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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. While a of different types of sexual fields that can be found in the gay community have been discussed in the academic literature as well as the popular press, there has been less attention paid to the ways that erotic words are socially organized Martin and George More importantly, imagining erotic worlds as independent social arenas rather than a part of a larger organized social system, le one to believe that they are self-contained erotic marketplaces where those who possess valued traits are on equal footing, regardless of larger structural factors.

Yet as Green also noted, sexual fields are not isolated arenas, but are embedded within a larger society whose values are reflected in what is considered desirable within a given sexual field. Likewise, Whittier and Simon argue, sexual desires are often influenced by larger social constructions of race, ethnicity, age and class.

Given that sexual fields do not actually exist in a vacuum, these constructions of race, ethnicity, age and class are likely to transverse across different sexual fields. In this empirical study, we offer an evaluation of the sexual field concept within a particular case by examining the sexual experiences of 35 gay men of color in the Los Angeles area.

Specifically, we build on the sexual fields theory by examining one of the ways that larger structural factors, in this case race, may impact the micro interactions found within any given sexual field, demonstrating how sexual fields act as a part of a larger erotic structure that both represents and reproduces racial hierarchies. To do so, we bringing together the sexual fields perspective with the growing literature on sexual racism, an act of either sexually excluding non-whites as potential partners or including racial minorities as sexual partners based only on racial fetishes.

After examining online personal and interviewing gay men, Robinson found that gay white men often exclude gay men of color as potential sexual partners while denying that their racial preferences are racist in nature. In fact, several studies have shown that gay white men were much more likely to prefer their own race and actively exclude non-whites as potential sexual than gay men of color Lundquist and Lin ; Phau and Kaufman ; Rafalow, Feliciano, and Robnett ; Smith More importantly, the authors found that even gay white men who do not actively engage in acts of sexual exclusion were incredibly tolerant of racist behaviors from other gay white men who did.

While the idea of sexual racism has been widely discussed in the popular press, and academic studies have also documented the racial hierarchy of desire in the gay community, there have been fewer attempts to systematically examine how such racialized hierarchies of desire are understood by gay men of color and, more importantly, the impact these racial hierarchies have on them. In this paper, we attempt to address both sexual racism as it is experienced by gay men of color and examine the consequences that sexual racism has on members of these groups. First, we demonstrate that gay men of color understand the racialized nature of the gay sexual field of desire.

More importantly, we show that racialized sexual desires have negative consequences for members of these groups. Instead, they attempt to define what it means to be a racial minority and actively confront sexual racism. More importantly, we take a que from Holland by arguing that sexual desire cannot be understood without thinking about race, nor can racism be fully examined without grasping the role that sexual desires play in maintaining racial hierarchies. By bringing these two perspectives together, we expand on both the sociological literature on sexual desire and the literature on racial hierarchies.

Doing so, we demonstrate that intimate encounters are often dictated by larger racial structures and that larger racial structures are maintained through intimate encounters. According to Green , a sexual field is easily identifiable based on a of characteristics. Within a sexual field, individual actors bring differing levels of sexual capital with which they negotiate the field, but the sexual capital available to them are not so much individually possessed but embedded within larger societal values that as more social worth to certain characteristics.

Within a sexual field, six key interactional processes occur, including:. Put simply, sexual desire within any sexual field is based on a hierarchy of desirable traits with some individuals possessing more of those traits than others. Within any sexual field, some individual come to be seen as more desirable than other individuals depending on the traits that they possess that are valued by the specific sexual field in which they operate. In discussing gay sexual fields, Green ; identifies a of potential traits that influence the level of desirability that any given individual might possess.

While age, class or at least the presentation of class through clothing, consumption patterns, etc. Thus, what is considered desirable within any given sexual field also reflect larger social views regarding race, ethnicity, age, and class. Whether the specific field in question is a gay leather bar or a gay sports bar where different types of dress, different amounts of body hair, etc. While interesting, it is not very surprising given that race has always played a critical role in the construction of desire and desirability Nagel In fact, desire for whiteness has been noted by a of scholars examining race and racism in the gay community Callander, Holt and Newman ; Han ; Robinson ; McBride ; Teunis The centrality of whiteness as the organizing principle in gay life le to the creation of a gay marketplace of desire where whiteness has a value, in and of itself, in sexual exchange McBride We would argue that the value of whiteness transcends diverse sexual fields within the gay community that acts as a universal currency that supersedes all other characteristics deemed worthy within any given sexual field.

The fact that race is a marker of desirability across gay social spaces is not a trivial matter. As Peter Jackson notes:. More importantly, unlike other markers of desirability among gay men that Green discusses, such as amount of body hair, muscularity, clothes, etc. Even age and social class, to some extent, can be thought of as an achieved status as some of the men that Green interviewed openly talk about how they would change their self-presentation as they grew older or use different types of clothes to al a different class aesthetic Green In some instances, even the traits deemed desirable within a sexual field can be negated by race.

