About the Author
Sam Yu (he/him/his) is a graduate of the College of William & Mary (Class of 2017). On campus, he was involved in groups and organizations that center on queer and trans issues, reproductive justice, and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault. Some of his favorite topics of conversation include the intersection of race and sexuality/gender, horror movies, and the sociological significance of reality television.

My First Time At A Gay Bar

“I’m giving it my all, but I’m not the girl you’re taking home, ooh. I keep dancing on my own (I keep dancing on my own)…”

I remember my first time at a gay bar in DC.

Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” was, unsurprisingly, blaring on the DJ’s speakers.

Other popular go-to gay anthems included “No Scrubs” by TLC and, of course, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by the late, great Whitney Houston (“How Will I Know” is the superior Whitney song, however. Fight me!).

Hearing these songs play in the background of my first gay bar was not only a great change of pace, but also a breath of fresh air.

My bar/club experience in the DC scene was limited to the predominantly straight spaces where songs foreign to my young, queer heart reigned supreme.

So, when the chance came for me to finally go to a party space made by and for gay people, I was utterly giddy.

I was excited to move how I wanted, talk how I wanted, and wear what I wanted without fear of judgement or harassment from others.

Prior to entering the gay spaces of DC, my knowledge of gay culture was limited to what I watched on RuPaul’s Drag Race and Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning.

These pieces of media showcased queer, trans, and gay folk who challenged societal and gender norms, wore outlandish, yet awe-inspiring, costumes, vogued the house down, threw shade, lip-synced for their lives, and wore their identities as badges of honor.

Photo Credit: Hotlanta Voyeur/ Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Most importantly, these individuals showed me the resilience of the queer and trans community, a community whose people have been and still are vulnerable and oppressed today, especially those of color.

Bearing all of this mind, I was ready to enter my first gay bar itching to (try to) death drop like Shangela (a former contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race), walk like Pepper LaBeija (the late house mother of the “House of LaBeija”), and serve “Pretty Girl, 1986” realness.

When I finally arrived at my first gay bar, I was disheartened by what I found.

Some people reading this may think that I was being completely naive to expect so much out of these places.

In hindsight, I understand that I was.

But, at the time, I could not help but hope that these bars and clubs would be like the “balls” I had seen in Paris is Burning or the exuberant people I had watched on Drag Race.

For many queer people, representation is so slim that the moment I got to have a first taste, I was excited to take a huge bite out of gay culture after years of imagining, hoping, and wishing.

Upon entering the bar, after the initial songs of excitement had waned, I slowly realized that what I expected paled in comparison to what was actually around me, and I mean literally paled.

Almost everyone at my first gay bar was white with the folks of color added in sparsely like sprinkles put on a vanilla cone by a stingy Baskin-Robbins worker.

Also, practically everyone was wearing the same thing.

It was either a snapback with a muscle-tank, shorts, and high-tops, or an unbuttoned button-up that revealed a chiseled body formed by countless hours at the gym.

I saw little to no displays of gender interrogation, scarce embracements of femininity, and little of the “diversity” that the mainstream LGBT community ostensibly champions.

Photo Credit: Hotlanta Voyeur/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

At straight clubs, I felt like I stuck out, and now at gay ones, I felt invisible.

Nobody looked like me nor at me.

Many argue that a large proportion of gay men do not find Asian men attractive due to racialized “preferences,” and that is true.

But, it would not have made a difference if the people there were interested in me.

At the end of the day, my feminine, gender non-conforming Asian self did not fit in with the white, snapback-wearing, masculine gay people of my first gay bar.

Though we did have similar interests, RuPaul’s Drag Race being one of them, it seemed as if their “feminine” inclinations were okay so long as their bodies were muscular and mannerisms of the macho persuasion.

Although my first taste of the gay scene in DC left my palette wholly unsatisfied, I did not allow myself to settle or conform.

Much like the fierce queens on Drag Race who worked for the crown, or the resilient people in Paris is Burning who reached for the stars, I, too, knew that my search for queer spaces was far from over.

