On Finding That Safe Space- On Being A British Asian Bisexual Man

Many queer people of colour have a number of experiences with racism within the “mainstream” LGBT+ spaces. Microaggressions from the doorman at the club is common, often being asked whether we know that it’s a “gay venue”.

Due to the society in which we live, resolving those conflicting identities can be difficult to achieve. Queer people of colour, such as myself, often exist within a liminal space. Being queer within people of colour communities can be damaging. As an Indian, I’ve found that many within my community hold homophobic views, enforce strict gender roles and a heteronormative lifestyle. This can be suffocating for many queer people of colour, which can make it difficult to engage with your heritage and culture. In some cases, queer people of colour can find themselves shunned or unwanted by the their community. Living authentically can be difficult when we aren’t given the support from our community, and often people hide their true identities in order to be accepted.

As a result, many queer people of colour can feel lost within their community, unable to connect with other LGBT+ people who have a shared experience. However, when entering LGBT+ “safe spaces”, they experience a new issue. Whilst they can connect with other LGBT+ people, these spaces are often dominated by White people, namely cis White gay men. This can make them feel uncomfortable, as one of the few people of colour in the room. Further to this, many of these people hold problematic views. Racism and fetishisation is rife within the LGBT+ community, making these so called “safe spaces” not so safe for people of colour.

Many queer people of colour have a number of experiences with racism within the “mainstream” LGBT+ spaces. Microaggressions from the doorman at the club is common, often being asked whether we know that it’s a “gay venue”. Slurs are thrown at us, such as the n-word, paki and curry muncher. And “where are you from?” is a frequently asked question. We’re made to feel uncomfortable in these spaces as well, unwanted.

Along with the racism, we are often being objectified as fetishisation is just as common within the LGBT+ community. People will assume your sexual position and dominance (or lack thereof) in the bedroom. They’ll ask if you have a big Black cock or inform you that they’ve “never had a Brown boy”. They’ll describe you like food, calling you “sexy dark chocolate”. People often don’t see the issue with this, thinking that it is a form of flattery and a compliment, expecting a positive response in return. When they don’t receive attention back, they often lash out, falling back on those racist terms.

These problems exist both in person and online. Apps like Grindr are notoriously bad for these attitudes. Within these apps, there are “Pro” settings, allowing people to filter based on ethnicity. Those unwilling to pay the extra will have their username as “BBC?” (big Black cock) or put the infamous “no fats, no fems, no Asians” in their bio. When confronted on their views, they state that it’s “just a preference”.

What they don’t seem to understand is that these so-called “preferences” are rooted in racism. It has been seen in data from OkCupid that Black women, Black men and Asian men rank at the bottom of desirability. This is due to the way in which these groups are portrayed in the media. Black women are often painted as angry or aggressive, similarly for Black men. Whilst Asian men are seen as weak and submissive. People who hold these “preferences” are often painting a whole race with these negative stereotypes and avoiding them because of it, which is nothing short of racism.

Whilst this study observed mainly different sex relationships, the same ideologies are pervasive in queer culture. Whiteness is often seen as the ideal and anyone outside of this is often shunned or objectified. This can lead to a lack of belonging amongst queer people of colour. We’re unable to be LGBT+ within our people of colour community, but we cannot exist in LGBT+ spaces without experiencing racism. Whilst we may have accepted our conflicting identities, accepted ourselves as whole, we have nowhere to express all those different parts of us at once. This can cause a strain in our identity, a crack in that resolve of who we are. With so much societal rejection, being forced into this liminal space, it can be hard to exist and even more difficult to thrive.

Thankfully, the need for spaces that specifically cater for queer people of colour has been recognised by many within the community over the many years. There are a lot of incredible, wonderful, groups out there that target those existing within those liminal spaces and give them a place to embrace the entirety of their identity all at once.

Probably the largest of these, at least in the UK, is UK Black Pride. A fantastic event with a long history that is run by queer people of colour and is for queer people of colour. Famously held the day after Pride In London each year, it platforms queer people of colour in every way possible, from their music and talent to food and even their politics. A safe and welcoming space for many, so many in fact that they had to relocate to Haggerston Park just to accommodate everyone attending, hitting 10,000 people in 2019.

The Bitten Peach is a collective of Asian LGBT+ cabaret performers, recently formed to help give a platform to talent that you wouldn’t ordinarily see. Having only formed in early 2019, they’ve managed to make huge strides in such a short time, having a dedicated night at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern as well as performing at Underbelly Festival. Similarly, The Cocoa Butter Club is a long running cabaret group that platforms a wide range of talent from queer people of colour and is a massive inspiration within the community.

Of course, it would be remiss of me to not mention ‘Queer’ Asia. ‘Queer’ Asia is a group that helps platform queer Asian activists, artists and academics. They do a wide range of events, from panels to film festivals and art exhibitions, in a wide range of spaces from universities to The British Museum. They give space to queer Asian people to express themselves through art and academia, highlighting the dedication, talent and creativity of many.

And there are many groups outside from this. Club nights like Hungama, Urban World and Club Kali to communities like Gaysians, Imaan LGBTQI and BlackOut UK. The list is endless. But there is a struggle here too. Many of these groups don’t get enough funding, often less than the more “mainstream” community groups and charities, making it more difficult to sustain. They often do not get the same level of recognition, often not featuring at all in LGBT+ press. And lastly, many of these groups do not have a permanent fixed location. They will often insert themselves into these “mainstream” spaces, taking it over for the night and then finding a different location for the next event, likely in a few weeks time.

So the issue is, where do you go when there is no event? Once that event is over, the location changes back to its White dominated form, and is no longer a safe space for queer people of colour. There is a dire need to challenge these “mainstream” LGBT+ “safe spaces”, as I’ve so dubbed them. These venues, these events, these communities that aren’t serving the entire community, the more vulnerable people within the community (as queer people of colour often are), need to be challenged and changed to work better for all. This is the topic I will discuss further in the next piece.

About the guest author

Vaneet Mehta

Vaneet Mehta is a bisexual Indian man born and raised in Southall, West London. His day job is working as a software engineer, but outside of this he writes on various topics, including LGBTQ+, and volunteers within the LGBTQ+ community. He recently had a his coming out story published in a bisexual anthology called “The Bi-Ble: New Testimonials”, volunteers for Rainbow Films and Middlesex Pride, was featured in GMFA’s Me. Him. Us campaign and run a YouTube channel called “The AmBIssadors”.
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