Kris Larson 「GAPA brings gay Asians into the limelight」

Posted on June 26, 2008 commentaires
The Gay Asian Pacific Alliance was voted by the community as this year’s organization grand marshal, coinciding with its 20th anniversary of serving the gay and Asian communities.

“The Gay Asian Pacific Alliance was founded 20 years ago as a support group for Asian and Pacific Islanders who had HIV and AIDS, because at the time there weren’t any health services that addressed the cultural and linguistic needs of queer Asians,” said Robert Bernardo. Bernardo, a Pride Parade grand marshal himself in 2006, served as GAPA’s chairman in 2005 and 2006, and has been a member for 16 years. “Over the years, the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance branched out and started having other types of programs. They had rap groups for people coming out of the closet, social functions purely for fun, and then a political arm.”

Today, Bernardo said, GAPA has three basic branches – political, social, and cultural – and serves roughly 500 members worldwide.

GAPA member Alan Quismorio served as the group’s cultural chair for three years, using music, dance, and theater programs to help bring gay Asians and Pacific Islanders into the limelight and overcome stereotypes.

“When we were doing the theater project we confronted a lot of the biases in the gay community and the Asian community,” Quismorio said. “[As gay Asian men,] we weren’t seen as anything more than fetishes. Or we were seen as model minorities: we did good work and were social morons. The work I put out there really addressed that.”

Quismorio co-produces the annual GAPA pageant called 「Runway」, in which GAPA selects a male Mr. GAPA and a transgender Ms. GAPA to serve as community ambassadors for the year. In honor of the organization’s 20th anniversary, this year’s pageant – set for Saturday, July 19 at the Herbst Theatre – will feature most of the winners from previous years, including Bernardo.

GAPA’s political arm has been working tirelessly as well. “Over the years, GAPA has tackled really big issues,” Bernardo said. “The beginning of HIV and AIDS education and prevention, and in the early- to mid-1990s we dealt with immigrants’ rights, and more recently, issues of marriage equality.”

“Without GAPA there wouldn’t be an API Wellness Center,” said Quismorio. “Back in the early 1990s, there was no organization or foundation that reached out to the Asian and Pacific Islander communities in regards to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A lot of [members of] the community were afraid to find help.”

Bernardo added, “At the time, GAPA formed its own branch of a nonprofit direct services agency called the GAPA Community HIV Project, and today it’s called the API Wellness Center. The API Wellness Center was the merging of the GAPA Community HIV Project and the Asian AIDS Project.”

Bernardo recalled stereotypes from the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that GAPA has worked to overcome.

“Early on, during the 1980s and 1990s, people believed gay Asians were immune to AIDS,” he said. “People felt AIDS was a gay white disease, or a gay African American disease, but Asians don’t get it. GAPA [was] instrumental in educating the public that Asians are not immune and everyone needs to protect themselves.”

Now, GAPA works to present positive images of gay Asian men to both the Asian and gay communities, with booths or floats at most major Asian street fairs, including the Filipino Fiesta, the 「Cherry Blossom」 Festival and, of course, Chinese New Year’s Parade.

“GAPA was the first gay group, period – not just gay Asians – to get involved in the Chinese New Year’s parade, and has been involved since 1994,” Bernardo said. “It’s quite an achievement, because the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce that runs the show, it’s a pretty conservative group, so for them to invite GAPA is a big deal. We’ve really made inroads in making queer Asian visibility at the forefront, and making sure that we create really positive images for the community.”

Often, said Bernardo, GAPA encounters people who simply aren’t aware that gay Asians exist.

“That is the biggest stereotype,” he said. “Like when you’re watching Chinese TV or Filipino TV, whenever they show the gay [community] in San Francisco, it’s always gay white men and white lesbians and not any queer people of color. We are working to change that. We’ve made inroads. The Filipino channel always calls me now, because they want to talk to a real live, gay Filipino,” he added, laughing.

“As you know, the stereotype is Asians are quiet and submissive,” said Quismorio, but added that the stereotypes were more prevalent when he came out in 1992 than today. “While there’s still work to be done, I think we’re much more aware of our community and how we function in it and how we communicate with other people. We have a louder voice in both the gay community and the Asian community.”

Author: Kris Larson/Date: June 26, 2008/Source:

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Efren 「Gay Interracial Relationships: On Being “Sticky Rice” and Loving Other Asian Men」

Posted on June 17, 2008 commentaires
So Jeff Yang up and did it – he talked about interracial relationships among Asians, but added a twist and focused on straight Asian men. And while it’s all well and good, and talks about on a really peripheral level the varied issues that straight Asian men go through, like the issue of being a person of color and disenfranchised, yet taking advantage of heterosexual American male privilege and demanding to be with a white woman; the dearth of Asian men with women of color, particularly black women; and looking – finally – at the problems that mixed-race Asians have to go through, particularly in regards to ethnic identity, I find myself irritated because they’ve left me out. Again.