For example, Han quotes one gay Asian man, who attempted to make himself more desirable in the gay community by changing his body through exercise, as stating:. I looked really good, I was down to 2 percent body fat, and every muscle in my entire body was obvious… I used to go to West Hollywood where the non-rice bars were and I could count on both hands how many times I got picked up or I could pick up, actually went to bed with somebody from a non-rice bar.

It was horrendous. If I went by myself I was standing in the only empty area of the entire god damn bar. Put simply, across different sexual fields found within the gay community, race seems to trump all other characteristics. Not only are men of color considered less desirable, but white men who prefer men of color as sexual partners are often considered to be somehow deficient by other gay white men. Certainly, social and virtual sites where race itself is the sexual currency exist.

Within these spaces, men of different races interact primarily for the purpose of meeting other men of a specific race. For example, in groups such as Long Yang Club and Black and White Men Together, race itself is the organizing principle of sexual interaction. While there are racial nuances to these groups that make them more than simply another sexual field, particularly Black and White Men Together that have a history of attempting to counter racial fetish as well as promote racial justice, members of these groups nonetheless initially for the purpose of meeting men of a given race, not those who share similar tastes in clothes, have similar body types, or display similar gender presentations Crockett Yet, as Han has demonstrated, even these spaces are often sites where whiteness has more currency.

Thus, white men continue to have the upper-hand in sexual negotiations. More importantly, when gay men of color are sexually preferred by gay white men, they are preferred not as individuals but because they fulfill racial stereotypes regarding sexual behaviors Wilson, valera, Ventuneac, Balan, Rowe and Carballo-Dieguez Thus, gay men of color are only sexually desired if they fulfil the racialized sexual fantasies of white men. One way to address this particular limitation in the sexual fields approach is to examine the perspective using a sexual racism lens.

Doing so will allow us to examine the ways that micro-interactions that occur within sexual fields are influenced by the larger macro-structures of race and racism. The concept of sexual racism was originally developed by Charles Herbert Stember in to examine racialized sexual desires between heterosexuals, the deep rooted sexual stereotypes of black women and men that lead to such desires, as well as the role that such stereotypes play in preventing interracial relationships.

While still utilized by a of contemporary scholars to examine racialized sexual stereotypes of black men and women Buggs ; Stevenson ; Yancey , the concept of sexual racism has been particularly useful in in examining sexual exclusion of gay men of color as potential sexual partners, as well as for examining the sexual objectification of gay men of color, by gay white men. At the same time, the use of the term sexual racism to explain sexual exclusion or objectification based on race has not been without controversy.

At the very least, the actual practice of publicly declaring racial preferences has been fraught with racist sentiments. For example, several commentators have observed that gay white men, and to a lesser degree gay men of color, practice sexual racism on gay dating apps such as Grindr and on online dating sites Callander, Holt and Newman ; McDade ; Paul, Ayala and Choi ; Robinson ; Smith Grindr includes a function called blocking which allows users to prevent other users from sending them messages.

Thus rather than a way of simply listing their preference for white men, online sites for seeking sexual partners have delved into venues for gay white men to vocalize their racist beliefs. But sexual racism is more than simply excluding members of a racial group as potential sexual partners or objectifying them as sexual others even when they are desired. Whether one is sexually excited or left frustratingly flaccid by someone of another race is among the most trivial of concerns.

First, structural sexual racism limits the availability of partners within the social environment. These three dimensions of sexual racism operate to not only construct white men as being more desirable but also construct men of color as being less desirable, and therefore, socially undesirable as well.

However, as noted above, these racial preferences are rarely understood as racial exclusion. Instead, they are explained as personal preferences Robinson It is in the ability of sexual racism to hide, under the guise of being a personal preference, rather than be exposed as part and parcel of the larger system of racial oppression, which depends on constructing one race as fundamentally inferior to another, where the true danger lies.

However, gay white men are given a cover, masking their racist actions as personal preference or personal taste. For example, in a recent study by Rafalow, Feliciano, and Robnett , the authors find that gay men of color, as well as lesbians of color, are much more likely to exclude members of their own race as potential sexual partners than gay white men or white lesbians.

More importantly, men of color who state a sexual preference for another race are overwhelmingly likely to prefer white men with 97 percent of Asian men, 90 percent of Latino men, and 88 percent of black men stating a preference for white men. In fact, gay venues are actively made and kept white through deliberate and conscious decisions by businesses and gay community leaders through an active promotion of whiteness as the norm Han ; Ocampo Given these findings, applying a sexual racism lens to the sexual fields approach provides us with an opportunity to explore the ways that sexual fields are actively created and maintained by members of a dominant group in order to create hierarchies of sexual desires.

