Cross Country Checkup

Dating apps can be 'disheartening' experience for people of colour

Despite increasing awareness of sexual racism and efforts to reduce discriminatory language, people of colour are rebuffed, ignored and fetishized for their skin tone while using dating apps and websites.

On gay dating apps, Filipino-Canadian Collin Factor was told he's attractive — 'for an Asian guy'

Collin Factor produced a YouTube video in 2016 about his experiences dating as a gay Asian man. (Submitted by Collin Factor)
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When Collin Factor first logged onto dating apps six years ago, the Filipino-Canadian man was often rebuffed before he even had a chance to introduce himself.

"No femmes, no fats, no Asians," some of the profiles read, he says.

It was a common refrain on the gay dating apps, like Grindr, which Factor used. The phrase highlights a so-called preference that some gay or bisexual men have for masculine, fit and non-Asian men.

"If they're saying no Asians, they're not into Asian guys and they would rather you not swipe and even message them at all," Factor, 27, told Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue.

"It's very disheartening but I think I've come to the point where you realize that you wouldn't want to be associated with those type of people anyways," he added.

The following video includes frank discussions of sexuality and mature language

Gay Asian men aren't alone when it comes to racial profiling on dating apps.

A 2018 study by Cornell University found apps that allow users to filter potential matches by race, or that use algorithms to pair users with people of the same race, reinforce racial divisions and biases.

Black men and women, for example, were 10 times more likely to message white users than white users messaging black people, the study's authors found.

While Factor, who is single, says that his experiences on dating apps have improved over the last several years — largely due to movements pushing back against discrimination — issues remain.

Fetishizing minorities

Racism exists in more subtle ways, he says. In some cases, he's been told that he's attractive — "for an Asian guy."

"When I was first coming to terms with my sexuality, and starting to date, that was a compliment — in my head," he said. "If I were to hear that now, obviously, I would find it extremely offensive."

Fetishization is also a concern. Among gay men, the term "rice queen" is used to label non-Asian men who date Asian men.

"It's hard, it's really hard to really navigate and manage because sometimes I reflect on, and I wonder if, [when] I'm dating somebody and they've only dated Asian guys, does that weird me out?" he asked.

Bridget Antwi, known as The Dating Doula, encourages her clients to reduce their use of dating apps when they're feeling fatigued by the experience. (Shutterstock)

Women of colour face fetishism in different ways, says Bridget Antwi who calls herself The Dating Doula.

The Toronto woman helps online daters — women of colour and black women, particularly — improve their online profiles and photos and even messages potential mates on behalf of those experiencing dating "fatigue."

Experiencing racial discrimination, she told McCue, "can be really wearing to people sometimes." Men will objectify women of colour based on their skin colour, she says.

"I guess they think it's a joke, but it's kind of racial referring to them as 'chocolate' or ... saying things like, 'Oh yeah, I like ebony women,'" she said, adding that the latter term comes from pornography.

The 'Kindr' way

Some dating services have made changes to reduce discrimination, not only based on race but gender identity and ability as well.

Last September, the company behind Grindr launched the "Kindr" campaign featuring a series of videos addressing racial discrimination, transphobia and HIV stigma. The company also banned "discriminatory statements" displayed in profiles.

The following video contains graphic language

For those facing dating app fatigue, Antwi suggests taking time away from apps, encouraging her clients to step back for a few weeks.

Meanwhile, with only days until Feb. 14, Factor says he's less concerned about the preferences of his fellow app users.

"Especially with Valentine's Day coming up, it's very in-the-atmosphere right now to be reflecting on whether or not you're single or in a relationship," he said.

Written by Jason Vermes. Interview with Collin Factor produced by Samantha Lui.