by Daniel W.K. Lee / @danielsaudade
I am not entirely sure if three instances of something quite elusive qualifies as an “emergence” but I'm not going to let technicalities take away from calling to attention to what I believe to be pretty fantastic. And that is: 1) the rendering of gay Asian American men who, 2) actually have sex (lives) on mainstream television—daytime and primetime! We have not one, but three gaysian characters on television at present: Brad Cooper (played by Parry Shen) of General Hospital, Paul Narita (Christopher Sean) of Days of Our Lives, and Oliver Hampton (played by Conrad Ricamora) of How to Get Away With Murder.
Let's talk about HTGAWM first as it has been written about more extensively because of how the show has treated gay male sex scenes qualitatively equal to heterosexual scenes. Other gay commentators have criticized HTGAWM for its alleged bottom shaming—most notably J. Bryan Lowder's treatise at Salon.com, while The Atlantic's Kevin O'Keefe's piece “Gay Sex on How to Get Away With Murder: Offensive, Crass and Smart” makes the argument that the bottom shaming in the show perfectly consistent with the extreme, transgressive behavior that all the characters in the show indulge in.
I won't get into the merits of their arguments as you may read and assess them yourself, but significantly, what both fail to see is how main character Connor Walsh's (Jack Falahee) interracial sexual trysts with Oliver constitute an unprecedented visibility for gaysian men. Played by out actor of Filipino-descent Conrad Ricamora, Oliver may be a bit of an IT nerd, but holy shit, he gets to have sex – more than once! My exasperation is because the cultural invisibility of the queer Asian (American) male is so complete that Lowder nor O'Keefe never even bother to identify the actor who plays Oliver, let alone the significance of a non-white rendering of a gay male who has sex*. How did these two white gay writers not see this, I wonder/not wonder.
Someone please direct them to Richard Fung's seminal essay “Looking for My Penis: The Eroticized Asian in Gay Video Porn.” Using North American gay porn to articulate his observations, Fung's essay is instructive in understanding how these renderings of sexualized gay Asian Americans are a step forward, particularly with respect each characters' sovereign desires not defined by or reframed to centralize white gay male desire. This is particularly relevant as all three characters are paired with white men (baby steps, I suppose).
Asian men, however—at least since Sessue Hayakawa, who made a Hollywood career in the 1920s of representing the Asian man as sexual threat —have been consigned to one of two categories: the egghead/wimp, or—in what may be analogous to the lotus blossom-dragon lady dichotomy—the kung fu master/ninja/samurai. He is sometimes dangerous, sometimes friendly, but almost always characterized by a desexualized Zen asceticism. So whereas, as [Franz] Fanon tells us, "the Negro is eclipsed. He is turned into a penis. He is a penis," the Asian man is defined by a striking absence down there. And if Asian men have no sexuality, how can we have homosexuality?
I think of Jet Li in everything. Li has come to epitomize the desexualized Zen ascetic describe by Fung. I think of Lloyd Lee, played by Rex Lee, from Entourage. I think of those handful of other (gay) Asian (American) male characters in Hollywood television or film who didn't/don't have a sex life, let alone a sex scene.
As a genre, soap operas tend not to shy away from showing sexual intimacy. And to my relief and excitement, both General Hospital and Days of Our Lives have not failed to depict hot sex for Brad Cooper and Paul Narita respectively. Hilariously, this sexy scene between Brad and his beau Lucas reference How To Get Away With Murder in their post-coital convo (around 2:44):
And here, Days' Paul Narita incites Will Horton's adultery with an answer to a question:
Nearly 25 years later, these anomalies in mainstream media help Fung realize—to a degree—his “lifelong vocation of looking for my penis.” The “rise” of the gaysians suggest progress on many fronts against the sex(uality)-race status quo: first, the existence of gay Asian men; second, resisting the conflation of gay men with whiteness; third, the depiction of gay Asian men with sex lives which affirm their desire.
So many gay male characters have come and gone in film and television and so so few looking anything like me. What is at stake is not just expanding our vision of what is erotic, but with respect to the mainstream gay movement and culture, taking to task the ways in which the “gay ghetto,” remains, as Fung notes, “a site of racial, cultural, and sexual alienation sometimes more pronounced than that in straight society.” If “community” is not to be merely a rhetorical flourish, then must do our damnedest to do away with tokenism and the most thoughtless forms of integration, or inclusion, which fail to address the other -isms which alienate us from each other.
Celebrating our differences is not the same as creating divisons. I want to give props to the folks who have made Oliver, Paul, and Brad possible. I'm letting you know about these gaysians on television—especially if they have not been on your radar—because I want to let the world know my brothers are here – with all our sexual parts.
*This idea of “rendering” is particular to Oliver in that he is not (yet) identified as “Asian American” in his storyline unlike the characters of Brad and Paul. However, this does not take away from registering his Asian-ness and his sex.
This essay was originally published at: