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Leather & Race

Room for Squares

As a decidedly gay man in undecidedly liberal times, Iíve been subjected to a lot of strange comments -- comments, which to less forgiving ears could easily have been interpreted as offensive, even insulting. To an Asian American, these comments can often take on a racial undertone. The bulk of these inquisitions (and I say inquisitions because most off-color comments come from a lack of understanding) are insignificant and serve only to satisfy curiosities. Every once in awhile, however, you get felled by a comment so leftfield that even you are left questioning its implications.

Itís a common Western stereotype that Asian men are submissive and compliant; weíre two balls short (or in surplus, as it were) of a eunuch. Itís no surprise to see everyday interpretations of this trope from something as innocent as a television commercial to the highly sexualized versions on fetish websites. I get it. All those things are designed to target a specific market, so those depictions are understandably hammed -- or in this instance, char-suiíed -- up. People, who donít come from that background, seeking instant gratification for whatever sexual craving, lap it up instantly. But itís an entirely different story when someone, who judging by appearance alone should know better, falls for the same gimmick.

One day not so long ago, a straight, Asian male friend of mine and I were walking along a crowded street in an Asian American street fair when we came upon an LGBT themed booth. At the booth, which was advocating support for the gay Asian American community from the larger Asian Am group, were a number of pamphlets and pictures of gay Asian American males, some prominent, most not. Among one of these photos was a picture of an Asian man in full on leather regalia -- weíre talking whip, chaps, Ďstache and more. Talk about a fetish hot pot. To me, it was simply a picture of a gay man clearly taken at a leather festival, probably the Folsom Street Fair.

Given the apparent context, I felt it was no big deal. I certainly didnít see anything wrong with the way this man was so proudly exhibiting and asserting his sexual preferences. To each his own, and his was obviously tied up, in the dungeon, with a pre and post coital cigar. My friend, however, didnít see it this way. He remarked, ďNow thatís just wrong. Why would an Asian guy want to dress like that?Ē A bit taken aback by his somewhat odd reaction, I asked him what he meant. ďWhat do you mean like that? Whatís wrong with the way heís dressed?Ē

As his response, he claimed that, while he had no qualms with the manís evident homosexuality, he did find it difficult to reconcile the manís Asian heritage with the outwardly Western get up. You see, to my friend, this was a portrait of an Asian man who just happened to be gay, but who mustíve had his inner modesty suppressed -- no, overcome -- by Western and hence aggressive, predatory and deviant influences in order to appear like that. ďAsian men canít be leather daddies by nature because, by nature, Asian men are not dominant.Ē Say what?

To state that I was confused by his statement would be an...understatement. I asked him, ďBy your reasoning then, are Asians only good as slaves? Do we live only to calculate, dry clean and serve?Ē I felt like I was in the twilight zone. He countered, ďNo. Thatís not what I meant. Itís just...itís just...not right. You just donít see Asians like that.Ē Right. And you see Long Duck Dong, all the time.