I wrote this piece for RICEPAPER magazine’s the SEX [-y/ual/ualized] issue” published in Spring 2002. It aimed to examine Asian sexuality as a whole rather than just Gay Asian sexuality.
You slide out of your mother’s sex, oblivious to her pain, and covered with the memory of your father’s sex inside that cavern nine months before – give or take a little whether you’re premature – pounding your clenched knuckles out into the world saying let me out let me out – or a bit late, wanting a bit more of that embryonic pillow, a touch more shut-eye.
The years afterwards fly by without too much importance until the body’s chemistry signals it to change into a new form. You get acne and oily skin and wonder years later why people insist that as an Asian you have a perfect complexion. Then the harder part, and softer ones too. You become man. You become woman. You become adult, nearly. Biologically, yes. Old enough to make a few babies yourself no matter what society says and how much longer marriages and childbirth are delayed.
The question (for now at least, not the only question, just one of the questions but not a bad one to focus on) is: how do you get it? How do you go about getting it?
You won’t even try to go about defining what ‘it’ is.
First, check out your lineage. Were your parents the kind that never talked about it? Did they ever show physical affection in front of you? Did they do ballroom dancing in the living room and cha-cha-cha in the bedroom? Make the bedsprings creak? Were they actually having a lot more sex than you ever knew about? Sorry. I know you didn’t want to think about that. Especially if you pictured it.
But it is an important consideration. A happy marriage can be a good model for a happy partnership which might include good sex. Feuding parents might mean you have brutal distant sex filled with fears of betrayal and abandonment. Horny parents might mean you’re comfortable with your body and you might be an early bloomer yourself. Shy parents might mean it might take you forever to get it. You might not even know that you want it.
A close family might mean your need for it gets replaced by this big kind of Asian Brady Bunch feeling and you don’t really have time to think much about it, because you’re permanently locked into the role of Marcia, Jan, Cindy, Greg, Peter or Bobby. Only Asian, like Margaret Cho’s family on TV except all the same race and maybe a bit funnier in real life.* Or it might mean a lack of space and opportunity since when are you going to get it when you’ll live at home until you’re 30 and maybe you share a room.
If your family is too close, it might drive you away. It might make you become that bad girl or boy they fear, you delving into it like a teenager into a mosh-pit. You differentiate yourself from your parents by giving into something wholly different from their chaste worlds. You try perfume but give it up, hoping you’ll smell of the sex you’re having, the scent a little different with each partner. There might be a few black sheep in the family. Lesbian grand-aunt. Playboy uncle. Wild-child cousin. The relation that became a sex worker and no one talks about. The other one that moved away and has umpteen kids. The one with the record for number of marriages and divorces. They are all parts of a painting of possibilities, their genes and yours might be the same, you might get it the same way they do.
Did you get fucked up by the kids at school? Perhaps. If they thought you’d get laid at all, they tried to match you up with the only other Asian in your class. You’d look great with Jimmy/Carol! You were the funny man, the joker girl, the best friend, the class brain. Kids didn’t flirt with you, you didn’t flirt with them. Early sex is for trashy white/brown/black kids anyways. Anyways, by now, you’ve gotten over this. Maybe.
Put your hand to your heart. OK. Woman? If so, that’s a bit harder. Woman pick up reputations like a static-charged TV screen attracts dust. If you want it, you’re going to be have to be either more brazen than most people, or much more discreet. Women aren’t allowed to want it, really. You’re sexual without being aggressive, flirtatious without being hungry. Not like men, penises with gray matter attached.
You’ll probably get it through the romantic route. Perhaps a careful negotiation with someone that you decide you like. Maybe you’ll learn each other’s bodies like favourite picture books you had as kids. You lick the drawing of the ice cream cone just to see if it has flavour.
If you’re attracted to women, it might be easier. Tender. Nurturing. Meet your lover at a dinner party thrown by a mutual friend. Or at the fruit and vegetable co-op, the bookstore, the women’s night at the gay club, a political meeting. Lesbians aren’t outwardly as sexual (not like the ones in straight men’s imaginations) but close those bedroom doors and bang. Baby, you’ve got it.
If you’re attracted to men. Well, men are nothing but trouble. Do you go for an Asian guy? Your parents might love that. You might even love it too, having figured out that for you, love comes from sharing histories, having things in common, understanding each other. Men are so inexplicable, why make it even harder by choosing someone a little different. Or maybe you just like that smooth skin and jet-black hair. Mmmmm.
