There’s an episode of the late, sometimes-great HBO series Looking that I’ve never been able to shake off, even four years after it aired.
In the unfortunately telling opening scene, Patrick, Agustin and Dom joke about uncut penises and the probability that Richie, the Mexican guy with whom Patrick is about to have his first date, will have one. (He doesn’t – so much for racial and ethnic stereotypes.)
As I watched the exchange at the beginning of ‘Looking for Uncut’ (season one, episode two), it dawned on me that I’ll never know for sure what any gay white man really thinks about black men because I’ll never be privy to one of their conversations with other gay white men when a black man isn’t in the room.
Isn’t that when they’re likely to show their truest colors (pun intended)?
Grindr messages to black men
I’ve been reminded of the mystery of GWMs one week into my stint in Sarajevo, as I continue to field ‘black’ comments on Grindr. A sampling:
‘Im a white submissive and inferior slave looking for a superior black master who would be interested in owning a white sex slave. can travel or relocate if serious’
‘I never tried black in my life… Do you have big cock?’
‘Vhat diferent black or white cock’
‘hi, masculine bottom here looking for a good black stallion who makes me happy n take cares of me…n you?’
‘I want that big black dick in my ass until you cum’ (This one was from an American tourist who offered $60 ‘for you to f**k me.’)
If white men who are complete strangers have no qualms about using my black penis as an ice-breaker with me, I shudder to speculate about what some of them might say amongst themselves?
What does a white guy who is about to go out with me tell his friends? What do his friends say? Do they talk about the potential size and shape of my manhood? What do they say about it after the morning after?
A friend in Argentina once gave me an earful of the things that his white ex-roommate used to say about black men in private. At the top of the list: We all smell bad.
The few times I met the ex-roommate, he was perfectly nice to me. I wonder if he was always holding his breath, lest he catch a dangerously ripe whiff.
Did my friend defend the black scent or did he laugh it off to keep the peace – or because he secretly agreed? I didn’t ask because I was too afraid of the truth.
Sex and the black ‘bear’
Several years ago, I went to a pub in Melbourne where a stand-up comic told a story about the first time he ever slept with a black guy – ’a black bear,’ he kept specifying, emphasizing the final word, although ‘black’ was actually the recurring punchline.
He meant ‘bear’ in the gay sense of the word, but it sounded more racist than funny in the context of a first-time joke, an extension of the stereotypical image of the black man as a wild beast.
When he began to tell the story, I’m pretty sure he had no idea there was a black guy in the room (we were in Australia, after all).
Then just as he alluded to the size of the ‘black bear,’ nearly everyone in the bar turned around and looked at me.
As I stood there, suddenly self-conscious, trying to appear as insouciant as possible lest they all think I was a bad sport, I wondered how he would have changed the way he’d told story if he had known I was there beforehand. Would he have brought it up at all?
Removing myself from the situation
If Patrick on Looking had been a stand-up comic, his date with Richie might have been part of his routine in a future episode.
When he and Richie finally make it to his bedroom, and he pulls down Richie’s pants and sees his first Latino penis, his reaction is hard to read. Is he relieved? Disappointed? I’ve seen that indecipherable response before and, like Richie, I was ‘tripping’ – but only on the inside. I wish I had responded the way Richie does.
‘I think we’re looking for different things,’ he says. In other words: ‘It’s not me, it’s you.’ And he’s out of there.
I probably should have been out of that Melbourne pub after the one about ‘black bears,’ but I stuck around long enough to chat with the comedian after he left the stage.
I had interviewed him about a year earlier for Time Out Melbourne when he staged a one-man show about Grindr during the 2012 Midsumma Festival. He had no idea who I was because it had been a phone interview, and I didn’t remind him of it.
I also held back when he asked how I liked the show. What was I supposed to say? I told him it was amusing but not that I found the black bear bit egregiously offensive. Why was his first time with a black bear fodder for a comedy routine? Was sex with a black guy a joke because of his race?
He may have thought he finally knew the truth about black men – and he clearly was the type to buy that one size fits all – but he’d have to get the truth about his work from someone else.
I, on the other hand, will probably never know the truth about white men, unless I someday master the art of being a fly on the wall.
But then, I’ve never had any real desire to be a fly on the wall. That’s when they’re most likely to end up under a swatter.
This column first appeared on Medium – reprinted with permission. Jeremy Helligar’s book, Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World, is available via Amazon.