Rachel Cook 「It's time the gay community got real about racism」

Posted on July 06, 2015
Is racism a bigger problem within the gay community than the broader community? Rachel Cook speaks with three people who say this is an issue it’s time we stood up and owned.

This month three years ago MCV ran an article written by comedian/writer Scott Brennan titled 「No Rice No Curry」. It was about racism directed at Asian men on dating apps largely from men from Anglo and European backgrounds. The article caused a flurry of online debate between Asian men speaking out about their experiences and those who were defending their right to ‘express their preferences’ as they called them.

As a follow up to that story I interviewed three men, one from the Philippines, one from India and one from Indonesia. They had all experienced racism directly from Australia’s gay male community. Again the story attracted widespread interest and debate. In light of an upcoming forum run by the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council (AGMC), 「Chilli and Spice, Curry or Rice - Sexual appetites, ethnic stereotypes, and racism in our LGBTIQA communities」 which is taking place at Hares and Hyenas later this month, we thought we’d take a look at where we are at with racism in our community. Has there been a shift in the way people ‘express their preferences’ on online dating apps? Are we seeing more integration between different nationalities within the gay male world and if not, why is it that racism in the gay community seems to be so intrinsic?

Andrew Li was born in Australia to Chinese parents. If his name sounds familiar it’s because he won the Grand Prize for the Men on Men Art Competition last year. Andrew says that while he experienced little racist behaviour at primary and high school it was a different story once he entered the gay community.

“I was quite shocked because you come out and you enter this community and you identify with it and then all of a sudden you’ve got this prejudice and discrimination in this place that’s meant to be accepting. It’s quite disheartening,” Andrew says.

When Andrew had first come out he chose to not use an image of himself on his dating site profile. However, as he chatted with different men he would eventually send his picture through. He says some men expressed their disappointed that he hadn’t told them he was Asian while others were outright abusive.

“One of them said ‘I hate people who don’t state their ethnicity in their profiles’. He was expecting a non-Asian guy and then he got an Asian guy.

“However, the worst one I received was from a guy who had no picture himself either, but then asked me to show him one, when I did he said you’re a disgusting Chinese person. I was shocked, but it wasn’t because it was so much racist it was because the person on the other side was intent on leaving this nasty message knowing that another human would receive it. I find that happens on dating sites all the time, people don’t realise there is a person on the other end.”

According to Andrew it is still common to see ‘No Asians No Indians’ on dating sites. He says his Asian friends are all aware of the problem of racism in the gay community. One of his friends filed a formal complaint with a popular dating app but said it seemed there was little that could done about it.

For Andrew and his friends the issue lies in the harshness and bluntness of the language used. While they accept people will have preferences they say we need to look at how that is expressed.

“You wouldn’t go to a person of colour in a bar and say don’t talk to me because you’re Asian – so I don’t see why you should do it on an app or online”
– Andrew

“I think the biggest issue is when people express their preferences in a disrespectful and hateful way and I think that is really unnecessary. You can see profiles where people express what they like and they don’t put people down and I think that’s more acceptable.

“You wouldn’t go to a person of colour in a bar and say don’t talk to me because you’re Asian – so I don’t see why you should do it on an app or online,” Andrew says.

For Andrew his experiences of discrimination are changing, not because he sees a huge shift in attitudes within the community but due to how he has decided to deal with it.

“I used to be gutted by seeing that stuff but now I try not to let it get to me. I try and fight through it and at the end of the day I try to maintain a positive outlook.”

Budi who moved from Indonesia to Australia in 1998 agrees with Andrew in terms of there needing to be a shift in the language men are using on dating sites.

“We need people to understand that someone is on the receiving end of those rejections,” Budi says.

“And that that rejection is not based on their personality or their qualities or their attributes but because of the colour of their skin and that is damaging. And whether it’s about being rejected or being exoticised it still has a negative impact on our well-being and that’s a conversation that people need to understand.”

“I still remember coming out as a gay man 20 years ago and white men were the standard and now as gay Asian men, and really just Asia in general, we have more security in the economy and there is a sense of pride about being Asian. I see that now and so for some Asian men now the white man is no longer the standard, it’s no longer seen as the only option. It is a growing change in the culture way it is a changing mindset.”
– Budi

Part of the problem is the current emphasis on masculinity and the assumption made about Asian men and masculinity. Budi says the stereotype of the effeminate Asian man is still alive and well.

