The Henri 「White People “Preferences” = Yellow People Problems」

Posted on December 18, 2013
Henry Lau, fashion designer and gay New York City native, calls yellow fever out for what it is: white people problems.

And yet white people problems preferences can be a huge problem. The most vocal reactions to yellow fever have thus far been from Asian American men but from at least one point of view, Asian women have been asked hypothetically: you think being fetishized and adored is a problem? Try being totally un-adored, even categorically overlooked.

TASB: What do you, as a gay Asian American man, think of the so-called gay equivalent of yellow fever, “rice chasing”? Can you define it, for the uninitiated?

Sure. The term “rice queen” is what the gays call whites guys that only like Asian guys. In contrast to the straight equivalent–yellow fever, where Asian women are mostly turned off by it–I really don’t find it a problem provided I’m not just marginalized by my race. For me I actually see it as a way, or entry point to sexualize Asian men in a White America, which is much needed in this country. Is it ideal? No. In a perfect world it wouldn’t matter, but it’s a fucked up start in any situation.

TASB: What do you think on the other hand, about anti-Asian discrimination on gay platforms (viz: Grindr profiles that say “no egg rolls” etc), and the criticism that gay men somehow get away with racism against men of color because it’s “just a preference”? Do you think there’s any merit in these accusations?

The prevalence of the “no fats, fems or asians” on gay profile sites is so nauseating to see. In my opinion, in many ways it’s fine to have your “preferences” (however narrow they may be) but:

1) It is a little unfair for a gay to say “I’m not into Asians whatsoever” in the “no Asians” clause of their blurb. I’m not usually into skinny guys but I’ve encountered some skinny guys that are totally hot and sexy. For me to say in a profile that only allows up to three sentences that I’m not into skinny guys is saying too much. I would cut out a large portion of guys I might be into.

The physical preference you state in a profile may seem important in what turns you on sexually, but race? I might post profiles showing just my body and not my face; you can’t tell if it’s an Asian body or white body. The minute my face is revealed though, it’s “no go… you have an Asian face.” They’re not into it. That guy might as well say in his profile “no Asian faces.” Just say, “no slanty eyes.” Is that less offensive? No, but if you click through a profile based on the body and then reject the profile when you see the face, “no Asian face,” “no slanty eyes” is what you really mean.

2) Baby Asian gays see this sort of “no Asian” stuff on gay profiles so early in their unsure gay lives… how do they feel as they get into their gay adult lives? Fucked up! So you’re not responsible for racism because it’s a physical “preference,” but to state it in a way that makes baby Asian gays feel bad about themselves is awful. White people during the Civil Rights Era did not “want” black people in their businesses. Did that make it ok to put up signs that said “No Blacks”? It’s just a preference right? People would post those signs. Signs that make young black kids feel unacceptable to your place of business. Fine for those people to feel that way about black people but you don’t have a right to put up that sign. It is “racist” yes, but the real problem is in how it affects the victims of something under the auspices of preference. So your stated “preference” on your gay profile makes it so you get what you want, but it may as well be a “no blacks allowed” sign as far as baby gay Asians are concerned. Whether it’s racist or not? I don’t really care. It bothers me that it makes baby Asian gays feel undesirable because of their ethnicity. That’s just criminal.

TASB: And what about Asian men toward Asian men? Do Asian men discriminate against Asian men? Why do you think that is if so?

There are those gay Asians that only like white guys. I don’t think it’s “self-hating” thing. Maybe it is partially, but I do think it’s more likely because there isn’t enough of a hot male Asian presence in this country. I mean the ultimate manifestation of sexualization is porn, where Asian women rule. Gay Asian males? Not so much. Gay Asian guys are not considered hot in this country… At least compared to the Abercrombie white guy. Then again there isn’t any way to gauge it, because we’re not represented in any of the mediums of hotness: underwear campaigns, gay porn… so how can we expect young Asians be attracted to other Asians. We are all attracted to what the media deems attractive after all… Gay Asian males just need to be more out there in media and sexualized.

TASB: There are competing interpretations of Asian/American masculinity today: on the one hand we’ve seen the rise of the Asian male persona (people in love with Glenn on Walking Dead as one example). Many argue with me that perhaps discussions on race-informed gender politics are irrelevant now that Asian men are so “trendy” (viz: hipsters, Asian-NY fashion designers, Silicon Valley status quo etc). On the other hand, there are still very pervasive stereotypes about Asian men as not fulfilling American masucline ideals. What do you think about all that?

I think Asians have represented themselves in the normative roles: CEOs, fashion people, sports athletes etc. but if you look at idealized physicality in these representations it’s virtually nonexistent. Asian males are not sexualized and objectified in media but should be, like everything else. Leslie Kee did a book years ago when he did just that. [Ed. Note: Kee was recently arrested in Tokyo for shooting "obscene male nude photos"]

Masaki Koh & Tohma by Leslie Kee

He took nude photos of Asian men and sexualized them à la Bruce Weber and Sam Shahid (who shot Abercrombie & Fitch). It is a start. You just don’t normally find it in media, American media. I mean if there was a Calvin Klein ad campaign with an Asian male, it would be really good for the baby Asian gays. That’s why I think baby Asian gays should see Jiraiya’s stuff in America. It’s an affirmation for them. I’m as old as time but when I saw Jiraiya’s stuff I was like “wow… hot Asian muscle bears…” Pandas.

Jiraiya’s “stuff”

Not a Kung Fu-fighting heavily accented Jackie Chan.

TASB: Without suggesting “Asians all look the same,” what Asian male archetypes do you think are interesting?

I don’t think I need to delve into the nuances of Asian culture that AREN’T available to most Americans to prove all stereotypes are based on tenuous truths. Whether you buy into it or not is of no consequence to me until you come to me for it. I might refute it and embody it at the same time. It’s like when Hollywood stars did yellow face (i.e. Marlon Brando, Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn).
Yes, it’s so wrong, but supposedly OK when I as an Asian make fun of it at the same time? White people doing yellow face is sooooo wrong, but Asian people doing White people doing Asian people: Soooo right!

TASB: With your expertise in fashion and style in particular, how do you think Asian American men have evolved (gay and straight) in terms of masculine image, over the past ten years?

Well, men in general, in fashion at least, are more genderless these days. No body whatsoever. But it’s not about body in fashion anymore. It does little to help the gay male image in terms of sexualizing the body.

TASB: What’s your type?

I like hot and hot changes all the time.