Daniel Reeders 「Rice Market Paper (AGMC 2005)」

Posted on November 14, 2007 commentaires
Le point de vue d'une « Rice Queen » australienne éclairée, chopé sur le blog The Rice Market (ha ha, très sarcastique comme nom). L'auteur nous démontre que les homosexuels asiatiques ne sont pas seulement de pauvres victimes de l'ostracisme des blancs, mais y participent également de manière active.

This is going to be a very interesting paper to deliver, in part because this is a multicultural conference and I’m an extremely Anglo-identified white man (despite the fact that I’m not from an Anglo background and I’m only second generation Australian myself). I’m going to start by hedging it about with a whole bunch of disclaimers.

The first is that this is not going to be a paper about the experience of being an Asian person on the scene — it’s a paper about the experience of a white person in an Asian-identified scene, what I refer to as the Melbourne Gay Asian Scene. That’s constituted on line in chat rooms at Gay.com, to a lesser extent on Gaydar, and also in venues like the Peel, the Star Hotel, and to an even lesser extent, the Market Hotel.

I am not talking here either, really, about the victimisation of Asian people — that was a comment made by Asvin when he read a draft of my abstract: he said “ooh, those poor Asian people.” I think that impression came from the fact that I don’t talk here about the many and various ways in which people working within that scene can subvert the narrative that I’m going to describe.

And finally while the name of the paper is『Market Forces』, I’m not an economics student. This is a piece of theatre. It takes something that we might think is totally opposite to the area that we’re describing, something really inhumane, and applies it to a very human thing, love and relationships, to show how some of the narratives that work within that scene actually are quite inhuman, and actually dehumanise the people that they describe.

Three years ago, for the first time, I began to date an Asian guy. I started dating very early, on the “Chicken” scene at first, and by the time I came to date my former partner Sam, I had experience of being the sexual target of older men. Coming to the Melbourne Gay Asian scene I found myself in a reversal of the situation. Suddenly I was being identified with the older gay men; I found myself written into a narrative of which I’d been extremely critical and hoped to leave behind.

I met my former partner online, so at the time when I encountered the venues constituting the Melbourne Gay Asian scene, I had been in a monogamous relationship for quite some time. What I found confused me. I found that my then-partner, the Asian men I chatted to online, and later the men I met on the scene, all wanted to tell me how I should behave; they were all constructing a category for me called “Rice Queen,” and they strongly expected me to behave in accordance with that category. And I found that extremely problematic.

Firstly it was confusing. I had to learn what a Rice Queen was, and when I learned I was pretty unhappy. This paper describes the process I went through, in trying to make sense of how that scene worked, and in trying to make sense of what these expectations were that these people were placing on me.

A bit about methodology. I kept what I will describe, for the academics in the room, as a field journal. I worked within an action research framework, even before I knew to call it that. Reading it now is embarrassing, because I read back and think “you fool!”, but it was quite important to me, to be able to read back over my own attempts to make sense of what was going on.

I fought pitched battles online in chat rooms with the older white men whose attitudes towards Asian men I found problematic — and later I’ll pick over some of the meanings and values from those, that are evident in those exchanges and how I wrote them up in my journal.

Self-analysis is remarkably dodgy, so I measure my honesty by talking to a whole bunch of people and by learning from a whole bunch of people. Most of them were Asian men. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the men who, instead of saying “you are a very juvenile and inexperienced young man!”, took the time to explain to me what was wrong or how they saw the scene as being different from what I was writing.

So let’s start with some definitions. And nearly any paper about this scene will start with definitions. Rice Queen, Potato Queen, there’s some debate about what to call the next category, I call them Salad Eaters but you also hear International Buffet, and of course Sticky Rice.

It interested me right from the start that these were talking about eating, that these were talking about consumption. I was troubled by something of a paradox, which is this idea that comes from market theory that in a market place where something is scarce, its scarcity gives it greater value — and the paradox was that while there were fewer Asian men in Melbourne, their market value on the mainstream dating scene was lower.

