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How One Gaysian Man Navigated Racism And Romance To Ultimately Say ‘Asian Guys Are Hot’

A photo of a muscular male torso is seen on a phone in this illustration. The head of the figure extends beyond the boundaries of the phone. The body is tinted green, while the extended head is tinted red.
On dating apps, your profile can start off with just a photo of your faceless torso, and then you can reveal your face in direct messages.
(Illustration by Alborz Kamalizad
/
LAist)
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I was a newly minted 21-year-old, back home for Christmas break. Seattle’s gayest neighborhood, Capitol Hill, has a handful of bars and clubs within walking distance of one another, and so the gay revelry pours out onto the streets. Some people are stumbling to the next bar and others are just milling around for a smoke break.

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And it was on these damp streets where I was approached by this guy: average height, bleached blonde hair, a beer gut, and really shrill.

“Hey, you’re cute — for an Asian.”

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“Thanks… But actually that’s kind of racist… and really offensive to like a billion people.” Actually it was more like 4 billion, but numbers have never been my strong suit.

“It’s not racist. I’m just telling it like it is, honey.”

1. Yes, your preferences are racist

The most striking part about anti-Asian racism is that it often doesn’t even register as racism. Let’s, for a moment, move past the national dialogue on race, which always seems limited toBlack and white economic disparities andpolice brutality.

And let’s focus on romance and racism.

One of the great things about romance is that you have the freedom to choose whomever you want to be your partner/lover/hook up. But because of that, one of the most common refrains I’ve read on gay dating apps is:

“No fats, no fems, no Asians.”

On apps, you’re given the discretion of how much of your identity to share. Your profile can start off with just a photo of your faceless torso, and then you can reveal your face in direct messages. This is what I would do. My profile would be a headless torso, showing off a glistening, after-swim body.

And then I’d begin chatting with guys. Text flirting.

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Eventually, I’d send a face pic.

“Sorry, I’m not into Asians,” they’d say.

Not into Asians. Categorically, that is.

One feature of living in the Western world is the complete desexualizationof the Asian male into a quiet, effeminate and submissive non-man. The converse ofthe hypersexualized Asian female is also disturbing in its own way.

“I’m not racist. It’s just my preference.”

That’s always been my favorite excuse because it’s usually a comical conflation of racism and illegality.

Preference for white candidates for a job is racism in the workplace, preferences for white romantic partners is racism in the dating realm. The latter is, however, legal and commonplace. And since it’s accepted by society, it must not be racist, right?

“I’m not racist. Asians are just less attractive.”

People often accompany their “preferences” with statistics showing that Asian men are least desirable in dating studies.The 2014 OKCupid study reporting Asian men getting double digit negative percentage points in matches is the one that comes to mind.

The implication is that their anti-Asian preferences aren’t racist. They’re actually a reflection of reality — the reality that Asians are “scientifically” less attractive.

All this speak of preference seems to arise from cognitive dissonance:

“I’m not a racist. I can’t be because I’m a minority/I’m gay.”

“I would never date an Asian.”

Two unshakeable truths that require some mental gymnastics to compensate.

Ironically, this cognitive dissonance seems to widen within the gay community, where theliberal ideals of anti discrimination are dominant. But speaking from experience, I’ve never had a constructive dialogue on race with any gay guy who’s said “No Asians.”

And a lot of them do say it.

A group of Asian men pose in a kitchen for a photo.
Kyle Chang (third from the left) and his friends find joy and pride in their Asian community
(Courtesy Jimmy Sianipar)

2. The mental game is real, and hard

The effects of this gendered racism are devastating,often leading to higher depression and alcoholism among Asian men.

I remember one night in college, I sat with my friend over cafeteria food — another gaysian. And he was lamenting the very topic that I’m writing about right now.

“All the guys I’m interested in always say they’re not into Asians.”

And mind you, this guy is super toned, swam on his high school team, has a cut jaw, cute face and is what people would consider traditionally handsome. And yet he was struggling to find himself attractive.

The fact that he had to struggle more with racism than homophobia — and this occurring in a liberal college environment — is a subtle indicator of where racial politics stand. A more heavy-handed indicator would be the relatively paltry turn out forStop-Asian Hate rallies as opposed to theever-booming pride parades.

My friend went on to date only outside his race — mostly typical jock-looking white guys.

An effect of racism parading as objective truth is internalized racism. After consistently being told that they’re undesirable by peers,by the media, on dating apps, at bars,Asian men have, unsurprisingly, come to believe that they are undesirable.

