Art by Eve Archer.
Written by E Young
Quick: what’s the usual White People answer we get when we express the need to create our own spaces without them? “But why do you have to separate yourself off like that? I thought we were supposed to be…”, fill in the rest with a corny buzzword of your choice.
Of course it gets a little more complex when you occupy more than one margin. As a queer Black person, believe it or not, I don’t actually want to hang out with all black people. The truth is, I don’t want to see or be seen by straight/cis people at all, and that includes my skinfolk. And yet, I don’t want to have to choose between my race and my sexuality. I don’t want to have to ask nicely to just be included. I don’t want your wack attempts at inclusion. I just want to be surrounded by other queer and trans people of color. I want to be able to meet with them and date them. Is that a lot to ask? In this world, it certainly seems so.
The spectacular crash n’ burn of a certain popular Queer personal ad Instagram account has exemplified why, in the dating and meet-up sphere, queer people of color need our own spaces created for us and by us.– E Young
The spectacular crash n’ burn of a certain popular Queer personals Instagram account has exemplified why, in the dating and meet-up sphere, queer people of color need our own spaces created for us and by us. We queer folks of color have had to carve out our own spaces for so long that it’s almost second nature, and thus it is no surprise when a group formed by white people can’t hold space for us. From personal experience, making space has become both an obligation and a chore. For even the most niche interest, assimilation is expected or assumed, even by other POCs, and the only other option is to leave. But is that a real option? How fair can it be to be shoved into even smaller corners of existence?
Evidence suggests that twice as many queer singles are using dating apps over their heterosexual counterparts. Why? The simple answer is that it’s easier and safer to find each other and form communities online.
Dating and meet-up apps have gotten more inclusive in terms of gender and sexuality, but are still falling behind when it comes to race—which is ridiculous when you consider studies showing that people of color comprise over 30% of the LGBTQ+ community. And it’s no secret that the white LGBTQ+ community has a serious race problem—sounds like a ratio for disaster. There have been attempts at creating more inclusive meeting places for people of color, but these apps are still struggling to gain visibility and popularity, thus remaining “underground” in comparison to more mainstream options. In the end, we go back to the same apps because they’re more viable—it’s a business after all.
Instagram, a visual platform that recreates our high school moodboards, isn’t exactly known to be sensitive or effective against targeted bigotry. Following suit, queer spaces on Instagram remain Quite White™ and homogenous despite occasional larks at inclusivity. Queer POCs looking for connections often only encounter well-meaning white folks looking to mark up their Coloured Score Card.
I reached out to creators creating safer spaces for QTPOCs, even if it means closing the gates off to allies who might want to slip in without paying the Signal Boost tax—maybe especially that part.
QPOC Personals is an Instagram dating page that was created as a reaction to the exclusion of QTPOCs in queer meet-up and dating spaces. They state, “Constantly being fed posts about white people wanting to scissor each other while reading The Argonauts out loud does something very damaging to your mental health as a queer and trans person of color.”
I asked the collective about their formation: “QPOC Personals grew from a place of deep desire and longing to finally carve out a corner of Instagram for all of the queer and trans people of color to see, be seen, and love up on each other. Kelly Rakowski created an account called Personals, modeled after the personal ads written by Black and brown lesbians searching for companionship in this vintage 80’s/90’s lesbian erotica magazine called On Our Backs. It [became] apparent that this was not going to be a page that prioritized queer and trans people of color, at all. We found this ironic, but not surprising because Rakowski initially received Instagram notoriety for curating a page full of historical images she has collected of lesbians of color, whose following consists largely of white queer people.”
Often the impetus for creating our own spaces involves feelings of rage, disappointment, isolation, and desperation. Most importantly, these spaces are crucial to survival, sharing resources, and coping. The QPOC Personals Team explains:
“We have been very vocal about challenging the racism of [other] Instagram accounts popular with white queer people because none of the owners have responded properly by unpacking their role in all of the things that can be done to support QTPOC.”
“We grapple with the material reality of attempting to survive every day of our lives, not knowing if we’ll see the next after each swipe of racist transphobia we experience… [We] were suffocating from inside the white walls of this so-called inclusive queer space.”
– Founders – QPOC Personals
Nashville creator, consultant, producer, and model Bliss Cortez is the creator and admin for QTPOC Nashville, which is a private Facebook-only group for queer folks of color focused on trans inclusion. When discussing what drove them to create QTPOC Nashville, they stated:
“I was the token for everything. The token black person, the token queer person. Everything about me was ‘sooo interesting’. I was back to being that ‘weird kid’ that everyone tolerated. I’d go days without coworkers talking to me. I went years without being invited to lunch while I watched everyone pair off for long lunches. I wasn’t included, and no one wanted to get to know me unless if they had a random ass question like, ‘How are you poly? What does that mean? Can you explain everything?’ ‘Why do you want to go by those pronouns?’ ‘How did you get your hair like that?’ ‘What does ‘take an L’ mean?’ At a breaking point, I [decided to start] a group for queer people of colour that was trans inclusive.”
But maintaining an accessible and safe space for all isn’t always easy. QPOC Personals describes the push back that the group has received for blocking white people that attempt to follow the account and lurk:
“We strive to do whatever possible to keep QPOC Personals a safe space for all of our QTPOC community by encouraging followers to use respectful language to communicate their desires, and call-in one another [instead of policing] when they make a mistake. We also prioritize posting submissions from QTPOC we don’t receive as many from (i.e. 30+, disabled, etc.) while always keeping our space a place for queer Black folks to thrive.”
“We wanted to try keeping our page public when we first created it in order to make it more easily accessible to QTPOC, but we were forced to make it private and start vetting follow requests when white people began to invade our space to harass us and pour hatred towards members of our community.”
“Our most stringent guideline is requesting that white people not follow, message, or interact with our page unless they are aiming to support us by sending a donation, or telling QTPOC they may know about our efforts with QTPOC community building. If you tell a white person that they don’t have the right to something, you can trust that they will rush right up to your face and try to snatch it out of your hands, even if it’s an Instagram made by and for queer and trans people of color to meet each other! We wanted to try keeping our page public when we first created it in order to make it more easily accessible to QTPOC, but we were forced to make it private and start vetting follow requests when white people began to invade our space to harass us and pour hatred towards members of our community.”
QTPOC Nashville, on Facebook, likewise adopts a “no white people, kthx” policy:
“The group description specifically says who the group is for. It is not for white people, it is not for allies, it is not for someone’s white partner. It is a safe space for us for a reason. Nashville doesn’t have many spaces specifically for us, so it is important to honour that.”
The group also includes accessibility measures for people with disabilities, notably enforcing image descriptions:
“There was some initial push back to image description usage. There were individuals who expressed that it was a waste of their time and unfair to them. I spent days talking to them and mediating the confrontation that had arisen from the image description request. The group agreed to following through on descriptions, and asking for help with them if time/energy was an issue. I do my damndest to make sure that everyone uses detailed image descriptions for posts to be sure that people who use screen readers can still be included. I also check in when I can to make sure people are feeling good, and if I can do more. I won’t say it’s perfect, but I try my best and I’m not scared to be taught a thing!”
But despite the challenges, the most valuable thing found within these communities? Hope. As an emerging space for romance between queer folks of color, QPOC Personals has a lot to be proud of.
“We sensed that many QTPOC didn’t feel comfortable detailing their [sexual] desires in front of so many white people […] and it’s been so cool to witness QPOC Personals become a space where our community can find the comfort to flaunt their sexualities and finally take up space to heal through sharing kinks with each other.”
“QPOC Personals has been the catalyst that we’ve all been waiting for in illuminating so much art from our community that has transformed our imagination for what a queer future, with an actual sense of belonging in this world, could look and feel like. Creating this space for our community has successfully crossed the limitations of our present feelings of alienation and political pessimism, and has opened a window for us to see the hope and utopia José Esteban Muñoz urged us to find for our survival.”
For Bliss, some of the sacrifices have been more personal, but no less rewarding.
“[With] microaggressions, foolishness, etcetera, we’re so tiiired. It’s becoming harder and harder to leave the house and risk the world outside, but we have to support one another.”
“I think the hardest part […] is when I put on events. I don’t quite get to enjoy the events myself. I’m focusing on if people have arrived. Are they safe? Do they have what they need? Is everyone having fun? Etcetera, etcetera. It’s tough. But when everyone is together and hugging and giggling, it makes my heart so happy to know that I helped make that happen. That that lonely ass human from a few years ago is a little less lonely, and I helped establish friendships for others. [With] microaggressions, foolishness, etcetera, we’re so tiiired. It’s becoming harder and harder to leave the house and risk the world outside, but we have to support one another.”
Art via Eve Archer.
E. Young is a queer Southern writer. Pretty queer, quite black, and equipped with only the hottest of takes, they can be found wherever bad movies are sold. Has too many cats and not enough time for anything, and is in fact only kind of mad some of the time.