Their scarcity didn’t increase their value, and it wasn’t hard to work out why that was. The sexual racism of the mainstream scene makes white men who are willing to date Asian men comparatively scarce, increasing their market value among the Asian men they want to date. So effectively, sexual racism operates even within a scene of people who are willing to date Asian guys. It operates to privilege whiteness instead of Asianness as what’s valuable in that market.

In this narrative of market theory, I saw the scarcity of Asian-attracted white men artificially inflating the dating power that comes with being an Asian-attracted white male. So, in that scene, not all Asian men are Potato Queens, but it is very difficult to find a white man in that scene who is not a Rice Queen, on the terms of a definition I’ll outline shortly.

I also saw this narrative authorising sexual consumerism instead of respect. People who spoke to me, about what it meant that I was attracted to Asian men, seemed to be expecting me to behave in a highly consumeristic fashion — to date someone for two weeks and then dump them when I found someone younger and more beautiful. That was a real problem for me. On the other hand, behaviours which on the mainstream scene are considered generally acceptable — like that one, since when you’re 19 you do date people for two weeks and then dump them — in this scene were considered both atrocious and my birthright.

To accommodate the paradox I came to redefine the key terms, to say that a Rice Queen is “an Asian-attracted white male who accepts the network of power relations sustained by sexual racism, that operate to privilege him as a consumer, and to disempower and commoditise Asian men.”

That leads to a subsidiary definition of Potato Queen as “an Asian male who accepts the way the scene works and competes within it for the attention of Rice Queens against other Asian men.”

What does that mean that I’ve taken these two definitions — which were originally rather simple — and loaded them up with a whole bunch of power-related meanings?

It meant for one thing that I copped an awful lot of shit from Rice Queens (and maybe that was to be expected). They worked very hard to characterise what I was doing as being in competition with them. They said “Oh right, you are just trying to paint yourself as a nice young white man so that you can get more Asian boys.”

I copped an awful lot of flak as well from Potato Queens, from Asian men who worked within that scene. It felt like I was rocking a boat of a system that, though it didn’t necessarily benefit them, was a system that they could understand, and one they could work within, as [sneer quotes] “competitive Asians.” So operating with those definitions brought me an awful lot of trouble.

Next let’s talk about the market forces operating within that market place. I saw three main market forces, and they were: valuation, competition and regulation. (After too many years of the Howard government it may be no surprise that I approach the problem with market forces and competition policy foremost in my mind!)

Valuation works as I’ve described it… if you are scarce you are valuable, and it worked so the scarcity of white men who were willing to date Asian guys meant that they could have their pick of the field; they could date people who were an awful lot more attractive than they would be able to date on the mainstream scene.

(Question from the floor about ethnic fetishisation.) That’s valuation but it didn’t mean that Asianness in itself is automatically valued. A particular kind of Asianness is valuable within that scene. It’s someone who is young, someone who is physically beautiful, there is an ethnic connotation to it, and newness and inexperience were especially valuable among the Rice Queens with whom I had a real problem.

That was significant because they were saying “oh no, I don’t have any racial issues, I’m just attracted to Asian men”, but they were particularly attracted to Asian men with whom they could engage in a relationship marked by a massive power imbalance. That was what made me think “OK, no, this isn’t just a particularly racially enlightened white guy, this is a person who is actually enjoying the way he benefits from the way racism has structured that scene.”

The second market force is competition, and that became a huge issue for me because, although I was in a long term relationship, I was constantly described, in rumours and gossip, as “competing” with other Rice Queens, and if I wasn’t competing with other Rice Queens to date Asian men, then I was competing for the hearts and minds of Asian men — and I absolutely copped it in the chat rooms about that!

Any disagreement there was immediately rewritten as competition, and I found that hard to deal with. It meant that I couldn’t talk to the boyfriends of some white guys because I would hear later that I had been hitting on their boyfriend.

That’s the competition aspect. I’ll talk a bit now about the “regulation” aspect, the way gossip is used to regulate people in that scene, looking at this phenomenon of “Leftovers.” Has anybody heard the concept of Leftovers before? I’ll read quickly from a journal entry.

