Asian men are angry. They're angry that American society doesn't view them as powerful and attractive and all those signifiers we associate with masculinity. So they'll say or do anything to prove that they can objectify, demean, or rape a woman just as well as any other man can.
I know this thanks to David Choe. I listened to the entire two hours of that torturous podcast where he admits to raping his masseuse, and realized that Choe is not quite your garden-variety "edgy" sexist. Instead, he's an Asian man who's so sensitive to emasculation that he overcompensates with misogyny. And he's not the only one.
You may ask what the stereotype of the emasculated Asian man is. It's that he is sexless, nerdy, timid, cursed with a small penis, and basically the embodiment of what we don't want in a man that we actually want to fuck. To give you some examples, I'm invoking the words of one Eddie Huang. Huang is the owner of Baohaus, a good East Village Taiwanese restaurant, and author of Fresh Off the Boat, a very good memoir that's becoming an ABC pilot. It's the first book I've read that's incisive about how shitty it can be to grow up Chinese amid white suburban sprawl, and to feature frank discussions about conformity, pressure, abuse and other heavy topics in Chinese culture.
Yet Fresh Off the Boat has a crucial blind spot, as this passage shows:
Once we had a debate about emasculated Asian men in Hollywood. Dr. Henton busted out a book called Screening the Asian Male and it made total sense, but the idea of the emasculated Asian wasn't new to me. My cousin Allen was the first to point it out to me one day when we were still kids:
"Yo, you notice Asian people never get any pussy in movies? Jet Li rescued Aliyah, no pussy! Chow Yun-Fat saves Mira Sorvino, no pussy. Chris Tucker gets mu-shu, but Jackie Chan? No pussy!"
By putting it this bluntly, Huang and his cousin nail how this trope harms Asian men. Yet with their wording, they reduce women and their pussies to trophies that they want a piece of too. I'm all for Asian men being seen as sexually desirable in action movies and other films, but with this quote, Huang is carving out space for emasculated Asian men to casually demean women. It's hard to see where the positive change lies in that.
Later in the memoir, Huang describes his standup career, where his specialty seems to be making self-deprecating jokes about his race, including, apparently, about Asian women's asses: "I talked about how Asian women had flat asses 'cause they were all drinkin' soy milk. 'How the fuck you gonna grow a bubble without whole milk, boo?' " This type of humor has extended to the name of Huang's past menu items, which include names like "Taiwanese Flat Booty Cake" and "Poke-Her Face Prawns."
As to his assessment of how Asian women actually felt about this joke: "I hated seeing those crunchy-ass Asian women turn sour every time I told the soy milk joke." It doesn't occur to him that maybe it's not his right to get to decide what Asian women find funny, especially when it comes to jokes about their body parts. It also doesn't occur to him to try and forge a new path when it comes to Asian masculinity: subverting the stereotype while still respecting women. He's so desperate to be the provocateur that society has said that he can't be that he makes a hypocrite of himself, using women as props to achieve this end. It's therefore ironic that Huang later name drops Audre Lorde as influencing his outlook, when she was the one who pointed out that the master's tools won't dismantle the master's house.
Then there's JT Tran, or the Asian playboy, who wants to "alter the perceptions of Asian men" by teaching "social change through pickup." The guiding principle, as taught in each class:
Before each student crosses the floor of that bare white cubicle in midtown, Tran asks him a question. "What is good in life?" Tran shouts.
The student then replies, in the loudest, most emphatic voice he can muster: "To crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and to hear the lamentation of their women—in my bed!"
This alpha male motto includes invasive pickup techniques like placing one's hands on a woman's shoulders and pivoting her around to face you (as more recently chronicled at The Awl), and "attracting those women whose hair is the color of the midday sun and eyes are the color of the ocean." JT Tran wants to give Asian men romantic confidence, and so he teaches them to fetishize and objectify women in the same vein as Roosh or any other non-Asian PUA. Who is that good for?
Yet neither are as bad as Choe, who is so intent on proving that he's the bad boy of street art or whatever that he consistently pulls stunts like stuffing an octopus in a woman's vagina. His podcast is no different. Every second is filled with him trying to make up for the following perception, including that part where he brags about how he forced his masseuse to perform oral sex on him.
He claims that after he finished, she said:
"I've never been attracted to an Asian guy." Oh, what a surprise! "I've never met an Asian guy who talks so much."
He sure showed her! And not in a weak-ass respectful way, but by forcefully "face-fucking" her, then making a point to discard her as quickly as possible. Disposing of the masseuse includes offering her money, and then leaving some bills behind after she refuses them because, after all, "she is a whore."
After the backlash over his story, Choe says he made it all up. Whether true or not, it doesn't matter. He's still saying that derogatory stories about women are legitimate "art," especially for an Asian man like him who is single-minded about proving that he's not quiet or unattractive, okay?? He, Eddie Huang, and JT Tran sell themselves as mavericks of their kind, paving the way for other Asian men to be seen as alpha males. But they don't question the misogynistic attitudes or actions they take on to achieve that, making them no better than the people they blame for their perceived emasculation.
Image by Jim Cooke; photograph via Getty.