Gay Interracial Relationships: On Being “Sticky Rice” and Loving Other Asian Men

So Jeff Yang up and did it — he talked about interracial relationships among Asians, but added a twist and focused on straight Asian men. And while it’s all well and good, and talks about on a really peripheral level the varied issues that straight Asian men go through, like the issue of being a person of color and disenfranchised, yet taking advantage of heterosexual American male privilege and demanding to be with a white woman; the dearth of Asian men with women of color, particularly black women; and looking — finally — at the problems that mixed-race Asians have to go through, particularly in regards to ethnic identity, I find myself irritated because they’ve left me out. Again.

As someone who’s been romantically and sexually attracted to other Asian men since at least sixteen (when I had my first boyfriend, who happened to be Vietnamese), I found myself with relatively less psychological baggage than most other queer Asian men who happened to have dated white men. I wasn’t particularly looking for someone Asian, but my first boyfriend happened to be a transfer student from San Diego, a Vietnamese guy with something different, and so we started hanging out a lot. When we started holding hands, it seemed like the most natural thing to do, even though people were talking. The six months that we dated had all the trappings of puppy love and unrealistic expectations (moving in together at age seventeen, going to the same college, etc.) And while I ended up ending the relationship because of my own fucked up internalized homophobia and the threat of being disowned, he opened up the possibility of being proud of who I was as being Asian, and being Filipino. He was genuinely interested in my cultural background, asking questions about food, history, and my upbringing. My mom loved him and wondered what happened to “my friend” after I broke it off — the only other time she ever really liked a guy I dated was my current partner. I can safely say that thanks to him, he started me on a path to become relatively well adjusted in terms of how my ethnic and sexual identity came to play. Even though I totally fucked it up.

After coming out publicly in college, I began to meet other queer Asian men, whose preferences were more towards white men. What was annoying to me was that they always had to feel apologetic towards their preferences for me. One guy, who had also dated primarily white men, said in all sincerity, “Wow, that’s so cool that your first boyfriend was Vietnamese. That is so… so… revolutionary!” I remember looking at him and wondering what planet he stepped off of, and why he felt he had to justify his preferences to me, especially since there was no attraction between us. I can see where he was going — that he was going through the now oft-quoted adage (and I’m taking liberties with this) that “Loving Asian men is a revolutionary act,” especially if you’re another Asian American man who’s been taught to believe that white men are the pinnacle of desirability.

Needless to say, this has been a constant theme ever since. Coming out in the early to mid 1990s, there were very few out Asian American men for me to look up to, and I could count all the Asian men with other Asian partners on the fingers of one hand, and have fingers left over. I saw how Asian men were either completely ignored by the mainstream queer white media, or simply seen as sexual objects, like a male archetype of Suzie Wong, the dragon lady, but with a gay twist. Being unable to get a green card, Asian men were simply seen as gold-diggers, with small dicks who are exclusively bottoms, and most importantly, who can’t be trusted. Fuck with us and we’ll take all your shit. We couldn’t speak English fluently, nor be fluent in American culture.

No wonder so many queer Asian American men coming out at that time had so much baggage.

I’ve never seen my primary attraction towards Asian men as something political or particularly revolutionary — it was just part of who I was and what makes me tick. I’ve seen guys who felt a need to be called “sticky rice”, or be an Asian man attracted to other Asian man in order to be seen as politically acceptable, when in reality, they preferred white men, even though their politics was truly spot on. I’ve seen Asian men who’ve blindly preferred other Asian men, then spout off on the most racist stuff on non-Asian men (white, black, whatever), but automatically assumed that we were buddies because of our mutual preferences. I’ve been with guys who claimed to be “potato queens,” but only because they had never met another Asian guy who was Americanized as they were and suddenly realized that whole new dating opportunities existed to them.

It’s sad to see that the dialectic that exists among queer Asian men revolves around Asian and white, with very, very few Asian men dating other men of color, particularly black. Latino men are seen as being “almost white” and are seen as culturally acceptable, but I’ve only met 3 or 4 Asian-black male couples whose relationships lasted a long time and were not fraught with cultural expectations based on stereotypes.

That being said, personally, it’s never bothered me to see Asian men with other men, white, or of color. Given that the dating pool for us “sticky rice” is so limited to the point that we can be downright incestuous (10% of 3% of the total American population, you do the math) I have better things to do than to waste my time trying to regulate who my fellow Asians can date. I’m ecstatic to see couples get together and survive long enough to become long term, regardless of who their partner is. Given the outright homophobia that exists in many of our Asian communities, and the racism that both partners feel, particularly if they’re interracial, it’s a victory and a triumph to see couples survive.

Thankfully though, as the number of queer Asian men coming out has skyrocketed thanks to the ‘net, and also seeing that the young queer Asian men coming out have less racist baggage and internalized homophobia, it’s nice to see that there are more Asian-Asian (and Asian-men of color) male couples out there. And it’s funny to see that my partner and I are now one of the old-timers, having been together eleven years, gotten married, and then got really famous for being married. And it’s also nice to see Asian-white male couples who are acutely aware of their race politics… and live their lives out.

I remember when my partner and I were first dating, and we would hold hands in the Castro or in Union Square, and people would do double takes seeing two Asian guys together who obviously weren’t related. I remember getting the confused stares from fellow Asians with white partners who wondered what we were about — and the creepy, lust-filled looks from white guys trying to imagine us in bed. It’s nice to see that this is no longer such a novelty.

Hopefully, this post — however long-winded as it is — will put an end to my own personal frustration of seeing all the straight Asian people bitch and moan.

You all got it lucky. Look at my frickin’ dating pool.

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About Efren

Efren is a 30-something queer Filipino American guy living in San Francisco. In the past, he was a wanna-be academic even teaching in Asian American studies at San Francisco State, a wanna-be queer rights and HIV activist, and he used to "blog" when that meant spewing one's college student angst using a text editor on a terminal screen to write in a BBS or usenet back in the early 90s. For all his railing against the model minority myth, he's realized he's done something only a few people can claim--getting into UCSF twice, once for a PhD program in medical sociology which he left; and then for pharmacy school, where he'll be a member of the class of '13. He apologizes profusely for setting the bar unintentionally high for his cousins. blog twitter
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