Thoughts on Race, White Queerness, and Sexual Bodies

During the vice-presidential debate between Mike Pence and Tim Kaine on Oct. 4, 2016, out comedian, writer, and podcast host Guy Branum live-tweeted his reactions to the discussion points on Grindr's  [1] Twitter account. As the debate turned to immigration and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's views on the matter, Branum—a white man—tweeted the following:

"If Donald Trump gets to deport 16 million people, I want you to think how much hotness would be lost from your @Grindr screen. #VPDebate" (Figure 1)

With the tweet, Branum purports a logic of care undergirded by the sexual appeal of undocumented people. The Grindr user should care about Trump's promised mass deportation because the user's screen will lack the sexual appeal of undocumented gay men, whose agentic potential in the overall deportation narrative is co-opted by their very physicality. Breaking the tweet down, we can derive the following:

  1. The primary stakeholder is the Grindr user
  2. The stakes are the sexual appeal—the physicality—of undocumented gay men
  3. The risk is Donald Trump, whose immigration policies would lead to the aforementioned mass deportation. 

Branum's logic of care, then, is limited in that it begins at sexual desirability and is circumscribed by the digital space of Grindr, precluding care from gay male citizens in other aspects of the deportation narrative. In other words, according to the tweet, caring about undocumented gay men begins at how desirable they are—their sexiness—and ends once the Grindr application is closed.

In addition to Branum's logic of care, I believe we can tease out the true group of undocumented people whose access Branum warns will be removed if Trump wins the presidency: Latino gay men. We can infer this particular group based on Trump's own discourse on undocumented people—"build a wall between us and Mexico"—and the typical fetishization Latino gays face in overall gay male sexual interaction. Therefore, Branum's own logic of care is predicated on Trump's notions about who undocumented people are: brown people [2]. Branum subscribes to the same untruth about undocumented people that Trump does: only brown people—who might be criminals—are undocumented people. Following this line of thought, we might reread Branum's initial tweet as the following: Grindr users will miss out on the fetishization of undocumented Latino gays and their brown bodies if Trump wins the presidency. Undocumented Latino gays, then, only matter if 1.) they are conventionally attractive to white gay men and 2.) they have access to Grindr and, presumably, other digital spaces.

From here, we must turn to the stakeholder, the Grindr user, and who he might be. Revisiting the stakes—the physicality of undocumented Latino gays—we can infer that the Grindr user in this case is a white man. In addition to who Branum is, a white man, and his use of gay dating/hookup apps [3], we can also look to what I mention above. Latino gay men are frequently fetishized by white gay men—which falls into the racist behavior they face in digital spaces and in overall society in the United States. Indeed, the notion of the Latin lover pervades much of the white gay dating/hookup imaginary. Take, for example, the "Latin Lover" category from Spotify for Pride month during Summer 2016 (Figure 2), or a recently viral Snapchat story in which the user, a white gay man, fantasizes not about a pool boy, but the gardener: “Some people want Pablo the pool boy..[sic] I want Lorenzo the lawn care [sic] man” (Figure 3). Our bodies, our agency, and our stories are frequently co-opted by the white gay male imaginary, limiting our epistemologies as gay men and devaluing our ontological formations and ideations about gayness, and leaving us with what? I do not know.

I bring up this discussion not to excavate Branum's true meanings (others have done that on Twitter and elsewhere) or to bring light to the struggles undocumented people face (again, much work and discussion is available elsewhere on this matter). Instead, I want to get at the subtleties of racism and how it implicates white gay men and the culture of hostility Latino gays face. How do simple jokes about undocumented people on a Twitter account with more than 80,000 followers help propagate racist undertakings of gay male interactivity? Where do we go from here? Branum's apology for his tweet (Figure 4) still co-opts and sexualizes the undocumented body into the white gay male imaginary, and he expresses no remorse for the racism in his tweet (as he mentions on Twitter, Branum is a licensed attorney who received a perfect score on the LSATS; we can presume he knows what he did). Again, where do we go from here?

Figure 1
Figure 4

[1] Grindr, a gay dating/hookup app, has received much derision in the past for its role in the perpetuation of racism non-white gay men face in digital spaces.
[2] Of course, this discussion presupposes that all Latinos have brown skin, which I can attest they do not.
[3] Branum frequently mentions this on episodes of the podcast Pop Rocket and elsewhere.