Gay Asian and Proud
Two issues ago MCV ran a story titled ‘No Rice, No Curry’ by comedian/writer Scott Brennan. The article was about racism on gay male dating sites and it garnered a lot of response. In a follow up to that story, Rachel Cook spoke to three members of Gay Asian Proud about their experiences of racism in the gay community, how it plays out and what they think needs to be done about it.
“People would say I wouldn’t have sex with an Asian, they’re dirty,” Azza says of his time in Sydney’s gay clubs. “I’m going back ten or so years ago, but I’m very aware that it still happens now.”
Azza was born in the Philippines and came to Australia when he was six years old. His family settled in Sydney and he moved to Melbourne four years ago to overcome the negative impact racism in Sydney’s gay club scene had had on him. It was in Melbourne that he joined Gay Asian Proud (GAP), a social group for gay men from Asian backgrounds, their partners and friends.
“I wanted to be part of a group that embraces my cultural identity,” Azza says. “I was quite damaged from the racism I experienced and I’d use reverse racism.”
As part of that “reverse racism” Azza chose not to have sex with white men even if he was attracted to them. He also chose not to have any white, gay male friends. And while he says that has changed for him now, he is still concerned about the exclusionary terms used on gay male dating sites such as “no Asians, no Indians”.
“I understand people have preferences in terms of sexual tastes, however I disagree how people express that. If someone says they prefer Caucasians that’s fine, but if I see ‘no Asians no curry no rice’ it still takes me back. It’s not a devastating experience for me any more, because over my years of journey coming out as an Asian gay man I know that not everyone is racist. But I’d like to see more open discussion about this. I’d like to see a forum and talk about what’s the difference between racism and sexual tastes, and how should we express that.”
Arjun, who is from India and studying in Australia, read Scott Brennan’s story with interest. His response to it was based “on an ethical understanding of what prejudice essentially means”:
“On a public network, such public statements are in fact racist because, like all other racist statements in other walks of life, they generate a sense of negativity about a particular community,” Arjun says.
Arjun's experience of reading the exclusionary prerequisites on dating sites sees him questioning whether he would want to explore the gay male dating scene in Australia.
“There have been various references online to the prevalent use of these prejudicial statements on people's dating profiles, and it does make one apprehensive about the prospect of dating here. It is difficult and demoralising to find yourself confronting, in the process of discovering a new city, a world of assumptions about you that are based entirely on conjecture and generalised ideas that belie your individuality.”
GAP convenor Budi Sudarto says gay Asian men are still dealing with the same issues of alienation and stigmatisation as they were when the group first started in the late 1990s.
“Racism is still a part of it and it is an ongoing issue,” Budi says. “It’s also about self esteem and how to establish themselves as a gay Asian man in Australia, in a white dominated gay culture.”
Like Azza and Arjun, Budi says the effect of seeing stipulations such as “no Asians” on people’s online profiles is demoralising.
“You absolutely feel rejected,” Budi says. “There is no way to escape that feeling. It affirms that we are still not accepted [and] that we are still being excluded based on our race.”
Some of the online comments on Scott Brennan’s story were from people who believe it is not a matter of racism when someone specifies ‘no Asians’, it is simply a matter of preference; however, according to Budi, “just because it’s a preference doesn’t mean that it is not racist”.
“People have difficulties accepting that this is racist because no one likes to be called racist,” he says. “Not many people are able to think analytically about how race influences their preference if their preference has been influenced by racial stereotypes and the creation of gay Asian men as being less masculine, or effeminate, or only wanting one thing from white men and that’s a visa. How much of that has influenced someone’s personal preference?”
While it’s obvious that some gay men feel comfortable expressing their lack of desire for Asian men on online dating sites, when that level of anonymity is removed it is a different story. “I think it is probably different in the clubs, because I imagine someone would find it difficult to say to someone’s face, ‘Sorry, no Asians’,” Budi says. “But online there is a barrier maybe that makes some people feel that they can express that.
“However, a lot of gay Asian men when they are in a club feel that when they like someone, and it doesn’t matter what race that person is, there is a thought of, ‘Is that person going to find me attractive and how much of my race is going to influence that?’. Race is there in the background.”
The influence of these issues on gay Asian men’s self-esteem cannot be ignored and Budi believes the only way to start addressing them is by challenging people’s assumptions and questioning why it is in gay culture that white men are still positioned as the most attractive race.
“We need to start talking about this, and maybe it’s a preference because we don’t see any positive representation of ethnic minorities. We don’t see gay Asian men as being hot or even sexual because all of those things are associated with white men. We need to establish the conversation.”