Rice queens think that sticking their cock into an asian guy gives them proprietary rights over that person, so that when they dump that person, or even if that person dumps them, they become that rice queen’s “leftovers” (tho it doesn’t work in reverse — a rice queen is never called the “leftovers” of an asian guy).

It’s a territorial thing, as tho in sleeping with an asian guy they’ve somehow marked him. (Tho I admit I wonder about [deidentified] and herpes). Calling a guy their leftovers degrades him, but that’s not the real point — the reason they’re willing to casually trash his reputation is purely as a means to control other rice queens — accusing someone of “chasing their leftovers” is 0.001 degrees removed from saying that other person wants their sloppy seconds.

In my case it has important connotations for credibility. [Deidentified] clearly views asian guys as a commodity, the conspicuous consumption of which gives him prestige. (Rice queen kudos, if you like). For him, the more asian boys he’s fucked, the more credibility he has.

That was how Leftovers seemed to operate. If I was friends with, or if I so much as talked with, someone who was the ex of a prominent Rice Queen, then I, or more commonly my boyfriend, would hear later that I was “chasing his Leftovers.” That made me livid with rage, because of the incredible disrespect with which it treats someone they had seen fit to date. It suggests that they saw him only as a status symbol. This happens with gossip behind the scenes, but also with the outright hostility, as my partner experienced when he went out on the scene, although that was also because he was trying to escape from that scene, had real problems with that scene, and that was not on.

Rice Queens — especially online — chat openly about the sex they’ve had with Asian men, and they name the Asian men. This is not just done to humiliate and to sexualise them, it is also done as a way of representing those people as only sexual beings and as commodities instead of active and empowered players within that space.

The real problem, I found, for my relationship was the way the Rice Queen narrative racialised everything, the way that it over-determines other important stories like love, like the fact that it was never possible for us to be confident that the other person loved us for who we were instead of for what colour we were. So in writing this story of market forces within the scene my aim was to find a way to escape it. That was my focus using the application of a cultural story to give an explanation of what happens on the scene and to say “Okay, I don’t want to be a Rice Queen, I want to be like the Asian men who date white guys without being Potato Queens. I would like to be able to date someone whom I find attractive without accepting all the privileges that’s going to offer me.”

Some complications to my story...

First complication is the fact that the market is bidirectional. Asian men are not just commodities, they are also consumers in their own right — though the point of my story is to show how their ability to consume can be reduced by representations. That’s not uncommon in capitalism. People who buy Nike sneakers become products themselves when they are sold by an advertising company to Nike as units of mindshare. In human markets, the roles of consumer and commodity are reversible.

Another complication is the increasing common “Stickiness.” Rice Queens hate stickiness. The worst vitriol I ever saw in a chatroom was directed at an Asian man who was attracted to other Asian men. His (white) attacker thought that was disgraceful. Stickiness has the potential to disrupt the logic of white male privilege by significantly expanding the dating options available to Asian men.

But the complication there is that a number of Sticky Rice are behaving like Rice Queens themselves — using that narrative of how good and enlightened they are, because they date other Asian men, to sustain dating practices based in racism. I witnessed a fair amount of inter-Asian racism where people of one Asian ethnicity were incredibly derogatory towards my partner, who was of another ethnicity; and I could see that replicated among Chinese men who would say “I only want to date a Chinese guy” or Singaporean men who would say “I will only date a Singaporean guy” — which is an astonishing degree of racial specificity.

I want to conclude with one quote to illustrate the fact that I get off lightly in the way that scene works. Bits of this paper have been a bit of a whinge about how awful it was to be a white guy objecting to his press. But I’m aware I got off lightly, compared to the crap that my former partner went through.

Whenever we talked about breaking up:

Sam, whose unique Sam-ness outweighs his gayness and Asian-ness put together, felt angry that he would be rewritten as Just Another Asian Boyfriend, discarded by a GWM in his quest for an ever-younger-cuter-fresher Asian boy to fuck. The violence of this narrative reinscription for Sam is evidence of the human cost of the power and balances within and without the Asian-Caucasian relationships, even for those who consciously try to escape the logic of the Rice Market.

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