It all started with this unprovoked Gaydar (gay online personals site) message.
With the support and encouragement from a dear friend, I decided to report this incident to the website’s administrator. Basically Gaydar replied saying that actions had been taken against the offender but because of data protection laws I could not be informed of those said actions. I then lodged another complaint and escalated it to Gaydar’s management expressing my disapproval of their non-transparent policies and their soft stance against racism. Again I was given a reply regurgitating the same things as well as their three-strike rule against abusive users. That was when my friend decided to also send a strongly-worded email to Gaydar demanding nothing short of banning the guy from the site. A few days after that, I got a message from him.
Isn’t that creepy? Either he was trying to bury the hatchet or that hate mail wasn’t sent by him in the first place. However if you think carefully, both scenarios do not make sense unless he is a psychopath. I decided to let sleeping dogs lie only to discover very soon that his profile was removed from Gaydar. So what exactly happened? I guess we will never know (and I do not intend to find out).
This incident happened at the right time for DNA magazine was then writing an article on cruise site racism. I was interviewed via email by an editor and I have reproduced my answers here which essentially speak of my response to this whole saga as well as my view on racism. I look forward to reading the final article when it gets published (it has not been in the December issue though).
Q: What contact had you had with this person before he wrote that comment?
A: I had no contact whatsoever. I did not view his profile and send him a message and that's why I was so shocked that someone would actually make that effort to physically type those few words and send them to a totally innocent party just to make his point.
Q: What was the lead-up to it, if any?
A: There was no lead-up. I was actually sending quite a few emails to other people I found interesting on Gaydar at that time. I guess he saw that I was online and decided to send me that note.
Q: What was your initial response?
A: To be honest, I didn't know what "slope head" meant initially and had to ask someone but the rest of the short sentence was well-understood. It is one of those things that are so extreme that you pause for a moment to think if it were meant as a joke. Overt and over-the-top abuse of this sort does not get to me more than the under-the-surface discrimination that you know exists but can't prove for sure or do anything about. Also from the use of the rather old term "slope head" I could tell that this person is really very backward and primitive in his thinking–this created a greater rift in my mind between me and him–he is just an extreme fellow who simply cannot be comprehended. Just like nothing could calm a tornado bent on destroying a town, it was better for me to leave him alone and get out while I still could. I did not make any reply.
Q: I understand you contacted Gaydar about it. Were you satisfied with the response you got from them?
A: Their initial response stated that they did something about it but could not divulge any details because of "local data protection laws". It was not a transparent resolution at all, more like paying lip service. Gaydar told me that he will not be banned unless it can be demonstrated upon further investigation that it would be unfair to others to let him remain on the site. Apparently having a single victim (me) was not enough and there needs to be more. Incidentally my friend who is familiar with the field told me that there is no such thing as "local data protection laws" and that Gaydar didn't know what they were talking about at all.
Q: Are you prepared to take it further if they don’t respond more meaningfully?
A: I gave them a reply that I was not comfortable with their response and told them to give me details of what they have done exactly. I also expressed my disappointment that Gaydar decided to not ban him. I continued by saying that if no details could be given, they would have to quote me the exact clauses of the "data protection laws" they have used. I also mentioned that if I don't get further information, I cannot assume that Gaydar has taken any appropriate action. I am still waiting for their reply and it has been more than a day (from their website, they guarantee to reply within 24 hours).
Q: Has this kind of thing happened to you before?
A: Not to this extreme intensity but yes, several times. People either reply nastily by saying things like "dream on" or state in their reply that they are not into Asians. Well at least the latter kind of response is honest. The moral of the story is always to read their profiles first and make sure there is no "not into Asians" anywhere, otherwise you will just be barking up the wrong tree. I know some people are very against the "not into Asians" bit (which brings up the argument of where the line should be drawn between sexual preference and racial discrimination) but to me, at least they are upfront about it. Maybe they should simply write about what they like instead of what they don't like. Maybe they are just tactless people.
Q: Is it common? Do you hear about similar incidents from your Asian friends?
