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Saturday, May 07, 2005

Asian American Heritage Month, day 7

"Looking For My Penis": Thoughts on Richard Fung's Essay Perhaps one of the most invisible communities within the Asian American diaspora is the gay and lesbian community. And yet, the LGBTQ community is a major source of Asian sexual stereotyping, especially among gay Asian males. Furthermore, the homophobia of many traditional Asian cultures has lead to many APIA queer men and women feeling silenced, unseen, and unheard. Very little has been done to address the APIA LGBTQ community, but Richard Fung has this to say in his masterful essay:

... Because of their supposed passivity and sexual compliance, Asian women have been fetishized in dominant representation, and there is a large and growing body of literature by Asian women on the oppressiveness of these images. Asian men, however -- at least since Sessue Hayakawa, who made a Hollywood career in the 1920s of representing the Asian man as sexual threat -- have been consigned to one of two categories: the egghead/wimp, or -- in what may be analogous to the lotus blossom-dragon lady dichotomy -- the kung fu master/ninja/samurai. He is sometimes dangerous, sometimes friendly, but almost always characterized by a desexualized Zen asceticism. So whereas as Fanon tells us, "the Negro is eclipsed. He istruned into a penis. He is a penis," the Asian man is defined by a striking absence down there. And if ASian men have no sexuality, how can we have homosexuality? Even as recently as the early 1980s, I remember having to prove my queer credentials before being admitted with other Asian men into a Toronto gay club. I do not believe it was a question of a color barrier. Rather, my friends and I felt that the doorman was genuinely unsure about our sexual orientation. We also felt that had we been white and dressed similarly, our entrance would have been automatic. Although a motto for the lestbian and gay movements has been "we are everywhere," Asians are largely absent from the iamges produced by both the political and the commercial sectors of the mainstream gay and lesbian communities. From the earliest articulation of the Asian gay and lesbian movements, a principal concern has therefore been visibility.... Creating a space for Asian gay and lesbian representation has meant, among other things, deepening an undersatnding of what is at stake for Asians in coming out publicly. As is the case for many other people of color and especially immigrants, our families and our ethnic communities are a rare source of affirmation in a racist society. In coming out, we risk (or feel that we risk) losing this support, though the ever-growing organizations of lesbian and gay Asians have worked against this process of cultural exile. In my own experience, the existence of a gay Asian community broke down the cultural schizophrenia in which I related on the one hand to a heterosexual family that affirmed my ethnic culture, and on the other to a gay community that was predominanly white. Knowing that there was support also helped me come out to my family and further bridge that gap. If we look at commercial gay sexual reprsentation, it appears that the antiracist movements have had little impact: the images of men and male beauty are still of white men and white male beauty. These are the stnadards against which we compare both ourselves and often our brothers -- Asian, black, native and Latino. Although other people's rejection (or fetishization) of us according to the established racial hierarchies may be experienced as oppressive, we are not necessarily moved to scrutinize our own desire and its relationship to the hegemonic image of the white man.
It is interesting that the APIA and the LGBTQ communities are so at odds -- many APIA queer youths feel a need to choose to be part of one or the other, at odds with their own identity as a queer man or woman of colour. However, increasing visibility of gay members of the APIA community makes coming out and coming to grips with our identity as parts of both worlds easier. Here is a great example recently sent to me through email: AsianEquality.org.

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