Do you go for a white guy? There are a lot of them. Do you have to avoid the ones that have a reputation for going for Asian women, the ones with fantasies of dragon ladies, geisha girls, anatomically flexible Thai bar girls? The ones your girlfriends pointed out to each other at university and said watch out. You go out on a date. You find it slightly suspicious that his favourite movie is ‘the Joy Luck Club’ and he knows not to douse his meal with soy sauce. You’d find that cute if he did that.
Maybe somewhere down the line, you’ve already gotten it, but you want more of it. You’re in a relationship already but the heat has been turned down, past medium, lower than simmer, it’s barely on at all. You can touch your finger to the burner and not scald your skin. That could be the time for an affair, complicated and careful work like an advanced bonsai course: a lot of waiting, a bit of trimming, wondering if what you’e doing will turn into the right form. If it does, good. You’ve got it. Dangerously.
Put your hand to your heart. Man? OK. What are you going to do? Who are going to go for? How much do you listen to your parents anyways? Have you considered if youâ€™re attracted to people on the basis of their race? Do you go for Asians, whites, or others (see above)? Or does it not matter? How can race not matter? Your whole life, people have treated you differently on that basis. How can it not slide over to dangerous sexual matters?
Did you absorb those stereotypes? Do you consider yourself less handsome for the shade of your skin? That the images of public figures that you’ve seen who look like you are classical musicians, kung-fu masters and TV chefs. Why isn’t Brad Pitt Asian? Why did you get stuck with this body that seems so slight in comparison with those other, bigger races? If Asian men are suppose to be so sexless, why are there billions of people in China?**
Regardless of race or gender, if you want to get it, you have to know that you want it. Be confident. Be obsessed even. Not too obsessed, not so you start to leer and grunt at inappropriate occasions, but enough to observe whatâ€™s going on about you, to notice what works and what doesn’t work, when a direct approach is going to get you the prize, or when you have to be more circumspect.
Listen. If you really want it, maybe you should consider being a gay male. Not all gay men get it, and gay asian men have a few of their own trees fallen in a storm across a highway when you want to get to Memphis. But yes, gay men can get a lot of it, if they want. It’s an odd trade-off between the pleasure of the senses and social equality, but some don’t mind it. You’ll have to contend with the same things straight people do – stereotypes, racism – or maybe even more. The gay sexual economy rates Asians pretty low. You might even have to make sure you’re in the right geographical location. I mean, if you’re in a small town in the middle of the Canada and you’re the only Chinese family for miles, it’s not like people are going to see you and think va-va-voom. They’ll think: restaurants, laundries, corner stores. Or maybe they’ll think: immigration, difference, strangers. You’ll probably have to move somewhere bigger.
It’s true. People get used to people in larger numbers. For a city to love Asians (and that includes sexually), there should be a lot of Asians. It’s likely that in between that stage of one Asian family and a whole population, there will be growing pains. Maybe best not to be there during that period. But it’s like food, which is rather a bit like sex, the same vocabulary of appetite, satiation, sensory overload, indulgence. Say there’s one crappy Thai restaurant, it can serve anything it wants because no one knows the difference. Then say there’s a few more restaurants, a bit of competition, a few more seats, more people familiar with lemon grass and fluffy catfish. Then suddenly there’s a craze. People are wild for Thai food, they can’t get enough, connoisseurs appear. Sometimes, it’s just about familiarity. I guess you could always just go to Asia to get it. I mean not only are Asians attracted to other Asians because they’re surrounded by them, but that extra caché, that smell of Norte Americanismo might make you even more the centre of attention. Be among your people, and be different at the same time. Have your cake, or custard tart, or Malaysian steam cake, or mango pudding. Eat it too.
There’s always bisexuality. It’s a bit more complicated than it sounds, but why not double your chances for a date on a Saturday night?
If you’re still not getting it, maybe you should lower your expectations. Or your standards. Become promiscuous. Tell people that the word ‘promiscuous’ is going out of style and has been replaced by the word ‘prolific.’ Is there something so bad about it? As long as you’re safe and don’t get nasty bug-a-boos and it doesn’t interfere with your ability to love, really love, someone else. What’s the problem?
Of course, all differences should be respected, and maybe you don’t really care about whether you get it or not. And that’s OK.
Or maybe you get it as often and as much as you want. Forget you ever read this.
*This is not meant as a dig at Margaret who I love! She is da best comic if you didn’t know that. However, the writers and producers of her show made it kind of not-funny-enough by not letting her control it, and my family all thought it was funny that because there aren’t a lot of visible Asian actors that her family were all-mix-up, a Japanese actor, a Chinese one, a Korean lead…
**I don’t know if Anthony Wong stole this line from someone else, but I certainly stole it from him.