Frank Ocean, 2011Dave Gold

I’m not a big fan of Soho. Some of my most direct confrontations with dehumanising white gaze have occurred there. “Why can’t I just be approached respectfully like my white friends, ffs!” I tweeted after too many vodka cranberries, as security in Heaven shouted at me to stop leaning on the railings.

In one night, a number of white men had approached me and their interactions appeared scripted. They moved from fascination with my ‘exotic’ appearance and curiosity about ‘what it would be like’, to explicit testimonies of the sexual capabilities of well-endowed Black men. One guy asked me “how do you Black guys do it?”, ‘it’ referring to the famous colonial tales of our dominant abilities and prowess in the bedroom.

I was frustrated and upset and crying because when I tried to explain this to my white friends, they undermined the issue, relating that they too faced harassment, but failing to see how being a person of colour in white spaces comes with specific responses. They themselves received no comments akin to what ‘Black people can do,’ or assumptions about sexual roles based simply on skin colour. Being black, white men’s obsession with my skin meant I was made to feel naked in an environment where I was considered as ‘other’, an ‘adventure’.

Researching for this week’s column, I realised that narratives about racial fetishisation have been intellectually and emotionally exhausted. All of these narratives detail conscious frustration with being fetishised. I haven’t, however, read much which problematizes racial stereotypes as impacting young people’s formation of sexual identity.

“Maybe I want to marry, maybe I just want to fuck. I just want to decide this myself.”

I have been troubled by the fact as a young queer person of colour coming of age in a society with racially coded expectations for my sexual behaviour, it has been near impossible to conceive of my body and identity as within the remit of ‘love’ and ‘respect’. When I came to explore mainstream queer spaces in Soho, I found that there was a commodity value attached to my body which was dependent on pleasure and fetish.

In the summer before university, I was 18 and hadn’t had sex, yet I was already fed up with narratives dictating my role in bed and how I was expected to perform it. It seemed that an admission to being queer and Black was an admission to having performed, and having the capability to perform, certain sexual acts which may be alien to you.

So this week I’ve been wondering how young queer people of colour, whose identity is already a source of complexity and confusion, respond to being encoded into purely sexual practices. Because not only is it difficult to see yourself as loveable or worthy of love when you are met with nothing but hypersexual gaze, but it is also difficult to discern and dictate your own sexual behaviour.

Marginalised identities are so frequently constructed as irreconcilable with mainstream representations of love, desire and respect. That’s why sometimes the #LoveIsLove mantra, a flagship for LGBT+ liberation, feels like a slap in the face. Queer people of colour are placed outside the remit of mainstream discourse on ‘love’. Our romantic lives are mostly represented through interracial relationships with white people; I rarely see Black queer people represented intimately beyond pornography. It almost seems as if whiteness is promoted as an access and validation to queerness.

Even so, when I watched Channel 4’s ‘Cucumber’ I saw another reflection that Black queer people’s experiences of relationships are only provided commodity value, as an accessory to white characters. The Black character, Lance, was employed as a developing influence on white characters Henry and Daniel, finally murdered by the latter in a typically tragic tale about queer men’s internalised homophobia. Our experiences of relationships are hardly centralised, but viewed decoratively to further white narratives.

The chance for representation of Black love that is not placed to complement whiteness is there and is successful, as we have seen in Moonlight, but I fear that the damage is done for too many queer ethnic minorities who still struggle with finding respectful interaction beyond Hollywood screens. However, I do feel as though I accessed a central representation of a Black queer person in love when I first listened to Frank Ocean’s ‘Forrest Gump’, where he details his love for another man. Listening to pure, emotional, self-narrated experiences opened me up to the possibility of loving, and being loveable, while queer and Black.

Still, while we are continuously coded into fetishized expectations, hashtag’s like #LoveIsLove then ironically exclude and moralise those of us who may, of our own accord, decide that we are uninterested in love or marriage, and simply want to have fun and have sex. My problem with exclusionary love discourse is not that I am gagging for a respectable image of Black people, immersed into the normative structures and behaviours of a bourgeois household.

I’m not interested in sanitising the image of queer Blackness because, in truth, respect should be distributed equally whether I choose to participate in love or to have as much sex as I can. The problem is that there are barriers to autonomy and exploration for young queer people of colour coming to understand themselves when our roles and scripts are pre-assigned. Our images are re-packaged and re-purposed when it suits mainstream white narratives, either as lascivious sexual deviants, or secondary characters in white fairy tales.

We may wish to explore our identities purely through physical sex but find that our roles in the bedroom have been pre-selected. My friend puts it to me bluntly: “not every Black man is a top!!!” Our identities are already confusing, and existential crisis is only worsened when LGBT+ spaces impose expectations on us which reduce us to our skin, assumptions about genital use and undermine our autonomy.

These prescribed roles confused me when I first started to have sex. I felt like I was following the script society had handed to me, attentively waiting on cues and examining expected characterisations, effectively becoming a secondary character in my own sex life. It marred my image of dating as I attempted to play out expectations to be more masculine, ‘exotic’ and exciting for certain gazes, which affected me whether I was on dates with white men or men of colour.

I’d already grown up with compulsory heterosexuality and so had to dramatically throw out heterosexual expectations when I accepted queerness, only to be met with a new set of rules and categories. Rejecting these categories has been tasking, but love and sexual autonomy can be made more immediately accessible for young queer people of colour when sexual and romantic expectations are no longer forced on us. Maybe I want to marry, maybe I just want to fuck. I just want to decide this myself

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