By Dan Singh. Dan is the lead facilitator for South Asian HangOuts, a peer support and social group for South Asian gay, bisexual and trans men. Information, stories and anecdotes are based on discussion and feedback for the South Asian HangOuts group. 

As South Asian GBT+ men, and as people of colour in general, we sometimes don't get the opportunity to get together in safe inclusive spaces to discuss our experiences of dating and hooking up. We simply do not want to just ‘fit in’ in a space that doesn’t always feel safe, but also celebrate and not hide ourselves or be quiet on the parts that we truly like about being South Asian or from a mixed heritage; whether this is through our digital selves or non-digital selves. Hook-up apps can often leave us feeling rejected and excluded leading to further isolation and loneliness. So, managing your online profile, the amount of time you spend on an app and what you are looking for, are just some things to consider.  

Being visible is not always easy 

Anecdotally, for some of us South Asian GBT+ men when we first come out on to the scene, we are visibly in the minority, looking for friendships, hook-ups, intimacy, to be desired and hopefully meeting ‘the right one’ for life. Often the feeling of being stared at by some of the ‘white’ majority in pubs, bars and clubs, can be internalised negatively, and there is no surprise there. This negative internalisation of the stare of course depends on our childhood upbringing, our cultural norms, who we have mixed with socially previously and the way we may just look different and not ‘fit in’ a being our authentic queer selves. It can also stem from being excluded, or rather constantly blocked from hook-up apps, or at least that’s what it might feel like. Having said this, over the last 20 years, South Asian gay, bi, trans, queer or questioning men, tell me there is often pressure to ‘fit in. Often, we cannot relate to the music we are hearing, the desire to hear South Asian tracks, or the culture of alcohol and clubbing. All this can have a disconnect or one can also utilise this to be a place of discovery too; the fusion of music, the fashion and culture. The stereotyping we all do doesn’t really help either and the non-verbal communications are often read incorrectly, depending on where our own self-esteem is low and how often perhaps, we have been rejected digitally on hook-up or dating apps, that becomes the first trigger. Perhaps we are all looking down too much on our mobile phones and need to start looking up and around at all the men we see for all their colours and intersectionality. But really looking, without over staring of course.

Creator of your digital landscape 

For some people, after one or a few negative experiences, we may decide not to go back to ‘that’ bar or club because of perhaps how a negative experience was handled by bar staff. Albeit in my own experience, bar staff are generally better at dealing with racism and discrimination but there's still a long way to go. We often find sanctuary in our very own popular Gay South Asian club nights (including Club Kali, Khusty Nights, Club Zindigi, Naacho Club), our ever popular social support meet-ups, including South Asian HangOuts, GIN Saathi Deeper Connections, GIN socials, Sarbats Sikh LGBT, Dost from Naz Project, Yarana from Birmingham LGBT and Dosti group from Trade Sexual Health. For some of us who are working through our sexuality and gender it may be a big step to even go to a LGBTQIA+ space, let alone a South Asian queer ‘safe’ space and because of fear, we retreat to the safety of a hook-up and dating app and present our digital selves to the world. 

If we are not out, or choose not to be, or we are married or just ‘men who like sex or are attracted to other men’ we may start off tentatively presenting ourselves on these hook-up apps with a blank profile with no face pic, or minimal identifiable information that others can relate to. Consequently, we are often just ignored in the window shopping of swiping left, right, down or an instant block. The privilege of being ‘out for some men, often forgetting how difficult their journey must have been or not, then proceed to place judgment by phrases like ‘this is 2024 – so no pic no chat’. And yes, we still get ‘no Asians, ‘no browns, ‘no coloured’s’ which is upsetting and damaging – and sometimes, yes still the P word is used! I think apps need to keep thinking how they can develop greater inclusivity, safety and anti-racist blocks.

I can also see how if there is no face pic and no profile information on apps it can be disconcerting for person viewing, in terms of developing trust. But the fear of being outed for our sexuality, gender or gender expression can be huge and overwhelming for the person with no profile pic. The genuine fear that they may be found out and just want to be curious and online, in hope that they may make connection is sometimes overwhelming desired. Being ‘out’ or not is an individual journey and no one should ever feel pressured to do so. There are filters people can use on these apps – for example some apps have a filter with ‘photos only rather than telling people that they should have a profile pic.  

How do we make the experience of using apps nourishing and safe? Are we communicating effectively what we want online? Are there other softer platforms to connect with men that may work better? How do we not get too addicted when using these apps and what is this all about? Just remember you are not alone in your experiences. Remember you are the creator of your digital landscape. You can acquire this healthy control. 

Staying safe 

In the digital age how best do we hook-up or date digitally, safely.  

Here is a short checklist of things to consider to make your hook-up time safer:

  • Always have an exit plan
  • Meet in public for a coffee or drink
  • Don’t share too much specific information about yourself straight away (i.e. where you live, who with, where you work and certainly no banking details)
  • Let a friend know of your location
  • Potentially allow a friend track your location
  • Don’t take your wallet if possible
  • If it feels like a ‘red flag’ it probably is
  • If your ‘gut’ feeling (that feeling in your tummy) make you feel uncomfortable then politely leave the situation, when you can. 

What is a red flag for you? For some it may be not meeting without a photo, not meeting outside in the dark, someone asking for money or the feeling of being pressured into meeting up. If you are not sure asking the person you are talking to might help or even better asking a friend or doing an internet search may save you time in deciding if the person you are chatting to works for you. Although with some apps a screen shot only records a blank image, we still need to be careful. The digital ghost of your nudes and ‘shows’ can come back to haunt you, as images can get saved and shared, screens can get recorded, and often without the consent of the picture or video’s subject. This can be potentially damaging, not only to someone’s daily life, but to someone’s mental health, and is a huge breach of trust and privacy. So do think about consent and what you share.  

I also think being clear in your profile about what you are looking for helps. Sometimes, connecting your photos with your hobbies and interests can help clarity. Also, being clear about what you are looking for sexually can also help. Often, we are wanting to be accepted and desired as our digital selves and live in fear of being rejected or blocked. So, I guess don’t just fall for an amazing photo but look at the whole profile and this may lead to a safer more realistic meet. You can also report profiles for breaching the guidelines or if you feel they are a scammer or they have been abusive etc. If you're experiencing an emergency and feel like your safety is in danger, call 999 and ask for the police.

Further reading