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One Foot In, One Foot Out
Room for Squares
by Philip Wong on Aug 01, 2008
Gay Asian Males, do we really exist? This week, I set out to find the juncture between two vastly varying cultures. One, steeped in old world traditions and the other, more a product of free modern thinking. Ultimately, I expect Iíll find the GAM at the crossroad between East and West, but as I travel along that route, I hope to get a better understanding of why weíve proven so elusive until now.
As a whole, it is safe to say that gay culture deals a lot in sex. I mean, sex sells, it drives, it motivates and it even sometimes helps sway the outcome of major political elections. We watch it, we read it, we sniff it, we feel it and we taste it. To put it simply, we gays are big on sex. We Asians, on the other hand, mmm...not so much.
I canít even remember the last time anyone in my family so much as mentioned the word "sex". Come to think of it, thatís probably because it doesnít exist. There is no Chinese equivalent of ďsexĒ or ďfuck", and if there is, itís probably so slang that it hasnít even trickled its way into wider acknowledgment. Instead, we have phrases that mean ďmake loveĒ or ďget on the bed". For some reason, saying to your partner, ďHey, letís get on the bed togetherĒ just doesnít carry the same effect as... say, ďFuck me".
No, sex is very sanitized in Asian culture. And because of this, anything even remotely counter to that will automatically be rendered as unsafe, unnatural and dangerous. It becomes the subject of whispered conversations, of knowing winks between depraved individuals...the stuff thatís not to be spoken of in the company of morally upright adults and definitely not in front of children. For these reasons alone, homosexuality remains widely misunderstood. And one thing that all cultures have in common is a fear of what they do not understand.
All of which makes being a gay Asian American male a uniquely challenging experience. Iím not saying that other cultures donít have it tough because, simply put, I donít know much about them. I can only speak of what I do know and what I know is that ďgayĒ and ďAsian,Ē like oil and vinegar, donít mix. One requires you to be sexually experienced and adventurous, whereas the other demands your entire attention be applied to respect, reputation and family. Itís almost impossible to reconcile the two.
Perhaps thatís why Asian representations of the fabled homosexual are so sparse. The gay male is often depicted a feminized and sexualized eunuch in Western culture, but things arenít much better in the East. Take your pick from the catty hair dresser, the catty fashion designer or overly catty best friend, all of them recent portrayals of gay men in Asian television. Clearly, imagination is no expense when it comes to popular caricatures of gay men. When you have no positive frame of reference, youíre forced into hiding, and in doing so creating for yourself a disjoint between two wildly different personas lodged within the same person.
The taking on of one identity absurdly assumes that you will renounce the other. Or at least thatís how itís supposed to be, given the current requirements. But maybe the situation isnít as extreme as Iím making it out to be. Maybe weíre making a new blueprint, one that enables you to have one foot in the door while the other is out painting your stomping grounds red. Maybe this way, we can finally have dinner at home with family and still make last call at Chaps.
by Philip Wong on Aug 01, 2008