No Asians!

1.11.2012

By Alexander Chee

Navigating the pitfalls of anti-Asian sentiments in online hookup sites.

Illustration by Keith Negley

I more or less forgot about the Internet tricking grind. I’m happily settled with a man, and we don’t have one of those one-eye-over-the-shoulder relationships where we each wait for the other to leave the apartment and then hit the web for the day’s hookups. So it was off my mind until this summer, when a Tumblr, Douchebags of Grindr, launched with a storm of ridicule aimed at particularly egotistical profiles.

Much of the mockery on the DoG blog is reserved for the guys whose profile photos consist of Bentley keys and Black AmEx cards, or ones like the arrogant hottie whose profile reads, “I choose you! You don’t choose me!” But what caught my eye was that there was a special place in Internet Hell reserved for the ones who put NO ASIANS on their profiles.

The no asians proclamation is usually accompanied by no FATS/FEMMES/POZ, as if being Asian is something treated with a visit to the gym, doctor, or behavioral therapy. There’s a temptation here to try and litigate with the no asians crowd -- “How can you say you’re not into Asians? What about Harry Shum/BD Wong/Daniel Dae Kim?” -- but that’s really beside the point. Disturbing as it was to see, I decided to really think about it.

Last fall, Alex Rowlson, in his piece for Canadian gay mag Fab, wrote, “The culture of sexual liberation has been replaced by sexual segregation.” The thing is, if that happened, it happened a long time ago. Racial preference in the gay community is not new.

Twenty years ago, I moved to San Francisco after college and entered the bewildering maze of gay bars there that suggested gay life was more about race than about gender preference: There were bars for white men to meet black men, black men to meet black men, white men to meet Asian men, Asians to meet Asians, and so on.

This Balkanized sexual landscape presented certain complications. I’m half Korean, half Scotch-Irish. Inside of these strict scenarios, I disappoint the rice queens, as well as the snow queens.

I have sometimes passed as white to those who didn’t ask questions. I’ve had guys ask if I was everything from Swedish to Mexican or African American. If they didn’t ask, they’d engage in a guessing game. In the meantime, I’ve had boyfriends of many creeds. The only thing my boyfriends have in common is me.

Other men -- whether on Grindr or in their race-based gay bar -- are casting a fantasy, which can now be staffed from a website. They have more in common with Civil War re-enactors than potential sex partners.

I was never a fan of Internet sex in my single days. Most of the dates I had then struck me as more like online shopping than sex. It was like ordering sex off Etsy -- highly specific to the producer’s tastes and eccentricities, almost artisanal.

The guy who was really into nipples, well, that was all he wanted done. Ditto the guy who was into massage or the guy into role-playing. And the guys who were into Asian guys were really into them, about as much as the guys who were not into them and felt the need to write NO ASIANS on their profiles.

A glance at the commenter battles on DoG showed two sides: one saying it was racist to put NO ASIANS on a profile, and the other saying, “Preference isn’t racist!” This discourse soon led to the laughable claim that Asians were trying to “guilt-trip” hot white guys into having sex with them. Here’s the thing: It’s just not the same as someone advertising an interest in Asians.

And it’s not racist to not to be attracted to Asian men. I’ll be the first to say desire is not a democracy, but a dictator. Sex is not fair; it’s just sex. But race-based rejection was, in the old days of real-life cruising, silent. Likewise your reaction. If someone rejected you because of your race, you didn’t usually hear about it unless you pressed your case. But men who put NO ASIANS on their profile are not stating a preference.

If your profile reads “I block more Asians than the Great Wall of China!” you’re not only racist, it’s even weirder than that: You’re looking for a fellow Asian hater to date. You’re using the disguise of a semi–socially acceptable way to say you’re a racist and looking to hook up with other racists. That’s fine. Just change your profile to RACIST, SEEKS SAME instead.

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