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Simply invisible

Simply invisible


Realistic, desirable Asian males are nowhere to be found in the current media landscape. This dearth of representation is leading many gay Asian men to a distorted and troubling view of their own physical attractiveness, writes one who's seen it firsthand.

This fall George Takei came out of the closet to boldly go where no Asian has gone before. I don't even know why it made the few headlines that it did. He's irrelevant to the younger generations. Had he come out when he was part of the media landscape, he would have had a more profound effect. But today, it's too little too late.

The fact is, if gay Asian males have only George Takei as a symbol for representation, then our plight is a sad one. The problem is greater than gay Asian male representation; the problem is Asian male representation as a whole, as there is no representation at all in the media that is not stereotypical.

There needs to be someone to promote Asian male aesthetics. I have struggled with this because I know our own standards for what we find attractive are informed, if not completely shaped, by the media. Therefore, how do I find myself attractive when there is no image of Asian males as beautiful to serve as a barometer? The only Asian males who are represented in the media are kung fu fighters and wizened gurus, such as the archetypal "Mr. Miyagi," portrayed by the recently deceased actor Pat Morita.

It's different when it comes to Asian women, who are found desirable in the straight world because straight men have been socialized by the media to find Asian women exotic beauties. I'm not saying that this is a correct way to represent Asian women either, but when it comes to aesthetic representation, Asian women have certainly been elevated by actresses Tia Carrere, Lucy Liu, and Ziyi Zhang, all of whom have become sex symbols, cover girls, and objects of desire. Yes, they have played stereotypical parts, but those same roles can be seen as groundbreaking as well: Asian women as dominant vixens. Even Disney caught on with that notion long ago when it conjured up Mulan. Most recently, Liu was an FBI agent in Domino, and her character didn't play on any stereotypes.

What ends up happening with many Asian gay men, especially young gay boys, is that to find themselves attractive, they try to become the equivalent of the Asian female. There is a disproportionate number of Asian drag queens--and while that may seem an extreme example, there must be a latent psychological explanation for this phenomenon that would be consistent with this theory--in order to find oneself desirable in the Western world, the Asian male becomes the equivalent of the exotic Asian female beauty type, a sort of fetish, since there is no Asian male representation of beauty. Many young gay Asian boys become effeminate and androgynous because of their struggle to find representation to support Asian masculinity as desirable.

Sadly, Asian male representation hit its nadir when William Hung became the "Asian Idol"--with bad hair, bad teeth, no rhythm, no pitch, an ironic last name (as per the stereotype)--whom America loved for the sake of laughter and at the expense of Asian dignity. Asian men do not grace the cover of GQ and do not line the pages of the A&F Quarterly. Asian men are reduced to undesirable types, which makes finding oneself attractive a difficult struggle.

I watched Mean Girls recently with a bunch of friends. As the token Asian, I am usually the butt of jokes, which I take with a grain of rice. (I dread the release of Memoirs of a Geisha, because the term "gaysian" will proliferate.) While we were watching the film, my friends decided to compare each other to characters in the movie. Everyone else was compared to a character based on idiosyncrasies and personalities, but when it came down to the question "Well, who is Aaron?" unanimously they agreed I was one of the Korean girls--females who remain nameless and are basically humiliated in the film because they don't speak English, while they compete for the "dominant" white male figure as represented by the basketball coach. I have since decided not to surround myself with these friends, who don't see me as anything else but "Asian."

Which raises the other question: Why is it that the term "Asian" has become a pejorative in the gay scene? I'll explain what I mean with three statements I always get from guys that I've dated: (1) "Aaron, you don't seem Asian..." (2) "Are you half Asian?" (3) "I've never been with an Asian guy before." All statements, without saying it, point to my ethnicity as a negative attribute. Then there's the term "rice queen," which embarrasses me whenever the person I date is dubbed one.

The media has to become aware of this responsibility to provide Asian male representation that promotes our type as aesthetically appealing. As a last example, I will point to the fact that in the entire Real World series on MTV (13 years and counting), there have been Asian women, but never once an Asian male. We all know MTV's criterion for the show is simple: You have to fit the look.

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Aaron Gillego