(15 min read)
Toxic White Masculinity
Of course, when scrutinizing the Asian women who ignore the marginalization of Asian men, it is also critical to examine the behaviors from the opposite side, as there are problematic behaviors and mentalities that are propagated and adopted by a number of men in online spaces. Nowhere is this more apparent than in spaces like Reddit, which is home to a number of Asian men who reactively exhibit toxic or contradictory behaviors—behaviors that would ironically deter Asian women, whether they are on the fence regarding these matters or supportive of Asian men. While not everyone in these spaces engages in these behaviors, it is still an issue worth criticizing.
The problem with posts such as these is that they serve as ammunition for faux Asian feminists and activists to use and argue that Asian men are indeed patriarchal, white-worshipping, petty, internalizing racism, MRAs, PUAs, Red Pillers, and whatnot.
Unfortunately, these are not only limited to dating:
Posts like these only serve to victim-blame Asian and Asian American men for the marginalization they wrongfully face. Rather than addressing the issues, they only further reinforce and uphold white supremacy without confronting or dismantling these structures and institutions, which have global influence due to Western countries’ adoption of neoliberalism. They are, whether directly or indirectly, perpetuating the narrative that in order for diasporic and native Asian men to transgress the confinements of emasculation, they must emulate toxic white masculinity—ultimately seeking to attain the same privileges, status, and power that white men hold over white women and women of color rather than condemning and eradicating these toxic ideologies. Ultimately, the onus is on white men and women, of course, as they are the ones who have created these notions, but perpetuating these same ideologies is counterproductive as it fails to address the fundamental reason for inequality by allowing power to remain in the hands of the oppressor.
Again, while it is important to note that these types of Asian men do exist and they are problematic to progress, especially in regards to mobilizing men and women to stand together among our fractured diasporic communities, it is also very problematic to view Asian men as a monolith.
A Holistic Problem
So, what is problematic about these Tweets and posts regarding each half of the Asian community? After all, it would be completely deceptive to argue that a subsection of Asian men with misogynistic behaviors or Asian women with internalized racism and misogyny are nonexistent. What is troubling about this discourse is not the acknowledgment that these people exist, but how these issues are being addressed.
When discussing the behaviors or actions of Asian men and/or women as a collective, especially from the perspective of someone from a diaspora, how they are socially conditioned matters. These individuals often juxtapose Asians to whites—typically at the expense of the former and to the glorification of the latter.
Additionally, too many of these individuals are generalizing, slandering, and disparaging all members of the opposite sex based on the actions of a vocal minority. Accusations of misogyny and toxic masculinity, while applicable to a number of Asian men, should not be made lightly. Doing so only perpetuates the narrative that these behaviors are inherent to Asian men, who already struggle with attaining a voice and whose issues are dismissed due to the presumption that they benefit from male privilege in diasporic spaces. Likewise, when addressing the issue of Asian women being complicit in perpetuating negative stereotypes and upholding the status quo, it is important to remember that responding by adopting misogynistic ideologies, especially alt-right, Red Pill, MRA, PUA, or other toxic white masculine ideologies, will only serve to widen the gap between both Asian men and women.
Regardless of the intention, people will read these messages and potentially internalize them—this is especially true for individuals with influence like Celeste Ng or Ellen Oh, both of whom have a large online following. Treating Asian women and men as separate entities, as if we exist in a fictional vacuum or independently of one another, will only prevent the necessary discussions from being had and impede real progress.
Take, for example, the circumstances in intra-ethnic and inter-ethnic marriages within the Asian American community¹³:
Patterns of Intermarriages and Cross-Generational In-Marriages among Native-Born Asian Americans, The International Migration Review, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Fall 2009)
Overall, the inter-ethnic marriage rates among the various Asian American ethnicities born in the United States are higher than the intra-ethnic marriage rates. Rather than marrying Asians from other ethnic backgrounds, a plethora of diasporic Asians are marrying whites. The highest rates of interracial marriage occur between white men and Asian women, particularly Korean, Japanese, Filipina, and Chinese American women, with Korean American women marrying out the highest at 45.1%. While Asian American men do marry out to white women, the rates are still relatively lower compared to Asian American women, and they tend to marry Asians from other ethnic backgrounds at a higher rate. What’s particularly important to note is that the diasporic population of Asians around the 1960s and 1970s was increasing at a rapid rate, primarily due to the influx of Asians from the motherland.
