Talking about race is tricky. I think we can all agree on that.
Nobody wants to be the boy who cried racist. But it’s also important to reflect and dissect some of the ways that we think about, feel for, and judge others. Society has grown more inclusive in so many ways, but we still have a long way to go. I share my experience not for myself, but for the furtherance of inclusion and understanding of minority experiences. I also understand that we all have our types. Maybe I’m not yours. Maybe I am. I’m not here to convince you that you should find men of Asian-descent to be sexy. What I do want to have is a conversation about why this marginalization of Asian men exists not only in our own culture but on a much larger scale. For my battle personally, it’s the perception of race and the stigmas behind it, true or not, that is the issue. I hope you continue reading, continue thinking, and continue growing. I hope we can do this together.
In the last few years, I have suddenly become very aware of my race. No, I wasn’t adopted, and to my knowledge, I’m only partially color-blind. It wasn’t until Hollywood started to have a conversation about whitewashing Asian characters when I fully realized that I was part of a minority group who wasn’t being seen or heard.
I am mixed race. My mom was born and raised in Hong Kong, and my father is from California. In case you need further clarification, I’m half Chinese and half Caucasian (mostly German, we think). I ride the line 50/50. I was also born in Hong Kong and then raised in a mostly white, affluent suburb in Northern California; less than 20 miles outside of San Francisco. I even went by my Chinese name for the first 20 years of my life before deciding to go by my legally given first name for “professional reasons.” I never thought twice about it until I moved to Los Angeles to act and began to learn that some people just want to put you into an identifiable box. Asian (check!). Nerd (check!). Asexual (wait). Where I was told my “ethnic ambiguity” would be an asset, I later realized that it simply made me harder to define.
Now let’s set Hollywood aside and deal with another problem at hand: the desexualization of Asian males, specifically within the LGBTQI community. It’s 2018 and people still feel that it’s OK to write “No blacks, no Asians. Not racist, just my preference” in their dating profiles. (OK, fine. Hookup app profiles.) Excluding an entire group of people by calling out a specific race is the absolute definition of racism. Plain and simple. By writing that, one implies that if someone were choosing between the last two men on earth (regardless of personality, skills, size, shape, etc.) that one option could feasibly be eliminated solely based on skin color.
Behind a veil of anonymity on these apps, people feel that they can say whatever, no holds barred, and that no one will be offended. I believe that sexual racism exists. Those who are writing “not into Asians” on their profiles aren’t necessarily mistreating Asians in their day-to-day lives, but there must be something else that lies beneath the surface, subconscious and dormant. Again, I’m not telling you that you can’t have a type, but I want to question where this “type” stems from.
The media controls much of what we see and experience as a culture. When I was growing up in the '90s, there were ever fewer Asian actors/models/storytellers in the public eye. Sure, we had Jackie Chan and Jet Li, but they were known for their martial arts and were never considered to be traditionally “sexy” leading men – and it’s definitely not to say that they couldn’t be. I always think back on the 2000 film Romeo Must Die with Jet Li and Aaliyah. In an R-rated film, the two of them had a pretty PG relationship. Even as a leading man, Jet Li wasn’t ever set up to “get the girl.”
How often did we see the token Asian character as just a tech nerd or sidekick? How often were Asian men included in People’s Sexiest Man Alive issue? How often were Asian men positioned to lead a film that wasn’t just based in martial arts? We are making progress and kicking down doors now in 2018, fighting for diversity and inclusion, but you can’t help but wonder if this period of time has shaped the way many people think and feel about who or what they are attracted to. My mind races back to what we did consider to be sexy (or even just slightly scandalous) back then and I can really only think of the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogues, filled with what they wanted us to view as the male ideal – young, straight, muscled, and white.
When I was approached to do our second season of I’m Fine (now streaming on Dekkoo), creator Brandon Kirby and I had dinner, and after a few tequilas, I told him that I wanted to talk about race. My character’s race. My race. Synonymously. I wanted to bring my own experiences to the table and put them out into the universe for others to see and hopefully relate to. Even for those who aren’t Asian, my hope is that there is still recognition of similar experiences in some of these stories. Being mixed-race, I find that I’m often not enough of one race or the other to appease someone’s compartmentalization of race. Whether it’s with casting or while dating, I find it difficult to navigate through everyone else’s preconceived notions. It’s either that, or I’m confused with being Latino or Native American. This is what I mean when I talk about the perception of race instead of the race itself.
I had an instance once where a guy told me that I was cute and that he was into me, asking me if I was Latino. When I thanked him for the compliment, I also told him that I was actually mixed-race – half Chinese and half Caucasian. The conversation then took a turn and he became disinterested. I decided to confront the situation head on and asked him if he was suddenly turned off because he found out I was part Asian. He vehemently denied that and suddenly claimed that he had been questioning his interest from the beginning, even after telling me I was cute and sexy, and that he wanted to hang out. In his perception of my race, I was exotic and sexy as a Latino, but his idea of what an Asian male represents caused him to lose interest. This is not an isolated incident.
I’ve been asked repeatedly which half of me is Asian and which half of me is white, referring to the upper and lower halves of my body, indirectly asking about my penis size. I’ve been told that I’m quite “hairy” for an Asian and that my eyes are so much bigger. I had one situation where someone told me flat-out that they could “never get a boner for an Asian guy.” I’ve been the butt of bad Asian jokes, only to be followed with “but obviously, you’re half, so I don’t even think of you as Asian.” Even something as seemingly innocent as “you’re the first Asian guy I’ve ever been attracted to” stings in ways that most can’t comprehend. As if I’m supposed to feel honored and grateful that I’ve somehow become the exception to an unspoken rule.
On the flip side of all of that, I’ve also been told by other Asians that I shouldn’t complain because I have the privilege of being half white. My plight somehow doesn’t hold any validity because part of me is part of the majority. In many ways, I feel like a nomad, wandering through no-man’s-land in search of a like-minded party, a group of individuals who have shared experiences. In other ways, I feel that everyone’s battles and experiences are so differemt that by lumping them all together, we continue feed the stigmas and stereotypes. Each and every individual voice deserves to be heard, to be seen, and to be respected.
Again, I’m not here to convince you that I am enough. I’m here to encourage you to think about where this prejudice stems from. I’m here to encourage you to think before you speak (or type). I’m here to start an important conversation about sub-marginalization within our already marginalized community. I hope you’ll join me in this open dialogue.
LEE DOUD (@LeeDoud) is an actor-producer known for his work in projects such as Ktown Cowboys and Showtime’s Californication. He can currently be seen in Dekkoo’s original series I’m Fine (@imfineseries), available internationally via iTunes, Google Play, AppleTV and Roku, and in the U.S. and U.K. via the Amazon Dekkoo Channel. www.Dekkoo.com Doud resides in West Hollywood.