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A few years ago, before I began dating my husband, my then-boyfriend took me to a summer cookout with a local gay Asian group. It was a fun Sunday afternoon of volleyball, hotdogs and chả giò, meeting new people, and all the enjoyment you’re supposed to get out of a Sunday afternoon party.
While scarfing down some pasta salad and Korean barbecue, I overheard one of the few single white men in attendance, who’d been pretty openly cruising around the party, lecherously questioning a guy across the picnic table from me: ”So, what country are you from?”
Dude, you’re not doing white people any favors with that crap, I thought.
The intersection of sex and race is just another of those things that brings out the worst in a small number of people, who then go on to make headaches for everyone else. I’ve been pondering this again lately, in part because of sudden surge of interest in a 2010 Metro Weekly opinion column by Daniel W.K. Lee on sexual racism in the gay community, as well as Alexander Chee’s essay last week for Out, ”No Asians!” both of which delve into the increasing sexual segregation of the gay community.
It’s of more than passing interest to me, given that my husband is Asian. (If you’re wondering ”What is he?,” he’s Vietnamese). So I tossed the subject out on Facebook and a couple of email groups to see what my multicultural circle of friends and acquaintances think about the issue.
The short and polite version: We seem to lack consensus.
On the one hand, people of color have a pretty strong case that dismissing entire classes of people solely for racial and ethnic backgrounds is, at its core, racist. (I would add that desiring people exclusively because of their race is just as problematic.) On the other, there’s an equally strong case that you can’t force people to experience sexual attraction, and it’s immoral to label as ”racism” a response over which people lack any conscious control.
Still, I’m more sympathetic to the former (although I pull back from declarations of racism, because I understand the latter). During my days of very enthusiastic dating and hookups — back in the earliest days of using the Internet to find sex partners — I never had the experience of scrolling through person after person declaring ”No whites!” But black and Asian guys? I can see exactly how they could walk away from that with a different take on the racial harmony of the gay community.
The embarrassing thing is, back then I was skipping past most of those guys who were black and Asian. My own history of sexual desire is a history of change – I grew up where it was actually pretty rare to see anything but white people, which I believe shaped much of my young gay life. It wasn’t until later that I understood that desire is fluid; what turns you on at 25 may not do it when you’re 40.
I’ve learned a lot from being in an interracial marriage, the main thing being that it doesn’t make me a special snowflake. I’m just a guy who’s lucky enough to have found a good relationship. And I’m thankful that my own youthful tunnel vision expanded to the point where I was open to it when I found it. We all turn away too much happiness because of our own unexamined expectations.
Follow Sean Bugg on Facebook and Twitter (@seanbugg). You can email him at sbugg@MetroWeekly.com.