Another Asian

Mark never called to invite me for coffee. Instead, we continued our confusing is-he-or-isn’t-he-trying-to-breach-our-business-relationship relationship. He litters his work-related emails with awkwardly-inserted questions about my life, politely probing into my weekend plans, other projects I’m developing, my favorite destinations for day trips, or which movie theaters I frequent—all of which have very little to do with the busses he and I dispatch every morning.

So it’s fine that he didn’t call. For someone as career-driven as me, I’d rather not break my carefully-built wall of professionalism and step into the unexplored territory of a workplace affair anyway. On a more vain note, he’s certainly not younger or cuter than either of the last two guys I’ve dated; I figure I can only let myself go “up,” so to speak, in terms of the overall quality of man I date. He’d be a notch or two down.

Still, it’s nice to have someone flirting with me, and his undercover ways of doing so have made it almost fun to be on the receiving end. Thus, in spite of the cons of flirting back, I have done so via the same undercover pathways he’s begun initiated: I’ve responded to his emailed questions with some of my own intrusive ones; sprinkled our phone conversations with the same laughter that you’d hear from drunk sorority girls at bars; and, most recently, invited him to a basketball tournament I organized for work.

I, of course, didn’t really think he’d show. He had been flaky on the idea of coffee, so I assumed his follow through on his social intentions was not on par with his follow through as a successful work partner. Thus, I was a little surprised to see him waiting on a park bench as I approached the basketball courts on the day of the tournament.

Even more surprising: he had another person with him. Another guy. Another Asian.

As soon as I determined the physical attributes that made me certain he was, like me, Asian, the alarm rang in my head: Oh god. Here I go again- This man has been flirting with me because I’m Asian.

Mark introduced me, and I stuck out my hand to greet the unexpected stranger; his soft grip, weakly supported by a limp wrist, fainted into mine, and his mouth squeaked open with a higher-pitched noise, presumably an assertion that his name was “Joe.”

Oh god. Barf.

Most gay men I know fall into one of two categories: those who would never be attracted to Asian men, and those who are only attracted to Asian men. Out of the handful of men I have seriously dated, only one of them had ever dated a non-Asian person; he also made sure I knew that he had a single Hispanic man in his history. Despite the fact that everyone else in his history had been Asian, I was to cling to this lone Hispanic man, as comfort that it wasn’t my Asian features that attracted me to him.

I am deathly afraid of Asian fetishism. In the straight community, it seems to apply to women more: the fascination with their exotic, thinly carved eyes, small, slender body, with hips that can either bow or hula to a man. Among the men I’ve dated, I’ve only received comments as to the tone of my skin and, most oddly, my nose. One said that it was a fantasy of his to go all the way with an Asian. Another approached me in a bar and said, “Hey, you’re Filipino, right?”

More frequently, I’ve encountered cultural attraction, men trying to delight me with their pre-elementary knowledge of Tagalog, brief lists of Filipino dishes they’ve tasted, and their comments that I don’t seem to be like other Asian men. Great, I think: You’re going to find your way into my heart by doing things that my mom could do better.

Above all, these men claim that they don’t have Asian fetishes; they simply have preferences. I ask: at what point does a preference become a fetish? Do I have to wait until you creep me out with your obsession with a specific personal trait of mine? Don’t get me wrong: I try to be understanding in return—I, too, after all, have my own preferences: I prefer my men to be intelligent, have open minds, and enjoy both pop and high culture. I prefer short- or medium-length hair, men who enjoy nights in and nights out, and minimal body odor. What I don’t really understand is how people can try forging deep connections with only skin-deep judgments. If it’s not fetishism, then, it’s at least superficiality. Maybe I equate the two.

I will not be making further advances at Mark, undercover or not; I’ll work with him, but I won’t work it with him. I was willing to tolerate the consequences of a workplace affair, a gap in age, or his average looks; I ignored those cons to open myself to the potentially amazing things about his personality and history—his friendliness, time in Iraq, and relentless work ethic. But what I don’t want to deal with is being seen—literally—as just another Asian.

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