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Geisha of a Different Kind

Geisha of a Different Kind: Race and Sexuality in Gaysian America

C. Winter Han
Series: Intersections
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Geisha of a Different Kind
    Book Description:

    In gay bars and nightclubs across America, and in gay-oriented magazines and media, the buff, macho, white gay man is exalted as the ideal-the most attractive, the most wanted, and the most emulated type of man. For gay Asian American men, often viewed by their peers as submissive or too 'pretty,' being sidelined in the gay community is only the latest in a long line of racially-motivated offenses they face in the United States.Repeatedly marginalized by both the white-centric queer community that values a hyper-masculine sexuality and a homophobic Asian American community that often privileges masculine heterosexuality, gay Asian American men largely have been silenced and alienated in present-day culture and society. InGeisha of a Different Kind, C. Winter Han travels from West Coast Asian drag shows to the internationally sought-after Thaikathoey, or "ladyboy," to construct a theory of queerness that is inclusive of the race and gender particularities of the gay Asian male experience in the United States.

    Through ethnographic observation of queer Asian American communities and Asian American drag shows, interviews with gay Asian American men, and a reading of current media and popular culture depictions of Asian Americans, Han argues that gay Asian American men, used to gender privilege within their own communities, must grapple with the idea that, as Asians, they have historically been feminized as a result of Western domination and colonization, and as a result, they are minorities within the gay community, which is itself marginalized within the overall American society. Han also shows that many Asian American gay men can turn their unusual position in the gay and Asian American communities into a positive identity. In their own conception of self, their Asian heritage and sexuality makes these men unique, special, and, in the case of Asian American drag queens, much more able to convey a convincing erotic femininity. Challenging stereotypes about beauty, nativity, and desirability,Geisha of a Different Kindmakes a major intervention in the study of race and sexuality in America.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-2470-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Geisha of a Different Kind
    (pp. 1-20)

    Shortly before midnight, bodies gyrate to ear-numbing music on a small wood-paneled dance floor on the third level of R-Place, a local gay bar. The rhythmic beat from refrigerator-sized speakers urges patrons to “get on off of your feet.” As naked torsos bump and grind, a curious scent of sweat and alcohol, mixed with an odd medley of colognes, lingers in the air. The dance floor, tucked neatly into the rear corner, is even more crowded than usual because of a small, plastic kiddie pool placed right in the center of the floor. As oddly out of place as a...

  5. 1 Being an Oriental, I Could Never Be Completely a Man: Gendering Asian Men
    (pp. 21-56)

    Before the evening begins, eight contestants, each with her own entourage, are cramped into the upstairs balcony of Neighbours, a popular nightclub in Seattle’s gayborhood. Being used tonight as a makeshift dressing and staging area for the evening’s competition, almost all of the floor space is filled with various dresses, shoes, bags of cosmetics, and boxes of costume jewelry. Cocktail tables set up as impromptu makeup vanities are cluttered with foundation, eyeliner, lipstick, and every conceivable tricks-of-the-trade concealer available to help the contestants “put on their face” and transform from “boys into girls.” While stereotypes of catty drag queens conniving...

  6. 2 Sexy Like a Girl and Horny Like a Boy: Contemporary Gay “Western” Narratives about Gay “Asian” Men
    (pp. 57-92)

    In the recent HBO documentary,Middle Sexes: Redefining He and She, narrator Gore Vidal introduces us to Qui, a Thai katoey, or ladyboy, who posted her picture online looking for a partner. The ad, placed when Qui was still a teenager, was answered by Mark, a 40-something white man who “left wife, family, and job behind to follow an obsession.” Describing the first time he met Qui, Mark explains:

    First time I’d ever been to Asia in my life. First country in Asia I’ve ever been to. And she met me at the airport, so she was the very first...

  7. 3 It’s Like They Don’t See Us at All: Race and Racism in Gay America
    (pp. 93-126)

    Men line up against a back wall that some have taken to calling China Alley, a derogatory term not-so-cleverly coined by muscle-bound white men to mark the area where some of the “less desirable” men gather. In this particular case, it’s a place for a third of those who the muscle queens mark as being undesirable when they maliciously type “no fats, femmes, or Asians need respond” in their personal ads. When confronted, their response is predictable as it is absurd. “It’s not racist,” they say, just “preference.” According to one online poster on the public forum hosted by

  8. 4 Asian Girls Are Prettier: How Drag Queens Saved Us
    (pp. 127-155)

    In April 2004,Details Magazine, the unofficial publication of men who are still in the closet, published a pictorial column that featured a photo of a young Asian man and posed the question, “Gay or Asian?” A part of a long-running series in which the magazine challenges readers to decipher if the man, and in a few cases woman, pictured is gay or something else, such as a cowboy, deposed monarch, boy-band member, professional wrestler, etc., the column was meant to make light of the varied cast of characters that gay men often portray. The running joke is that members...

  9. 5 Finding Home in Gaysian America: Constructing Gay Asian Male Identities
    (pp. 156-187)

    Carefully draped in elegant evening gowns, four dressmaker’s mannequins line the back wall of what would be, in any other home, a good-sized dining room. Each gown, intricately crafted by hand, is a testament to when “doing drag meant something.” Each pleat on one dress, each sequin on another, and each tassel on a third, are carefully positioned and placed to show off the dress as it was meant to be shown, not necessarily as it was meant to be worn.

    “They used to be pretty hard to come by,” she tells me, “until eBay.” Looking up momentarily, she adds,...

  10. CONCLUSION: Who Gets to Be Gay, Who Gets to Be Asian?
    (pp. 188-198)

    InBlack Skin, White Masks, Afro-French philosopher Frantz Fanon described how stereotypical images of blacks can lead to a “consciousness of the body that is solely a negating activity.”¹ According to Fanon, negative stereotypes perpetuated by whites are internalized by blacks and lead to the devaluation of black bodies by blacks themselves. In the process, blacks come to favor white bodies and begin to associate all positive things with whiteness while associating all negative things with blackness. Although Fanon was specifically interested in examining the centrality of negative images in controlling colonized subjects, he is hardly alone in pointing out...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 199-210)
    (pp. 211-222)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 223-236)
    (pp. 237-237)