Another study found that only sixty-five percent of Asian American men interviewed were in a romantic relationship or partnership¹⁴; on the contrary, over seventy-five percent of non-Asian American men report being in a relationship or partnership. Not even education elevates the chances of an Asian American man’s appeal, despite them being twice as likely as white men to attain a bachelor’s degree. Other factors, such as socioeconomic status, cultural background, and nativity status, also appears to have little effect in improving the desirability towards Asian men. Another study cited in the aforementioned paper also found that over “ninety percent of women from different racial groups with racial preferences excluded Asian American men,” with forty percent of Asian women expressing a similar sentiment. What’s interesting to note is that “Asian women are just as likely to be in a romantic partnership as white women.” The same cannot be said for their male counterparts:
“The differences we identified between white and Asian men were consistent with notions of a racial hierarchy in dating preferences… Published U.S. Census statistics on marriage suggest that Asian American men eventually marry; among Asian American men ages 40 to 50 years, just 12% are reported as never married compared with 16% of white men. However, these figures include Asian men who dated and married outside of the US – hence, they would not have suffered under the same racial hierarchy as they might have had they dated in the US.”
This is not suggestive of romantic privilege among Asian women, as some might argue, considering that the reason for their supposed success in dating out can be chalked up to their perceived hyper-feminization, which simultaneously applies to heterosexual and homosexual Asian men, although it manifests differently and ultimately to all Asians’ detriment. Asian women, like Asian men, are still not treated as people.
Queer Sexual Racism
When addressing interracial relationships within the Asian diasporas, the perspectives of queer Asians are often missing. Unfortunately, as with any subset of a population, the issues that afflict the queer Asian community reflect those that afflict the Asian diasporas, as evident in articles like Vice’s “Online Racism Makes IRL Dating Hell for Gay Asian Men”¹⁵. While there’s a fair amount of media addressing the prevalence of racism towards Asian men in the gay and queer communities, the same cannot be said for queer Asian women. Thankfully, I was able to find two Reddit posts that I believe echo the hurdles that queer Asian men face in the dating world and an article that reflects the uncomfortable racial dynamics belying interracial relationships with white people¹⁶. Perhaps it should be taken with a grain of salt, considering how little information there is, but since similar problems seem to afflict all other individuals of different sexual orientations in the Asian diasporas, there is little reason to presume that it is any different.
As evident by the above screenshots from the Actual Lesbians subreddit, the first user posting the thread is challenging white lesbians who echo statements similar to their male counterparts—both heterosexual and queer—and virtue signal to women of color in an attempt to make them feel honored that a white woman has made a woman of color an exception to the rule. On the other hand, the second user questions whether they are attracted to Asian women. While this may seem genuine, why does it matter that white women, specifically, are attracted to her? If anything, this inquiry comes across as a plea for white women to validate the user’s sexual appeal and attractiveness. Her acknowledgment of white men’s supposed attraction towards Asian women—which is rooted in a history of colonialism, rape, exploitation, and simultaneous ignorance of the racial and power dynamics belying relationships between Asians and whites—is problematic, to say the least.
These two Tumblr screenshots exemplify how racist queer white women can be and how they too contribute to upholding and perpetuating white hegemony over racial minorities. Though queer white women face both homophobia and sexism, due to the intersectionality of sexual orientation and gender, they are still benefactors of white supremacy and will thereby exhibit similar behaviors and adopt racist ideologies. They may even act more defensively when confronted than heterosexual white women avoiding accountability by citing a heteronormative culture that overlooks the hurdles that queer women face and marginalizes them. Their marginalized identity is used as a shield to deflect valid criticism of their racist behavior.
If this transpires in the lesbian community and among queer women, then it should come as no surprise that it also transpires in the gay community.
A book titled Geisha of a Different Kind: Race and Sexuality in Gaysian America by C. Winter Han delves into the racist perceptions of gay Asian men that are often internalized and externalized by both gay Asian men and other members of the gay community, and how they shape self-image, interpersonal relationships, and other facets of life¹⁷. Steeped in Orientalism, these have led to the gendering of Asians as feminine compared to the masculine, idealized Europeans and the idea of the inferior Other—essentially establishing the idea of a normal in-group and an abnormal out-group, similar to that of the paternalistic master and slave dynamic. It is important to note that these racist perceptions and beliefs are not exclusive to gay Asian men and are applicable to all Asians, regardless of sexual orientation, place of birth, gender, class, income, and other factors, though they may manifest and impact different demographic subsets of the population in slightly different ways.
