Queer News

Opinion: The Bearable Whiteness of Being Gay

Editor’s note: Rob Smith is a writer, lecturer and openly gay U.S. Army and Iraq War veteran.  His work has appeared in USA Today, The Huffington Post, Metro Weekly and Salon.com among others.  He is also a contributing author to “For Colored Boys …,” an anthology featuring the stories of gay men of color to be released on March 13.  He can be reached at www.robsmithonline.com and on Twitter @robsmithonline.

By Rob Smith, Special to CNN

I’m a typical gay male with a defining feature that is atypical in my community.

When I log onto my computer in the morning I check my favorite gay blogs. There, I will undoubtedly see images of people who don’t look like me attached to stories written by other people who don’t look like me. Above the page and to the right of the text are ads for various products being sold. They are modeled by people who don’t look like me. Maybe they are the underwear models made to be eye candy for the brand being promoted. Perhaps they’re the people used to represent the typical gay couple that would be welcome on that cruise, or in that hotel.

When I see people who do look like me written about and shown on my favorite gay blogs, they will most likely share my skin color but not my sexual orientation.

They probably have gotten themselves into trouble for saying or doing something homophobic. When I see the story I will roll my eyes at their stupidity and steel myself for the onslaught of hateful comments that will populate the comment section.  The comments always sting because they come from members of my community. I will know exactly what is coming but I read anyway. After years of reading such comments I wonder if this is what all the people in my community who don’t look like me are really thinking about those who do.

When I’m on the train, I read my favorite gay magazine. I can’t remember having ever seen someone who looks like me on the cover.  When I read it I see more ads – for underwear, cologne, cruises, hotels, and clothes – with people who don’t look like me.  None of the writers look like me, nor are there any stories about anyone who looks like me. When I finally see an advertisement with someone who shares my skin color, the advertisement is for HIV medication.

While I’m waiting for my friend in the gayborhood hotspot I notice that none of the bartenders, DJs, or waiters look like me, nor do most of the clientele.  Out of boredom, I fiddle around with the Grindr mobile dating app on my iPhone. My screen is filled with different faces, bodies, and torsos of men in the area. One particularly handsome man attracts my attention, until I read the “NO ASIANS” typed in angry capped letters on his profile. I wonder how I would feel if I were Asian.

After having a few drinks with my friend, I walk home through the garment district in midtown Manhattan.  I see a gay male couple walking hand in hand down the street.  They also do not look like me.  In fact, they look like they could be in one of the gay cruise ads I see in my favorite magazine.  Their relaxed and happy faces turn frightened when they see me, and they immediately cease holding hands and separate.  On this late night in an unfamiliar area of the city, I am not seen as a member of the LGBT community.  I am black. I am male.  I am a threat.

The wary looks and quickened paces of nervous white women on the streets of New York are those I’ve become used to over the years, but the reaction from this gay male couple is different. My first instinct is to smile at them, but I don’t. I dart into the subway station and think about it during every second of the ride back uptown.  I feel hurt, sad, lonely, and invisible.  I feel bad for this couple who, for whatever reason, think that they could be in danger around me just for being themselves. I wonder what books they read, what shows they watch, what magazines they read. I wonder what gay “looks” like to them.

When I get home and turn on the television, I flip through all of the channels that seem to have more gay characters and personalities on them than ever before. I see Nate Berkus, Brad Goreski, Rachel Maddow, the characters on reruns of “Queer as Folk,” Rosie O’Donnell, Tabatha Coffey, the gay couple on “Modern Family,” and perhaps TV’s most recognizable gay teen, Kurt Hummel of “Glee.”

After a bit more television watching, I fall asleep for another day knowing that our community has so many colors, and still wondering why I can only seem to find one.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of  Rob Smith.



About In America

What defines you? Maybe it’s the shade of your skin, the place you grew up, the accent in your words, the make up of your family, the gender you were born with, the intimate relationships you chose to have or your generation? As the American identity changes we will be there to report it. In America is a venue for creative and timely sharing of news that explores who we are. Reach us at inamerica@cnn.com.

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