Jason Tseng

Fried Rice: A Failed Attempt at Subverting Sexual Racism, pt. 2

Filed By Jason Tseng | June 03, 2009 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Asian, dating, gay culture, racism, rice queen, sex

Editors' note: Part 1 in Jason Tseng's series on racism and dating was posted in April.

It is New Year's Eve in New York City, and "new" is definitely the word du jour. It's a night of many firsts: My first New Year's in the City; my first New Year's with friends and not family; my first New Year's drunk. My roommate has dragged me to a party being thrown by his rich boyfriend and his equal parts loud, drunk, and obnoxious friends. The Bridge and Tunnel crowd pack the SoHo brownstone to the brim as they clamor for more alcohol at the open bar. Not even the disdainfully privileged surroundings of Yuppie excess could quell this feeling of anticipation and excitement at the prospect of a new year, a page turned, a fresh slate. As I said my farewells to 2008, I bade adieu to the Bush Administration, to my life as a student, to unemployment, and... to the last link in my long chain of relationships with Rice Queens.

2009 promised to be a year full of opportunity, driven by my personal mandate to initiate the Sticky Revolution: an act of radical anti-racism by rejecting colonialism and supporting my community of fellow Gay Asian men through deliberate valorization of a de-valued and disenfranchised group. Asians dating Asians - the quintessential "f- you" to Euro-centric beauty standards and fetishists. We don't need your validation, mainstream gay culture. We are a self-sustaining nation of queer Asian fierceness! And we don't need nor want your approval.

Filled with the vigor imbued by my quest for racial justice, I set out to find my partner-in-crime, my brother-in-arms, my comrade, my fellow radical queer Asian freedom fighter. I ditch the SoHo party and made my way to one of my regular haunts, a gay bar in Hell's Kitchen. Into the mouth of the lions' den, I thought to myself as I flashed my ID to the bouncer. Not five minutes into wading through this very standard gay bar for the young, the white, and the restless, I found myself deflecting the attention of two bar regulars. White, skinny, and pretty; the pair always seems to be there when I show up. Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum always insist on greeting me with a high pitched "Clarence!" Clarence, I eventually discovered, is their Asian roommate to whom I allegedly bear a resemblance. Clearly, we are the same person, interchangeable, and therefore it is completely acceptable to call us by the same name.

Undeterred, I made my way to the dance floor. Sweaty and numbingly loud, I started moving to the music, trying to lose myself in it. Having devoted a good portion of my college career to dance, I have always viewed the act as a profoundly cathartic experience. What better place to excise my past self than the heart of the malfeasance? Then, like some cheesy scene in one of those insufferable dance flicks, our eyes meet through the crowd.

He is tall, handsome, and Asian. With a strange sense of fate, the crowd parts allowing us to meet. No words are spoken at first, we just dance. (Yes, I am aware of how corny this is... stay with me, I promise it's worth it.) I eventually get his name (Tim), and his number. We dance for a while before parting. I leave the bar that night filled with pride. I have taken the first steps in my Sticky Revolution.

Fast forward a month, and Tim and I have been dating for a few weeks. He's a former soldier, Filipino-American from Upstate New York. He grew up and army brat and followed in his father's footsteps in joining the army. He served for several years in Korea and elsewhere before receiving an injury which disqualified him from service. Discharged honorably, he found himself in New York City, sleeping on a friend's couch and trying to make ends meet with a job bar bussing. He's funny, refreshingly different from me, and on top of it all, he's quite the looker. Almost too good-looking. I don't believe my luck! I'm by no means top-tier in the looks department, so bagging the hot Asian-American army-vet-turned-artist seems all too perfect. My Sticky Revolution had started off without a hitch! Or so I thought...

It's late and we're on one of our usual dates: a bar crawl. He likes to dance and easily becomes bored, so I constantly find myself hopping from one club to the next, in pursuit of that increasingly evasive good vibe. The date hasn't gone particularly well. It's the first time we've gone out with my friends, and he's been distant all night. Disappearing for ten, fifteen minutes at a time, chatting up other guys in front of me, acting very dismissive of my presence; I'm taken aback by the change in his character. My friend who joined us earlier in the night informs me that he's trying to make me jealous and want him more: ensuring that I know that being with him is a privilege, not a right. I'm in a sour mood and he can tell. As we sit in the cab on the way to our next destination he asks me a question on a topic I have been dreading: race.