“It seems as if now gay men are obsessed with looking for a straight acting man and the cultural construct of gay Asian men is that we are effeminate men, we are still being emasculated – so because of that some of my friends still say that face that rejection.”

It could be said that the narrow assumptions of who Asian men are largely due to the lack of representations of people from Asian backgrounds in the media and Australia’s entertainment industry. While we have a significant population of people from different Asian heritages living in this country their profiles in newspapers, magazines, television, film and advertising is still almost non-existent.

Budi says:

“I would like the media to be more inclusive so we see more representations and I’m not just talking about the gay media but media in general.

“Having said that, my issue in the wider gay culture is that we still don’t see representations of Asian men full stop, and the underlying stereotypes of the feminisation of Asian men is unfortunately still there because we haven’t been portrayed in any other way.”

In Tony Ayers 1997 film 「China Dolls」 he explored the idea that Asian men are seen as feminine which stands in stark contrast to the idealised masculinity of the west. Ayers’ film looked at how this contributed to Asian men feeling as if being with a western man is the ultimate goal – a kind of internalised racism. Budi says for Asian men he sees these attitudes shifting.

“I still remember coming out as a gay man 20 years ago and white men were the standard and now as gay Asian men, and really just Asia in general, we have more security in the economy and there is a sense of pride about being Asian. I see that now and so for some Asian men now the white man is no longer the standard, it’s no longer seen as the only option. It is a growing change in the culture way it is a changing mindset.”

There is also the fact that some Asian men will gravitate towards each other for support. Especially when they first arrive in this country.

“It’s about the sense of familiarity and shared cultural backgrounds they have even though we are from different nationalities,” Budi says.

“It’s a way to find support and to speak candidly without people accusing us of being too sensitive or accusing us of putting race at the forefront all the time.”

In regards to the upcoming forum Budi hopes those in attendance will own this issue. As we saw when we published the previously mentioned stories on the issue of racism in the gay community the issue sparked heated debate with some people feeling as if this debate is a straight out attack on western men.

“There is a tendency now for some people to say they don’t want to address racism so they see it as an individual thing,” Budi says, “well racism is actually a social issue, so all of us can do something about it.”

Maria Pallotta–Chiarolli from the AGMC is well aware of the pitfalls this debate can slide into. The forum organisers are keen to steer clear of a blame game and are urging all those in attendance to voice their concerns as respectfully as possible.

“This night is not going to be ‘let’s get all the Anglos’,” Maria says. “In Australia we can’t be that simple. The debate has been taken over by this idea that it’s all the Anglos against the ethnics – what we want to address is that different men have different stereotypes and let’s talk about it.”

“We’ve had Middle Eastern guys say that they have been called terrorists or ‘towel heads’ and being ridiculed if they refuse to do drugs or drink alcohol because it is not their culture,” Maria says.
– Maria

Maria says the idea for the forum came about because AGMC attendees continually bring up their experiences of racism and exoticism at their meetings.

“Some of the guys who may be darker or more masculine get fetishised and then others, such as men from Asian backgrounds, can feel like they are seen in a particular way as well.”

While women involved in the AGMC have also said they have experienced discrimination within the lesbian community, the group decided to run this first event as a men’s forum due to the fact that the prevalence of racism in the gay male community appears to be much more significant. Maria says she imagines there will be a similar forum for women in due course.

Like Andrew and Budi, Maria says this is about people losing their assumptions of what they think men from Asian, Middle Eastern, Anglo and European backgrounds are like. The stereotypes still abound and few in the community seem to be willing to look past them.

“We’ve had Middle Eastern guys say that they have been called terrorists or ‘towel heads’ and being ridiculed if they refuse to do drugs or drink alcohol because it is not their culture,” Maria says.

“There are also stories of guys being in gay venues who say they never get approached or if they approach someone they get looked over as if to say why would you think I’d want to go out with you? It’s that demeaning way of going about it that needs to be addressed.”

All involved in the event know this isn’t a new issue and don’t expect to find all the answers after one forum. The idea is to get the discussion started and keep it going.

“This event will be provocative and it’s going to be tough because people will give personal stories and there will be questions from the audiences,” Maria says.

“But it’s time we do this. We need to say let’s own this in our community, we all do it to some extent and we are all complicit in this.

“Let’s come up with strategies on an individual level and look at how we are going to get the messages out there.”

AGMC Forum ‘Chilli and Spice, Curry or Rice - Sexual appetites, ethnic stereotypes, and racism in our LGBTIQA communities’, August 2, 5.30pm – 7.30pm, Hares and Hyenas

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