A FEW days ago, a clothing item marketed towards gay men created a stir of outrage.
Marek+Richard, an online fashion label that specialises in clothes for gay men, sold a black tank top with the words “NO FAT, NO FEMS” written in large white letters.
It’s one of many common, shallow phrases used in the wide, wonderful world of gay dating. Translation? “Don’t talk to me if you’re overweight or a man who doesn’t act stereotypically masculine.”
Download Grindr or Scruff (the gay-but-slightly-more-risque equivalents of Tinder) and every few profile bios you read will bear one of the following messages:
• Masc only, NO fags (Translation: You must act like a conventional straight male, even though you’re here to have sex with a man)
• Don’t sissy that walk (Translation: You must act like a conventional straight male, even though I’m the one quoting RuPaul)
• No rice, no spice, no chocolate (Translation: No Asians, No Indians, No Blacks)
• Gook free zone, sorry not racist just a preference (Translation: Sorry, I’m racist)
Ahhh, the poetic musings of the trademark “Sydney gay” — a thriving and fascinating species of homosexual wildlife usually spotted donning a backwards flat cap and a Country Road gym bag, with a default facial expression you might wear if you’d just swallowed a gallon of sour lemon juice in one gulp.
You’re too feminine. You’re too ethnic. You’re too fat. You’re too skinny. You’re too old. You’re too Asian. Ironically, unapologetic discrimination is so common in the gay world that it’s almost excusable.
Why is this so surprising? Because no group campaigns for equality, love and inclusiveness harder than the gay community. How can a movement that’s so heartwarming and positive consist of people so lacking in basic social etiquette?
Dr Anthony Lambert, a senior lecturer in cultural studies at Macquarie University, firstly stressed that you can’t just assume a minority group is automatically going to be ethical. It’s a lot of pressure, and never the case.
But he told news.com.au this shallow mindset has always been amplified in the gay community, saying internalised homophobia plays a big part.
“The image of the muscly white guy in the ‘No Fats No Fems’ shirt is the same white jock who was bullying the gay guy in high school,” he said. “You internalise it to begin with.”
He said that this, combined with the rise in social media and dating apps, has only made the problem worse, because hiding behind a device can take the humanity out of people.
But it was an issue long before social media was a thing.
“I remember going to a nightclub in the 80s and offering to buy someone a drink,” he said. “And the response I got was, ‘I’m looking for a man, not a queen.’ I just walked away.”
Judging by the standard on dating apps today, little has changed.
Which is strange, because in today’s metro-hipster age where guys will increasingly pay for Salim Mehajer-thin eyebrows and beard-groomers, the behavioural differences between “gay” and “straight” seem to have become few and far between.
I don’t understand why some gay men need to stress how “masculine” they are.
Behaviour is just the beginning.
A 2015 study in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour looked into how gay men stereotype by race. It found that black men are seen as masculine “tops” (that’s, uh, the “giver”) and Asian men are seen as feminine “bottoms” (receivers). And to be associated with the latter is worse — you’re not masculine, you’re not white, therefore you’re not desirable.
As a gay male living in the heart of Sydney, I’ve heard it all. On one occasion, I met up for drinks with a guy I’d only spoken to online.
“Oh,” he said, as we sat down.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing. I just expected you to be more … Caucasian.” He’d already lost interest, and never got in touch again. Curse my deceptively-white name. That was clearly a jackpot find.
Another time, it was slightly less subtle; a guy at a bar outright told me: “You’d be cute if you were more white.”
I didn’t even know how to respond to that, other than to shake my inferior melanin-soaked fist at the merciless Australian sun.
Last month, the Sydney Star Observer ran a great featureon racism within the gay community. They interviewed a handful of gay men of diverse backgrounds who had some brutal accounts on the matter.
One guy, Aziz Abu-Bakr, told the Star Observer that stereotypes surrounding the African community run rampant when he’s on dating apps.
“People always ask me if it’s true what they’ve heard about black men and refer to me as things like exotic, words that would be more fitting for an animal than a human being,” he said.
“Weirdly enough they perceive it as complimenting me… they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m this white gay man, you should feel blessed that I’m giving you this attention.’
Another respondent, Mohammed Taha, said many gay men don’t accept or understand that marginalised communities can indeed discriminate.
“So often (gay white men) just don’t believe that other people exist, they live in their bubbles where everyone looks like them.”
So, what needs to change?
Dr. Lambert says it’s all about education. He said whether it’s dating apps providing a guide, or a sign being posted on the back of a bathroom stall door, we need to promote ethics around the right and wrong way to communicate with somebody.
“I don’t want Big Brother censorship,” he said. “But these social media sites should offer ethical direction. ‘No Fat, No Fem, No Asian’ is on the wrong side of history.”
He emphasised that it’s fine to have different tastes. Not everyone can be attracted to everyone else, and the simple act of declining someone does not and should not make you racist. But, he says, there’s a right and wrong way to frame it.
“We live in a country that’s said, ‘Stop the boats.’ If I see ‘No Asians’ that means something. It speaks to a larger story about what we perceive as a society. It’s not fair and it’s not right.
“It wouldn’t hurt for us to have the occasional image that says, ‘Yes fat, yes fem, yes Asian. What’s your problem? Do you need to discriminate to express yourself?’”
For what it’s worth, the clothing label behind the “No Fat No Fems” shirt later released a statement, claiming it was all satire from the get-go.
Considering their choice of model, and the timing of their “clarification”, I most definitely call bulls**t on that.
But hey, it speaks volumes that the singlet has sold out in all sizes. If I see you at a bar and you’re wearing it, feel free to not start a conversation with me.
Just my preference.