Gay Asians confront widespread prejudice in the nightclub scene (aka “Boiling Rice”)
By David Noh, New York Blade News, January 10, 2003
New to L.A. and wanna know where I can go clubbing without being harassed by tons of creepy Asians. I went to the Factory and that's all there were. Which is cool, do yr thing, but its not my thing. I am into white/latin/mideast men, i.e., eyelids and real noses. Plz advise.
The above message, posted on a popular circuit party website, is indicative of an undiscussed, but disturbingly prevalent racist attitude in the gay community. Ironically, white friends of mine have become strongly aware of it, having overheard other whites complaining about "too many Asians spoiling a club's atmosphere," along with the requisite "Suzy Wong" and "Miss Saigon" jibes.
"Many of my friends have told me they are often ignored at clubs and also in chat rooms," says Lance Collie, a member of Asians and Friends, a social group. "In fact, when an Asian is chatting with a white guy, the white often stops responding when he realizes the other guy is Asian. At the clubs, my Asian friends have been ignored."
Los Angeles seems to be a hotbed of such prejudice, with a large Asian population in the suburbs who come into West Hollywood - hardly the most tolerant community, if you're not white, young and buff. But New York is hardly immune.
Examples in clubs abound
Joseph Truong, a 25-year-old Vietnamese-American, went with friends to G, XL, and Barracuda. He was stopped at the door each time and asked for his ID while his friends breezed in. "The first time it happened. I didn't think anything of it," he says. "But when it happened later, it seemed too frequent to be just a passing doubt. You don't want to feel like they're picking on you, but you have almost an intuitive kick that you are being singled out."
Aaron, 31, a Chinese-American, lined up for Roxy one night with six other Asians. "We were refused entry without explanation," he relates. "Everyone else got in fine. I have heard friends warning me about that. They tell me to try to go there in small groups, even alone."
Anand, 21, says he encounters anti-Asian bias because, being Indian, "most people think I'm Latino. But I do get the 'You're what?' and 'Are you fully Indian?' thing when I do tell them I am Indian, as well as the gross exoticizers. That's why I prefer attending people of color events but sometimes that stuff goes down there, also."
In the past, often merely being Asian made someone a desirably exotic, stylish prop in any Manhattan club. Today, with the heavy influx of Asian immigrants, the old, insidious "One or two of them is OK, but no more" philosophy seems to rein.
Two New York bars, Pegasus and The Web, cater specifically to gay Asians. The Web is a larger, disco-oriented venue that appeals to many immigrant Asians and the "rice queens" who love them. The atmosphere there can be less than brotherly, sometimes killer competitive.
"You'll see a white guy come in with his Asian boyfriend," says Glenn Magpantay, of Gay Asian & Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY). "The minute the Asian goes to the bathroom, the white is checking it out and all the Asians are swarming around him."
For a while it was even rumored that whites were not charged admission to The Web, while Asians were. But for the truly disco-obsessed young Asian queen who wants to be a part of the queer zeitgeist, what's to be done?
Internalized racism makes it worse
If Asians are perceived as an annoyance, being the stereotypically well-behaved "model minority," we're never an actual threat. Apart from the racism already mentioned and experienced by Asians in subtle - not-so subtle - ways, there is the deep-rooted problem of internalized racism. I was a member of a Korean gay organization some years back and would meet with a group of the cutest, smartest guys in the world, who discussed problems dating white men. A lesbian couple (both Korean) would listen to all the sob stories and simply not get it. "Why don't you all just date each other?" they asked.
The reaction was a mixture of shock and horror, with the usual cries of, "That would be like sleeping with my brother!" One member did confess to buying some Asian erotica, like O.G. magazine, and desperately trying to masturbate with it, in the hopes of becoming more politically correct.
A definite price Asians have paid with our seemingly seamless assimilation has been, like other minorities, a largely media-generated mental colonization. "Where are the images of Asian male beauty?" asks Max Wong, editor of Noodle Magazine. "Why aren't Jason Scott Lee, Russell Wong or Rick Yune on magazine covers? The typical image I have when I walk down Castro is the young, cute Asian guy, with the old fat white one, and I cringe. Why do we have to settle for that? Are we so ugly to each other?"
Wong also finds it disturbing in reading personal ads that, along with the usual requests for "gym-bod, non-smoker, Daddy" types, there is, "Please, no Asians." "I've heard of people saying what they wanted," he says, "but never what they don't want racially, like no fats or fems." Such casual racism speaks volumes about how we're perceived — as computer geniuses, perhaps, financial wizards, or martial arts masters (with small dicks, of course) — but never as people who might also experience oppression. Remaining low key and not protesting is ingrained in the Asian sensibility, and that's no mere stereotype.
But it has resulted in being treated in ways that other minorities never would. Even if one thought it, who would say, "There were too many blacks at the club"? (Wong's magazine recently addressed the subject of why Asians seldom date blacks.)
Typical of such insensitivity was the 2000 flap over Hotlanta, the Atlanta circuit party, with its offensive "Year of the Dragon" theme, not to mention those recent Abercrombie & Fitch Chinese laundry t-shirts.
'Sticky rice' dating on the rise
For any Asian desiring to adjust his mental picture, I suggest a Hawaii vacation for as long as possible. You will see a world of gorgeous, buff local guys who have never felt "less than" or "other" in any way. All that obsessive "smooth skin/silky hair" business that has made some of us desperately flee the clutches of avid rice queens begins to make sense.
It was frankly thrilling -- and, yes, empowering -- to date a Japanese-Filipino man. Problem solved for me? Well, not quite.
Back in New York, in subsequently trying to approach Asians, I have been shot down more times, more virulently, than with any white guy.
It can range from anything from a dismissive sneer to full-on horrified disgust at the unthinkable. When I walk into the gym shower, Asians suddenly turn modest and hide their privates. What kind of message about our own self-hatred does this send out to other races? Margaret Cho speaks about "rice kings," the hetero equivalent of Asian chasers. One told her, "I would rather date the homeliest Asian girl than the hottest white one." The reverse would seem to be true of many of my so-called brothers.
Thankfully, "sticky rice" (Asians with Asians) does seem to be on the rise. Pegasus and GAPIMNY are packed on their social nights.
Two community leaders, film's Marcus Hu, president of Strand Releasing, and documentarian Arthur Dong ("Family Fundamentals"), are both in long-term relationships with Asian partners. Dong once started a film about Asian and white gay coupling.
"Other projects came to the forefront and as time passed, I began to think, 'What the heck. If two people are happy together, regardless of whatever cultural, social, political, economic, and gender ramifications there may be underlying the match, who am I to question them?'" Dong told Noodle magazine. "But I'm still curious about these relationships and often conjure mini-scenarios when I see such couples in public. When my partner catches me doing that he just rolls his eyes and gives me a quick jab!"
Hu has been with his boyfriend for five years and with a Chinese-American for 13 years before that. "When people saw my Chinese boyfriend and I, other Asian gay guys would stare and ask, 'Ohmigod, you two are together?!'
"Honestly," he says, "if I was given the opportunity to choose my life all over again, I would choose two things, to be Asian and to be gay. It saddens me when I see or hear an Asian person say that they wish they were another color to have 'privilege' in our society or to hear that they only seek a white companion to make them feel complete, just as it would sadden me to hear a gay or lesbian person say that they're ashamed of their sexuality."
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