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25 Feb 2005

new stereotypes for a new century

Reader Andy Quan found Hidesato Sakakibara's article RQ: PQ (February 4, 2005) to be outdated, and just plain wrong. "If we're really going to fight racism, then how about we make sure we don't stereotype ourselves?"

Growing up Chinese-Canadian in Vancouver, and then doing my university studies in Ontario, I considered the ways that gay white men and gay Asian men interacted in North America to be not just an interest, but my personal business. It affected how I would meet men, date men and have sex with men. I've been writing about it ever since: in newspaper articles at my university; for gay community newspapers; in a collection of short fiction, Calendar Boy (published in both North America and Australia); and also online in articles about racism on the Internet.

I've also lived in Brussels and London, and now I make my home in Sydney. I've watched with fascination and pleasure at the growth of confidence in gay Asian men around the world, the different ways in which we talk about race and attraction, and the way we've asserted ourselves in places such as websites like Fridae, aimed at building a community of gay Asian men, happy in our skins.

So, I was quite surprised by Hidesato Sakakibara's online article RQ: PQ that appeared on Fridae recently. Originally published in 1999, it feels now to be not only dated, but wrong in many of its assertions. Perhaps at that particular time in New York City, the gay Asian scene resembled the world of the article, and I don't know what New York is like now. But come to Sydney, and you'll find a different world.

Gay Asian men here come from all over. There's a huge diversity in where we come from: Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, North America, Hong Kong, China - I could list every country in the region but that would be boring. In my experience, do they have an inferiority complex? No. Are they only attracted to white men? No.

I invite you to join me in the middle of the dance floor at Sydney's Mardi Gras party where you might come across a large group of gay Asian men from Australia and all over the region. Most of them are spectacularly handsome, and many are with their Asian boyfriends. Others have spectacularly handsome white boyfriends. I don't spend too much time intellectualising it all because I'm usually too horny at the sight of this beauty to think.

What I've found liberating in Sydney is the diversity of tastes and desires. I've met Asian men who are attracted to other Asian men, or to all races, or generally to white men. Meanwhile, there are many men of all races in Sydney who are attracted to Asian men. Some know Asia so well that they express specialised desires: for Japanese men only, or for Thai men.

When I was young, I met some horrible older white men. They had generally been on trips to Thailand, treated me like a young sex worker, and subscribed to awful stereotypes about how polite I would be and how rich my culture was (even though they had no idea what cultural background I came from). In time, and in my travels around the world, I met younger men who for any number of reasons (a foreign student exchange, a crush on an Asian classmate) were primarily attracted to Asian men, but without the power imbalances or racism. These days, happily, I meet and have sex with men who are attracted to me both because of my race and regardless of my race.

I think it's simplistic and reductivist to propose that Asian men who are attracted mostly to white men have an inferiority complex. What if it is an attraction to difference - which is not at all the same as feeling inferior? It took me ages to find myself attracted to other Asian men! Why? Because I hadn't met enough gay Asian men to be attracted to. After I'd come out, I'd met hundreds of white gay men. But it took me until my first meeting of Gay Asians of Vancouver to be in a room of twenty-five gay Asian men. Say I'm attracted to one out of every twenty-five guys (what's your percentage? ). If I wanted to find an Asian partner in a predominantly white society, it would mean I'd have to have a special fixation. I wouldn't consider anything wrong with this, it's just that it would have taken a LOT more effort.

I do think that some gay Asian men have at times idealised a white body (and face), because that's the predominant image of beauty presented in most parts of the world, in both gay and straight contexts. I'm sure some gay Asian guys immigrate to mainly white countries because they are attracted to white men, just as white men who like Asians are going to have a ball if they move to Asia.

Information about the Sexual Racism Sux campaign can be found at sexualracismsux.com

I also find it disturbing to observe couples where the white partner is vastly older than his Asian partner, especially when the white partner is very unattractive. I've seen many times a super-attractive Asian man with a pretty ordinary white partner, and I've rarely seen the reverse. I think that in general, around the world, Asian beauty is still devalued. As a result, there will be a much smaller number of white men who are open to our beauty compared to the number of them who believe they aren't attracted to Asians but in fact have never met many of us, or opened their eyes to us.

However, humans are complex and contradictory. I've received e-mail from white men who have responded to the Sexual Racism Sux campaign who have dated and had sex with Asian men and decided that all in all, they are either less or not at all attracted to Asian men. I'm fine with this. At least they've tried! I also accept that men who have a preference for particular body types or features, say, a really hairy chest, are less likely to be interested in Asians. Furthermore, I've met interracial couples who I've judged as stereotypical (i.e. old white guy, young Asian guy), and then noticed that some of them are having longer and way better relationships than I've ever managed to have. So, all power to them!

Meanwhile, the article RQ: PQ described white men were attracted to Asian men because the older they (the white men) got, the less attractive they were. They had less value in gay society, and so chose others who also had less value (Asians). I've noticed this too but in general, it's not what I've found. Often it's because they have more life experience. They are more open to the world. They have traveled to Asian countries and seen hundreds rather than a few dozen Asian men. They have gotten over some of the stereotypes and preconceptions about themselves, just as I've come to understand that my initial beliefs that I wasn't attracted to Asian men were wrong. They are more confident and not worried about other people's racism.

I think that simple stereotypes of Asians with inferiority complexes and rice queens who are attracted to Asian men because they can't find white partners should be retired. Or replaced with stereotypes of feisty gay Asian men all around the world who have sex with and are attracted to all races including whites and Asians; or with stereotypes of White or Latino or Black men who are sexy and confident and happen to have a real thing for Asians. I think the many confident Asian men on Fridae who are attracted to Asians or have Asian boyfriends are, collectively, a sign that the world that Mr. Sakakibara described is disappearing. For that matter, hasn't he noticed that the non-Asian guys on this site are pretty damn cute too and not like the ones he described?

Meanwhile, you can catch me on the dance floor. I'll be flirting with anyone handsome who catches my eye, whatever colour his skin – though under the disco ball, we all kind of glow in the same way.

Andy Quan is a Vancouver-born published author, singer and songwriter living in Sydney. Information about Andy Quan's books and writing can be found at: www.andyquan.com. Information about the Sexual Racism Sux campaign can be found at www.timbomb.net/andyq/gam.htm and sexualracismsux.com.

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