"So, what kind of guys do you usually go for?" comes the thinly veiled inquisition on my racial preferences. Heck, I've used that line when I try and sniff out fetishists. Isn't it enough that I'm clearly into you?! I think to myself.

"Oh, you know... I don't know, I don't really have a type. It's more about a guy's personality that I'm attracted to." I respond, attempting to dodge the question.

He presses further, "No, but you've gotta have a type. Tell me about your exes. I don't know anything about them."

Who is this guy? Exes are the last thing I want to be talking about. "Well..." I pause, considering how to bring up my problematic dating history, "My type is kind of all over the place. I've dated a lot of different kinds of guys." I can tell by the look in his eyes this is an unsatisfactory answer, "I used to date a lot of rice queens, but I'm kind of done with white guys for now."

As the words leave my mouth, I want to stuff them back inside.

"Oh, so is that what this is about?" He asks almost with a snicker, as if he knows that he's caught me in some kind of trap. "Are you just going to go back to white guys after you're done with me?"

I can hardly believe this is happening. The same paranoia I felt when dating white men, was being aimed squarely back at me. What could I say? In some way, yes, I sought out Tim because of his race. It proved to be an important quality in my search for a relationship free from racial tension and power imbalance. I had never been with an Asian guy, and it was an experience I had avoided for too long. I have always viewed having a healthy attraction to Asian men was a way for me to personally find beauty in myself; but it was far from the most defining part of his identity I was attracted to. I thought that I was doing something good: radically resisting a racist society by celebrating what the hegemonic culture discards and abhors. But with the tables suddenly turned, had I become everything that drove me to this point?

Moreover, is this part of the self-hatred that has been ingrained in our Asian American minds? The idea of dating another Asian guy seems to require some cognitive leap, some justification, for seeking out a relationship with an Asian man. Do white people have this dilemma when approached with prospective partner of the same race? Do white people question whether their white partner's desires for them is motivated by race?

This would be the last time I would see Tim. To this day I wonder what spurred his comments. I had never mentioned his race while we dated. Nor had I discussed my personal divorce from the colonial schema of the rice queen. Was he responding to some unspoken offense I had committed? Had he dated Asian men before me? Was this uncharted territory for him as well? I can't help but wonder if perhaps we were both more alike than either of us realized. Driven apart by our mutual suspicions.

to be continued...?

Originally posted at belowthebelt.org

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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 4, 2009 12:29 AM

I think it is entirely possible to be driven apart by mutual suspicions regardless of racial issues and yes whites have plenty of similar or parallel hangups. "Are you wearing the right designer shirt to date me?" is an oft expressed attitude of queers.

I am curious as to how you can define "Asian" as a cohesive group of Gay fierceness. Tim's ancestry included people who spoke Spanish, were Catholic and have a very substantial Spanish worldview ingrained in their characters for hundreds of years.

The degrees of difference between this and Japan, or any other country in SE Asia, who come from a Buddhist or Muslim tradition are remarkable. I think you still have to know where someone is coming from to have an idea of where you can go with them.

Jason, I really enjoyed reading your series - you do a good job of mapping out the thoughts and complex experiences many people of color go through while navigating what can be called "sexual racism" in the LGBTQ community.

I had a couple of thoughts and ideas after reading your article. First, I've found that as people of color, we tend to be forced into narrow and highly performative spaces when it comes to dating others:

If we date someone who is white, we are labeled with all of the baggage that accompanies whatever stereotypes/fetishes/ exoticism is linked with that relationship, such as "there's the asian guy with his rice queen" or something like that.

If we date someone who is a person of color who has a similar ethnic background, there's this sense of "appropriateness" that reads organically to many people. It's like a game of Concentration - match the colors. Given the fact that most straight people of all ethnic backgrounds still have relationships with and marry people of similar ethnic backgrounds to their own, this is an issue of race beyond our LGBTQ community. But along with this "matched pair", comes another set of challenges, as you highlight in your second article....

It's almost as though LGTBQ people of color of similar ethnic backgrounds are sometimes afraid to date each other - for fear of sacrificing their (highly racialized) allegiance to mainstream gay culture. In college, I read a study on black gay men, that found that black men who tended to date non-black men (usually white men) had a much stronger LGBTQ identity than a black identity, and more connections with that community. The opposite was true for black gay men who usually dated other black men - they had a stronger stated connection with the black community.

