There’s something hideous filtering down through the asylum seeker debate. It’s a slow, creeping endorsement of cruelty. It’s giving confidence to otherwise decent people to hold and express views that they once kept in check.
This confidence to be cruel is also trickling into places where you’d think there would only be support, understanding and bonding between people through a shared experience of hardship.
I’m talking about within the LGBT community.
The gays are a diverse group of people who’ve fought hard for civil and human rights. During the recent federal election, our march forward seemed to have encountered an immovable obstacle in Tony Abbott, who won Government by promising, among other things, to take equal marriage off the agenda, to make way for “greater priorities”. And as history showed, Australia gave him his “mandate” to do so.
One of elected PM Abbott’s prioritised promises was to “Stop The Boats”, a fear-mongering call to arms that paraded as border security but it appealed especially to an electorate keen to keep “different” people from “different cultures” and “different races” out of our neighbourhoods.
You’d expect the LGBT community to be less supportive of that line of thinking, and to feel a sense of fraternity with other groups of people whose human rights are being ignored. Yet even in the LGBT community, there’s a growing confidence to be cruel. It takes the form of sometimes subtle, but more often than not outright racism.
Though on the surface, as racism often does, it masquerades as something else: the politics of desire. On the gay dating app Grindr for example, you’ll often see men indicate their preferences in their profiles. They’ll tell you what turns them on. Some men like muscles. Some men like body hair. Sometimes they’ll indicate whom they don’t want to hear from and this is where it begins to get nasty. No fatties. No fems.
By far the most prevalent demand is “No Asians”.
Sometimes it comes with an apology. “Not into Asians. No offence.” As if apologising makes it better and reduces it to just a quirk of your particular sexuality: a twisted version of the breakup cliché, “It’s not you. It’s me.”
Often there are no other indicators to temper the request. Just a simple “Not into Asians.” No list of other undesirables for an Asian gay to draw at least comfort in numbers from, like smokers or drama queens or people with partners wanting threesomes. It’s just a door slammed in the face of anyone of Asian descent.
It’s hard when the profiles are that succinct to read anything more into it, other than a clear desire to rid the gay world of all Asians. They seem to say, “This is our place, not yours.” which is only an anti-immigration bumper sticker away from “Fuck off, we’re full.”
Sometimes the ugliness isn’t softened and shows its true form. Like this message that was sent to a gay friend of mine who is Malaysian: It says, “Fukin Asian. Go back to your country. Tiny Abott (sic) says so. You are not welcome.”
Thankfully this appalling, outright, aggressive racism isn’t usual. For most gay Asian men the common rebuttal to contact takes the more subtle, faux apologetic form of “Sorry, no Asians”.
Though it’s less aggressive and threatening in its tone, there’s something even more damaging going on here for young gay Asian men who encounter this blunt rebuff to their advances. Something far more hurtful is being done to the fragile self esteem of this already marginalised group of men. Their belief in their own desirability is under attack, and not for any reason they can control.
Regardless of their grooming, how well they sculpt their bodies or whether they have been lucky enough to be born attractive, the message here is that they will always be less desirable than almost anybody else on the gay planet according to the other men on these apps. They’re being made to feel ugly because of their race.
Where then does that leave any young man who finds himself born gay and also Asian? Life starts to look pretty bleak for him. He’s possibly already marginalised, perhaps ostracised from his own cultural community and looking elsewhere for love, a partner, a sense of family. And what does it say about the men he hits up, who feel the need to air their dislike of Asian men in such overt ways?
How cruel have they become and from whom are they taking their lead? There’s permission being granted somewhere. There’s acceptance of this as a norm. The men who post these profiles on Grindr go to great lengths to make themselves look attractive, yet here they are saying something ugly. How convinced must they be of the acceptability of their racist views to accessorise their polished profiles this way? It’s a cruel day indeed when racism no longer turns people off and sometimes turns people on.