‘Where are you really from?’

Where are you from?

‘I am from Auckland’

‘No…I mean where are you REALLY from?’

‘Glen Eden’

‘No…I mean where are your ancestors from?’

It turns out that my ancestors are quite important to a lot of people ever since I came to New Zealand about 11 years ago. I never knew that it is such a great conversation starter either. This line of conversation gets quite interesting when you ask the same question back, especially if the person is White. They get very offended I can tell you that now. What is it with these people that are so obsessed with my ancestors’ lineage but refuse to tell me about their ancestors in exchange?

Before I came to New Zealand, we were taught stereotypically that first world countries (which almost exclusively refers to western civilisations) such as New Zealand are very liberal and open, which I automatically translate to everyone treats everyone equally despite their differences. That is still true to a certain extent, but I have never realised what inequality means until I came to New Zealand.

Life feels great here if no one asks you ‘do you speak English?’ at a bus stop; The Kapiti ice cream in my hand tastes better if no one yells at me to ‘eff back to China’ when I am standing on the pavement licking it; Rotorua will even smell great despite the sulfur if you don’t assume that I am a high-achiever in school just because I am Asian (I do, however, have a Masters degree).

My parents worry that since I have been living in New Zealand for so long, I would have forgotten my cultural roots, my native languages, and my ability to practice filial piety. Never have I felt more Asian than I did when I was in Malaysia. I am constantly reminded by others around me that I am an Asian guy. Examples ranging from people telling me that I speak good English for an Asian person; I write adequately as an Asian; and the assumption that I somehow know all the Asian people within a 10 kilometers radius from where I am standing at.

When I first encounter these incidents, I have no idea how to deal with them because I have never ever experienced anything like these until I came to New Zealand. Despite coming from a third world country where inequalities are reproducing and multiplying on a daily basis, we were taught to mind our own business and to respect differences. This is also why we were taught three different languages at school compulsorily since we were young so that we could understand each other better. I feel like New Zealand could start with Te Reo. Just saying.

I guess I will tell you now. My ancestors are from a small village in the Chinese province. I am from Malaysia and I think I am REALLY from New Zealand now. I can show you my Permanent Resident Visa if you want. I really don’t mind if that helps you to sleep at night.


Looking for research participants

Project Title:

Permanent Visitor: New Zealand’s Gay Asian Migrants, Identity, and Mediated Social Exchange

This research study is looking for self-identified gay and/or queer Asian males that are of migrant background aged 18 and above to take part in a study examining how gay mobile dating applications affect their overall experience in New Zealand.

This qualitative study aims to understand how gay Asian male migrants use mobile dating applications to navigate and to interact with New Zealand’s mainstream culture and the local gay culture. It also examines the possible difficulties that they encounter while using these mobile applications, such as discrimination, alienation and hostility due to racial prejudice from other users. Through analysing users interactions on these applications, the project will explore how new identities and life experience could be created for gay Asian male migrants in New Zealand.

To be able to participate, you must:

  • Be 18 years old and above;
  • Identify yourself as Asian (South Asian, East Asian, and South East Asian);
  • Identify yourself as a migrant to New Zealand (1st, 2nd and 3rd generation migrants, newly migrated migrants, and short-term migrants such as international students and expatriates);
  • Self-identified as gay/queer male;
  • Be a user of gay mobile dating applications such as (but is not limited to) Grindr, Bender, Jack’D, Hornet, Scruff and so on.


Eligible participants will be approached to participate in confidential, semi-structured interviews, exploring their experiences and perspectives. Each interview will take up to 60 minutes to complete.



I am undertaking a doctorate research project to study how gay Asian male migrants use gay mobile dating/networking applications (Grindr, Jack’D and Hornet) in New Zealand. Moreover, I am investigating how their differing or similar experience and encounters on various gay dating/networking applications constitute a significant part of their identity construction, as well as the varying degree of their sense of belonging here in New Zealand. This project is to be submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctorate of Philosophy in Film, TV and Media Studies, University of Auckland.


You are being asked to take part in a research study based on your experience of these gay mobile dating/networking applications in New Zealand, in relation to your identified social position as a gay Asian male migrant. I would like to interview you because of your personal experience and encounters on this subject. The interview will take up to one hour and may involve a follow-up interview of 60 minutes or less duration if you are willing. The follow-up interview is intended for clarification purposes IF there is a discussion in the initial interview that might need further elaboration. All the questions will be focusing on personal experiences and insights/accounts of these various gay mobile dating/networking applications. You will be asked for your personal opinions and perspectives, and there will be some questions about your personal life.

The information from the interview will be used to address how gay Asian male migrants utilize these mobile applications as a mean of communication and a form of strategy to fit in; additionally, the interview content will be used to examine the potential difficulties, benefits, and challenges that these mobile applications have brought forth to gay Asian male migrant users, in the process of transiting into a new environment and culture.

Your participation is voluntary. The questions will be posed and answered verbally, recorded on a digital voice recorder (with your approval) and transcribed at a later date by me. Since your experiences on these mobile applications are invaluable and important to this project, I would like to be able to quote you verbatim but confidentially in my findings.


