COMMENTARY: “No Fats, Femmes, or Asians.” All too often, that ominous alert appears in profiles on gay dating and matching websites. It screams that the ideal of gay male attractiveness in America is not Asian nor “fat” nor “femme.” This warning is also the provocative title of a comedy show from Alec Mapa, the self-proclaimed “America’s Gaysian Sweetheart.”
Like Alec, I am also a gay and Asian double-minority. With the title No Fats, Femmes,, or Asians, Alec succinctly raises questions I have faced my entire adult life: Are Asian men unattractive to much of America’s gay community? Are we ostracized like others with “undesirable” traits? The truth is neither black nor white, but some shade of grey. Yet this much is clear: It’s time for gay men to embrace a more universal vision of beauty, one that appreciates every color of our rainbow.
Let’s begin by defining the problem: The gay world has a mixed relationship with race. Because LGBTs are a historically oppressed minority, you would think we easily accept other minority groups. But the gay male community, especially in its most elite social circles, is predominantly white. In part, that’s because racial minority groups still are not fully integrated into the queer sphere. It’s also because power in America (gay or straight) has historically been concentrated in white hands. But mostly, it’s because the men considered most attractive, by the most people in our country, are “all-American” white.
Gay men are not necessarily racist; instead, we are “lookist,” perhaps even more so than our straight counterparts. And the idealized vision of gay Adonis in the United States is white. Of course, some men are attracted to Asians, African-Americans, Hispanics, and other ethnicities. But Asians seem relegated to the bottom of the attractiveness spectrum. (My African-American friends might claim they deserve the title of worst-treated.) This is racial lookism.
I have no hard proof from surveys, statistics, or Gallup polls. This is just my opinion based upon personal experience as a gay man growing up in Los Angeles and travelling to major cities across the United States. It’s also supported by comments from my gaysian friends and observing how Asian men are treated in Gayville.
Here’s what I have seen in my life journey. The elite gay bars,
parties, and even gyms are crowded with mostly white men. The “A-gay”
culture of those who appear (or claim) to be most popular is dominated
by Caucasians. Ironically, even LGBT nonprofit organizations that
fight for equal rights need diversity initiatives. As someone who
regularly attends LGBT fund-raising galas, I often find myself one of the
few Asians (or racial minorities of any kind) swimming in ballroom seas
of mostly white men. Some of that is attributable to money, a gating
factor for entry into “A-gay” events. But another contributing force is
that gay social circles are not very race-inclusive.
And need we go
further than the mere existence in cyberspace of “No Fats, Femmes, or
Asians” and its variant phrases (like “No Asians. No Blacks”)? It’s
obnoxious that someone feels the need to express what men he does not
want, rather than just saying who he prefers. He might as well shout
“Asians: Stay away!” Would it be so hard to upgrade dialogue with
positive tone by saying: “Athletic white guys with dark hair get to
front of the line”? “No Fats, Femmes, or Asians” suggests that men who
are overweight, lower on the masculinity scale, or (gasp!) Asian are so
disdainful that it’s bothersome to even receive their electronic
messages. Hello? I’m Asian, not a leper.
Given these social
realities, it’s not easy being an emerging gaysian. When I was first
making my way through L.A.’s gay scene, I often felt invisible and out of
place in whitewashed Boystown. Consequently, I fell into the trap of
believing the only guys I might attract were the proverbial “rice queens”
(a terrible term that should be eradicated). I’m hardly unique; my
Asian friends would tell you the same. And while everyone has
insecurities, living amid this beauty racism can aggravate
insecurities in us gaysians.
I’ve since (mostly) gotten over my
feelings of alienation. Today, I believe I’m worthy enough for anyone
regardless of my or his race. That came with maturity, more
self-confidence, and realizing that everyone feels out of place in some
fashion. But those lingering bad sentiments occasionally bubble up. And I know so many gaysian brethren remain lost in an
To be clear, this conversation is not intended to bash
white gay men. Caucasian guys, I love you! Many of you are my
friends, colleagues, and wingmen! In fact, the irony for me is that I’m
one of those gaysians mainly attracted to white men. I’ve often
wondered where that derives from. Was it caused by media images during my
formative years being predominantly of white people? Is it because I am
an immigrant and wanted to fit in with mainstream America? Or it is
Let’s explore the question of why. Why is white the primary color of gay male beauty?
reason is history. Historically, there were just fewer Asians in the
U.S. gay community. Since the 1970s, the U.S. experienced an influx of
Asian immigration, including my generation from the end of the Vietnam
War. That immigration boom brought foreign-born children like me and
later resulted in more gaysians being born in America. History
also concentrated money, power, and status in white hands. Those are
all attractive traits that can further enhance the appeal of Caucasian
Another cause would be stereotypes of Asian men. No, we
don’t all look alike. No, we can’t all play violin and perform calculus
simultaneously. No, we are not all skinny, submissive, and
effeminate lotus blossoms. Yes, we like rice. In many ways, I am
completely the opposite of Asian stereotypes. I have a strong
personality, am fiercely independent, and ,, have some muscles.
But OK I confess to owning a big rice cooker ... stainless steel, of
The biggest culprit is the media. Media imagery implicitly
tells us what is gorgeous, popular, and desired. In America, most
actors, celebrities, and especially models are white. That’s true not
just for the hetero mainstream, but also in gay media and advertising.
Just look at underwear and swimsuit ads, which hold near-iconic status
for gay men. I have yet to see an AussieBum swimsuit ad featuring
Asian men or any racial minority. I have yet to go to Australia, but I
know Asians exist there!
So how do we expand our rainbow flag to
reflect the full spectrum of racial color? We can’t change the fact
that many people are naturally attracted to white men. Nor should we.
Caucasians can be beautiful, so let’s appreciate them. There are also
guys who desire Asians, African-Americans, Latinos, red hair, or big
ears. Be attracted to whoever you fancy, but be open to beauty in many
forms. Heck, as I’ve gotten older, more diverse ethnicities are now
catching my eye.
Gay television, magazines, websites, and other
media outlets hold significant power to advance the cause. They can
more frequently feature images, stories, and voices of racial
minorities. I’d love to see more gaysians on magazine covers and in
advertising. On television, the Logo network broke ground with Noah’s
Arc, a series featuring African-American gay men. Well, break out the
chopsticks, because it’s high time for Asian Arc. From mainstream
media, today’s younger generation is already growing up with more
diverse media personalities. This is especially true with reality
television shows, where racial minorities appear in almost every cast.
Let’s hope our gay media can follow suit.
Meanwhile, all you men of
other races can help with one gesture: Welcome more Asians into your
social circles. More Asians are coming out and living in gay urban
areas; they need to be better integrated into gayland. Maybe we should
start a Facebook campaign: “Friend a Gaysian.” It sounds silly but
could be quite profound. In our movement for marriage equality, we
know straight people who have daily life exposure to LGBT people will
become more accepting. Likewise, the more social exposure our community
has to gaysians and other ethnic minorities, the more racial lookism
Most significantly, let’s get beyond lookism and get
to know people for inner beauty. It would be naive to suggest that we
can completely ignore outward appearance; looks trigger initial
attraction. But if you peer beneath the surface, you can discover
allure in every person.
For too many years I tried to run away from
my Asianness. Now I embrace all that is unique about me. While I
won’t catch the eye of every guy and there may always be website
profiles decrying “No Fats, Femmes, or Asians,” I accept that I am
beautiful just the way I am. To my gaysian brothers, I hope you know
that about yourselves too. To the rest of the gay male community, I
hope you engage this conversation and begin to appreciate beauty in
every color of our rainbow.