A: Yes. I attend the "Asian Tea Room" sessions organised by the ACON Asian Men's Project regularly and one of the topics discussed was exactly this–cruise-site racism. Many shared similar stories though so far I have not heard of anyone who has received emails as extreme as the one I have. Some used anger against anger (ie. by replying with equal aggravation) and some thought at least they were being frank. The general conclusion was that people should be more tactful online and that some might interpret sexual preference as racism and vice versa–it was all about live and let live in the end (a.k.a. we know there is a problem but we can't do anything about it). Although the Asian Tea Room sessions were good as an avenue for feedback and support, it is still an event that is meant only for Asians and so I cannot help it but feel as if I am preaching to the choir. I think it is time to really do something about it and not just stand around and discuss about it. This pro-active approach was the driving force behind my lodging of the complaint to Gaydar.
Q: What about when you go out? Do you find much racism among the gay community generally?
I seldom go out and if I do I tend to go to Asian-friendly places like Midnight Shift or 357 where I know people who frequent those places are most likely into or at least not against Asians. It is like Asians sticking with Asians because it is just too hard to make that connection when the other party is not totally accepting of you (a friend told me this Asians-sticking-with-Asians phenomenon occurs within the Australian-born Asian community too–so this actually cuts across the entire Asian demographic). It is sort of a chicken-and-egg situation–someone should make the first move in bridging that gap and I think it should be the majority making the first move. Sometimes my friends complain that there is not enough gay Asian representation in the community–a perfect example would be SSO pictures of events in the Shift rarely feature Asians although we know that they make up a substantial chunk of the clientele. However what kind of representation can we demand when in actual fact Asians only make up 6% of the total Australian population? Maybe the lack of Asian representation is the true representation.
That being said, the media still plays a very important role in promoting acceptance and I think there is much room for improvement when it comes to Australian media (gay or straight) when it comes to Asian-representation. That is why I took part in the underwear pageant at Stonewall a while back as the only Asian participant that night. I knew full well that I would not win despite having a wicked body because I think the Australian culture has not evolved enough to appreciate Asian beauty yet (the media is to be blamed for this one). I feel a need to not only put the face of Asians out there but also a masculine and positive image of Asians. I made my stance clear on the stage that night that I was there because I needed to increase Asian-representation in the gay community. That was not very well-received especially after I commented to the judge (AXN magazine editor) that AXN has not featured an Asian as a solo cover model before–true but perhaps too straight-to-the-point. I went away from the contest that night with my head held high and a bitter taste in my mouth at the same time–did I not win because I was being too Asian or was I simply not hot enough? It is one of those questions that can never be answered–that is why we need to strive to reach a level where that question need not be asked in the first place.
Q: Is this kind of racism in the gay community getting better or worse?
A: I know straight Asians get racism shoved in their faces all the time (by straight white Aussies) so we gays should not really get special treatment in that sense. But to me the most unacceptable form of racism is the kind you get from gay people–the people that knows first-hand what it feels like to be discriminated against. During Mardi Gras last year when I marched in the parade with ACON, the organisers were giving out party favours and we were all pushing forth to get them as we knew they were limited. I was there with a group of Asians and some white guy next to me just shouted out "only for those not on a visa". I was really offended at that time and that totally spoilt my first parade-march experience (I just moved to Sydney from Singapore a few months before that). On hindsight, I should not have kept silent after that caustic comment but I was new to the country then and decided not to "rock the boat".
Still I think it is getting better both in the gay and straight world but that came about slowly through gradual acceptance and not by media campaigns, which are important. There is a lot more that can be done and I think there should be a clear direction and concerted effort to target this particular issue–we should not just let time solve the problem. In my opinion, the white majority (especially those in the cities) are currently facing a culture shock within their own country due to this sudden influx of immigrants in the recent years. This is totally understandable–they see us as competition and a threat to their culture and livelihood and thus give a kneejerk defensive reaction in the form of (overt and covert) racism. Once we know the root cause to the problem, we can then better structure the plan to eradicate it.