Even though the researcher does not intend to identify participants by name, there is a risk that you may be identifiable by virtue of your high profile and/or specific circumstantial information that you might provide during the interview. However, your name will be coded and pseudonymised to protect your confidentiality. Additionally, the researcher will make every effort to minimise the risk of you being identified in any way foreseeable.


Asia’s HIV rates and mobile applications

The newest UN report produces frightening statistics regarding the surge of gay Asian men using mobile dating applications could hinder the global HIV goal. The correlation between apps and promiscuity is established, with the UN spokesperson pointing out that due to the prevalence of young gay Asian men using these apps for sexual gratification, their risk of contracting HIV has increased by the sheer number of sexual partners that they can find on these apps. In other words, these apps almost become the sole perpetrator of spreading the epidemic.
I will have to admit, that the technological affordances offer by these apps do enable the possibilities for their users to connect with more people, and it is definitely way easier to seek out sexual gratification through these apps; but there lies a crucial instance where researchers will have to ask: do people always ended up having sex? They have forgotten that a process of negotiation happens when people are soliciting sex; most people ended up being rejected in this process. Hence wanting to have sex does not always immediately result in it happening instantaneously.
New technology and the moral panic that come along with it are nothing new. For instance, the fear of television corrupting the young minds; the fear of the Internet provided too much unregulated freedom and the list goes on for a while. These panics are mostly due to the fact that we don’t take into the social and cultural aspects of technologies that shape the ways in which we use them. Technology is mostly a tool to convey the way of how we live. They themselves are not the root of evil at all. The users themselves are responsible for how the apps are being utilised. Technology, in this instance, becomes the scapegoat of blame attribution, when the focus should be on the incompetence of most Asian governments when it comes to acknowledging LGBT basic human rights.
Technology aside, a lot of research has been published on the uses and gratification aspect of these mobile apps. Most of them are focused on western users and their reasons of using these apps, but these research cannot be, and should not be treated conclusively as to why Asian gay men use these apps. The cultural differences and attitudes towards LGBT people and the knowledge towards same sex intimacy have to be taken into account as well. Being gay in most Asian countries mostly implies being invisible in order to stay safe. This is due to the condemnation of homosexual identities by the government’s policies and the family’s negative attitude towards gay individuals. Simply put, when being gay is punishable by the very law that is suppose to protect our interest and rights, apps in this instance provided a powerful channel for gay Asian men instead to communicate with each other under the government’s and the family’s radar.
The lack of governmental support and acknowledgement also leads to the absence of knowledge and awareness in this relevant area. Safe sex campaign is rarely featured, not just because of the continuous denial of LGBT individuals’ rights, but sex in itself is seen as a taboo in most Asian countries, which is commonly associated with guilt, shame and dirtiness. If the government can’t even address sexual aspects of the heteronormative sexual practices, how are we going to expect them to tackle sexual issues that are currently plaguing the LGBT community?
The focus on mobile applications as the sole reason for HIV rates to spike in Asian countries is a skewed one. These apps in a roundabout way, actually provides more educational opportunities than ever in comparison to the governments’ effort (or lack of). I am not suggesting that these apps are all angelic and educational to the point that will raise a ton of awareness (after all, they are commercial entities that seek profit more than anything else), but they at least have provided a forum for gay Asian men to meet others. This in itself has done more than what the state could have possibly done. We have to bear in mind that gay online spaces like such are a ‘renewed’ format of the act of cruising. The likelihood of gay men in Asia getting caught while cruising the public area is high and undoubtedly risky. Mobile applications can actually reduce this particular risk by allowing their members to identify others, without having to expose themselves to unwanted attentions and risks. In comparison to most governmental actions and unjust legal parameters that jeopardise gay asian men’s personal safety, I suggest that these applications do more than the official discourse does.
This is not a debate on whether mobile applications are extremely beneficial or spectacularly bad; it is about pointing out the flawed and oversimplified logic of mobile applications equals to promiscuity and therefore increasing HIV rates. Social and cultural climates in these Asian countries have to be taken into consideration when making a prima facie claim like such that often ignores the premises of power and marginalised communities. These are the individuals that are not given a voice to speak out about their positions, and research like this will only silence their voice further, without even considering their reasons of why they use these apps in the first place.
In order to tackle the issue of HIV and sexual behaviour more effectively, I would suggest that the understanding of cultural attitude towards sex and homosexual identity is crucial. It is often easier to just reduce people into numbers and statistics; but these numbers become redundant when the actual root of the problem itself is not being addressed adequately. The power of the state in oppressing marginalised community like the LGBT which causes them to burrow underground needs to be examined appropriately in order to unveil why unsafe sexual practices are practiced in the first place. Behavioural studies might be the next best step, but a wider cultural study on the culture and the power structure of the states in relation to sex and intimacy will warrant a more comprehensive perspective on controlling HIV rates in Asian countries.
© 2015 Joe Xie Quin Lim