As someone who’s been romantically and sexually attracted to other Asian men since at least sixteen (when I had my first boyfriend, who happened to be Vietnamese), I found myself with relatively less psychological baggage than most other queer Asian men who happened to have dated white men. I wasn’t particularly looking for someone Asian, but my first boyfriend happened to be a transfer student from San Diego, a Vietnamese guy with something different, and so we started hanging out a lot. When we started holding hands, it seemed like the most natural thing to do, even though people were talking. The six months that we dated had all the trappings of puppy love and unrealistic expectations (moving in together at age seventeen, going to the same college, etc.) And while I ended up ending the relationship because of my own fucked up internalized homophobia and the threat of being disowned, he opened up the possibility of being proud of who I was as being Asian, and being Filipino. He was genuinely interested in my cultural background, asking questions about food, history, and my upbringing. My mom loved him and wondered what happened to “my friend” after I broke it off – the only other time she ever really liked a guy I dated was my current partner. I can safely say that thanks to him, he started me on a path to become relatively well adjusted in terms of how my ethnic and sexual identity came to play. Even though I totally fucked it up.

After coming out publicly in college, I began to meet other queer Asian men, whose preferences were more towards white men. What was annoying to me was that they always had to feel apologetic towards their preferences for me. One guy, who had also dated primarily white men, said in all sincerity, “Wow, that’s so cool that your first boyfriend was Vietnamese. That is so... so... revolutionary!” I remember looking at him and wondering what planet he stepped off of, and why he felt he had to justify his preferences to me, especially since there was no attraction between us. I can see where he was going – that he was going through the now oft-quoted adage (and I’m taking liberties with this) that “Loving Asian men is a revolutionary act,” especially if you’re another Asian American man who’s been taught to believe that white men are the pinnacle of desirability.

Needless to say, this has been a constant theme ever since. Coming out in the early to mid 1990s, there were very few out Asian American men for me to look up to, and I could count all the Asian men with other Asian partners on the fingers of one hand, and have fingers left over. I saw how Asian men were either completely ignored by the mainstream queer white media, or simply seen as sexual objects, like a male archetype of Suzie Wong, the dragon lady, but with a gay twist. Being unable to get a green card, Asian men were simply seen as gold-diggers, with small dicks who are exclusively bottoms, and most importantly, who can’t be trusted. Fuck with us and we’ll take all your shit. We couldn’t speak English fluently, nor be fluent in American culture.

No wonder so many queer Asian American men coming out at that time had so much baggage.

I’ve never seen my primary attraction towards Asian men as something political or particularly revolutionary – it was just part of who I was and what makes me tick. I’ve seen guys who felt a need to be called “sticky rice”, or be an Asian man attracted to other Asian man in order to be seen as politically acceptable, when in reality, they preferred white men, even though their politics was truly spot on. I’ve seen Asian men who’ve blindly preferred other Asian men, then spout off on the most racist stuff on non-Asian men (white, black, whatever), but automatically assumed that we were buddies because of our mutual preferences. I’ve been with guys who claimed to be “potato queens,” but only because they had never met another Asian guy who was Americanized as they were and suddenly realized that whole new dating opportunities existed to them.

It’s sad to see that the dialectic that exists among queer Asian men revolves around Asian and white, with very, very few Asian men dating other men of color, particularly black. Latino men are seen as being “almost white” and are seen as culturally acceptable, but I’ve only met 3 or 4 Asian-black male couples whose relationships lasted a long time and were not fraught with cultural expectations based on stereotypes.

That being said, personally, it’s never bothered me to see Asian men with other men, white, or of color. Given that the dating pool for us “sticky rice” is so limited to the point that we can be downright incestuous (10% of 3% of the total American population, you do the math) I have better things to do than to waste my time trying to regulate who my fellow Asians can date. I’m ecstatic to see couples get together and survive long enough to become long term, regardless of who their partner is. Given the outright homophobia that exists in many of our Asian communities, and the racism that both partners feel, particularly if they’re interracial, it’s a victory and a triumph to see couples survive.

Thankfully though, as the number of queer Asian men coming out has skyrocketed thanks to the ‘net, and also seeing that the young queer Asian men coming out have less racist baggage and internalized homophobia, it’s nice to see that there are more Asian-Asian (and Asian-men of color) male couples out there. And it’s funny to see that my partner and I are now one of the old-timers, having been together eleven years, gotten married, and then got really famous for being married. And it’s also nice to see Asian-white male couples who are acutely aware of their race politics... and live their lives out.

