“IF you’re going to look for a husband, go to America or Europe.”
Those words were from a well-travelled Asian who I met at a speed-dating event one night. Upon hearing them, I felt like this bleak cynicism about the Australian dating scene pierced open a sleeping concern. Between the usual fuzziness of Lana Del Ray music and judgements of people’s clothing, an ever-hungry thought — “Am I single because I’m Asian?” continuously plagues my mind. Does being a gay Asian, or “Gaysian” for those who like combining words, affect your dating experiences because of the way people perceive you romantically?
“ARE you familiar with the term sexual racism?” asks Min Fuh, the project lead of A-men magazine and a community health officer at ACON.
Min refers me to the sexualracismsux.com website after our interview starts but the term itself seems pretty self-explanatory: basically negating people out of your dating radar based on their race.
I follow up on this idea briefly with Dr Gilbert Caluya, a research fellow at the University of South Australia, who traces its potential origins in the 15th century. He also tells me a combination of “a whitewashed mainstream media”, “historical racial division of beauty” and Australia’s “Yellow Panic” led to this climate of “racially homogenous desire” — which we call sexual racism now.
Min enlightens me with the common concerns he’s heard from Asian men as a result of sexual racism, such as “I think I’m being discriminated against but I’m not sure. I just feel like I’m left out or unwanted”. The creators of sexualracismsux.com wanted to acknowledge such shared experiences, to give it a name and to identify the consequences of it. Issues such as detriment to self-esteem and identity came up frequently, especially when people came to feel like they were only being seen for their ethnicity.
Min affirms these experiences are definitely linked to racism. He also believes Asian gay men collectively experience exclusion and negative exchanges in the wider gay community.
“Some people respond to this by sticking with their own communities which result in the Asian corners in clubs or group stereotypes,” Min says.
“They are essentially creating safe spaces where they don’t feel awkward.”
I also ask about “rice queens”, non-Asian men who specifically pursue Asian men. Min says it often comes off as fetishising, which “can sometimes be a negative thing because people come in with an idea or stereotype of you. It’s like you’re not being seen as an individual, which is similar to the other side of the spectrum”.
However, Min highlights that “the problem with stereotypes is not that they’re not true. It’s that they’re incomplete”.
I feel like this pearl of wisdom held a lot of validity and truth behind it. What were the incomplete perceptions of gay Asians that were floating around, and how did other gay guys negotiate their world?
WHEN I asked a friend in Melbourne, Joe (24), about the topic of fetishisation of Asians he agreed that it existed. But at what point did fetishisation and attraction differentiate?
“Am I fetishising the Greek race if I like their men because of their physical features, their culture and food?” Joe responds.
“Does it make my current relationship any less valid given [my boyfriend] Simon is Greek/Italian?”
He adds that just because you desire a certain race, doesn’t mean the feelings you have for a person aren’t real.
“I don’t care whether someone likes me for my race or for my achievements as they’re both a part of me,” Joe says.
However, he admits that some people have been cynical about his relationship.
“I’ve had people tell me that because Simon’s type is tall and Asian, that he’d just trade up to someone younger and hotter when I age in a few years — or even a hot white guy,” Joe says.
“For me, that’s a huge insult given it completely throws out anything else I have to offer in a relationship: watering me down to just my physical features.”
When I asked him about his experiences on sexual racism, he quoted the obvious “no Asians” on hookup apps or people not replying after a sent face pic. People’s stereotypes of Asians also came up, and there had even been times when people had scoffed at him because he refused to take the “bottom” position in sex.
Joe throws back to the concept of a “whitewashed media” as he specifies an ideal that gay men worship: basically a white guy with abs. He thinks this fosters sexual racism from others and from within.
“There have been many times in my life where I’d consider chatting with a guy only to stop myself because I thought he might not be into Asians,” he explains.
“There’ve been times when I imagine how easier it’d be if I were born white and looked down on my culture as weaker and subservient.
“Luckily, I’ve grown out of this phase and I now look at my Chinese heritage as one of my greatest assets.”
Joe suggests that after accepting themselves as gay, there is a second coming of age where one comes to accept and embrace their Asian heritage — just as he has.
PETER (26) from Sydney was another guy I met who also spoke of a similar coming of age experience.
