It usually starts like this: I chat with someone over Grindr. Things go well. I lay my flirt game thick over their bare minimum attempt at conversation. We talk about what we're mutually into, depending on whether it's a date or a hook-up.
Then, just like clockwork, on the day we meet they would:
A) say something racist to me or about other Indians, or;
B) throw another community of colour under the bus.
Most times it's both.
I am used to this routine and have now gone past the point of frustration to the threshold of indifference.
I was once on a picnic date by the river with a white Australian man. A few minutes into our interaction, I found him referring to me as 'Black'. I laughed it off a few times before correcting him: I am not Black, I am brown. As the date progressed, he continued to get defensive, revealing more of his biases against people of colour.
When I called out his racism, he became confused and listed two other people of colour in his life. "How can I be racist, huh?" he said.
I stood my ground.
Moments later, he said he had to get eye drops from his car and never returned.
Good riddance, right? Boy needs better vision anyway.
In a lot of scenarios, dating as a trans person of colour can be extremely complicated and difficult, if not impossible.
For one thing, the initial phases of queer dating or meet-ups happen mostly online. As is well known, apps like Grindr permit users to pervasively discount anyone who doesn't look like a muscular or skinny white cis-man. While there are unspoken (and bias-driven) accommodations made for femme men to be as acceptable as bottoms - with the assumption that those who are masculine tend to be tops - the more your identity veers from these sets of physical traits, the less likely you are to get people talking to you. And the more isolating these experiences can be.
The most common justification we hear from white men and non-binary folk on Grindr is that they have dating preferences. But rarely do they question their own biases around race, body type, gender identity or disability that inform those very same 'preferences'.
When I question someone's racist behaviour - either over dating apps or in person - I am often immediately accused of being 'aggressive', 'ridiculous', 'sensitive', or 'unreasonable'. To me, these responses suggest the racist expectation that people of colour ought to be nice, 'well-behaved' and cooperative to be deemed 'date-able'. Any diversion from those unspoken rules results in some form of punishment or verbal abuse - leading to scenarios that gaslight people of colour into believing that 'being nice' will deliver them fair treatment.
Over time, I have been asked by friends (and disgruntled white people) to choose to date only other people of colour.
The trouble is, the dating and hook-up scene in Australia isn't nearly as diverse and accessible as that of countries like the US. Here, our idea of dating is still largely shaped by a mainstream popular culture that portrays romantic relationships as heterosexual, able-bodied and mostly white. And some of these subconscious biases have rubbed off in the queer dating world.
Add to this the fact that queer people of colour often face a bigger barrier to safely express their gender and sexuality due to cultural and familial risks, and it becomes depressingly clear that some of them might still be closeted. For a lot of queer people of colour, coming out can look eerily like having to assimilate to the values, physicality and aesthetics of near-whiteness. This means the chances of finding relationships and dates that are safe, meaningful and respectful - without the expectation to conform to white-centric ideals - are few and far between.
Here in Australia, I have experienced that white people on dating apps are more likely to date trans folk who are white; and people of colour are more likely to date cis people of colour. Given I am both brown and trans, not to mention incredibly femme, sex positive and social justice-drive, the numbers are not on my side.
I have had to let go of many relationships in the past because white folk refused to respect the humanity of people of colour. I have been in too many relationships where I was gas-lit by partners who made me feel guilty for taking space and speaking up.
Dating as a trans woman of colour is a race issue. The level of social isolation experienced by being queer is already detrimental. Not to mention the challenge of being told we are not worthy of love, intimacy, companionship, and sex, simply because we refuse to let racism pass.
And while I'm not entirely sure of the way forward, I can tell you I won't be saying yes to any more dates that don't celebrate my identity, body, spirituality, and nurture the fragile intimacy that surrounds sex and dating. The online queer dating pool is quite shallow - and for now, I am happy to avoid taking a swim altogether.