Don't Ask, Just Tell

Sexual racism is at the core of what many gay men believe to be ''preferences''

By Daniel W.K. Lee
Published on September 23, 2010, 1:11am | Comments

Perhaps it was inevitable that the gay community's commitment to New Left principles would splinter as gays became more mainstream. Or, perhaps more specifically, became visible in mass media and a coveted consumer market. As a whole, we gays have come to take our politics for granted: no longer are we street protesters and meeting organizers. Instead, we do our activism through consumerism (buy this to support that) or use the internet as a gay rights echo chamber (tweet one's way to the ''activist'' moniker).

The gay political battlefield has never looked stranger than it does now with not just the usual Left forces and the Log Cabin Republicans, but also those stranger-than-strange gay Tea-Partiers and über-conservatives like those at GOProud, who openly embraced racial scapegoating, classism, patriarchy, war-mongering and Ann Coulter.

But gay conservatives aren't the only ones internalizing the racism, misogyny and militarism antithetical to our movement's New Left roots. The ''gay mainstream'' has done so as well, in two very different ways.

First, our fight against ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' would not have been of much interest to many of our political forefathers of the late '60s and early '70s. To them, DADT would have been a short-sighted battle for a right that supports militarism. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that serving openly will transform the military from its contempt for the feminine in men and the masculine in women.

Second, and perhaps more insidious, gay men have become unapologetic sexual racists, gender purists and enforcers of a gay male body culture on par with the oppressive beauty myth that women have endured for decades, as manifested in the phrase, ''No fats, no femmes, no Asians.'' We gay men have seen it, or used it (or a variation of it) in endless personal profiles, but nonetheless, the disqualifying mantra is the un-critical acceptance of racial, gender, and body-biases often rationalized with the subsequent phrase, ''Just a preference.''

But it isn't ''just a preference,'' because why one is attracted to what one is attracted to wasn't written into one's DNA. We come to our desires because of a profound socialization process. People are taught to value one thing over another throughout our early lives. When parents say things like, ''Boys don't cry,'' ''Good is in the light, and evil in the dark,'' or when you are habitually exposed to certain kinds of bodies deemed attractive, the messages a person receives from those cues are internalized.

A ''preference'' for ''straight-acting'' men is not like Athena bursting out of Zeus's brain: it emerges in part because of how you evaluated femininity and how you eroticize bodies and behaviors associated with masculinity. Likewise, racial preferences aren't in-born. They are formed and entangled with associations about gender, body-type and behaviors that have been racialized and evaluated.

I once challenged a guy who told me he wasn't into Asian men. I asked him why was that? He said was into beefier men. I pointed out there are many beefy Asian and Pacific Islander men. He then said he liked hairy men. Certainly, a bit more difficult to find, but there are hairier Asian men out there.

So why make a blanket disqualifying statement like ''I'm not attracted to Asian men'' based on racialized assumptions about Asian male bodies when his preference is actually toward hairy and beefy men? The absolute refusal to deconstruct those racial biases and to declare ''No Asians,'' ''No Blacks,'' or whomever is sexual racism, and so many gays looking for love or a hook up aren't even embarrassed about it.

''Gaysian'' men ourselves aren't impervious to the self-contempt that would allow us also write, ''No Asians. I'm not sticky,'' on our profiles. I have heard gay Asian men express total mortification to the idea of dating or having sex with another Asian man, declaring their exclusive desire for white men as ''just a preference.'' It's to our own detriment to not question why one has dismissed entire racial groups from romantic and sexual possibilities. We gaysians cannot bemoan our exclusion from the territories of ''hot gayness'' if we practice the same kinds of sexual-racial exclusions.

Our sexuality and our sexual desires are not static. Someone who claims to only be into ''butch'' men could very well find himself unbearably attracted to a more effeminate man. Perhaps not as feasible, but not impossible. And that's the point: it isn't impossible, so why go shutting out the possibilities with inane disqualifiers?

This is a call to re-align our politics and our personal lives. It's hypocritical to say one is against racial or gender discrimination meanwhile your Manhunt profile says, ''Be a man. If I wanted to be with a woman, I'd be with a real woman,'' or ''No Black men. Just a preference.'' If you're an unabashed racist, a femininity-hater, or a body fascist, then be my guest and declare all your prohibitions. Just don't be shocked if you're called out for being an asshole.

Daniel W.K. Lee is a New York City-based poet, sex/relationship advice columnist at EmandLo.com, and blogger & editor of daniel extra at www.danielextra.net. Send him love letters and/or hate mail may be sent to or follow via Twitter @danielesaudade.


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