Is your friend interested in meeting an Asian man for a date?

Somehow I think this is pertinent to some areas of my PhD research, albeit it is still a half-formed idea in my brain. This particular post has a little background story on it:

When I had a conversation with my friend the other day, we talked about relationship in general and the difficulties of gay men who are non-scene oriented to meet their potential partners offline. Out of a sudden, my kind and helpful friend mentioned that he has a friend who is single and interested to meet up for a date. I asked for a few details of his friend, and then I caught myself asking this question: “is your friend interested in meeting an Asian gay man for a date?”

He was rather bedazzled by that question of mine. He wasn’t sure why I was asking that. And I elaborated it further to him: “some people have a particular ethnic preference when it comes to who they date.” He nodded, and then the conversation sort of faded away, with both of us realized that ethnic discourse somewhat became a reality in modern dating practices. Moreover, I think the term ‘preference’ is highly contested and loaded.

In relation to that (however remote it could be), this conversation makes me realized about the impact that these gay hook-up/ dating mobile applications can have in my offline environment. Since when I start to question whether my ethnicity is desirable or problematic to others? I try very hard to recall my days back home in Malaysia, thinking about the ways in which I used to date. I do not remember ethnicity being a factor that I have to be wary about. And if that conversation that I had with my friend happened in Malaysia, I am pretty sure I will not be asking the same question at all. Perhaps I will be saying yes and go on a date  instead of being worried about my ethnicity.

However generalized and assumptious this might sounds like, I do think that the these mobile applications(being one of the most widely use methods for gay men to look for another) play a significant part in constructing my perception of the dating scene in relation to my own ethnicity. These apps make me aware of my own ethnic identity; they make me think about my ethnic identity in a conscious way that I would have otherwise ignored in my daily life. The interface of these apps put my ethnicity into categories that I can select and make it visible to others.

As our mundane daily life is intertwined with technology, we are made aware of these online environments could indeed, impact on our offline settings in an unprecedented scale. Tudor (2012) argues that mobile application like Grindr blurs the distinction between online and offline, and it has the fascinating capacity to queer our offline space. To queer in this sense, is not as simple as just turning a space into a designated queer space; it is to queer the identity between online and offline. It confuses you between your online and offline identity, and issues that are normally ignored in our routinised daily life are now being brought onto the surface. Additionally, to queer in this notion also implies that ethnicity is being queered and questioned; do we all fit into these cookie-cutter ethnicity selections? What does it mean to possess a certain ethnic identity in relation to online dating? I have more questions now than answers.

Bibliography

Tudor, M. (2012). Cyberqueer Techno-practices: Digital Space-Making and Networking among Swedish gay men. Retrieved from http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:532984
© 2015 Joe Xie Quin Lim
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3 thoughts on “Is your friend interested in meeting an Asian man for a date?

  1. Kev says:

    This is a really interesting topic and one I have heard Asian friends talking about a lot. Is having a preference for Asian guys or not inclusive of Asian guys a kind of acceptable rasicm? I’ve always been a kind of anything goes kind ofguy, so often struggle to even remember this is an issue at all. But people will always have things about people that they are or are not attracted to. Like guys withlong hair, beards, etc. A persons race us a big thing at the end of the day when it comes to physical attraction. I don’t know if that’s right or not, but sadly it seems to be the case.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joe Lim says:

      Hello Kev! Thank you so very much of your support! I am quite new to this whole blogosphere scene and I am grateful to have you here. I still need a lot of improvement on my writing. In relation to your question, there’s no simple answer. It really depends on which perspective you are adopting. Some scholars argue that preference can be seen as a form of racism, although personally I think it is not. I think the easier way to perceive this issue is how our preference(s) is being put out there. You can have a preference without being a racist; however, the reality is that people tend to confuse between preference and racial stereotyping. Our preferences are indirectly shaped by the environment that we grew up in, hence that is why sometimes preference can be a problematic word. Because If someone grew up in a culture or environment that taught them about Asian culture and its people in a stereotypical and/or negative fashion, that will inform their preference to not to like this group of people. I hope I am making sense 🙂

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  2. ronintraveller says:

    Hey Joe!

    My tertiary study was on identity construction so I’ve been dying to find the time to sit down and add my ideas to this properly since I first came across it.

    I would argue that the term ‘preference’ actually isn’t inherently loaded, but can become loaded for certain individuals based on context. For example, as a gay male, another males preference in men means absolutely nothing to me, with the one exception of the situation where I have an interest in him that goes beyond friendship.

    As such, if I have such an interest in a guy, and I fall outside of his ‘preference’, THEN we have an issue. But why? I believe it’s because ‘preference’ in these scenario’s is exclusively physical, tangible. Perhaps in rare occasions, superficial (ie. Money). As the person that doesn’t fall within the guidelines for that preference, it becomes an issue for 2 main reasons as I see it.

    One of these reasons is that these physical, tangible, superficial aspects are only one part of my identity, and as such, to be excluded in this way feels as though I am being cheated or not treated fairly. The person is not actually looking at all aspects of what makes me, me. I believe this is where people start getting confused and start associating these preferences with racism.

    The second reason why falling outside that preference is an issue is the definitive nature of their preference, caused by your physical traits not matching with the guys preference. As you cannot change your physical characteristics (simply), your exclusion is basic, simple, and yet, as it can’t be rationalised logically, making it difficult to accept. Again, this applies to racism, and as such, with two major parallels, it’s easy to see where people start to see it as being racist.