“When I was young I felt that I wasn’t worthy,” he recalls.
“I was being rejected by a lot of people and I didn’t know why.”
However, most of it changed for him when he went to live in the US.
“A lot of Americans specifically want to date Asians,” he says.
When Peter returned, he felt more proud of his cultural identity and started to see that discrimination was the problem, not him.
“I see a lot of young Asian dudes who aren’t confident, and sometimes I just want to say to them, ‘don’t settle, you’re better than this’,” he says.
When I ask about his other experiences, he tells me that about half of the people he’s slept with say things such as “I’m not usually into Asian people”. Even though Peter doesn’t feel like he’s a stereotype, he resents these comments because he’s still a part of the culture. As we talk further, he speaks about a hypothetical power imbalance.
“Some of that has to do with stability, and some has to do with the ratio of Asians to guys who would pursue Asians,” he says.
He suggests that there seems to be something like one “rice queen” to every 10 Asian guys, but there are also Asian guys who don’t want to date other Asians which doesn’t help. This unbalanced power dynamic contributes to some of the reasons Peter decides not to date “rice queens”. He wants people to be attracted to him independent of his race.
And when it comes to discrimination, he doesn’t feel like it has decreased but believes it has become more subtle.
Interestingly though, he has started to become attracted to other Asian guys after he gained respect and acceptance in his cultural heritage. Perhaps this is because when he didn’t value it, he didn’t want to date other Asians — and I think that’s indicative of something.
THE third Asian guy I pried into was someone I found at The Beresford Hotel in Sydney. I could tell he was confident and also a bit older before I approached him.
“I don’t really experience discrimination,” Jae (31) says nonchalantly. He admits that some of his friends who are considered “potato queens” — Asian men who only date Caucasian men — have to put up with a lot more rejection than other people. He has also told them why he thinks this rejection pattern occurs: “They only want white guys and if you’re closed minded in that retrospect, other people will be just as close-minded.”
It takes a while to understand but it starts to dawn on me that this topic is a lot more complicated than I anticipated.
“If you’re more broad minded with it [in terms of] who you pursue, the world is your oyster,” Jae says.
“I can see why [sexual racism] would be perceived as discrimination but it’s just the way of life.”
Jae appears easy-going about this topic and brushes it off as being open-minded. He says he also gets the “you’re not like other Asians” sort of comment a lot but believes people mean it as a compliment.
“I don’t take offence to it,” he says.
When I ask him about “rice queens”, he feels there are definitely stereotypes and that in general, they have a particular type they go after: the stereotypical Gaysian — someone who is reserved, slim, meek.
“[But] there’s definitely exceptions,” Jae says.
“I’ve met some that are into buff Asian guys, some chub chasers, some who are into masculine guys.”
Once upon a time this would blow my mind but I feel like I’m mature enough to believe it. Jae, like a sweet aunt, then tells me that there are going to be ones out there “who are after you just because of your black hair and eyes, but there are diamonds in the rough”.
BEN (24) is a Caucasian guy from Sydney who is predominantly attracted to Asians. I wanted to see what was inside the mind of a “rice queen”.
He says his attraction to Asians is similar to asking why people were attracted to men in general. For him, it’s just natural, although he speculates it may have something to do with the large number of Asian boys at his high school.
However, unlike the “rice queen” stereotype Ben isn’t interested in the cultural side of the person. He says his attraction is “purely physical”.
“When people normally say they’re into Asian guys, you don’t usually mean just physically,” he says.
“I think insinuating that there’s an all-encompassing Asian culture is pretty offensive, anyways.”
When I brought up the imbalance of Caucasian guys who would date Asian guys, Ben agreed that Asians probably have trouble finding white guys than the other way around, and that “no one will bat an eye-lid”. I never thought to question this but I think that in itself speaks more about the problem.
IN writing this under the guise of justifying my lack of a love life, I learnt that sexual racism is a reality and fellow Asians were not alone in when it came to their experiences.
There also seemed to be many assumptions made about people regardless of who they were, and this proved to be counter-productive.
In the end, I feel like people should know that there are more diamonds in the world than what we assume. We just need to be open to finding them.
**This story was first published in the June edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.