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Middlebury sociology professor lectures on racism within the gay community

By Chengcheng Xiang

Section: News

March 17, 2017

Chong-suk Han, a sociology professor from Middlebury College, spoke about gay racism to an audience of about 70 students and alumni on Monday, March 13.

People see white gay men as normal, while overlooking the existence of gay people who are minorities, according to Han. “White men are universally desirable,” he said. By giving examples of gay images in popular culture, Han pointed out that both Asian and black gay men suffer from the stereotypes that people create for them.

Speaking of the black gay community in the U.S., Han mentioned the “down low” phenomenon, which says that the majority of black gay men lead a secret life and continue to marry women for complex reasons. They have sex with men while still going home to a woman. He explained these as “products of a black culture that deems masculinity and fatherhood as a black man’s primary responsibility.” According to Han, the “down low” life has been in the black gay community for long time.

“Down low is not just about sex. It is particularly about black sex,” Han said. As black sex is constructed in a very negative way, the media hypersexualizes it. “Black sexuality is contrary to pure white sex,” Han said. As a result, society defines white sex as the only type of acceptable sex.

The media shows stereotypical images of gay men of color, such as in “Grey’s Anatomy,” commercials and magazines, according to Han. He mentioned that the media creates stigmatized images of gay couples, which is misleading. For instance, on the cover of “Know” magazine, a white husband goes to work while the Asian man, dressed as a “wife,” stays home and makes coffee, according to Han.

“In fact, existing evidence shows that gay men of color report much higher rates of racism, despite the stereotypes we have,” Han said. According to the statistics he cited, 33 percent (out of 990) Latino gay men said they experienced racism from within the gay community and 58 percent reported racism specifically from gay white men. In a survey of the Asian homosexual population in New York City, 82 percent personally experienced racism and these men believed they experience more racism from the gay community than from straight people, according to Han.

However, racism within the gay community takes on very subtle forms, which makes it problematic, Han said. For example, on Grindr, a gay online dating app, a number of remarks demonstrate discrimination against Asian gay men with comments that they are “ugly,” Han said. “Because that racism is so subtle, it becomes very easy to deny,” he said.

What is worse, individuals tend to utilize language of preference, like “this is my personal preference,” to conflate sexuality and sexual preference. “‘Preference’ is more than simply excluding members of a racial group as potential sexual partners,” said Han. “It is the ability of sexual racism to hide, under the guise of ‘personal preference,’ which depends on constructing one race as fundamentally inferior to another, where the true danger lies,” he said.

“There are multiple ways to be sexually attractive,” Han said. “To embrace your roots is an option.” With humorous tones, Han urged gay people of color to take pride in their racial identities.

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