Pictured A protest outside of Details' New York office. Photo by Doug Meszler
In late March 2004, Details Magazine put out a humor piece entitled 'Gay or Asian?' in its Anthropology column, and it has been a quiet storm in the Asian and gay community ever since.
The lead paragraph drips with tired Asian cliches and phallic innuendo as it reads '... entering the dragon requires imperial tastes. Choke up on your chopsticks and make sure your labels are showing. Study hard, Grasshopper: The sharpest eye takes home the plumpest eel.'
My honest, knee-jerk reaction after the first paragraph, 'Did I just hear a Chinese gong go off because I had no idea that magazines these days had this kind of technology?'
The article goes on to feature a young fashionable gay Asian male. His hip outfit is deconstructed with an analysis that is dotted with gay and Asian stereotypes like 'Ryan Seacrest Hair: Shellacked spikes, just like that crazy cool Americaaaaaan!' Another reads 'Evisu Jeans: $400. A bonsai ass requires delicate tending.'
Images such as the one portrayed by Whitney McNally, the author of the article, are ones that have plagued Asians in America for quite a long time, from Mickey Rooney playing Chinese complete with fake accent and buckteeth in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's to the surprisingly recent popularity of William Hung of American Idol fame.
When you throw in Long Duck Dong from Sixteen Candles, all the Revenge of the Nerds movies, and Vietnam War flicks where an Asian prostitute is hustling a white American soldier, is it any wonder that the Asian American community is in an uproar over this recent display of racism?
But the complex messages of the Details piece beg further examination because now there is a gay twist thrown in. (And I mean gay twist as in, Boy Meets Boy is like The Bachelor but with a gay twist. Remember when that show almost blew up in the producers' faces?)
In a 1996 essay entitled 'Looking for My Penis: the Eroticized Asian in Gay Video Porn,' Edward Fung talks about how Asian males are relegated to always playing the submissive role of bottom, feeding into this pre-conceived notion that Asians are submissive and feminine. In 2004, the 'Gay or Asian?' piece reflects this by using phrases by describing the model in the piece as delicate with 'ladyboy fingers' and 'sashimi smooth chest.'
Unfortunately, gay Asians have to deal with being put in a box like this all the time. One might think, 'Who cares?'
I care. I was a kid who spent a part of his childhood living in white suburbs thinking I would look more attractive if my nose was less Asian. Those were some really lonely times, especially when some kids in my class went out of their way to remind me how different I was from them.
And it hurts just as much when I see tactless morons in these gay chatrooms saying out right that they find all Asian guys unattractive and not to bother with an IM. (Who the hell do you guys think you are anyway? Real people with real feelings read your profiles, jackass. Check your attitude and your calendar. It's 2004.)
But to my genuine astonishment, Details magazine is coming out with an apology after being besieged by queer Asian and non-queer organizations all across the country. Approximately 15 to 20 organizations like GLAAD, NGLTF, and the Asian American Journalists Association came together with a united voice. An online petition started as a protest of the Gay or Asian article garnered more than 22,000 signatures. Queer Asians activists all over the U.S. encouraged other Asians to protest.
The end? As in 'happily ever after' the end? I'm not sure. But for now, I'm going go home and to eat my rice with no shame, no apologies.