As a multiracial person (black/creole/native american/white), I've felt a lot of the tremors on tense boundaries of race and LGBTQ dating, and almost every relationship I've had is with someone of a different ethnic background than my own.

So my question and concern is, why is the conquest of racism and mainstream beauty standards a necessary return to dating "our own kind"? To me, people of color should break out of the entire arena that "expects" them to do this or that as much as they possibly can. We should meet people, date them, fall in love if it happens, or not - and whether they are people of color or white people. And yes, we should be vigilant and true to ourselves in our examination of the kind of people we're usually drawn to and why - and deal with ourselves honestly if we feel trapped in a broader, racist standard of beauty.

What I look for in a partner is usually a consciousness about issues of race and racism, because that's important to me. While I definitely understand why a person of color I might date who is ignorant of issues like these isn't expected to be an expert on race, faced with that choice I'd rather be with a white person who is conscious of their privilege and of the racialized dynamics of queer sexuality.

It's a dangerous, complicated game. People we meet, of any ethnic background, can surprise us and hurt us after we've already let them in - much like your ex-lover's hurtful pillow talk in the first article. So as long as we're sailing on the the sea of a sexual landscape that doesn't or hasn't adapted to politics, sensibilities, or postmodern/postcolonialist notions of race, we as people of color should make sure we're the ones steering the ship, and strive to preserve our agency and integrity when choosing our romantic or sexual partners.

so well put. I'm in awe of you! Thanks for the comment!

I'm surprised this installment has gotten so many fewer hits and comments than part 1 did. And, no, I'm not saying that you're a bad person if you don't read this or that you're a bad person if you don't leave a comment and I know that more hits and comments are coming.

But, for all the hair-pulling around you calling white people "born and bred" to dominate, or something along those lines, it seems like that was a good way to get their attention.

I'll hazard a guess that the reason the last post raised as many hackles as it did is because it did prompt a lot of white folk to get defensive. This post, I think, is read more as a POC (people of colour) thing and as a conversation among POCs, and is consequently less threatening to some. That's not to imply that all the responses were necessarily problematic, but it does say something about how conversations around race/ethnicity get constructed in terms of who's being addressed or not, and in terms of who needs to be defended or not. The last post made some much more explicit points about race, ethnicity, and racism. So does this one, but it doesn't put white folks on the spot as much. That's just a preliminary thought.

I think others like Calvin, Alaric, and Anthony have already made a lot of nuanced comments to which I can't add any more, other than to say that I'm not sure that it's easy to get away from some degree of fetishization in any kind of relationship. That being said, yeah, I think the gay community in particular - which cloaks itself as a progressive one *suppresses snort of derision* needs to be more explicit about the racism that's constantly welling up under the surface of its fetishization of what it considers the Other (because, of course gay=white).

I get where Jason's coming up from, in terms of wanting to subvert the dominant paradigm of racial fetishisation, but I also read his words as shot through with irony at the task he sets himself: "an act of radical anti-racism by rejecting colonialism and supporting my community of fellow Gay Asian men through deliberate valorization of a de-valued and disenfranchised group." At least, I think it's ironic.

We need more conversations like this.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 5, 2009 8:36 AM

Yasmin, "he rejects colonialism"? If we look up the meaning of the word itself he does not qualify. He is an American citizen in New York. Can we not leave this as he is young, college educated, successful in his field, finding his way, and perhaps needs to mature?

Some of the most successful people (and not just financially) I know are in Chicago running businesses on West Devon Avenue between Pulaski and Clark. They are Korean, and they are not marginalized, and they are fully integrated into the melting pot Chicago has always been.

I welcome more conversations like this one, because the Koreans in Chicago occupy the same streets the Orthodox Jews used to occupy. Similarly Mexican Americans occupy the same streets Italians used to occupy in Chicago in the Pilsen neighborhood.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 4, 2009 8:08 AM

I do think if you look around Asian culture(s) you will find many examples of domination within the culture(s). Chinese-Mongol, Chinese-Japan, Japan-the rest of SE Asia, Thailand-Burma, Vietnam-Cambodia. It is not all about "pink" Caucasians here. Not that we have any particular perfection at domination going for us, it is that we are so average.

Of course there are different examples and situations of ethnocentrism and oppression in different contexts - but that doesn't excuse or minimize white oppression here in the US and much of the western world.

