A few years ago, I attended the inaugural Banana Conference for Asian American bloggers in Los Angeles, where I met a gentleman who was a fan of the Asian American blogosphere. He said of my blog writing (www.fighting44s.com), “You guys were great. You spoke to my demographic, which is highly underserved, heterosexual Asian men.” We shared a laugh at the mutually-recognized irony. In most communities, it’s women and gay people who struggle for recognition. In the Asian American community, it’s the reverse: heterosexual Asian men are the ones who struggle most for recognition in our community, particularly in the media. Even though homophobia and sexism exist among Asians, heterosexual Asian men are the underserved demographic that gets the least attention.
In American books and movies, real heterosexual Asian men are mostly invisible. American readers are familiar with the many mother-daughter themed works of Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and Lisa See. Theater and cinema fans are familiar with the homosexual-themed “M. Butterfly” and “Farewell My Concubine.” Few American readers are familiar with the strong heterosexual Asian male portrayals by Asian male writers like Frank Chin, Terry Woo, and Jamie Ford; and few American moviegoers have seen portrayals of heterosexual Asian males in independent movies like Justin Lin’s “Better Luck Tomorrow.” Mainstream books and pictures depict Asian American men according to stereotypes, and in the minds of many Americans, we are gay, effeminate, evil, weak, abusive towards women, and incapable of human empathy. We are mostly minor characters. We don’t exist outside of the stereotypes.
This forced invisibility extends even beyond the mainstream American media. Even within Asian American activist organizations, the culture keeps the heterosexual Asian man in his place. Most Asian American cultural organizations promote art that celebrates sexual/romantic unions between Asian women and White men or between Asian men and White men. They ignore or refuse to acknowledge heterosexual Asian men. We Asian men are de-facto exiles within our own culture. Our blog, Thefighting44s.com, was popular because we chose to tell the story of Asian American heterosexual men, while the rest of the world, Asian Americans included, ignored us.
Both Asian men and Asian America have survived stereotypes and racism against Asian men. We will continue to survive. We will continue to work our jobs, raise our families, and partake in the American dream, regardless of the stereotypes that the world throws our way, regardless of how much American media and culture make us invisible. We will grow old and reminisce about the grand old times when we struggled towards acceptance, which we finally found by getting old and becoming less of a perceived nuisance. We will cherish the minute changes in the zeitgeist and trajectory of Asian American culture; we will find happiness in the progress that came about by the natural evolution of time, and though we may remain second-class citizens, even within our own culture, we will learn to be content with what we have.
But that is the tragedy. The world consists of yin and yang, feminine and masculine. Without both feminine and masculine components, neither individuals nor cultures can attain their full potentials. We’ve read the books and seen the movies with Asian female themes, and the world knows Asianness through the Asian American story of assimilation as told by the many voices of Asian women or Asian men who have married White men. Our culture, however, is capable of much more. Heterosexual Asian men can complement (and compliment) Asian women. As Russell Simmons said, “We can spit our truth.” Heterosexual Asian men are almost half of Asian American humanity, and there’s no reason why we should be content to play only a supporting role. It’s time we raise our issues, demand to be heard, and refuse to be underserved, invisible, and voiceless.