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By Andrew Yee
Our lgbt community is nothing if not diverse.
Contrary to the chiseled, waxed and beautiful – yet homogenized – images that gay magazines, TV shows and advertisers use to portray us, we do come in all shapes, sizes, colors, religions, HIV statuses, political beliefs, socioeconomic categories.
But, let’s face it. Real life is not an Abercrombie & Fitch ad campaign. As a gay Asian, I know this first-hand. Believe it or not, someone said to me, “I didn’t know Asians could be gay.” (And in case you’re wondering: I’m not the exception to the rule.)
I know the manufacturers of these images are not solely responsible for the one-dimensional way the world sees the lgbt community. Consumers – myself included – perpetuate these images by unthinkingly buying into them.
Details magazine editor Daniel Peres agrees. “Everyone is terrified of a misstep,” he writes. “While most people in the business would prefer it go unspoken because they are horrified at being perceived as racist, it is a well-known legend that [people of color] do not help generate newsstand sales.”
However, is it the media that takes its cues from our community or is it our community that takes their cues from the media? For gay Asians, one explanation for our lack of visibility in the community is the deep-rooted homophobia found in our cultures.
I know a number of gay Asians who do not necessarily want to be known or out in the community at large. For Asians, being gay is seemingly more taboo and detrimental than it is for our Caucasian counterparts, so being closeted could be more important as a means of survival.
The fear of being disowned by family or being excluded from the general Asian community keeps many gay Asians in the closet.
Growing up in a white suburb, I’m familiar with outcast status. I was asked by my kindergarten classmates why my eyes were different. To make things more trying for me, in my teens I accepted that I was gay. I eventually came out when I was eighteen. It was scary and exhilarating.
I thought the gay community was going to be the first place in my life where I felt I belonged. I was naive, and had this preconceived notion about the gay community – that it was about individuality and self-expression.
However, upon my first visit to a gay bar, I quickly realized that everyone looked the same, danced the same and smelled the same. (Was I at a dance club or at the Marshall Field’s Eternity-by-Calvin-Klein counter?)
That first experience was like a hybrid of high school prom (without girls) and Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World. It certainly sucked since I was definitely not an Alpha male.
On the flip side of finding myself in another situation where I was once again in the minority – there was a moment where my non-whiteness paid off. (Supposedly.) A friend whispered in my ear, “That guy’s checking you out. He’s a total rice queen.”
I had never heard the term “rice queen” before so I asked what it meant.
“Hello! He’s into Asian guys,” this friend clued me in.
I guess I found it slightly flattering at the time, but I also couldn’t help but feel slightly degraded and objectified as well. I had always felt that being Asian meant being out-of-it in some way. Now, it was disturbing to me that the thing I didn’t feel great about was being the object of someone’s desires.
Since then, I have found that I can talk to 100 people and find that they have 100 different interests. Just take a peek at the personals column in any gay rag and you will find plenty of examples. GWM seeks left-handed, blond, submissive bottom, with no body hair. Must be less than six feet tall and willing to travel. An interest in antiques a plus.
People can express interests from animals and porn to animals in porn and nobody flinches. However, whenever I talk about fashion – one of my great loves – I often get negative feedback. People seem to think that being into fashion is a waste of time and energy.
Not long ago I was facilitating an HIV-support group for gay/bisexual men, and we were talking about the types of guys we’re attracted to. One man looked at me and said, “No offense, Andrew, but I wouldn’t date an Asian. I’m just not attracted to them.
I looked as his feet and replied, half-jokingly, “I would never date a man who wore cheap shoes.”
Oh, brother! I couldn’t believe the response that my comment got from the group. I was being judged shallow and superficial. Fashion, indeed.
To me, it’s a double standard that someone can openly express their disinterest in me because of my ethnicity or use my ethnicity to satisfy a fetish, but I can’t show my disdain for bad shoes!
Perhaps it would be more acceptable if I said I had a shoe fetish.
Ah, yes. DIM SUM … a little of this, a little of that.