Asian Male Stereotypes Complicate My Love Life

Mar 17 at 6am

Nothing pisses me off more than when someone says, “I’m just not attracted to Asian men.” I’ve heard these words come out of seemingly bright and well-intentioned women’s mouths – women of all ethnicities, including Asian – and in the Bay Area where over a third of the population is Asian, no less. When I point out that it’s discriminatory – no, racist – to exclude an entire race from your dating preferences, they shrug as if it’s something that just can’t be helped. 

But it’s complicated. Especially because I’m an Asian woman who happens to be dating a white guy.

Nothing pisses me off more than when someone says, “I’m just not attracted to Asian men.”

We met living abroad in Beijing, China, where yellow fever among expats runs rampant, and subsequent suspicion from the local population stokes racial tensions. It took me months to call him my boyfriend. When I walked with him hand in hand, I saw smug expressions from white dudes, dismissive sneers from Chinese men, and judgmental looks from white and Chinese women alike.

San Franciscans tend to be more informed when it comes to matters of race, yet even now I witness moments of appalling ignorance. Denigrating jokes (or just altogether racist rants) about the size of Asian guys’ dicks are so common they’re not even recognized as racist rhetoric. And it’s not just creepers in China who are bragging about how Asian women “prefer” white men; check out some of the comments posted on – gasp – The Bold Italic.

Which explains, perhaps, why I constantly feel the need to clarify my views on the following questions: Do I date only white men? Absolutely not. Am I attracted to Asian men? Hell yes.

Denigrating jokes about the size of Asian guys’ dicks are so common they’re not even recognized as racist rhetoric. 

Why are we so quick to believe that Asian men have small penises, I wonder? Never mind that the majority of studies have been based on shaky research methods (data that’s been self-reported or, in some cases, “gathered from websites”). It’s such a cop-out, such a convenient way of reaffirming the sexual superiority of white men and likewise the impotence of Asian men.

Does it occur to people that our racial dating preferences have been socially conditioned? That it’s no coincidence we don’t associate Asian men with masculinity and sexual prowess, since they are almost exclusively cast in roles that are limiting and decidedly unsexy?

It’s been more than 50 years since Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of a pervy, bucktoothed Japanese landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but have we really seen much progress since then? Asian men are still exaggerating accents for comic relief (The Hangover) and still relegated to roles as kung fu masters (aka perpetual foreigner), nerds (aka pathetically asexual), sidekicks (aka undeserving of the leading role), or arch villains (aka mystic, ruthless, and must be eradicated, usually by a white man). 

Asian men aren’t inherently less attractive, less virile, or less valiant, so I can’t fathom why such notions are widely accepted as truth. 

The only exception I’ve seen to date is Walking Dead’s Glenn Rhee, played by Korean-American actor Steven Yeun. Every week I tune in, praying for his survival. Why? Because if he dies off, there goes our sole representation of a strong, brave, and sexually competent Asian man on cable TV. 

Meanwhile, Hugh Jackman starred as the latest white hero to save a helpless, sexualized Asian woman from oppressive Asian men in the new Wolverine film. You’d think a Hollywood trope that emerged in the World War II era to fuel anti-Japanese sentiment would have since been banished, but no. (Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai is another recent-ish example.)

I find Hugh Jackman smoking hot. But I feel the same about supporting actor Will Yun Lee, whose character gets ditched by the heroine for Wolverine and killed in the end. Do these contrasting depictions mess with my psyche? Of course. No one is immune to racist indoctrination, though I’m older and more informed now, and less susceptible than I might have been as a young girl. But I grew up watching this stuff, and so did all the other women out there now claiming that their aversion to dating Asian men is just a matter of taste.

When representation of Asian men is so limited, and the American public has so few opportunities to see them in positive roles, what do you think will happen?

Yes, there’s a difference between Hollywood movies and reality. But when representation of Asian men is so limited, and the American public has so few opportunities to see them in positive roles, what do you think will happen?

Asian men aren’t inherently less attractive, less virile, or less valiant, so I can’t fathom why such notions are widely accepted as truth. The fact that they’re not even questioned by otherwise curious, intelligent people doesn’t just boggle my mind, it infuriates me.

Because it is contributing to a cycle of racism that flies under the radar. Because it chips away at my Asian brothers’ sense of self-worth that’s been degraded for no other reason than being Asian. Because it perpetuates misunderstandings about my own relationship.

I shouldn’t let my romantic choices be affected by cultural assumptions on the opposite side of the spectrum either

For a long time, I would avert eye contact or drop my boyfriend’s hand in public. I didn’t want my boyfriend to be mistaken as someone with yellow fever, or myself as someone with shame about my cultural identity. There were awful sickos out there ruining it for the rest of us.

People shouldn’t discriminate against Asian men because we’ve all been culturally influenced to do so. It took me over a year to realize that, in the same vein, I shouldn’t let my romantic choices be affected by cultural assumptions on the opposite side of the spectrum either.

Yes, I’m dating a white guy, but I’ve also been attracted to Asian men, black men, Latino men – every-color men, really, so long as they’ve got that winning combination of style, swagger, and intellect. I refuse to exclude white men from my dating pool, just as I would not write off any other group of men on the basis of race.

Sometimes our dating preferences are no accident, but not always. It’s important to make the distinction. So the next time you hear someone say, “I’m just not into Asian men,” do me a favor and slap them across the face. That, or show them a picture of Takeshi Kaneshiro.

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