I remember when my partner and I were first dating, and we would hold hands in the Castro or in Union Square, and people would do double takes seeing two Asian guys together who obviously weren’t related. I remember getting the confused stares from fellow Asians with white partners who wondered what we were about – and the creepy, lust-filled looks from white guys trying to imagine us in bed. It’s nice to see that this is no longer such a novelty.

Hopefully, this post – however long-winded as it is – will put an end to my own personal frustration of seeing all the straight Asian people bitch and moan.

You all got it lucky. Look at my frickin’ dating pool.

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Alexander Chee 「Korean Enough: Alexander Chee on New Korean American Fiction」

Posted on June 14, 2008 commentaires
Patrick Clifton / Via Facebook: alexanderchee

I lived my first three years in Korea, in my grandfather’s house in Seoul, before we moved to Truk, Hawaii, Guam, then Maine. My mother tells me that the first written words I ever read aloud were “Obi Mechu”, the Korean version of, if your American child looked up at you and said, “Schlitz Beer.” I was on her lap, looking over her shoulder at billboards as we drove through Seoul.

My father’s family in Korea keeps traditions they brought with them from China in the 15th Century that the Chinese no longer keep; they use an archaic Chinese script in the keeping of our family’s records. They perform, inside the confines of my family, these rituals of this lost homeland – even as they tell me they fear I’m “not Korean enough,” with no sense of irony whatsoever.

If I were, say, to be as like them as they asked when I was younger – if I were to be “Korean enough,” I still would never be Korean enough for some. I would still go to my grave an alien. I think of them, though, now that I live in America. I wonder if what we do as Korean Americans is so very different from what they do in Korea with the traditions of China. If we are headed towards becoming a performance of the myths of the homeland that would be bizarre and even antiquated to the people who live there now.

If there’s one experience common to being Korean American, it seems to me, it is that we all put each other through a test of authenticity, at least once. Do you speak Korean? Did you go to Korean school? Korean language camp? Can you curse in Korean? How spicy can you take your food? I remember asking a group of Korean acquaintances, at a bar night out in Koreatown, in New York, for the translation of a word. They said, Oh sure. Chok-ka. Which means, more or less, Take out your dick. It wasn’t the word I was looking for.

Luckily, I had learned to fact-check.

Koreans in Korea aren’t like this. In the many times I’ve visited, I’ve never been tested by them, and my shortcomings as a Korean American were often laughed off. If anything, I’m treated as simply American: they explain what we’re eating, even though I’ve been eating it as long as I’ve known them, since birth. This is Kimchi, it’s kind of spicy, they tell me. They want me to know what they know, and I watch as they eventually contradict each other.

My sense of Korea is a highly subjective one, related to me by my family, and as such, imperfect and partial. My visits to them, living with them, that was my Korean school. It included not being taught Korean. I was supposed to exhibit certain Korean ideals (be hardworking, good, sober, top of your class) but as an American (you speak English, you fit in, you have friends).

There is a mistake in my first novel about Korean religious history that comes from something my grandfather in Seoul told me with great authority, and I’ll correct it in future editions. This was my lesson in learning to fact-check my relatives. But this is not what Koreans do. What Koreans, and Korean Americans, do, is what people of every ethnicity do: they create highly subjective, imperfect and partial narratives, in our case, about Korea and Koreans, that will at times fail a fact check, and yet will tell the truth of some Korean, somewhere. What my grandfather said to me was true for him as a believer, if not factually true. For myself, as someone who was mixed race, Hapa, I came to know that all ethnicity was, at least at the level of content, an intensely personal fiction. As a writer, in some ways, what I do, what we all do, is simply make the personal into the literal. Literature.

When I was a child, I became an inveterate bookworm. I read constantly, whether it was enormous science fiction novels like Frank Herbert’s『Dune』, or Cheever’s『The Wapshot Chronicle』. I read books found in old summer camps we rented, I went to libraries and tried, in childish hubris, to be a completist, to check every book out. And yet I didn’t read anything by an Asian American writer until I was in college. And when I read Maxine Hong Kingston’s『Woman Warrior』, it changed my life forever, as much as David Leavitt’s『Family Dancing』did – fiction that affirmed to me that I could be a literary writer and be gay, as well as a literary writer who was Asian American.

When I was coming of age as a young writer, hanging out at the Asian American Writers Workshop, the Korean American writers whose work I knew and loved were Chang-rae Lee, Heinz Insu Fenkl, Susan Choi, Nora Okja Keller and Theresa Hak Yung Cha. These were among the published, though. Of the writers I knew who weren’t published at that time, there were, for example, my students there, like Ishle Park, who became the poet laureate of Queens, or Elaine H. Kim (not the academic), included in the fiction I’ve gathered here, with an excerpt from her novel-in-progress,『Gwangju』. There was Min Jin Lee, whose novel『Free Food For Millionaires』was one of last year’s biggest fiction debuts. After reading my way through a mountain of books to find even the first one of them, they’re all precious to me, even as I also find the contemporary brand of the Asian America writer a problem.

