“No Fats, Femmes or Asians.”
All too often, that ominous alert appears in profiles on gay dating and matching web sites. It screams that the ideal of gay male attractiveness in America is not Asian, nor “Fat” nor “Femme.”
This warning is also the provocative title of a comedy show from Alec Mapa, the self-proclaimed “America’s Gaysian Sweetheart.” Like Alec, I am also a gay/Asian double-minority. With the title “No Fats, Femmes or Asians,” Alec succinctly raises questions I faced my entire adult life: are Asian men unattractive to much of America’s gay community? Are we ostracized like others with “undesirable” traits? The truth is neither black nor white, but some shade of grey.
Yet this much is clear: it’s time for gay men to embrace a more universal vision of beauty, one that appreciates every color of our rainbow.
Let’s begin by defining the problem: the gay world has a mixed relationship with race. Because LGBTs are a historically oppressed minority, you would think we easily accept other minority groups. But the gay male community, especially in its most elite social circles, is predominantly white.
In part, that’s because minority racial groups still are not fully integrated into the queer sphere. It’s also because power in America (gay or straight) has historically been concentrated in white hands. But mostly, it’s because the men considered most attractive, by the most people in our country, are “all-American” white.
Gay men are not necessarily racist; instead, we are “lookist,” perhaps even more so than our straight counterparts. And the idealized vision of gay Adonis in the United States is white.
Of course, some men are attracted to Asians, African-Americans, Hispanics and other ethnicities. But Asians seem relegated to the bottom of the attractiveness spectrum (my African-American friends might claim they deserve the title of worst-treated). This is racial lookism.
I have no hard proof from surveys, statistics, or Gallup polls. This is just my opinion based upon personal experience as a gay man growing up in Los Angeles, and travelling to major cities across the United States. It’s also supported by comments from my gaysian friends, and observing how Asian men are treated in gayville.
Here’s what I have seen in my life journey: The elite gay bars, parties and even gyms are crowded with mostly white men. The “A-gay” culture of those who appear (or claim) to be most popular is dominated by Caucasians. Ironically, even LGBT non-profit organizations which fight for equal rights need diversity initiatives.
As someone who regularly attends LGBT fundraising galas, I often find myself one of the few Asians (or racial minorities of any kind) swimming in ballroom seas of mostly white men. Some of that is attributable to money, a gating factor for entry into “A-gay” events. But another contributing force is that gay social circles are not very race-inclusive.
And need we go further than the mere existence in cyberspace of “No Fats, Femmes or Asians” and its variant phrases (like “No Asians. No Blacks”)?
It’s obnoxious that someone feels the need to express what men he does not want, rather than just saying who he prefers. He might as well shout “Asians: Stay away!” Would it be so hard to upgrade dialogue with positive tone by saying: “Athletic white guys with dark hair get to front of the line”?
“No Fats, Femmes or Asians” suggests that men who are overweight, lower on the masculinity scale, or (gasp!) Asian are so disdainful that it’s bothersome to even receive their electronic messages. Hello? I’m Asian, not a leper.
Given these social realities, it’s not easy being an emerging gaysian.
When I was first making my way through LA’s gay scene, I often felt invisible and out of place in whitewashed boystown. Consequently, I fell into the trap of believing the only guys I might attract were the perennial “rice queens” (a terrible term that should be eradicated).
I’m hardly unique; my Asian friends would tell you the same. And while everyone has insecurities, living amidst this beauty racism can aggravate insecurities in us gaysians.
I’ve since (mostly) gotten over my feelings of alienation. Today, I believe I’m worthy enough for anyone regardless of my or his race. That came with maturity, more self-confidence, and realizing that everyone feels out of place in some fashion. But those lingering bad sentiments occasionally bubble up to my consciousness. And I know so many gaysian brethren remain lost in an alien nation.
To be clear, this conversation is not intended to bash white gay men. Caucasian guys, I love you! Many of you are my friends, colleagues and wingmen!
In fact, the irony for me is that I’m one of those gaysians mainly attracted to white men. I’ve often wondered where that derives.
