These two words came back to haunt me at this intersection of AAPI Heritage Month and Pride Month as I consider the increasing violence and mass murders of Asian Americans at no end.
Growing up closeted in New York, I sought to find my community online. It was a dark place. I was told regularly through messages on gay dating platforms: “Sorry, not into Asians,” or the occasional backhanded compliment, “Oh, you’re good looking for an Asian.” But perhaps the most striking and frequent were two words written blatantly and prevalently on users’ public profiles: “No Asians.” Those words spoke for themselves. I grew up bottling up this sense of shame for my heritage, my race and my identity. To simply get through life, I normalized this constant racial rejection. I struggled in dating and in relationships, in self-care and self-love for years, believing that I was less desired and not sexually viable.
Two decades later, AAPI LGBTQ+ issues still render invisible and remain unaddressed. A recent study has almost 3 in 4 AAPI LGBTQ+ youth today often feeling worthless or hopeless. Yet these statistics are not surprising. “No Asians” is a phrase still used in the LGBTQ+ community and it goes mostly unchallenged.
Platforms like Grindr and Scruff have completely failed the AAPI community. Not only did they turn a blind eye to our and other marginalized communities, but they also took zero action to suspend racist users. They even introduced and defended filtering of profiles by ethnicity. Only recently did they agree to remove their ethnicity filter after the BLM movement last June.
But the damage was done. Every time I saw those words, and every time I had to normalize the constant rejection of my ethnicity within my own LGBTQ+ community, it slowly ate away at my own self-worth and my struggle to be proud of my identity as a Chinese American living in the “United” States.
Hoa People 華人
Rejection within our own community isn’t anything new. We only need to look as far as my family’s story. My family is ethnically Chinese; my grandparents fled China after the communist revolution and had my parents in Vietnam. My parents were discriminated against, seen as competition for local jobs and as perpetual foreigners. There was even a term for these “other” Chinese people: “Hoa 華人”.
When Vietnam fell to communist rule, Hoa people were targeted and my family had their home confiscated in 1979. Without a home in a country where they were born, they sought to flee by boat. It’s a known risky journey: My grandaunt’s family boat capsized with all of the passengers onboard. My parents were among the lucky ones and were eventually admitted as Vietnam War refugees to New York, coming here with virtually nothing but pain and hope. I’m inspired by my parents for their courage, though their lived experiences had a complicated impact on how I’ve dealt with my intersectional identity.
“Society taught me to internalize the model minority myth, that I already had it good enough here and I didn’t have the right to seek help or complain.”
What does it mean to be a gay Asian American?
It means being taught to be grateful for being born here and having a roof over our heads, which wasn’t a guarantee my parents always had. It means being taught to “put your head down and work hard,” because we already stand out in America and could be targeted, just like the “Hoa” were. It means justifying the overt racism I face, because platforms created to connect with my own community have normalized it. It means justifying being objectified and fetishized as a “Gaysian,” because for someone who makes it known they like only Asians, it’s better than “No Asians,” right? And it means burying my feelings, because society taught me to internalize the model minority myth, that I already had it good enough here and I didn’t have the right to seek help or complain.
I’ve never told anyone how “No Asians” made me feel. Not my friends, my family, my loved ones. Maybe because I normalized it myself. Maybe because it was too painful to unpack.
The Intersectionality of Oppression
Even with the ugly history of anti-Asian hate in the U.S. since the 1800s, our issues are further complicated with a historically not-so-united AAPI community. Asia’s history of borders and wars, and the different lived experiences of the 50 ethnicities with AAPIs, have complicated this call for coming together in our current crisis. The Asian American experience I grew up with was divided, with perceived unwritten classes within AAPIs due to socioeconomics and politics. This is wrong—and this has to change. We have often focused on what makes us different rather than what we have in common.
In considering my intersectionality of being gay and Asian, I’ve seen double-marginalization occur in both communities. On the LGBTQ+ side, I’ve felt marginalized for being Asian: having my ethnicity rejected or fetishized (not sure which is worse) by a community who itself has struggled for acceptance. On the Asian side, my parents’ history with China and Vietnam reveals the wider divisions that have long existed, where we inflict double marginalization of AAPIs from within our own community.
But while both communities have often been victims of oppression, our communities have also been the oppressors. Rather than extinguish the hateful behavior we’ve tried to escape, we’ve also redirected it to the people around us in our own communities. This is what must also change, if we are to truly stand together against hate.
“We should examine in our own lives the times where we’ve enacted ethnic or racial filters in friendship, dating, or hiring— whether explicitly, implicitly, or as a bystander.”
A Call for Unity and Inclusion
For the LGBTQ+ community—who has for years faced suppression but overcome challenges in recent times in a fight for equality—I ask you to stand with us, amplify queer AAPI organizations like NQAPIA and GAPIMNY, and call out those who embody “No Asians” to this day. Let’s set a better example for inclusivity than the parties during COVID. I’m calling out my own community that I’m a part of, not to divide us, but to bond back this broken us—to acknowledge this prevalent racism that is not talked about. I ask for platforms like Grindr to create features that filter out racist language (which I know you can if you invented a race filter), and to no longer turn a blind eye to these problems happening every day on your platforms.
For the AAPI community: Let’s dig into our self-learned divisions, racism, and biases, to educate ourselves on our history, to learn and unlearn our divisions, and to take steps for us to come together. We are stronger united and we won’t win until we all progress. We can start by fighting for our most marginalized AAPIs and support organizations like CAAAV, Red Canary Song and AAJC.
For our community of allies—and anyone who has appreciated or benefited from Asian people or culture—let’s open up our hearts and offer support to our AAPI colleagues, friends and local businesses during a time of the most rejection and violence we’re facing here at home. As a music executive for over a decade, I plea for my fellow $720 billion media industry to show us and write us into your scripts and songs, so that we are woven into everyday American stories, and so that we no longer have to live as perpetual foreigners.
The greatest impact we can each make is as individuals. We should examine in our own lives the times where we’ve enacted ethnic or racial filters in friendship, dating, or hiring— whether explicitly, implicitly, or as a bystander. Include us and stand up for us, so that our contributions to American society are protected, and our people are not left to die with the door closed behind them. I’m here as a proud gay Asian American, dreaming of the words that will one day replace the title of this article.
Jason Ve is a music and tech executive and is VP at 88rising, the leading record label of the most influential Asian artists in the world. He previously led partnerships at Google and Disney, and is on the advisory council of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC, a national nonprofit dedicated to advocacy for AAPIs.
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