When I became a writer, I had a single aesthetic ideal: to write stories as complicated as I knew the world to be. As a teacher of creative writing now, it’s been disturbing to me to watch some of my most talented young students in the last two years, young writers of color, turn to the writing of science fiction, where they invent worlds without the ethnic troubles of our own. Something, somewhere, is going wrong, and when I urge them to write about their own ethnicities, they look at me as if I’m speaking to them in something like Korean. But I also remember being full of rage as a young student writer, when I’d tell people stories of my family in Korea, and they’d say to me, “Wow, you’ve got a lot of material.” Or, “Write that down.” I didn’t want to believe that my future as a writer relied on me selling my life’s content. It made me feel like my future was the literary equivalent of a yard sale.

The solution for me as a writer, the way I didn’t lose my mind or my sense of my own dignity, was through a question of content vs. sensibility. Is it a Korean American novel because there’s kimchi, or is it a Korean American novel because it’s informed by someone who grew up with even a distant sense of Han? My first novel,『Edinburgh』, for example, is in one way a reinterpretation of the Korean and Japanese myths of the fox, plotted using Aristotle’s principles for tragedy. In writing it, I was drawn to the idea of these “mistakes” – when your grandfather tells you something and then you go to college and find out it is something else. Where does his truth come from? That was where my first novel went, following after that.

When we become writers, we are asked, Is it an Asian American novel? This is a literal question, not at all a rhetorical one. What I fear my students resist is how we are made to work inside of a brand, whether we want to or not: “Asian American Fiction,” and in fact, a subset of that brand: “Korean American Fiction.” We worry if they will “chink” the book up, put chopsticks and teacups on the cover, or dragons, or an Asian woman. Will we be described, against our will, as immigrants, when we were born here? Will we be accused of trying to “make the book marketable” if there’s Asian content? Will we be branded as sell outs if there’s not “enough” Korean content? And if we write work that isn’t what people expect of us, of our brand, will we find an audience, or even be allowed to find an audience? A question you might want to ask yourself sometime is, What are the novels and stories we don’t see because someone doesn’t fit the brand? What, in other words, would have become of Theresa Hak Yung Cha if she had tried to be a writer after the establishing of the brand?

A recent discovery for me is Younghill Kang, one of the first, if not the first, of Korean American writers. A1933 Guggenheim fellow and a protégé of Thomas Wolfe, his fictionalized memoir,『East Goes West: The Making of an Oriental Yankee』, tells what we now know to be the immigrant’s tale, and it ends with what he calls “the death of the state of exile”. It is a Nabakovian stylistic tour de force, from start to finish. To read『East Goes West』is to visit a writer who has no idea of what Asian American lit as we know it is – he has no sense of the tropes or of avoiding the tropes, he doesn’t imagine reviewers expecting him to address this or that, he doesn’t write waiting to get letters telling him he’s betrayed his people by not being Korean enough. He uses words such as “oriental” with no irony. What fascinates me about him, or Theresa Hak Yung Cha, or Nora Okja Keller, or newer writers, like Nami Mun and Paul Yoon, or the writers I’ve brought here – Catherine Chung, Jin Young Sohn, Elaine H. Kim – is not the Korean American content, but the sensibility that emerges from their fictions. The way the world looks to them, through them. Catherine Chung is at work on a novel tentatively called『Burial』. In this excerpt, her narrator relates stories that date to the conflict that drove Younghill Kang out of Korea – Catherine is writing of a woman who, in one way, is trying to understand how the Korean nationalist struggle wounded her Korean family, and in a very real sense, her. Jin Young Sohn is telling stories about gay Korean Americans in Orange County, looking for each other, and finding each other on Craigslist, in this excerpt from his story『NOGM』. And Elaine H. Kim’s novel in progress,『Gwangju』, is set after the Gwangju student massacres in 1980. Her excerpt here is a woman’s meditation on the death of her son in the riots.

In 2003, two years after my own debut, an interviewer asked me about the future of Korean American fiction. If you could see what I see, I said, you’d know it’s in good shape. I was referring to my students, to the writers I heard at readings, the writers coming up into print. And so I mean for this to be a glimpse into what I meant then: Catherine Chung, Jin Young Sohn, Elaine H. Kim, their work to me is like a rough draft of the future. The connections between them are not obvious ones. And that, it seems to me, is exactly how it should be.

– Alexander Chee

Author: Alexander Chee/Date: June 14, 2008/Source:

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