|The Truth About Gay Asian Men|
By Jason Chang
"Are you sticky?"
It was a hot summer evening in Boston almost a decade ago, and I was one of only two Asian men in a crowded, predominantly white gay club. The other guy in the room had been smiling at me all evening and finally came up to make small talk. I was trying to politely convey my lack of interest in him when he asked that strange question.
"Well, yeah," I replied. "It's very hot in here." He laughed and said he wasn't asking about my skin but whether I was attracted to other Asian men -- "Sticky, like sticky rice" he clarified, "rice that clings together." There's "sticky rice," he said, and there are "potato queens" -- Asians who only date white men.
It's been eight years since, but I've never forgotten that conversation because it started me on the road to questioning my racial preferences. They had always been a reflex, not anything I had really thought about until that evening. Why was I attracted only to white men, I asked myself. Why wouldn't I even consider another Asian guy as a potential partner? I'd been attracted to white men since my earliest memory. From my preadolescent crushes to my teen idols, my white knight had always been, well, white. The only Asians I saw on TV or in the movies were houseboys or nerds, and there were certainly no Asian male models in the pages of the fashion magazines my friends and I so fervently perused.
I realized I was not alone in this. Most of the gay Asians I knew would only date white guys, and most of us just accepted this as the norm. But as I looked more deeply into the phenomenon, I was astonished by how widespread it was, at just how huge a percentage of gay Asian men were attracted only to white men.
I thought of how my gay Asian friends and I accepted dates from Caucasian men we weren't even attracted to, just so we could have a white partner. And most of the gay white men we met were not interested in dating Asians. As in heterosexual society, Asian men were considered to be at the absolute bottom in the hierarchy of desirability. It seemed that the only white men who were interested in dating Asians were "rice queens" -- a non-Asian man, usually much older, who dates Asian men exclusively, with a single-minded passion bordering on fetishism and with attendant expectations of how Asians should behave. The white men who could see us as individuals and not stereotypes were few and far between, so we potato queens just took whichever potatoes came our way.
After that night in Boston, though, I became determined to examine my own prejudices against dating Asian men and to fight the lifelong conditioning that had taught me to think of myself and other Asian men as inferior to white men. As my own ethnic self-esteem grew, I found myself becoming more and more attracted to other Asian men. I began looking to meet and chat with other "sticky" Asian men. But they weren't easy to find.
I started noticing that in gay magazines and newsweeklies, almost every personals ad placed by a "GAM" (gay Asian male) was for a "GWM" (gay white male). I observed that while America Online would always have three or more member-created "GAM4GWM" (gay Asian men for gay white men) chat rooms at any time of the day or night, all filled to capacity, there would only be one "GAM4GAM" room that usually only had a handful of participants. It wasn't just that gay Asian men were mainly looking for Caucasian partners, it was also that many were strongly, viscerally opposed to ever dating another Asian.
On AOL, I sent instant messages to literally hundreds of other gay Asians, searched member profiles through the member directory and perused hundreds of personals ads. Most of my IMs to other Asians on AOL were met with stony cybersilence or a one-line "Sorry, not into other Asians" reply. The sad thing was that I wasn't even looking for those who only dated other Asians, just those who would even consider an Asian for a partner. Of 110 personals ads placed by gay Asian men in AOL's Photo Personals section, for example, I counted 54 that had marked "white" or "Latino" in the racial preferences boxes, but excluded "Asian."
In the afterword of the book version of his Tony Award-winning play, M. Butterfly, playwright David Henry Hwang wrote, "In these relationships, the Asian virtually always plays the role of the 'woman'; the Rice Queen, culturally and sexually, is the 'man.' This pattern of relationships has become so codified that, until recently, it was considered unnatural for gay Asians to date one another. Such men would be taunted with a phrase which implied they were lesbians."
The use of the term "lesbian" to identify gay Asian men who are attracted to each other is a stunning indication of how many gay Asian men perceive that only white men are "real" men and that Asian men who date each other are therefore "lesbians" -- two "women" together. Mainstream society's stereotyping of Asian men as feminine is raised to a grotesque level in the gay community.
The pursuit of a white boyfriend is so intense that many gay Asian men would sooner date a much older white male partner than another Asian. Asian and Friends and the Long Yang Club are both social organizations with numerous chapters around the world that are designed for Asian men to meet Caucasian partners. I had attended some of their events in cities from Sydney to New York, and all I saw were 50-something white guys with their 20-something Asian boyfriends.
"I used to wonder what the deal was with these young Asian guy/older white guy couples that I saw all the time," says Patrick, a Caucasian gay male in his 30s who lives in New York and has dated Asians. "When I started getting to know some of them, I found that often the Asian guys were just settling for whatever white guy would have them, and there was usually this economic inequality. Even if the Asian guy was making decent money, there was this inequality in power and status."
This inequality in status between Asians and Caucasians can be seen even in places that cater to gay Asians: The Web, an Asian-owned nightclub in Manhattan, used to allow Caucasian patrons in for free while charging Asians -- the idea being that Caucasian men were more important and desirable, since Asians were going to the club to meet Caucasian partners. The concept is similar to "ladies night" at heterosexual nightspots; women are at a premium, so they get in for free.
At Long Yang Club and Asians and Friends meetings, I chatted with other Asian men and asked them how they think they came to prefer white partners so exclusively. Bert, a 34-year-old Filipino from Boston said, "I just never thought Asian men were beautiful. My God, I certainly never thought of myself as beautiful. I want an all-American boyfriend."
"To be honest, I see other Asian guys as competition," said Paul, a 28-year-old Filipino American. "I can be friends with other Asian guys, but I'll never date them." Chris, a 26-year-old Chinese American living in Philadelphia has also experienced the cold shoulder from other gay Asians. "Many of the Asian guys here don't acknowledge my existence in the bars; they see me as competition for the few white men that are attracted to Asians."
Some potato-only Asians became highly defensive when asked about their exclusive preference for white men. Most said they saw nothing wrong with being attracted only to white men, that it had nothing to do with self-hatred or media conditioning. "And even if I've been conditioned by the media, so what?" asked Matt, a 24-year-old Chinese American New Yorker whose last partner was a 46-year-old Caucasian. "We're all conditioned by the media. I like white men, period."
Interestingly, my chats with Asians around the country and online showed a fairly clear geographic division: gay Asian men in California were significantly more open to dating Asians than gay Asians on the East Coast. Perhaps California's longer history and larger Asian American population have simply provided gay Asians with more Asian men to serve as positive role models and teenage crushes.
We often criticize the mainstream media for turning Asian men into desexualized caricatures, but the situation is much worse in gay culture. "There's already so much emphasis on physical beauty within gay male culture," says Ian, a 36-year-old Asian New Yorker who has had long-term relationships with both whites and Asians. "It's even harder for gay Asian men who do not fit the very narrow standard of what is considered desirable -- the muscle-bound, hyper-masculine look." Ian now describes himself as "very sticky," but he'd count himself in the minority. "The fact is most white men are not attracted to Asian men, and worse, Asian men are not attracted to each other."
As a reformed potato queen myself, one for whom race is now the least important factor in whom I date and love, I am optimistic that there's hope for us all. As Asian Americans assert themselves more in the media and as the number of real-life role models increase, I believe that more gay Asian men will be able to realize that they can be as beautiful, sexy, attractive and desirable as any blond-haired, blue-eyed hunk.Quote this article on your site