This is a larger quantitative study deed to examine the impact of discrimination, sexual partnership, and social networks on sexual risk behaviors among gay black, Latino, and Asian Pacific Islander American men in Los Angeles, CA. Individuals were recruited from a variety of sources, including organizations that target members of these groups, gay newspapers, and notices placed in venues frequented by gay men. A theoretical sampling frame was used to ensure diversity among participants. Inclusion criteria included 1 being at least 18 years old, 2 self-identified as black, Latino, or Asian Pacific Islander, 3 being proficient in English, 4 reporting at least one male sex partner in the past 6 months, and 5 residing in Los Angeles county.

The interview sample included 12 black men, 11 Latino men, and 12 Asian Pacific Islander men. Sixteen men were between the ages of 18—29 years old, 19 were 30 and older. One of 11 Latino men and 9 of the Asian Pacific Islander men were foreign-born. All black men were born in the United States. Questions were deed to allow participants to provide small description of their lives rather than elicit short, blunt answers. Interviews were transcribed in verbatim and are presented in verbatim.

Although the data were collected in , the themes we uncovered have proven to be timeless in that sexual racism is a recurring topic in both the mainstream and gay media. In fact, with the advent of social media and dating apps such as Grindr, that has come to facilitate convenient sexual interactions between gay men, the themes we have identified seem to have become more, rather than less, salient. We analyzed the data using a modified grounded theory approach as outlined by Corbin and Strauss We began by examining the stories that men told and engaged in open coding by inductively identifying the concepts the men discussed in describing their experiences being both gay and a person of color, paying special attention to the way they discussed sexual desires.

After identifying a of key concepts, we grouped the concepts into then engaged in axial coding to determine the relationships between the various concepts that were identified during open coding. Finally, we narrowed the concepts into larger themes which are presented below.

In terms of sexual desires, we found four large themes, 1 the understanding of whiteness as universally desirable, 2 ways that gay men of color negotiated racialized sexual spaces, 3 impacts on gay men of color due to sexual racism, and 4 how they attempted to confront sexual racism. In presenting the , we were guided by two principals to ensure that quotes represented both the breadth and depth of our themes.

First, we ensured that we used quotes from at least half of the participants from each racial group. In addition, we ensured that we used at least one quote from each racial group for each of the four themes. In this way, we were able to demonstrate that the themes we discovered were not only widely shared but also shared across racial groups.

In discussing what constitutes desirability in a given sexual field, Green observed that favored individuals or groups are easily identified by participants within the sexual field. Gay men of color clearly understood that race was a central characteristic in the way that gay desire is organized. More importantly, they recognized that being white afforded white men with more opportunities for sexual contact than gay men of color. When asked about looking for sex online, one gay Asian man noted:. But for ethnic people, there tends to be more bias.

As the man quoted above shared, white men were seen as being universally desirable among gay men. As he noted, white men were sexually desired not only by other white men, but by men of color as well. Similarly, gay men of color also understood that not being white made them less desirable to potential sexual partners, even other men of color.

As one gay Latino man stated:. Thus, sexual exclusion of gay men of color by gay white men is not about place of origin or differences in cultural values. The more one looks European, or white, the more one is accepted regardless of other potential factors that may make white men perceive men of color as less suitable sexual partners.

As demonstrated by the quotes above, gay men of color understood that whiteness was the currency that held collective valued. Also, there was a recognized racial hierarchy among non-white men. For example, the man quoted above went on to state:.

It sounds terrible, but I, you know, you always have to think about black gays, and I think their situation is probably a hundred times worse than mine… you reassure yourself by looking at other people and sort of recognizing the racial hierarchy and kind of establishing where you fit in that. Instead, many men, based on their own personal experiences with dating, put their own race at the bottom. In discussing the racial hierarchy, a gay Asian man stated:. So that totally feel, you know, I feel marginalized already there in the sexual market, you know, the sexual community.

Other men were more diplomatic in not placing non-white men into specific rankings where one group of gay men of color was above another. However, they were all nonetheless well aware of the primacy of whiteness in sexual attraction. For example, a gay black man stated:. And nothing wrong with that, you know.

You like what you like. The man quoted above understood that mainstream gay spaces were organized largely to cater to white desires and whiteness was the currency of desire within these spaces. As he noted, gay men of color within mainstream gay spaces were also there seeking white sexual partners. For those whose desires ran counter to the dominant narrative of racial desirability, opportunities for sexual contact were much more limited. Interestingly, for many gay men of color, race became an issue only after becoming more involved in the gay community, testifying to the power of the sexual field to dictate desirability as well as how gay men come to see themselves as sexual beings.

For example, one gay Asian man who grew up in Phoenix, where he was one of only five Asians in his school, had this to say about his first experiences in the gay community:. Literally, I mean with you know, the Izod shirts and the Topsiders, and so I felt out of place… But I mean, I remember feeling like I needed to conform to that.

I remember feeling like, you know, I remember being very aware that my general look and everything was not what was en vogue.

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