Editors' note: Part 1 in Jason Tseng's series on racism and dating was posted in April.
It is New Year's Eve in New York City, and "new" is definitely the word du jour. It's a night of many firsts: My first New Year's in the City; my first New Year's with friends and not family; my first New Year's drunk. My roommate has dragged me to a party being thrown by his rich boyfriend and his equal parts loud, drunk, and obnoxious friends. The Bridge and Tunnel crowd pack the SoHo brownstone to the brim as they clamor for more alcohol at the open bar. Not even the disdainfully privileged surroundings of Yuppie excess could quell this feeling of anticipation and excitement at the prospect of a new year, a page turned, a fresh slate. As I said my farewells to 2008, I bade adieu to the Bush Administration, to my life as a student, to unemployment, and... to the last link in my long chain of relationships with Rice Queens.
2009 promised to be a year full of opportunity, driven by my personal mandate to initiate the Sticky Revolution: an act of radical anti-racism by rejecting colonialism and supporting my community of fellow Gay Asian men through deliberate valorization of a de-valued and disenfranchised group. Asians dating Asians - the quintessential "f- you" to Euro-centric beauty standards and fetishists. We don't need your validation, mainstream gay culture. We are a self-sustaining nation of queer Asian fierceness! And we don't need nor want your approval.
Filled with the vigor imbued by my quest for racial justice, I set out to find my partner-in-crime, my brother-in-arms, my comrade, my fellow radical queer Asian freedom fighter. I ditch the SoHo party and made my way to one of my regular haunts, a gay bar in Hell's Kitchen. Into the mouth of the lions' den, I thought to myself as I flashed my ID to the bouncer. Not five minutes into wading through this very standard gay bar for the young, the white, and the restless, I found myself deflecting the attention of two bar regulars. White, skinny, and pretty; the pair always seems to be there when I show up. Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum always insist on greeting me with a high pitched "Clarence!" Clarence, I eventually discovered, is their Asian roommate to whom I allegedly bear a resemblance. Clearly, we are the same person, interchangeable, and therefore it is completely acceptable to call us by the same name.
Undeterred, I made my way to the dance floor. Sweaty and numbingly loud, I started moving to the music, trying to lose myself in it. Having devoted a good portion of my college career to dance, I have always viewed the act as a profoundly cathartic experience. What better place to excise my past self than the heart of the malfeasance? Then, like some cheesy scene in one of those insufferable dance flicks, our eyes meet through the crowd.
He is tall, handsome, and Asian. With a strange sense of fate, the crowd parts allowing us to meet. No words are spoken at first, we just dance. (Yes, I am aware of how corny this is... stay with me, I promise it's worth it.) I eventually get his name (Tim), and his number. We dance for a while before parting. I leave the bar that night filled with pride. I have taken the first steps in my Sticky Revolution.
Fast forward a month, and Tim and I have been dating for a few weeks. He's a former soldier, Filipino-American from Upstate New York. He grew up and army brat and followed in his father's footsteps in joining the army. He served for several years in Korea and elsewhere before receiving an injury which disqualified him from service. Discharged honorably, he found himself in New York City, sleeping on a friend's couch and trying to make ends meet with a job bar bussing. He's funny, refreshingly different from me, and on top of it all, he's quite the looker. Almost too good-looking. I don't believe my luck! I'm by no means top-tier in the looks department, so bagging the hot Asian-American army-vet-turned-artist seems all too perfect. My Sticky Revolution had started off without a hitch! Or so I thought...
It's late and we're on one of our usual dates: a bar crawl. He likes to dance and easily becomes bored, so I constantly find myself hopping from one club to the next, in pursuit of that increasingly evasive good vibe. The date hasn't gone particularly well. It's the first time we've gone out with my friends, and he's been distant all night. Disappearing for ten, fifteen minutes at a time, chatting up other guys in front of me, acting very dismissive of my presence; I'm taken aback by the change in his character. My friend who joined us earlier in the night informs me that he's trying to make me jealous and want him more: ensuring that I know that being with him is a privilege, not a right. I'm in a sour mood and he can tell. As we sit in the cab on the way to our next destination he asks me a question on a topic I have been dreading: race.
"So, what kind of guys do you usually go for?" comes the thinly veiled inquisition on my racial preferences. Heck, I've used that line when I try and sniff out fetishists. Isn't it enough that I'm clearly into you?! I think to myself.
"Oh, you know... I don't know, I don't really have a type. It's more about a guy's personality that I'm attracted to." I respond, attempting to dodge the question.
He presses further, "No, but you've gotta have a type. Tell me about your exes. I don't know anything about them."
Who is this guy? Exes are the last thing I want to be talking about. "Well..." I pause, considering how to bring up my problematic dating history, "My type is kind of all over the place. I've dated a lot of different kinds of guys." I can tell by the look in his eyes this is an unsatisfactory answer, "I used to date a lot of rice queens, but I'm kind of done with white guys for now."
As the words leave my mouth, I want to stuff them back inside.
"Oh, so is that what this is about?" He asks almost with a snicker, as if he knows that he's caught me in some kind of trap. "Are you just going to go back to white guys after you're done with me?"
I can hardly believe this is happening. The same paranoia I felt when dating white men, was being aimed squarely back at me. What could I say? In some way, yes, I sought out Tim because of his race. It proved to be an important quality in my search for a relationship free from racial tension and power imbalance. I had never been with an Asian guy, and it was an experience I had avoided for too long. I have always viewed having a healthy attraction to Asian men was a way for me to personally find beauty in myself; but it was far from the most defining part of his identity I was attracted to. I thought that I was doing something good: radically resisting a racist society by celebrating what the hegemonic culture discards and abhors. But with the tables suddenly turned, had I become everything that drove me to this point?
Moreover, is this part of the self-hatred that has been ingrained in our Asian American minds? The idea of dating another Asian guy seems to require some cognitive leap, some justification, for seeking out a relationship with an Asian man. Do white people have this dilemma when approached with prospective partner of the same race? Do white people question whether their white partner's desires for them is motivated by race?
This would be the last time I would see Tim. To this day I wonder what spurred his comments. I had never mentioned his race while we dated. Nor had I discussed my personal divorce from the colonial schema of the rice queen. Was he responding to some unspoken offense I had committed? Had he dated Asian men before me? Was this uncharted territory for him as well? I can't help but wonder if perhaps we were both more alike than either of us realized. Driven apart by our mutual suspicions.
to be continued...?
Originally posted at belowthebelt.org