Exploring your sexuality in a world bent on culturally castrating you is challenging.
A few years back, I would groan whenever I read an article by an Asian girl lamenting the perils of dating white boys with yellow fever. Even today, despite the quiet confidence that comes from surviving your sexual awakening, I can’t deny that it sets off a nerve.
There is no doubt that the aggressive fetishisation of Asian women is real and dangerous. But it’s also as far from the lived experiences of straight-passing Asian males as it can get.
We’re more used to our ethnicity being a blatant and violent thorn in our quests for intimacy. So it’s difficult to understand how it could be so bad, to be loved so much by the white people we all wish we were.
Asian boys grow up derogatorily stereotyped as nerds lacking masculinity, too short to satisfy both the height requirements of tinder bios and the G-spots of those behind them. We don’t relate to drowning in cringey and racist pick-up lines on the apps, because 90% of non-Asian women and 40% of Asian women swipe left at the sight of our skin. And not even progressive politics can save us—Asian men are often assumed too traditional and conservative to make good leftie boyfriends.
In early 2019, the Involuntary Celibate (Incel) subculture was a hot topic. Incels are defined by their blackpill ideology, that there is a clear hierarchy of attractiveness in heterosexual dating that privileges certain physical traits like height, ethnicity and even wrist-size (Yes). The Incels believe that most women are only willing to date the top percentage of ‘Chad Thundercocks’ who embody the ideal qualities at the top of the hierarchy, dooming men below to eternal virginity and loneliness.
At the time, I’d started researching for my Arts Scholars project, looking at the representation of Asian men in Western media and popular culture. I’d quickly learn about the entrenched stereotypes of Asian men. Tropes of sexually inadequate and unattractive men have shaped how potential partners perceive Asian men and this has resulted in decades of detriment on the lives and mental health of Asian men. One paper did not shy from calling this what it was—sexual racism.
Like most, I’d initially rejected the blackpill as absurd, that there was no way human attraction could be rationally reduced to such a superficial process. But after learning about sexual racism, I wasn’t so sure.
Something about the blackpill really spoke to my experiences of growing up as an Asian male whose mere capacity for romantic and sexual desire instilled virulent scorn in many girls during my teens. Contrary to common assumptions that Incels are only disenfranchised white boys, I’m not the only Asian who has been there.
When a 2018 study analysed posts on the now-defunct Incels.me forum, they estimated that up to half of the users were Asian or Hispanic minorities. When the Incels subreddit did a demographic survey, only 54.8% of polled users identified as white—with East and South Asians the next largest groups.
I steered my project towards exploring this link. I investigated the lived experiences, stereotypes, and popular culture images of Asian men in the United States and Aotearoa New Zealand, particularly romance and sexuality. I then tried relating my findings to what prevailing Incel ideology states about the place of Asian men.
I ended up finding many similarities between the leading critical scholarship on the sexual racism against Asian men and the Incels’ ‘racepill’. In my closing reflections, I was struck by how the Incels frankly did much better speaking to the reality of being a straight-passing Asian male than anything from the intersectional feminist voices I initially turned to for answers.
It’s hard to speak sense of an invisible reality you haven’t lived for yourself. And most Asian men aren’t well-equipped to articulate their experiences in terms that feminist discourse would accept. Under the towering shadows of hegemonic masculinity and the model minority myth, we’ve been trained to bite our tongues and tough out anything that stings.
Just the idea that Asian men are marginalized is controversial. Many will assert that Asian men seem well-assimilated by every socio-economic metric. And if the tabloids have anything to say about it, all the Rolex-wrangling Chinese men said to have Auckland’s property market in a chokehold may even be too well-off.
But even if that wasn’t just old-fashioned racism, privilege isn’t such a unilateral affair. You can’t quantify well-being only by looking at income and education statistics. Look deeper and you’ll find other statistics, like how Asian men are twice as likely as Asian women to die from suicide.
Love and Life
Contrary to what Asian parents might preach, social acceptance is key to living a fulfilling life. And it’s much harder when your skin colour defaults the difficulty of the love game to ‘Extreme’.
For many, love is fundamental to the human condition. Feeling so systematically unable to express love thoroughly affects your ability to live too. Until recently, I struggled to find the courage to express the pain I’d endured from heartbreaks in art and writing. Even just to myself—because they felt inappropriate for a nerdy Asian boy to assert.
Anxiety of knowing you’re inherently less attractive than your white and Asian female peers can be a lot too, especially in spaces where first impressions are everything. In my law school circles, I know many current and former students who described this fear as their biggest struggle in the discipline’s superficial culture.
The Bigger Picture
Like with Yellow Fever, this brings implications beyond hurt feelings. It is already birthing a strange spin on extreme misogyny known as ‘Men’s Rights Asians’, who are passionate about speaking out against racism, but only through harassing Asian women who they see as having sold out to white men.
The issues Asian men experience also risk emboldening other extreme ideologies. Seeing Asian men wallowing in self-pity validates white supremacist ideas, justifying violence against people of colour. It is commonly believed that this dynamic motivated the 2014 Isla Vista and 2021 Atlanta Spa massacres targeting Asian Americans.
We need to start talking about the sexual racism men of colour experience—even if it means admitting the inconvenient truth that women, including women of colour, can be agents of racism too. A blind eye isn’t going to erase it.
During my years researching Incels, my goals rarely needed introduction to the young men of colour I spoke to—they all knew Incel ideology, and most intuitively understood the allures I was attempting to unscramble. Many appreciated how my reflective approach gave them the lexicon to articulate personal experiences they felt hurt by but could never rationalize, helping them heal.
I appreciate the charge the Asian girlbosses are leading against their fetishization. By cancelling cupid’s arrow, they’ve called out the uncomfortable reality that romantic and sexual feelings aren’t neutral.
But I also hope that soon, we’ll talk more about how sexual orientalism isn’t only manifested in the white men who believe the pornographic myths that Asian pussy is tighter, but also the girls who belittle Asian boys for looking nothing like the manufactured Hollywood heartthrobs they saw growing up.