If I'm walking down the street in Tokyo and have a bad experience with a racist Japanese national, then that would be a situation of Japanese on Black racism in the context of a country with a very large, majority ethnic group.

But this article refers to the context of the U.S., which like much of the world (even many parts which have never had a majority white population, like India, China, and Japan) exists in a culture dominated by white ethnocentrism + power, which equals racism. So while it may not be "perfection" that white people have going for them here, it's definitely a whole lot of history and socializing factors that still exist today, even if unspoken and not perceived as racist thinking.

Calvin made a lot of the same points that I did last time and was going to reiterate this time. Ask yourself this: Why did you never date other Asian guys before and stick almost exclusively to white guys? Is it because you're attracted to certain features that happen to be common among white guys? Is it because of this ingrained self-hatred of which you speak? Or is it because maybe you were doing a bit of fetishizing yourself?

In both of your posts, I've gotten the impression that you're attracting "rice queens" because you're presenting yourself as a target for them, apparently looking for love at places like dance clubs. Not surprisingly, you've gotten into a lot of superficial relationships with guys who are inclined to view you as their "little geisha boy." This has led you to conclude that the overwhelming majority of white guys who date or sleep with Asian guys are only doing so because of some creepy fetishization of the latter's race and that you therefore must abandon white guys altogether and only date Asian guys.

There are plenty of guys in Caucasian/Asian relationships that are based on genuine love. This includes me and a lot of other people I know. I agree that there are big sexual racism problems in the gay community, including mutual fetishization by whites and Asians, but I don't think it's as pervasive and incorrigible as you think.

From what I can tell, Tim didn't mesh with you as a partner, but you stuck with him because you wanted to perform an experiment or make a statement. He had a right to feel hurt when he found that he was little more than your "anti-rice queen."

Anthony in Nashville | June 4, 2009 12:18 PM

Many non-white LGBTs have a hard time fighting the racial hierachy that positions white folks as the ultimate prize, because that is the message the LGBT media sends out.

I don't know about Latinos, but I think Asian and black people share issues of self-esteem, negotiating family/community relationships, and cultural reluctance to talk about sexuality. As a result, we often don't see each other as viable romantic interests.

Whites don't have this problem because everything is catered to them. I won't say they all have it easy, but they definitely have it easier than POC.

Tim may have asked you what was up because he wanted to know if you were an "Asian-American gay" or "gay Asian-American." In my experience, gay POC either assimilate into the mainstream (white) gay culture and date white people or they create their own social networks where they don't interact with white gays at all. It's rare to find someone who is able to work both sides of that fence.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 5, 2009 8:49 AM

I think it was never asked how did Tim feel as though he was objectified. What might have Jason's friends said to him or "around" him that made him feel this way. Food for thought.

I have to admit to confusion about this whole article and I will have to read it again later.

My impression here is that you were negotiating some internalized racism here in as much as you had never dated an Asian man. His reaction to your statement seems to be more of a reaction to your internalized racism than to his own racism.

My own dating history has crossed so many ethnic and racial lines. I know that I can't say that I am not ethnocentric because there is one ethnicity that I can't imagine dating, but they are not along racial lines because the one that bothers me is another European ethnicity, and has more to do with centuries of my people having dealt with them historically. I also know that I am likely to react strongly in my attraction to people of Gaelic heritage who are like me. But I also can react strongly to some other European, Sub-Saharan African and some Asian ethnicities and be intensely attracted to them. Actually is was Star Trek episode as a child that clued me in to the fact that i didn't just like guys but 'liked' guys and it featured Mr. Sulu bare chested running with a sword and moment of grade school epiphany, so where Asian men are concerned I have always been heavily attracted.

Food for thought anyway. It makes us each try to negotiate our own racism and ethnocentricity, or it should. Good discussion.

mixedqueer mixedqueer | June 5, 2009 2:38 AM

Jason -- thanks again for such a wonderful investigation into the intersections of race and sexuality in your life!

you said:
"I thought that I was doing something good: radically resisting a racist society by celebrating what the hegemonic culture discards and abhors. But with the tables suddenly turned, had I become everything that drove me to this point?

Moreover, is this part of the self-hatred that has been ingrained in our Asian American minds?"

A very hard question and possibly one without an answer. Even if there is an "answer," thinking about the question might be more important anyway.

Calvin -- yes yes! so well said!