs” of all races and none of them would get my attention b/c i simply can’t relate to them and have no interest in trying. once i get over the physical infatuation, i need to be able to communicate with you and have a mutual understanding of our goals, needs, desires, etc. my ex (who is middle eastern) goes for that (thug) type and would often tell me, they make great lovers but horrible boyfriends. again, i think it goes back to preference and individual standards to a great degree. i honestly don’t think there is a rift between black gay “thugs” and non “thugs”. somethings are race related issues, while others are simply a matter of personal preference.

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  6. so then this thug/non-thug issue transcends race… it’s more about decorum and reasonable expectations in relationships. i’d forgotten that thugs come in different colors – thanks for making that point.

    you said that when you first came out you didn’t date other black men. at what point did you stop actively overlooking black men, and why?

    also, bringing all this back to the initial point as it relates to this site: when you were ignoring black men, would you have tipped a black dancer if you’d been in a club with them dancing? you’d mentioned economic class as a reason for many minorities not tipping – would you, as a middle class black man who knows about tipping, have tipped black dancers back when you excluded them from your sexual repertoire? would you tip them now?

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  7. after seeing things worded like that (‘ignoring black men’), i want to clear that up. it’s not that i ignored them in the sense of, if one approached me, i’d be rude. but i just programmed myself to not be physically/sexually attracted to them. i’ve always tipped dancers, if they made me feel a certain connection while they were dancing for me. granted i understand its all an illusion/fantasy that the dancer is really focused on me, but i’ll weigh the amount of my tip on how well they make me believe in the fantasy. this is not, nor has it ever been contingent upon race. there are some dancers who are horrible entertainers….you can read their face and body language to notice that they are just there doing a job (and don’t really enjoy what they’re doing). i never tip them b/c i’m not entertained by watching them look bored. so, yes – ihave always tipped and will continue to tip the dancers who do their job well just like i tip my barber a little more when he does a great job vs less when the haircut is just ok.

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  8. curt – sorry for the delay in responding… thank you for your direct and honest replies. they do, at whatever level this blog is capable of touching, help contribute to the ongoing dialogue concerning race in American culture. i especially want to thank you for being a gay black man who is willing to discuss this with me in a public (and very civil) manner 🙂

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