The other day I spoke with an older Gaysian guy I respect. He first gave me some advice about my Psychology residency application process, and our conversation later turned to topics such as the political roots of queer Asian men’s romantic desires. He expressed some ideas about white supremacy and transracial adoption I hadn’t yet put into words, which I appreciated.
At one point, though, as we talked about how internalized racism may motivate fellow Gaysian men to date white men, he said something along the lines of: “well, if gay Asian men don’t have any other options around them, is it their fault to be with a white man even if he’s basic or a fetishizer? It’s like Peeta and Katniss from The Hunger Games, it’s not like they had a choice to kill other people. I’m not saying it’s the ideal scenario, but if gay Asian men don’t have other options, I’m not sure I blame them.”
I want to make it clear that I do not think this older Gaysian himself endorsed the idea of Gaysian men settling for white men (just in case this Gaysian somehow happens to stumble upon this blog post, I think you’re rad and cool and otherwise wouldn’t have reached out to you!) However, I felt struck by the logic underlying this analogy, that not having any romantic prospects removes you of your agency to the same extent as being forced to kill other people against your will by a totalitarian police state. And yet, I have heard the same sentiment uttered by a less rad older queer Asian man
who is now engaged to a white man who couldn’t hold a conversation on his own when I met him, uh yikes, that it’s not about if you’ll settle, it’s about who you’ll eventually settle for.
What strikes me as most bizarre about this idea that you have to settle for the romantic prospects in your geographic area, is the implicit notion that you have to settle for a romantic prospect at all. I understand that in healthy relationships of all kinds, you come to understand and accept the other person’s flaws given that no one on this planet is perfect. However, I feel that this form of settling (i.e., recognizing that everyone has flaws) is very different from the amatonormative notion that a romantic partner, as opposed to friends, is integral and necessary to a satisfying life.
While I am always happy to blame the wedding industrial complex for contributing to the angst of those who want a romantic partner and do not have one, I also wonder how much individual-level self-fulfillment factors into who will settle or not. For example, I love my time with myself. I enjoy and savor every moment of journaling in my notebooks and word documents, going on walks while listening to Twice and reflecting on what elements of their songs I appreciate, and reading novels and analyzing characters from a robust psychological and feminist standpoint. I also deeply appreciate my time with close and more casual friends. Simultaneously, I’m selective about who I spend time with – because I love myself and my time with myself, I minimize interactions that wouldn’t be as fun or meaningful as basking in my own company.
When I consider my comfort with myself, I suppose it originates from biological (e.g., my father always struck me as a person who cherished his independence), psychological (e.g., I’m fortunate to have pretty strong mental health and I’ve worked hard in therapy), and social (e.g., I’ve sought out role models and friends who love themselves without male romantic partners) sources. The social element stands out to me the most though, because it makes me think of one of my favorite writers Caroline Knapp. Through reading her books Appetites and The Merry Recluse, I found a kindred spirit, someone who also enjoyed time on her own, analyzing herself and her relationships in the context of greater social forces, and engaging in a healthy level of self-deprecation. Her books then led me to more radical writers like bell hooks and Audre Lorde. Just yesterday, when I felt sad and angry about something I saw on social media, I reread a couple of essays from The Merry Recluse and thought to myself: you know what Thomas? You got this. Just like Caroline got through the patriarchal bullshit of the late 1990’s, you can get through the racist bullshit of the early 2020’s.
On the one hand, I sympathize and empathize with the issue of Asian American men’s perceived lack of attractiveness. The answer to this problem though, for myself and my own life as an Asian American man, has never been to try to make myself hotter to other men by working out more or changing my diet. I don’t want to date a white man and I don’t care if any white man wants to date me, or even if any man of color wants to date me. I refuse to normalize romantic love as an inherent part of life and romantic desirability as a goal worth aspiring to. At this point, at the age of 26, I feel like I’ve already received enough love for a lifetime – from myself, my friends and community, and the writers, like Caroline Knapp, who came before me.
What helps you love or feel confident in yourself? How do you approach time on your own? General reactions to this post? I finished my final residency interview this week yay so now back to more routine research, clinical work, over-disclosing about my feelings on the internet, etc. Until next time!