The following quotes, sum up the current state of the gay community, as well as how gay Asian men are gendered and racialized by whites and by one another:
“Sometimes, some of the men I’ve slept with, some of the recreational, you know, habits or drug choices that I’ve made. Some of the priorities I have made in the past were not always the best because I have wanted to look, to appear to lead, a different lifestyle as opposed to the one I actually have or am given. I think most of it is me, maybe not wanting to be white, but a lot of it has to do with being, wanting to be accepted by whites.”
“It, [in reference to rice queens and the like], is an attraction to me because of my Asiannesss, my otherness. Again, this has nothing to do with who I think I am, my individual qualities as a person, or even as an object of desire. It is the fact that I conveniently fit into someone else’s fantasy. And they expect me to be so flattered by the attention of a white man that I will automatically bend over and grab my ankles.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate my culture. I love learning about the history of it, the traditions I know of. I understand the language, I just can’t speak it. I guess personality-wise, I just don’t fit in. I am more independent, I want to get out of the house. I’m more rebellious.”
“I’m the whitest Asian boy you’re ever going to meet. I mean, I’m just not like other Asians. I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable around them. See, with Asians, there’s this sense of competition, like you have to be the best, you have to go to the best schools, have the best cars, things like that. I never got into that. I was always much more laid back, I was always like, whatever. So, I guess, I’m not the stereotypical Asian guy.”
“With Asians, almost all of them do drag or walk like a faggot, are skinny, limp wrist and will basically suck off any old fat white man that they come across because that is all they are able to get looking the foul way they do. Even most Asians are repulsed by their own kind and chase white men because even they find themselves disgusting.”
“Asians didn’t date other Asians. We only dated outside of, um, we only dated non-Asians. In fact, I remember the very first time that I met an Asian who dated Asians. I actually sat him down and quizzed him for an hour because he was just such a strange animal, I mean, you know, I couldn’t believe I met someone like this… But we only dated other people that were not Asians, they could be black, they could be Hispanic, although we didn’t date a whole lot of blacks or Hispanics, just a few. Um, mainly white.”
“I always feel like I stick out, walking down the street, at work, at school. And it isn’t that I want to be invisible, not that, but I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be a part of things, I wanted to not have to explain. I always had to narrate who I was and [his white partner] could walk into any situation and people would love him. He’s intelligent, he’s articulate, he’s very social, he’s blonde haired and blue eyed and good looking. I never thought I could do or get or have, um, I guess a part of it is identity and part of it is self-esteem. I didn’t think I could get those things without him.”
“In the gay community, there’s a big sense of competition among gay Asian guys [due to the lack of rice queens, a term used to describe gay white men who prefer Asian men]. It’s this, “I want a white guy thing.” So, a lot of gay Asian men see each other as competition and so they don’t really want to be friends with you. I mean, there are straight Asian guys who are bananas [a pejorative term for Asian people who are perceived as wanting to be white] but in the gay community, it seems so much more common.”
“I’d go to a bar and there would be like two Asian people there, and I would be one of them and I tried to go talk to the Asian guy, because that’s what I’m used to, you know, the racial solidarity thing, and they would brush me off.”
“During one Night FantAsia event, there was a midnight show where the drag queen hosting the event brought four men on stage to play the dating game. Not surprisingly, the man selected from the patrons to play the role of the “bachelor” who selects a date among three choices was a white man, while the three “contestants” vying for his attention were all Asian… The host asked the contestants, “If you were to sleep in a bunk bed, would you sleep on the top bunk or the bottom bunk?” Predictably, the first contestant answered, bottom, followed by the second contestant who gave the same answers. The expected answers were met with polite laughter. However, when the third contestant answered that he would sleep on the top bunk, the audience, both Asian and white, began yelling out their disbelief.”
“For the longest time, I really thought it was me. I thought I wasn’t doing something right, I thought if I only tried harder, if I only did this or that. After a while, you start questioning your own worth and thinking that you don’t have any. That took a long time to overcome, a really long time.”
