One thing you find when you look at most people’s profiles on gay dating apps be it Tinder or Grindr, are their supposed preferences (‘no fats’, ‘no femmes’, ‘whites only’ etc.), followed by ‘sorry its just a preference’ or ‘no offence just my preference.’
Many people tend to think that merely classifying something as a preference absolves it of any form of scrutiny. However, this is not the case. Preferences do not occur in a vacuum; we do not just wake up one day and start to prefer slim guys to fat guys or ‘straight acting guys’ (a term I really hate) to effeminate guys instead social conditioning shaped those preferences.
Social conditioning according to Wikipedia “is the sociological process of training individuals in a society to respond in a manner generally approved by the society in general and peer groups within society.” It goes on to say that “the social structure in which an individual finds him or herself influences and can determine their social actions and responses.” What this means is that, we are unconsciously trained by the society in which we find ourselves to believe, think or do things in a certain way. Our preferences are not independent of our society or our surroundings rather they are a product of our society and surroundings. Society is not free of biases, it possesses both good and bad biases and if a biased society is influencing our preferences, it means that our preferences may or may not be innocent and as such must be investigated.
An investigation does not always lead to a guilty charge, sometimes people are found innocent and the same goes for our preferences. However, I find that more often than not most of our preferences as gay men are actually just prejudices and we are more comfortable labeling them as preferences because we either do not know that they are actually prejudices or because we think preferences excuse everything. Unfortunately, we cannot ‘sorry it’s just a preference’ our way out of prejudice. We have to confront ourselves, face our own biases and learn and unlearn. James Giles, the author of ‘Sexual Attraction – The Psychology of Allure’ points that romantic attraction is not fully under our control but it is not fully beyond our control either, so our preferences are not as rigid as we would like to think, with determination we can indeed work on them.
With that being said though, I believe that it is only the owner of a preference that can actually tell whether the preference he holds comes from a good place or from a prejudiced place. Although I can’t think of a non-prejudiced reason why someone would not like say fat guys or femme guys for example, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and let them be the judge of their own preferences.
I am not saying that people cannot or should not have preferences; rather I am arguing that we should not view preferences as this sacrosanct thing that cannot be questioned. We ought to look at our preferences and look at the reasoning behind them, that way we can ascertain whether our minds are in a good place or a prejudiced place.
Lastly, its all about respect, we ought to be respectful to everyone and treat everyone with the dignity they deserve as human beings. If we find our preferences to be non-prejudiced we can state them without being condescending. Statements like “No femmes, if I was looking for one I would find a girl” or “no fats, sorry not just my thing” should have no place in our discourse because they can be dehumanizing and disrespectful.
Anthony Jones (a pen name) is a graduate of Coventry University where he holds a Masters degree in International Business. He is very passionate about issues around social justice and equity.