Gay Anti-Asian Prejudice Thrives On the Internet

by Joseph Erbentraut
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Sep 6, 2010

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.

Next: Seeking Strength in Numbers & Visibility


  • , 2010-09-06 09:17:01

    Blacks went through much of the same thing in the 80s & 90s. We were asked for multiple IDs to get into bars, because the establishment didn’t want to be known as a ’black’ bar. (Sounds Familiar?) This is the genesis of Black Gay Pride events in D.C. & Atlanta. Sometimes you have to self-segregate in order to build your Collective Self-Esteem. Once achieved, the larger LGBT community will begin overtures to assimilate the sub-community. When the Asian Community is successful in their efforts to change opinions of themselves with each other, it will be a struggle between those who still crave acceptance in the larger diaspora, and those who are proud to stay separate. (For fear of reversing what was accomplished.)

  • , 2010-09-06 11:00:05

    "self-segregate"? That sounds suspiciously like the arguments for Jim Crow laws: "separate but equal." No thanks.

  • BB, 2010-09-07 10:14:13

    You cannot PC away sexual preferences and gay fetishes, and there will always be rice queens. So much of the language in this article sounds transcribed from a New England college seminar and virtually nothing of it comes from real life.

  • , 2010-09-07 13:43:36

    Nobody’s saying people don’t have preferences; it’s just that a blanket, across-the-board rejection of 1/3 of the world’s population because of their eyes for very slight skin complexion variation is racist. That’s not p.c.; that’s just fact.

  • , 2010-09-07 13:44:31

    eyes OR very slight skin complexion variation (personally, I can’t see any difference between Asians & Caucasians; the whole "yellow" thing is kind of weird).

  • Claude, 2010-09-07 15:42:15

    The problem I have with articles like these is that offer no real solutions or concrete plan of action. To label everyone with a racial preference (positive or negative) "racist" is ultimately not helpful because it puts people on the defensive and often stops the conversation. And what can you do about it? When it comes right down to it, who one sleeps with or partners with is one area in life where one has a right to discriminate. No one has the right to anyone else’s body or heart. I prefer to focus on things that you can do something about: 1) Discrimination in hiring and admission - pressure needs to be put on local, state and federal agencies to send out people of various races to apply for jobs at gay bars and other businesses. Instead of waiting for cases to come to them, these agencies need to be proactive. 2) Discrimination in advertising - Although not specifically illegal, pressure can be put on businesses to be more inclusive in the models they hire to represent their image. The same with porn companies. And maybe a case could be made against a modeling agency or even porn studio that never hire people of specific races. Maybe we need new laws that specifically target this problem. Our gay legal groups should be asked to spend some time and money on racial discrimination within the LGBT community.

  • , 2010-09-08 12:34:36

    I think the end of the article did have some positive comments and some suggestions for improvement - mainly, that Asians themselves have to self-empower. As to Claude’s comment about other issues, that’s all well and good but articles like this are necessary as long as such prejudice exists - even if not illegal, it’s obnoxious.

  • , 2011-07-28 02:02:19

    From personal experience: When I was in my early 20s (I have just hit 30), I was as anti-Asian as any Caucasian. "No GAMs!" was part of all of my online profiles. Some unpleasant sexual experiences with two Asians had reinforced this feeling. This was my sexual preference. I then began learning to speak Mandarin, I spent time in South Korea and I also tutored English to refugees and migrants. It was then that my perspectives changed. I realised the boringly common similarities of all humans. I will admit - Asians (as delimited in the article) are physically different to Caucasians. Yet I have had loving, sexually thrilling relationships with Asian guys. There are some Asian guys out there who beat Caucasians in many ways - such as in terms of masculinity (including that tired old chestnut "appendage size"). The inability to accept other races or to give other races opportunities is a symptom of basic cowardice and a lack of intelligence.

  • , 2013-06-07 14:46:49

    PREFERENCE - a greater liking for one alternative over another or others : a preference for long walks and tennis over jogging | he chose a clock in preference to a watch. Preference is willfully misused to justify discrimination. Preference is a mild penchant for something. It is not the same as intolerance. You prefer white men, but if you don’t see one you like, black, chinese, etc. are just as good. That’s preference.

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