One topic recently discussed up in the G3S line chat was the pros and cons of existing Asian models of masculinity.
My personal opinion is that that there’s a lack of healthy, empowering models for young Asian to emulate, especially if you’re gay. A traditional path is to strive for academic and professional success, and pursue a more assimilated, middle-class lifestyle. However, this opens up the opportunity to be emasculated by being labeled an Asian nerd – nevermind the damage that being outed as gay would add on top of that stereotype. In addition, for the foreseeable future in my opinion, Asians with prestigious careers will still be seen by many as secondary or servile to their white counterparts – hence the bamboo ceiling.
Alternatively, some Asians follow in the model of Eddie Huang, and borrow from a more urban version masculinity. There are advantages to this – it’s a rejection of both traditional “white” models of assimilation, mainstream society, and the servile Asian identity. It’s not a persona that’s easily pushed around. That said, the model can promote a negative body image among Asian men, and emphasize sexual prowess instead of more meaningful relationships – both of which are already problems in the gay community. That it’s arguably derivative of African-American culture instead of uniquely Asian, and that hip-hop culture in general is not always LGBT friendly, are additionally problematic.
I don’t think there are uniquely Asian models of masculinity at the moment. One reason, which particularly incenses me, the the way mainstream Western culture has appropriated martial arts.
It’s ridiculous that kung fu is something you can use to make fun of an Asian kid, yet white protagonists on TV are cool if they practice it themselves. No one would make fun of a black kid for rapping, but Asians are a joke if they practice tae kwon do? When did Bruce Lee become something you call an Asian guy to make fun of him? No one puts down a black guy by calling him to Michael Jordan, or a Latin-American guy by comparing him to Edward James Olmos, yet it’s funny to call an Asian guy Jackie Chan? Martial arts is easily one of the most iconically Asian contributions to popular culture/entertainment – and yet, in some ways, it feels like something that was taken away from us.
That said, I am optimistic about the future. I think as more Asian men gain notoriety in their respective fields (see: Jeremy Lin in basketball, Wong Fu brothers in entertainment, and many more), a more distinct male identity will emerge that carries with it less baggage. But we definitely still have a ways to go.