I know that there is more to queer life than the ones readily accessible to me, but until then, I will stay true to Robyn’s words and dance on my own until I find the people I want to dance and feel the heat with.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

NOW WATCH: This Is The Oldest Building In The Western Hemisphere. We Bet You’ve Never Heard Of It 

Cover Photo Credit: Hotlanta Voyeur/ Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Wendy’s Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich And What Makes Food “Asian”

It was over winter break when I first saw the commercial for ​Wendy’s new “Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich.”​

I was flipping through channels on the television out of boredom when all of the sudden a white teacher appeared on my screening pointing to a chalkboard with the words “SRIRACHA (SEE-RAH-CHA)” written in plain view.

Then, the commercial cuts to a white man tattooing a heart with the word “sriracha” in the middle and a young girl in her sriracha themed room dreamily uttering the word, “sriracha…”

Finally, the commercial ends with a full description of Wendy’s new “Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich” which includes a sriracha jack-cheese, sriracha aioli, and a sriracha infused bun.

Now, while the commercial is obviously an innocuous, kooky advertisement promoting Wendy’s new product, it got me thinking about the way white westerners are consistently fascinated by “exotic,” non-western foods and use that fascination to create dishes that, in my opinion, are neither bona fide nor appealing.

This isn’t the first time that Wendy’s has introduced a dish with an “Asian flavor.”

A few years ago, Wendy’s unveiled their ​“Asian Chicken Salad”​ which consisted of ​edamame, cashews, grilled chicken breast, sliced cucumbers, diced red bell peppers, and a lettuce blend dressed with a light spicy Asian chili vinaigrette.

Although this chicken salad, like the sriracha sandwich, seems completely benign, I feel it is worth questioning what exactly makes this dish “Asian”?

Is it the edamame?

The cashews?

What ingredients make this salad go from an ordinary salad, to an exciting, “Asian” salad?

Now, I’m not someone who expects Wendy’s to be the kind of restaurant that keeps cultural awareness at the forefront of their recipes, but I feel that some of their dishes are a part of this larger trend of slapping the “Asian” label on any foods that happens to include ingredients like peanuts, mandarin oranges, sriracha, and soy sauce.

Take, for instance, this ​Home Chef “Korean Pork Medallions” recipe​.

At the heart of this recipe lies a, what do you know, ​sriracha​ marinade.

And in spite of the fact that sriracha was created by David Tran, a Vietnamese-American man, this recipe is still given the label of being inspired by “Korean flavors,” which begs my previous question, “what is it about this dish that makes it Korean”?

Running in the same vein, ​this advertisement​ pointed out by Twitter user @CarmanTse showcases bibimbap (a Korean “mixed rice” dish consisting of seasoned vegetable, white rice, red pepper paste, and a fried egg) with kale and avocado which would make any Korean person go, “… excuse me?”

Photo Credit: CarmanTse/ Twitter

At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering, “why does this even matter? It’s just food. Why do you care?”

And to that, I respond by saying that as a Korean-American who grew up eating the foods that are now becoming the dish du jour, it is upsetting to see foods of my childhood be the source of an inspiration that has little regard for them.

Whenever I see “Asian” dish this or “Asian inspired,” I see dishes made by people who do not understand that Asia is a huge continent with a diversity of cultures, people, and cuisines.

East Asian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian dishes all differ from one another, so the flippant use of the word “Asian” do not do these foods justice and displays a clear lack of specificity.

All too often, I feel that non-western cuisines are not allowed to be autonomous and are, instead, lumped with ingredients that do not make sense and are advocated by people outside of said cuisines’ cultural context.

For instance, a controversial article by Bon Appetit last september featured a white chef showing Bon Appetit’s audience the “proper way” of eating Pho (you can read more about the controversy ​here​ and watch the video ​here​).

Rather than feature a local Vietnamese Pho restaurant to discuss the topic at hand, Bon Appetit opted for a non-Vietnamese man to act as the cultural kiosk for this dish.

Time and time again, people who are not a part of a food’s culture do the dissemination and education as opposed to people who have the cultural background.

The “Korean Pork Medallion” recipe was not created by a Korean individual, and I find it hard to believe that a Korean person came up with the “kale and avocado bibimbap” recipe.

However, this article should not suggest that people should only make food from their own culture and that not doing so is cultural appropriation.

Rather, within this context, I feel it is important to think about the words we choose to use when describing food, to be respectful of the culture of where this food is coming from, and to be mindful of who has and doesn’t have a seat at the dinner table during these conversations.

In their “Spicy sriracha Chicken Sandwich” advertisement, Wendy’s claims to be “fluent” in sriracha.

