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Reflections on an Asian Bottom: Gay Asian American Masculinity and Sexual Representation

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Abstract:

This paper examines the alleged deformation of Asian American masculinity through a queer Asian American critical perspective. Juxtaposing Richard Dyer’s contention that gay male culture remains invested in “topness” alongside Frank Chin and his cohorts’ argument that white mainstream culture allots to all Asian men a seat at the “bottom,” I propose for gay Asian American subjects to strategically take up their assignment of “bottomhood” as a incisive critique of white hetero- and homo-masculinities as well as a challenge against the recuperation of a damaged heterosexual Asian American masculinity. Displacing the unhelpful binary of emasculation and remasculinization frequently mobilized in critical discussions of Asian American masculinity, I am interested in developing a theory of Asian bottomhood that disrupts the automatic alignment of bottomhood with “oriental” passivity and abjection.

In response to the common complaint by Asian American critics that dominant representational regimes render Asian (and Asian American) manhood exotic, feminized, and thus, “invisible,” I look at two specific instances in screen cultures where Asian men are accorded erotic and sexual agency: the character of Anacleto (David Zorro), the Filipino houseboy, in John Huston’s film production of Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) and gay Asian male (GAM) users of contemporary sex cruising websites. Anacleto performs his “oriental” sissiness to the hilt by mimicking imperfectly the signs of homosexuality—speaking French, listening to Rachmaninoff, painting Surrealist watercolors, and executing ballet moves—as a way to set himself against and, ironically, superior to the military masculine posturings enacted by the central white male characters. Following Patricia White’s argument that Hollywood’s “supporting characters,” while marginal to the narrative, often embody “the threat and the promise” of homosexuality (140), I read Anacleto’s “minor role” of Asian bottom as a site of contradiction and queer of color critique, poking holes in Hollywood’s ideologies of race, gender, sexuality, and nation. While Reflections represents a significant contribution to the visual representation of gay Asian male visibility at the beginning of the western gay liberation moment, my other example of critical GAM bottomhood is drawn from the current assimilationist (post)gay moment. While the Internet constitutes the one arena in which one finds an unprecendented saturation of eroticized images of gay Asian men, such “empowering” articulations of erotic and sexual agency by GAMs have met with virulent rejection by other members of the gay virtual community, a rejection neatly condensed in the phrase “No fats, fems, or Asians” frequently found at the end of online gay personal profiles. Focusing on two specific tactics, the posting of headless torsos and the use of racially-abject screen names (e.g. “crackergook,” “chinkytwink,” and “asianalslut”), I argue that these modes of self-representation exemplify instances of critical self-effacement which refuse to make GAM-ness “knowable,” and thus, easily seen, ignored, and deleted.

Adopting the view from the bottom allows us to track the points at which discourses of race and sexuality intersect and remain incommensurable with one another, and the ways they are manifested in competing masculinities.
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MLA Citation:

Nguyen, Hoang Tan. "Reflections on an Asian Bottom: Gay Asian American Masculinity and Sexual Representation" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association, Oct 12, 2006 <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p114659_index.html>

APA Citation:

Nguyen, H. , 2006-10-12 "Reflections on an Asian Bottom: Gay Asian American Masculinity and Sexual Representation" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p114659_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: This paper examines the alleged deformation of Asian American masculinity through a queer Asian American critical perspective. Juxtaposing Richard Dyer’s contention that gay male culture remains invested in “topness” alongside Frank Chin and his cohorts’ argument that white mainstream culture allots to all Asian men a seat at the “bottom,” I propose for gay Asian American subjects to strategically take up their assignment of “bottomhood” as a incisive critique of white hetero- and homo-masculinities as well as a challenge against the recuperation of a damaged heterosexual Asian American masculinity. Displacing the unhelpful binary of emasculation and remasculinization frequently mobilized in critical discussions of Asian American masculinity, I am interested in developing a theory of Asian bottomhood that disrupts the automatic alignment of bottomhood with “oriental” passivity and abjection.

In response to the common complaint by Asian American critics that dominant representational regimes render Asian (and Asian American) manhood exotic, feminized, and thus, “invisible,” I look at two specific instances in screen cultures where Asian men are accorded erotic and sexual agency: the character of Anacleto (David Zorro), the Filipino houseboy, in John Huston’s film production of Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) and gay Asian male (GAM) users of contemporary sex cruising websites. Anacleto performs his “oriental” sissiness to the hilt by mimicking imperfectly the signs of homosexuality—speaking French, listening to Rachmaninoff, painting Surrealist watercolors, and executing ballet moves—as a way to set himself against and, ironically, superior to the military masculine posturings enacted by the central white male characters. Following Patricia White’s argument that Hollywood’s “supporting characters,” while marginal to the narrative, often embody “the threat and the promise” of homosexuality (140), I read Anacleto’s “minor role” of Asian bottom as a site of contradiction and queer of color critique, poking holes in Hollywood’s ideologies of race, gender, sexuality, and nation. While Reflections represents a significant contribution to the visual representation of gay Asian male visibility at the beginning of the western gay liberation moment, my other example of critical GAM bottomhood is drawn from the current assimilationist (post)gay moment. While the Internet constitutes the one arena in which one finds an unprecendented saturation of eroticized images of gay Asian men, such “empowering” articulations of erotic and sexual agency by GAMs have met with virulent rejection by other members of the gay virtual community, a rejection neatly condensed in the phrase “No fats, fems, or Asians” frequently found at the end of online gay personal profiles. Focusing on two specific tactics, the posting of headless torsos and the use of racially-abject screen names (e.g. “crackergook,” “chinkytwink,” and “asianalslut”), I argue that these modes of self-representation exemplify instances of critical self-effacement which refuse to make GAM-ness “knowable,” and thus, easily seen, ignored, and deleted.

Adopting the view from the bottom allows us to track the points at which discourses of race and sexuality intersect and remain incommensurable with one another, and the ways they are manifested in competing masculinities.

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