Gay Anti-Asian Prejudice Thrives On the Internet
Over the past several weeks, EDGE has dug deep into an issue often overlooked within the LGBT community: Racism - manifested both subtly and overtly - against queer people of color. In this specific series, we have delved into the experiences of gay Asian men, who typically face a pronounced stigma marked by stereotypes of femininity, docility and exoticness at the hands of other, usually urban American gay men.
As Part One of this series discussed, terms like "rice queen" and other stereotypes are closely tied in with the broader Asian American experience, as Asian males’ sexuality has typically been either ignored and belittled as feminine by mainstream media.
As described in that first article, the simmering stereotypes against gay Asian men came to a head in 2004, when Details Magazine ran a controversial "Gay or Asian?" feature. It ignited the community--gay Asians and heterosexual straight male Asians--into action with a raucous protest at that magazine’s New York headquarters and an embarrassed "meal culpa" from the editor.
Today, as Part Two addressed, gay Asian men’s groups can be found in most major American cities. But organizers still face obstacles in their efforts to overcome bias, battling language barriers and at-times deeply internalized feelings of inferiority within the community itself.
As a result, many gay Asian men refrain from associating with or dating other men like them. Unfortunately, such self-protection may be empowering but it also further isolates the community and reinforces existing stereotypes.
In this, the final installment of this article, we ask the question of what influence the Internet has had on gay Asian men’s self-esteem and organizing. The ’Net has been described as "the ultimate democratizer" of modern society, but its anonymity can also provide the final frontier for prejudice to rear its ugly head.
Finally, this article strives to arrive at the final question: What can be done, both by the entire LGBT community and gay Asian men themselves, in order to foster a more inclusive and diverse queer nation? Are such biases an inevitable byproduct of a community that insists on defining peopleby preference for physical and racial typecasting? Or is change possible?
Please note, as in previous articles, in the interest of coherence and brevity, this story focuses on men within the Asian and Pacific Islander (or API) communities whose heritage takes root in Eastern nations of the sprawling continent--including, but not limited to, China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines. Queer men from other parts of the continent, as well as women and transgender people, encounter social stigmas and experiences largely unique to their identity groups, though some overlap is to be expected. Still, for the purposes of this article, I have restricted myself to the Pacific Rim and Oceania (excluding the British Commonwealth countries of Australia and New Zealand), but which does not include ethnicities of the Indian Subcontinent.
Social Networking, Hook-Up Sites Aid-Even Foster-Prejudice?
Many progressive activists have praised the Internet for its unprecedented potential to share information and connect otherwise separated people. The reality of many gay Asian male users of dating and hookup sites, however, falls far short of Utopia.
It is not at all unusual to come across one particularly exclusionary triad: "No fatties, no femmes, no Asians." The "not into Asians" is virtually a mantra in personal ads, as Internet users hide behind their virtual anonymity to use racially-charged, taunting language.
Such experiences mirror that of the discrimination against many men trying to get into nightclubs because bar owner fear a club’s reputation will suffer if it becomes "too Asian"--a trend New York City’s GAPIMNY is attempting to document and, ultimately, prevent.
Patrick Cheng, a Cambridge, Mass.-based theologian and writer on a variety of queer Asian topics, argues there’s more substance behind such "instant disqualifying" exclusions of API men than simply an issue of personal preference. Such instant rejections go a long way in contributing to a segregating force within the queer community.
"There’s nothing worse than to see a blanket exclusion like ’No Asians,’" Cheng says. "People respond that it’s not racist, that it’s just what they prefer, but I think sexual types are much more fluid than that and can evolve depending on how good you feel about yourself or other people."
The danger of the "No Asians" disclaimer is that it prematurely bars the feeling of any sort of "sparks" before other facets of attraction--such as a strong intellectual or emotional connection--can even be assessed, according to Angel Abcede, spokesman for the queer API advocacy group Asians & Friends Chicago (AFC). Instead, Asian men are often sent back to square one purely on the basis of their ethnicity and sweeping generalizations about penis size, sexual roles and sexual activity (or lack thereof), among other stereotypes.
"The Internet and social networking haven’t erased some of the basic things that need to happen in terms of people connecting with each other and looking for that physical connection with another person," Abcede said. "I don’t think the Internet erases any of the negativity within the larger LGBT community or within ourselves and how we feel about each other."
All Queer Men of Color Suffer From Such Ostracism
Internet dating, while making community among gay API men possible, has probably caused more harm than good for many queer people of color, notes Chong-suk Han, a prominent researcher on LGBT Asian issues at Middlebury College in Vermont.
Queer men of color in particular, Han argues, not only face exclusionary messages in predominately white queer communities online, but also do not see others like them represented in promotional and advertising images on sites like Manhunt and other LGBT news and entertainment sites.
This points to larger issues than solely the concerns of queer Asian people.
"The Internet is spreading what the LGBT community considers to be the ’ideal’ gay person, and yet no one looks like these young, very white men. But the idea of these images is that’s the way you should look if you are gay," Han told EDGE. "You could argue these images further alienate gay men of color who are not seeing people who look like them in these images. It might make them feel even more alone, like they don’t really belong here [in our community] either."
Queer people of color have frequently been scapegoated via urban myths launched from both the LGBT community and socially conservative forces. Black men having sex with men "on the down low" is blamed for the spread of HIV in the African-American community. Following the passage of Prop 8 in California, several prominent gay political voices, including Dan Savage, almost immediately pointed their fingers at black and Latino voters, despite polling data to the contrary.
Such myths are just two examples of many contributing to a widely difficult environment facing LGBT people of color hoping to live openly queer lives while also honoring their ethnic backgrounds.
"It’s very difficult for all gay people of color to come out of the closet because we have more to lose," Han added. "We enter into a gay community that isn’t the most welcoming to us, so if we do lose the support of our families, we are left with fewer places to turn. The fear is we might end up with nothing."
It is also worth noting that Black and Latino men also combat stereotypical expectations of their sexualities, in their case an often hyper-masculinized set of biases that sometimes make it tricky for men to find a foothold in community. Their seemingly opposite problem from gay Asian men, it could be argued, shares a similar root cause.