    However, one of the biggest reasons I see these as being different is that ‘preference’ is not wholly inclusive or exclusive. For example, I have a preference for East Asians, which means I commonly find myself being attracted to this group, but that is not to say I find each and every East Asian person(/male) attractive OR unattractive. If I had racist feelings about East Asians, then I would believe that, because of their race, each and every person I perceive as being of that race has a particular (usually negative) trait, and/or treat them all differently.

    Furthermore, preference also allows for others to be pulled into the mix, even if they are not part of that ‘preferential’ group. For example, despite being attracted to East Asians, I also find myself being attracted to Latinos, and really anyone who has dark hair and dark eyes.

    Which leads me into the punch line of how I’d define to two to outline their difference;

    Racism – Deciding/believing that everyone in a group you see as being a part of that race all hold a key (negative) quality (upon which you may or may not act differently towards them).

    Preference – Finding that a particular physical characteristic that is most dominantly found within a particular racial group or groups is more appealing to you in some way, but allowing for others from other racial groups in if they match that characteristic, or allowing people within the racial groups commonly featuring that characteristic out of your preference if they do not bear it.

    Of course this definition is flawed because I’ve applied it to the most contrasting/obvious situation we see this in ‘Asians’ and ‘Whites’. To further your studies you’d need to find someone who has a preference for a particular racial group because of something that is not tangible or physical.

    But perhaps therein lies the answer? We don’t have a preference for racial groups beyond the physical, because anything beyond the physical is not as predetermined or certain as the colour of their hair, skin tone, complexion etc.

    That would then split it from racism, as racism allows us to ‘predetermine’ something about others (in our own minds) based upon the physical characteristics we see (such as their race). Racism also spans all genders/sexes, whereas preference aligns with the sexual attraction of the individual.

    So – so far that has not been as well articulated as I had originally worded it in my head, but I feel you get the key points I’m getting at here.

    This leads me to your line; “These apps make me aware of my own ethnic identity; they make me think about my ethnic identity in a conscious way that I would have otherwise ignored in my daily life.”

    I want to play with this a bit, in two ways.

    One counter question I have to this is (and you can probably see this coming based on my comments above); “Have you been made aware of your own ethnicity, or have you been made aware of the physical traits that you carry BECAUSE of your ethnicity?” On a deeper level; “Are you being made aware of traits that society generalises you as having, and is this what is (potentially) making you feel uncomfortable?”

    My second counter question is “Did you not have to think in the same way in Malaysia, as Malaysia is seen as being monoethnic? If not, then is it because it’s harder to pinpoint the difference between ethnicities due to less contrast in physical characteristics? Or is it because all ethnicities present in Malaysia have, more or less, in a global context, all been viewed as equals historically (unlike the contrast between ‘Asians’ and ‘Whites’)?”

    So to throw the two sets of questions together; “Are you more aware of yourself (be it your physical traits or your ethnicity) because of these apps, or is it because you are now living in a more diverse socio-economic melting pot?”

    I’m not, however, contesting that these apps wouldn’t play a part in constructing your perception of the dating scene in relation to your own ethnicity, based on what I mentioned earlier about how a persons preference is only able to assume the physical, in turn only leaving you partially judged, which again in turn doesn’t give you sufficient feed back to logically process that persons decision/preference. As such, because we are unable to process it logically, we feel as though our ethnicity is what is being focused on (when I argue it may actually be our physical traits), and in turn we see the effect that our ethnicity (traits) have on our favourability for one individual or another.

    “The interface of these apps put my ethnicity into categories that I can select and make it visible to others.” This is true – but a clear face picture would allow us to determine this for ourselves within our own perception, without being told what ethnicity someone else is by the app. Despite this, the traits that a person has will be the same, irrelevant of whether we see the persons race visually, or are told by the app. As such, I’m not sure what element, if any, this would add to further research. You could go down the path of people who choose ethnic groups they don’t belong to and think they can pass off as (such as ‘mixed’ rather than ‘Asian’), and the reasons why they choose to do so perhaps?

    I would kind of argue both for and against Tudor in a way. I agree that it queers the distinction between online and offline identity most certainly. Online your identity and race are almost one and the same. In the offline world, your identity is made up on so much more. However, I would argue that “issues normally ignored” in our daily lives are not being brought to the surface, it’s just that in our daily lives, we can pick and choose who to steer clear of based on our preferences. Online, social barriers are almost obliterated, meaning we could be approached by almost anyone. As the ‘approacher’ now has the confidence to do so, they are being met with a response, irrelevant of whether or not the ‘approachee’ wanted to give one (either by ignoring the approacher, responding positively, blocking them, or informing them that the approachee isn’t interested etc.). So yes, I feel Tudor is right in that these apps bring forth clarity on what peoples preferences are, but I would not say that these issues were ignored in offline society, but instead because of the social barriers we have in offline society, there was never any way for these “issues” to have been made known. If you were to approach people are confidently and openly offline as you did online, you would find you get a very similar response in both worlds I think. As such, the issue isn’t ignored per say, it just hasn’t been socially acceptable for people to find the answer offline. So yes, in a terrible inarticulate way, I both agree and disagree with Tudor.

    As for the question of “do we all fit into these cookie-cutter ethnicity selections?” – This is one that will simply have to be done another time, as this is a whole other kettle of fish in my opinion (even if it’s not, I’d likely end up writing several more hours on the point if I don’t cut myself off here). To give a short answer – (In my opinion) No.

    If you ever find yourself in need of people to talk to in regard to these topics for your research, do let me know. I love discussing this kind of stuff. Hopefully I’ve not come across as too confrontational or strong. This is all just my opinion, but as we know, we have to challenge things from the other side, even within ourselves, in order to truly understand something better (this would be the perfect segue into the ‘ethnicity selections’ point but I MUST RESIST!)

    Liked by 1 person

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