April 18, 2014

I Don't Have Jungle Fever Because I'm Dating A Black Man

Thankfully, I’m not easily offended. Well, I suppose I should say that I’ve learned to build a thick skin over the years. Isn’t it weird how things slowly change?

Towards the end of my high school career, I wouldn’t have even whispered, “I’m gay.” Now I write about my sexuality and the LGBT rights movement weekly. Hell, I even discussed it in a national magazine.

Around six months ago, I met – and eventually, fell in love with – my boyfriend, Brian. Growing up in Lancaster, New York, my hometown was around 99% Caucasian.

Luckily, I was able to travel throughout my youth to expose me to the diversity of the United States.

Unfortunately, I grew up with a handful of upper-middle class white kids whose classification of diversity involved a variety of BMW colors. They also assumed that the few black people in our community were all related and the Catholicism was the only religion in America. Let’s hear it for the Northeast suburbs!

After Brian and I officially started dating, I’d received a few Facebook messages or texts after we posted a photo, or checked-in at a bar or restaurant online. They were usually nice, but some had an underlying message.

“I’m happy for you! I didn’t know that you had jungle fever, though. Not your typical type!”

What the fuck? I was dating a guy that happened to be black. It wasn’t like I was bitten by a mosquito and wanted to have sex with every gay black man that was in New York City (and the nicer parts of New Jersey).

But, full disclosure: I did get drunk in Harlem once and that almost happened. That’s beside the point.

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed the daily struggles of the black community through the eyes of my boyfriend, and from being one half of an interracial couple – even in New York City. It makes me sad that someone is looked upon in a different light, and treated in an unequal way, just because they are not white.

As a preppy white dude with light hair and thick glasses, I would never attempt to speak on behalf of another race, but being with Brian, I am a little more cognizant while on the subway, shopping or at a restaurant.

Funny enough, a lot of the judgment (in our experience) comes from black people. Brian is often told that he’s “not black enough” or “doesn’t act black,” and the very few times that we’ve been called “fags” or other derogatory terms, they’ve always been from black males.

Now, am I supposed to hold that against black men? No. Against black people? Of course not. But when a human is faced with similar situations over and over, I can see why certain ideas are formed and stereotypes cemented. It’s sad and I wish it didn’t happen.

A few weeks ago, we passed a group of older black men on our way to dinner on the Upper East Side. We were holding hands, and I took a deep breathe as we approached; I had a long day, and I really wasn’t in the mood or an argument or ignorant comment.

“Oh yeah! Now, that’s what I’m talking about … the way it should be! White, black, whatever. Good for you,” one of the older men said as we walked past them.

We laughed and said thanks as we turned the corner.

Even though I consider myself open-minded and liberal, it’s always great to have my optimistic beliefs reinforced – especially when I’m expecting something other than respect.