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.

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