But, for the sake of fluency, Wendy’s, and many other chefs, recipes, and restaurants, detracts attention from the nexus of where this food is coming from resulting in a contrived, whitewashed dish that quite frankly leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Wendy’s Canada/ Youtube (Screengrab)

Steve Harvey And The “Emasculation of Asian Men”

We all know the stereotype.

We’re all familiar with the trope.

Asian men just aren’t “desirable.”

Our frames are too delicate.

Our mannerism aren’t “masculine.”

And of course, our penises are just too small.

All of these sentiments are well echoed in the entertainment industry.

Asian men are rarely cast in a leading role because who would want to watch a movie about an Asian guy?

More often than not, we’re relegated to a mere sidekick usually for a desirable, white protagonist.

But, it’s not just the entertainment industry that plays into this stereotype.

Steve Harvey, too, has reified this idea that Asian men just aren’t worth it with some racist “jokes” that he made this past January.

In sum, he stated, in reference to a 2002 book called How to Date a White Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men (which is a whole different can of worms in and of itself), that “there’s just no way someone could be attracted to Asian men” all while laughing uncontrollably.

Now, while Steve Harvey’s clearly racist remarks deserve to be rifled through with a fine-toothed comb (and has been), I want to focus not on his remarks, but the reaction of his remarks among Asian-American men who were rightfully offended by his words.

The most notable voice that comes to mind is an article written by Eddie Huang titled “Hey, Steve Harvey, Who Says I Might Not Steal Your Girl?.”

In the article, Huang goes in on Harvey and laments the real, hurtful idea that “women don’t want Asian men.”

Huang is a well-known restaurateur and chief who wrote a book about growing up as an Asian America. The book was later adapted into ABC’s hit tv show Fresh Off The Boat. 

Huang makes note of how marginalized people are not afforded the privilege of being whole, complex human beings and comments like the one that Harvey’s made remind Asian men of that.

Moreover, he touches on the “structural emasculation of Asian men in all forms of media… produced an actual abhorrence to Asian men… That’s why this Steve Harvey episode is so upsetting.”

Asian women (and all women for that matter) should not be viewed as things that can be “stolen” by men. Photo Credit: Shawn Perez/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

While I agree with Huang that we as a society need to drop the erroneous notion that Asian men are not worthy partners in any sense, I take issue with the way that Huang, and many other people who think like him, has decided to approach this problem.

First and foremost, the “Mr. Steal Your Girl” reference.

Why are we treating women as objects to be stolen in the first place?

Shouldn’t they have the privilege to be complex human beings?

Why are we approaching this topic from this specific angle?

Also, as an Asian-American man who is impacted by conversations about “Asian (e)masculinity,” I have grown quite tired of this whole mantra behind “masculinizing” Asian men.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I agree that the experiences of Asian men who feel emasculated by society and media ought to be validated.

However, why is masculinity the center of this conversation?

I feel that Asian men exist in all facets outside of feeling “emasculated” and their voices ought to be uplifted as well.

I identify as a feminine, queer Asian-American man, and I do not feel liberated by this rhetoric around “masculinization.”

How does an Asian-American man like me fight into this conversation?

If fighting against Asian emasculation means letting Asian men talk about “stealing” someone’s girl and other low-key misogynistic things while feeling like a “man” about it, then that is not something that I can get behind.

Huang himself has been criticized as someone who exhibits misogynistic language and attitudes and if battling Asian emasculation means advocating for his right to feel “manly” when he jokes with his friends about women, then I cannot stand with him.

Fair and accurate media representation of the Asian-American experience in all forms written by Asian-American folk is something that I can get behind.

But, this centering of masculinity as the end all, be all for representation and desirability of Asian men has got to stop.

This reminds me of the way that people tried to fight against Steve Harvey’s words on Twitter by retweeting photos of masculine presenting Asian men to prove that they thought Asian men were “desirable” and “attractive.”

But, the problem here isn’t that I want people to think that I’m hot.

The problem is that we as a society need to decolonize what we deem as attractive and why.

Furthermore, people like Eddie Huang (though well-intentioned, I’m sure) need to step back and think about who benefits from their advocacy for the Asian-American community, who is left out, and who is negatively affected by what we’re fighting for.

These are the conversations and dialogues that I feel need to be had, and emasculation can exit, stage left.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: See-ming Lee/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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