This internalized racism manifests itself in many ways.It could be working out at the gym to overcompensate for a perceived lack of masculinity. Another expression is interracial dating — dating “up” in the racial hierarchy to achieve higher status and acceptance of self.

Common tropes abound from these internalizations: the meek, subservient Asian woman taking her side by the domineering white husband, the nubile Asian twink dating a balding white daddy.

Is this an indictment of interracial partnerships?

Sort of…

But not really.

Because I’ve also witnessed so many healthy interracial partnerships not based on racial hierarchies.

And as much as I preach this anti-racist mindset, and as much as I believe it intellectually, acting it out with the physicality of sex was another battle.

I downloaded Grindr at the age of 18. And I got a ton of “No Asians.” The first few, I wrote off as “not the right ones.” But eventually, I couldn’t ignore the trends: Asians were just less desirable — at least this was true for the white gaze on which I depended.

Eventually I found myself on the dregs of the internet: Craigslist.

In 2018,Craigslist shut down its “Personals” section after Congress passed a bill to combat the sex trafficking of minors.

But before that, Craigslist used to have a booming forum under “Personals” dubbed “M4M” (Male for Male). The men using it tended to be older than on Grindr. And the format of the site was that of a cheaply built message board where each post competes for your attention. ALL CAPS FONT AND SENSATIONAL HEADLINES.

These stuck in my memory:

BAREBACK ORGY TONIGHT AT THE SHERATON

GLORYHOLE IN THE 7-11 BATHROOM

Wild scenarios, unfiltered by anonymity.

And then, once in awhile:

SEEKING TWINK FOR FUN TONIGHT. ASIANS+++

That was the one I clicked. Because there wasn’t any chance I’d be rejected there.

The guy was older and average looking in most ways. I later found out that he was an infamous “rice queen” who hooked up with any and all Asian guys under 20— should they respond.

But as problematic as it was, to be desired was still a fun experience.

It felt necessary, even.

Because at the time, it was all I had. So I also did the mental gymnastics to convince myself it was good and it was fine.

Billboards at a crowded intersection feature Asian men and women.
Billboards at a busy Hong Kong intersection. Kyle notes that the time he spent in China he grew accustomed to a new reality when it came to the representation of Asian men.
(Bertha Wang
/
AFP via Getty Images)

3. Counter-brainwashing works

After college, I lived in China for five years. And for five years, the men I saw on billboards were all Asian. And at clubs, it was mostly Asian guys too. And for the first time, I didn’t have to worry about any racial hierarchy.

And fairly quickly, I internalized a new reality.

I saw myself as “that guy who loves music” or “the one that works out occasionally” or even just “the one with the crew cut.” Because that’s how I was marketed online. And that’s what other people understood of me.

And even at such superficial levels, it felt liberating to not be identified as “the Asian one.”

Asian guys are hot. Not because some OKCupid study says so. But because I say so.

Call it counter brainwashing or whatever you want, but now I do find Asian guys attractive. And more importantly, I find myself attractive.

I still encounter quite a bit of racism within the gay community.And racial hierarchies still exist. But these days, I’m not as bothered. Simply because all those people… they’re all wrong. 100% wrong.

Asian guys are hot. Not because some OKCupid study says so. But because I say so.

Because I can see it with my own two eyes: actors like Simu Liu or Harry Shum Jr. hold my gaze a long time, and I’ll pause my scroll momentarily on Instagram for them. Them and the many other six-packed Asian men flooding my feed.

No amount of fake anti-racists could convince me they’re not attractive. (And let me note, this is not meant to imply that other body types are not beautiful.)

But in lieu of going to Asia for five years, there are other ways to un-brainwash yourself. There’s media exposure, self-correction of media tendencies to include more diverse casts and storylines. One idea: click like on one picture of a shirtless Asian dude and see what your feed turns into.

And then there’s real life exposure! Go spend quality time with more Asians. They’re all around L.A. (and only the majority of the world’s population).

And then there’s also therapy, which preaches self acceptance. And this may be the most direct way to deal with internalized racism.

On this episode of Snooze, my friend Marc does just this. He seeks a therapist. And in the process, he also goes on a difficult journey of self acceptance after years of being told he was unattractive.

Though he doesn’t explicitly deal with race, his struggle to find self acceptance in an inherently racialized world is one that many Asian guys will relate to.

Check it out here.

36:25
Listen to episode: Help me find a sex therapist
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