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Asian American Literature  
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Asian American gays and lesbians voice richly multiple and diverse identities as they assert sexual autonomy in the face of stereotyping, homophobia, and racism.

The names "Asian" and "Pacific (Islander)" are often yoked together to emphasize the shared concerns of Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Asian and Asian American groups have been comparatively more visible in recent mainstream media than Pacific Islanders, whose colonial histories remain relatively obscure. This entry will focus on Asian American artists, many of whom choose to name themselves "Asian/Pacific gays and lesbians."


Asian/Pacific gays and lesbians share problems of invisibility specific to histories fraught with Orientalist stereotypes. To compound this situation, racialized and gendered stereotypes pervasive in heterosexual communities return to disfigure representations of Asian/Pacific homosexualities. For Asian/Pacific gays, Hollywood images of asexual Charlie Chans and emasculated Fu Manchus recirculate within gay communities where Asian/Pacific men find themselves repositioned as Cio-Cio-San from Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

Similarly, Asian/Pacific women's bodies are disfigured by racist constructions of "slanted cunts," while stereotypes of Suzy Wong and geisha girls configure the Asian/Pacific lesbian as a submissive, exotic object of lesbian desire or as solely an object of male desire and thus irrevocably heterosexual.

Although these problems of representation demand an interrogation of desires based on racial stereotypes, what is urgently needed is the recognition that Asian/Pacific gays and lesbians voice richly multiple and diverse identities.

"I am an Oriental," explains a disrobed Song to the investigating judge in David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly, "[a]nd being an Oriental, I could never be completely a man." Hwang's 1988 Tony Award-winning drama explores one of the greatest concerns for gay Asian/Pacific artists: the pervasive racialized stereotype of the Asian/Pacific man as an emasculated sissy, what writer Frank Chin has broadly labeled the "Charlie Chan Sex Syndrome."

Gay filmmaker and critic Richard Fung further adds that "the Asian man is defined by a striking absence down there. And if Asian men have no sexuality, how can we have homosexuality?" Yet homosexuality certainly persists within the field of Asian American literatures, significantly informing many of its anxieties over issues of masculinity and paternity.

Early Asian American Gay Stories

Two of the earliest Asian American gay-themed stories can be found in the groundbreaking Asian American anthologies Aiiieeeee! (1974) and The Big Aiiieeeee! (1991), respectively. Wallace Lin's (a.k.a. Russell Leong) "Rough Notes for Mantos" (1974) is about a racially and sexually displaced Asian American man who copes with both the loss of his would-be lover and his inability to accept the heterosexual imperatives of his demanding father.

Lonny Kaneko's "The Shoyu Kid" (1976) recounts the molestation of a young Japanese-American boy by a white soldier in a World War II internment camp. Highlighting the intersection of racism and homosexuality, Kaneko's story calls for a revisioning of American history and a reclaiming of sexual autonomy.

Asian/Pacific Gays in Mainstream Publications

In the tide of concerted gay activism around AIDS, the late 1980s and the 1990s witnessed an increased representation of Asian/Pacific gays in mainstream publications by well-known but straight-identified writers such as Jessica Hagedorn and David Wong Louie.

Concomitantly, there has also been a proliferation of works by Asian/Pacific artists who explicitly address their own concerns and desires, while contesting the absence of their images within the commercial and political sectors of mainstream gay artistic circles. Artists such as Norman Wong, Han Ong, and Dwight Okita have written and produced notable stories, dramas, and poetry.

For instance, Wong's eponymous story from his collection Cultural Revolution (1993) narrates the dilemmas of a young Chinese-American man who accompanies his father on a visit to their ancestral village in China. The story probes issues of cultural and sexual alienation as the protagonist becomes sexually involved with a white history student who seems to know more about China than he does.

Contemporary Issues Raised by Asian/Pacific Gay Artists

Contemporary issues raised by Asian/Pacific gay artists in The Asian Pacific American (APA) Journal's special issue "Witness Aloud: Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Asian/Pacific American Writings" (Spring/Summer 1993) and the "Smut" issue of The Lavender Godzilla (Fall 1992) include the negotiation and reconciliation of a gay identity within racialized communities often marked by cultural and gay communities often tainted by overt racism.

Lawrence Chua's "Love in a Cold Climate" plays out the ambivalences of internalized homophobia and the difficulty of naming gay love. Martin F. Manalansan's "Your Cio-Cio-San" explores the controversial topics of cross-racial dating and "Rice Queens"--gay white males attracted to Asians through their racist fantasies of a submissive and feminized gay Asian "bottom."

Another related problem raised by Quentin Lee's "The Sailor & the Thai Boys" is the often radical class disparities between Rice Queens and their Asian/Pacific lovers. These inequities introduce the specter of prostitution, literal and figurative.

Looking at class relations from a different perspective, John Silva's "The Romantic Banquero" examines economic and sexual privilege mapped along international lines between a boatman and a Filipino expatriate vacationing in the Philippines. An additional form of domination is revealed by John Albert Manzon's "Willi": domestic violence.

The gay community has largely considered it inconceivable for Asian/Pacific men--all stereotyped as "bottoms"--to date one another. Nevertheless, a current debate fueled by works such as Justin Chin's "Bite" revolves around the topic of "Sticky Rice," gay Asian/Pacific men who do date one another. This situation has created a dialogue around the problems of cross-racial dating between gays from different Asian/Pacific ethnic groups as well as dating between immigrant and American-born Asian/Pacific gays.

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