Finding relationships — romantic or otherwise — can be challenging for the gay millennial living in New York City. Some are new to the city and are preoccupied with building a home for themselves. Others have lived in the city for years but may have experienced a recent breakup or are looking for a fresh start with new friends.
It’s a challenge that isn’t unique to New York City, of course. Gay millennial men everywhere struggle with finding meaningful connections. With queer spaces closing for various reasons, community can be hard to find among the country’s concrete jungles and urban spaces once renowned as gay meccas. In 2018, many turn to apps to create new connections with those around them.
But with so many options at the tips of our fingers, searching for a meaningful connection can feel overwhelming. Psychologists call this phenomenon choice overload, when “more options lead to fewer selections — and, it turns out, less satisfaction with the choices made.”
This experience is common for anyone searching for love in the digital age, but especially the gay millennial.
22 year-old photographer Leo Chang is using his latest photo project to shine a light on gay millennial love in the digital age. His subjects include couples around him who are his age and who found success with cultivating meaningful connections, both on apps and off.
Chang admits his fascination stems from his own failure in forging a relationship, something he partially contributes to the challenges gay men of color like him face when dating.
We had the opportunity to ask Chang some questions. Here’s what he told us.
HORNET: What inspired you to do this photo project dealing with gay millennial love?
LEO CHANG: The project was initially born out of a desire to find out how other gay millennial men in New York seemed to be so successful in cultivating meaningful relationships, despite the fact that I found a recurring lack of reciprocity with regards to my own attempts to find a romantic interest.
When I found out that 80% of gay men now find committed relationships online, that really motivated me to explore the topic of gay millennial love in the digital age. Throughout the process of completing this book, I’m happy that the conversations I’ve had not only center around how gay men are meeting today, but the struggles certain men face because of their cultural position within the gay community.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve encountered in your own dating life?
My race has certainly been a significant marker with regards to how I’ve perceived my success in the dating scene. From my experience, Asian men in the gay community are more often than not left by the wayside in terms of desirability because of stereotypes and stigma. There’s always the specter of going on a date with the guy who turns out to be a fetishist, or the one who makes a joke about penis size or piano lessons.
What stands out to me even more, however, is the lack of eye contact and attention I notice directed towards myself and other Asian men within a setting like a nightclub, in comparison to men of other races. That, to me, speaks volumes about the attitudes the gay community at large still holds towards Asian men.
Frankly speaking, there have been times where I have wondered if certain men, who seemed to lose interest even after a great first few dates, would have felt differently towards me if I was white.
Do you use gay apps?
Definitely. I think it’s a great way for people to meet. I think in general the accessibility that apps can afford in terms of the volume of people I can interact with and meet has really taught me what I do and do not want, not only from a romantic relationship but from friendships as well.
How do you think racism manifests on gay dating apps themselves?
Racism that may manifest itself subtly in real life can be blatantly overt online. Gay dating apps overwhelmingly value Eurocentricity, which, on a certain level is understandable because of the conditioning we receive from birth to perceive beauty and compatibility, but becomes inexcusable when used as a defense of preference.
I think the evidence speaks for itself if you look at the amount of engagement someone like myself or another person of color receives on an app versus our white counterparts. Of course, different people can be drawn to different things, but I’d challenge those who view an entire race as ineligible for consideration to think about how they have been influenced by external factors their entire lives to shape those opinions.
What do you hope people take away from your photo project on gay millennial love, and what’s next for you?
On one hand, I hope this project can be a reassurance that fostering a meaningful romantic relationship today is still a possibility, even with the amount of potential new matches people have access to at their fingertips.
On another, I want to shed light on the personal experiences gay millennial men have had in navigating both their love lives and the gay community while showing how similar some of these experiences can be.
What’s next is certainly making sure I meet the deadline to send the book to print.