May 18, 2020

LGBTQ+ Country Voices: Dumped, dating, and discrimination in Covid Paris

One Sunday morning in late February in Paris, my boyfriend announced that our relationship was over. 

The next day I began couch surfing with friends, and a week later France entered lockdown to stem the Covid-19 pandemic. Change was everywhere.

A month into living out of a suitcase at my friend Etienne’s, his ears bleeding from my breakup rants, he suggested that it might do me some good to live alone. Taking the hint, I packed up and moved to a sublet.

The first night there, in no mood to rewatch Black Mirror, I did what newly single gay men do with time and a smartphone: I downloaded Grindr.

Grindr is the “largest social networking app for gay, bi, trans, and queer people.” Members see other members in their vicinity, and can share messages, photos, and their location.

Half asleep, I tried to create a profile in the time it took to brush my teeth. Keep it simple,I reminded myself. But who was I kidding? My go at simplicity led to selfie taking to show I was sexy, yet approachable, passionate, yet carefree. In the end, the pics just looked like I had not seen the sun since 2019.

This time around, my time on Grindr has produced varied results.

I have encountered the usual suspects: the courtroom stenographers, who woo with “Sup,” or its cousin, “Wut u up 2”; or the macho, “discreet” types who send emojis of fruit and water features (usually an eggplant, peach, and splash icon, but not necessarily in that order).

Of all the Grindr guys, though, there is one type that irritates me: the ones who see, first and foremost, my ethnicity, and not much else. The ones treating my Korean origins as a continent-wide topic, like one of those catch-all Asian restaurants in strip malls, with names like Great Wall Sushi Thai Lotus House.

Anonymous 1 told me, for example, “You’re kinda tall to be Asian.” I asked why he felt the need to generalize, and he replied saying that denying Asians are short would be denying reality.

A message from Anonymous 2 really came on strong. “Mmmm! I love Asian eyes. And the rest!” he said. Although intrigued by what the restcould be, I did not reply. I figured he would move on. After all, there are roughly 2.3 billion Asian men in the world, with eyes, and probably the rest.

Anonymous 3 reassured me that I could “be bad at flirting and [he’d] still be under [my] spell.” He was a self-proclaimed Rice Queen, which is a homosexual male of non-Asian descent who is mainly attracted to Asian males. What he called preference was really a fetishization of Eastern Asian men, and what annoyed me most was how he thought he knew better.

* The second part of his message reads: “Oh, and I’m sometimes a bit rough around the edges. Don’t hesitate to let me know when I am and I’ll try to reel it in.”

On more than one occasion, I received variations on a message sent from Anonymous 4, who while “not usually into Asians,” admitted that I was “quite attractive.”

I was not surprised, of course. Racism is a regular occurrence for minorities in Paris. But I had forgotten its pervasiveness in the LGBTQ+ community, specifically on apps, as if virtual dating in your pajamas during a pandemic were not depressing enough.

I shared the messages with my friend, Meriem, and she pointed me to the Instagram account Personnes Racisées vs. Grindr (PRVG). I Googled it, and read about its creator, Miguel Shema, and how he exposes racism within the LGBTQ+ community, largely in France, by reposting chats from apps, like Grindr.

It was infuriating to read the hate being spewed online. There were many Others like me, being viewed through the lens of ethnicity, and by extension the perverse assumptions, stereotypes, and expectations placed upon us by society, including members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Scrolling through PRVG stoked my interest, and before I knew it, I was in a Google tailspin. Tailspin because I opened thirty tabs in two minutes. It turns out, there are many LGBTQ+ individuals and organizations fighting xenophobia in and out of the community, both in France and abroad. It was encouraging to read about drag queens of Asian origins in France and how they deal with anti-Asian sentiment encountered within our communities. Discovering their stories was empowering.

In lockdown, I had not imagined learning something about discrimination within the LGBTQ+ population in France, nor how it could relate to my experience as a Korean-born, Asian-American gay man in Paris.

But I had. And that felt significant as I moved into my new apartment, ready for the next round of change.

Dedicated to Etienne. Thanks for your support.

* The name “Grindr” has been used as a placeholder for a number of dating apps.