Was it caused by media images during my formative years being predominantly of white people? Is it because I am an immigrant and wanted to fit in with mainstream America? Or it is purely genetic?
Let’s explore the question of why. Why is white the primary color of gay male beauty?
One reason is history. Historically, there were just fewer Asians in the U.S. gay community. Since the 1970s, the U.S. experienced an influx of Asian immigration, including my generation from the end of the Vietnam War. That immigration boom brought foreign-born children like me, and later resulted in more first generation gaysians born in America.
History also concentrated money, power and status in white hands. Those are all attractive traits, which can further enhance the appeal of Caucasian gentlemen.
Another cause would be stereotypes of Asian men. No, we don’t all look alike. No, we can’t all play violin and perform calculus simultaneously. No, we are not all skinny, submissive, and an effeminate Lotus Blossom. Yes, we like rice.
In many ways, I am completely the opposite of Asian stereotypes. I have a strong personality, am fiercely independent, and oh yeah, have some muscles. But ok, I confess to owning a big rice cooker ... stainless steel of course.
The biggest culprit is the media. Media imagery implicitly tells us what is gorgeous, popular, and desired.
In America, most actors, celebrities, and especially models are white. That’s true not just for the hetero-mainstream, but also in gay media and advertising. Just look at underwear and swimsuit ads, which hold near iconic status for gay men. I have yet to see an Aussie Bum swimsuit ad featuring Asian men or any racial minority. I have yet to go to Australia, but I know Asians exist there!
So how do we expand our rainbow flag to reflect the full spectrum of racial color?
We can’t change the fact that many people are naturally attracted to white men. Nor should we. Caucasians can be beautiful, so let’s appreciate them.
There are also guys who desire Asians, African-Americans, Latinos, red hair, or big ears. Be attracted to whoever you fancy, but be open to beauty in many forms. Heck, as I’ve gotten older, more diverse ethnicities are now catching my eye.
Gay television, magazines, web sites and other media outlets hold significant power to advance the cause.
They can more frequently feature images, stories, and voices of racial minorities. I’d love to see more gaysians on magazine covers and in advertising. On television, the LOGO network broke ground with “Noah’s Arc,” a series featuring African-American gay men. Well, break out the chopsticks, because it’s high time for “Asian Arc.”
From mainstream media, today’s younger generation is already growing up with more diverse media personalities. This is especially true with reality television shows, where racial minorities appear in almost every cast. Let’s hope our gay media can follow suit.
Meanwhile, all you men of other races can help with one gesture: welcome more Asians into your social circles.
More Asians are coming out and living in gay urban areas; they need to be better integrated into gayland. Maybe we should start a Facebook campaign: “Friend a Gaysian.” It sounds silly but could be quite profound.
In our movement for marriage equality, we know straight people who have daily life exposure to LGBT persons will become more accepting. Likewise, the more social exposure our community has to gaysians and other ethnic minorities, the more racial lookism will devolve.
Most significantly, let’s get beyond lookism and get to know people for inner beauty. It would be naïve to suggest that we can completely ignore outward appearance; looks trigger initial attraction. But if you peer beneath the surface, you can discover allure in every person.
For too many years, I tried to run away from my Asian-ness. Now, I embrace all that is unique about me.
While I won’t catch the eye of every guy and there may always be web site profiles decrying “No Fats, Femmes or Asians,” I accept that I am beautiful just the way I am.
To my gaysian brothers: I hope you know that about yourselves too. To the rest of the gay male community, I hope you engage this conversation and begin to appreciate beauty in every color of our rainbow.
Jimmy Nguyen is nationally-recognized as an award-winning lawyer, new media expert, LGBT leader, and diversity advocate. In 2008, Lawdragon named him one of the 500 Leading Lawyers in America, and in 2010, the National LGBT Bar Association recognized him as one of the Best LGBT Lawyers under 40. Jimmy also writes for his own web site at JimmyWin.com. Also, follow him on Facebook by clicking here.