April 1, 2008

"Gay or Asian?": Racism AND Heterosexism

"entering the dragon requires imperial tastes"!?

Throwback to 2004, when the less-than-enlightened folks at Details magazine put out the widely-vilified article, "Gay or Asian?". Ostensibly, there's some sort of behavioral, or stylistic, link between Asian and queer men to suggest an indistinguishable overlap. Not surprisingly, lots of people got pissed off and protested, and a full-page (yet half-assed) apology was released (I'll try to locate this apology).

What I find interesting, however, is the way in which opposition or protest against such an article can ultimately reinforce the very dichotomy posed within the title of the article. For instance, some articles, like Karen Sakai's, poignantly argue that claims to satire cannot deny that this article reinforces "outrageous" stereotypes created out of systems of power and dominance--yet highlight the central problem of the article as one of racism. Other interpretations could consider this an affront to Asian American "masculinity"; given that Asian males are typically rendered as effeminate or emasculated, such an article merely reinforces such ideas by associating all Asian males with homosexuality, and is thus problematic.

My concern with this, of course, is how it is absolutely crucial to consider how race and sexuality are both social constructions typically and historically constituted as categorized and distinct demarcations--that is, one is either Asian or not, heterosexual or homosexual--and not as fluid models of multiple inclusions. Through its ridiculous labelings ("shrimp balls or shaved balls," "choke up on your chopsticks," etc.) the article dually renders Asian American and queer men as exotic, the "Other," and distinct from the normative masculinity of straight white men. Thus, the article is just as much an offense against LGBTQs as to Asian Americans; both constitute the abnormal and the object of study/spectacle/what-have-you in the article. Moreover, as the Gay Asian & Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY) argued, the very title of "Gay or Asian" creates a dichotomy between the two, that one is either/or... but what about the proud and vibrant communities of queer AND Asian men? Said (then-)co-chair of GAPIMNY John Won, "This message perpetuates the invisibility of (gay and lesbian Asian Americans) who live at the intersection of race, sexuality, class and nationality."

Thus, it's not sufficient to denounce "Gay or Asian?" for merely presenting a feminizing view of Asian American men, because there are distinct concerns in how attempts to reclaim one's "masculinity" can be reduced to bigoted assertions of what constitutes a "man." It would be inexcusable to perform "masculinity" through violence against women or queer people--fighting racism cannot come at the expense of ignoring sexism and homophobia. Rightfully, the driving force against Details came from both Asian American and queer advocacy groups, a show of unity and an understanding of the intersections of communities, rather than the forces that would dichotomize the two. It's a promising sign.

March 25, 2008

Revolutionary... Sex?

I got you open like... a true democracy

The first time I heard about Blue Scholars' song "Southbound" was in a teaser for the Joe Metro EP, where Sabzi hinted that the song was "for the ladies." Nevertheless, I was left slack-jawed by the song the first time I heard it:

Blue Scholars, "Southbound"

For a group typically known for proletarian affinities and quote-unquote political cuts, I had expected something more along the lines of the long-time favorite "Life & Debt," which is sort of a serenade combining working-class woes, decolonization, and a down sister. Thus, "Southbound" left me stunned with its, er, forthcoming-ness:

You're the first one to find me in the cold like that
No disguise when the prize makes your eyes roll back
Do it like Moms and Pops when they made us
Simulating scenes by adult entertainers
Conversations 'til 1, have relations 'til 4
In the morn', you've been warned, I'm a warrior, y'all

At first, it seems out of place, yeah? Definitely more graphic than anything else I've heard from Geo. My sistah/ProudPinayPoet Jenny Lares had the same reaction. But we both came to the conclusion that, ultimately, why would it be odd for them to make the song? If anything, to suggest that it's a "deviation" of some sort is merely to fetishize so-called "progressive" cultural productions as inherently rooted in some articulation of political struggle, that it's always necessary to have a fist in the air and a critique of capitalism on hand. But... nah! Progressive or not, we're all human, with human desires, pleasures, and urges--and if we're not fighting for a reclamation of our own humanity, then we're not really fighting at all.

It's telling that revolutionary groups like the Black Panther Party tried to engender progressive gender politics by establishing childcare programs in which both men and women would be required to partake, trying to shatter boundaries of what was socially indoctrinated as "women's work" and instead advance collective familial structures. While some groups unfortunately tried to mask misogyny and chauvinism under calls for "revolutionized" sexual relations--such as abandoning monogamy, which typically served as a way for male activists to make unwelcome advances on their female cohorts--for the most part progressive women and their male allies have done much to advance the dignity and justness of gender equality.

Yet, as Geo opines, this doesn't mean we need to forget about getting down n' dirty--as the chorus exhorts, sometimes it's necessary to take a step back, to live for the moment, to "let it go":

No matter where you are, a struggle's nearby
And there ain't enough time for lovers to say hi
Some nights require a spark
A fire to remind us what we really look like in the dark
So let it go, let it go...

When I look at it now, "Southbound" is one of the most honest songs I've heard from Blue Scholars--from Day One their m.o. has been to advance and project views of ordinary, working people, and certainly a song about nights of passion (and how valued they can be in times of strife) fits perfectly within that mode. Like Geo said in "Cornerstone," my people celebrate life despite poverty. Love the song, and keep it up (no pun intended).