As one can see from these anecdotes and observations from gay Asian men, which have been prevalent throughout the community and has been noted by the author himself, one can see the pattern of behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs that are present in the gay Asian community manifesting in heterosexual Asian women as well. This is, of course, not only limited to these two demographics, considering that these biased images and beliefs apply to all Asians, regardless of background or personal characteristics.
Race Trumps All
What about Asian men and white women?
It is important to note that while this interracial pairing does happen¹⁸, it is not as prevalent as the inverse due to the fact that white women overwhelmingly prefer white men¹⁹; however, the same issues that afflict the rest of the population among the Asian diasporas can still be observed in these types of relationships. Considering how queer Asian men and both queer and heterosexual women do pedestalize and seek validation and approval from white people, treat their white partners as trophies, adopt white fragility, protect and uphold white supremacy, discreetly or overtly seek to distance themselves from their Asianness, etcetera, it should be noted that the same can apply to heterosexual Asian men. Studies also confirm that a number of Asian men view the success of romancing non-Asian women as an indicator of elevation in status²⁰, likely as a byproduct of their subjugation through emasculation or internalization of negative stereotypes regarding Asian women.
What this ultimately boils down to is how race trumps gender, sexual orientation, income status, and other factors. Race is the primary factor that determines how you will experience life in the West, whether or not you are cognizant of it, as well as the prevalence of internalized racism within the Asian diasporas.
According to a paper written by Liao, the “Internalized Racism Scale for Asian Americans” (IRSAA) has five factors, which are Endorsement of Negative Stereotypes, Sense of Inferiority, Denial or Minimization of Racism, Emasculation of Asian American Men, and Within-group Discrimination”. While there is much to say regarding this topic and the study conducted, the ultimate purpose of this tactic is to uphold white hegemony by keeping the oppressed complacent. Internalized racism conditions diasporic Asians to feel racially subpar to whites and to accept fabricated stereotypes, thereby leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy where they embody these stereotypes or endorse racist views and sentiments associated with their own ethnic groups, demographics, and cultures as truth.
It also markets the desire to be more “white,” whether physically or culturally, as a means to attain upward mobility and acceptance, and typically includes preferences and biases towards whites over Asians and other people of color. Internalized racism also leads to individuals discriminating against members of their own racial group through endeavors to distinguish themselves from the racial stereotypes associated and to “rise above them”—sometimes manifesting in a superiority complex within the individual over the “inferior” rest of the group. Finally, it leads to the denial or downplay of racism against Asians, whether towards Asians collectively or towards a particular ethnic group, and is typically linked to the adoption of “colorblindness”, a racial ideology that insists ignoring race will eliminate racism²².
Given how individuals tend to act when socializing with whites vs. Asians or other people of color, those who are intimately affiliated with white people, romantically or platonically, are subject to scrutiny and skepticism from a subset of the community. Considering the current state of the Asian diasporas and the looming presence of white hegemony over every other facet of our lives, from income, status, legal issues, mental health, education and more—is it truly a surprise that the relationships that are most intimate and valued to us are also heavily biased?
As individuals responsible for the socialization and construction of our own homes, communities, societies, cultures, and the world, for giving fuel to existing ideologies, behaviors, and biases, is it completely unwarranted to assert that our personal lives are also political? Is it unwarranted to acknowledge that our personal relationships, like other choices and actions we take in our lives, can play a role in dismantling or upholding the current structures under which we live? Is it unwarranted that we criticize and hold individuals, groups, and institutions that uphold these structures accountable, especially when they serve to further marginalize or oppress us?
Can we truly ignore the larger implications of our personal choices?
Even Tria Chang knows she can’t:
“He hates it when I do this. So do I, really. I know it’s unkind and self-loathing, but every time I see another couple of our racial makeup, a little part of me sinks. We live in San Francisco, so this dip is as common as the hills. In these moments, I wish we were anything else ― that he were my gay best friend or we were startup co-founders, that he were Asian and I were white, that we were exquisitely ambiguous races, or that I could sink like my feelings into the sidewalk, be a little worm, and date whomever I want without considering social perception.”
Written by Jia
- Han, C. Winter. Geisha of a Different Kind: Race and Sexuality in Gaysian America. NYU Press, 2015. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15r3zzm.