An acquaintance of mine recently returned from a trip to Thailand. He was there to visit religious shrines, but the natives didn’t seem to understand that. Everywhere he went, he was accosted by young men offering him sex for money. Apparently, a whole industry has sprung up around catering to American men who have a thing for Asian boys. My friend—tall, fiftyish, very white—fit the profile perfectly. Except for his complete lack of interest in what these boys were selling.
But that didn’t stop them. In certain enclaves, it seems, the gay tourist is as much prey as predator. “My backside is wanting you too much,” one boy told my friend in broken English. “I have condom.” How romantic.
As I listened to the story, it occurred to me that my friend Clay would have had a much better time on that trip. Clay freely admits that he’s a rice queen. “They’re so much prettier,” he says of Asian men, in the same tone he would use to pick out a Pekingese at the SPCA. Something about the shape of the eyes, he says, or the dark straight hair.
That used to be his story, at least. Time after time, I’d watch him at the bar, scoping out his next conquest. He was an equal opportunity sexual imperialist: any Asian would do—Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino. I’m not sure Clay could even tell the difference, despite having lived in the Bay Area for close to a decade.
One evening, he set his sights on Daniel, a handsome man of Korean descent—shortish but somewhat lanky, with a charming smile. Clay’s typical m.o. was to sidle up to the object of interest and try to engage him in whatever conversation we were having. I was the wingman: my job was to get a threeway conversation started and then quietly withdraw. We nabbed Daniel with a comment on the lame videos playing on the oversized screens at the bar. The three of us chatted for a while, Daniel revealing himself to be rather intriguing (a business student with an interest in opera) but Clay kept turning the conversation back to the mundane—where he lived, whether he had roommates—regularly punctuating his remarks by dropping a hand against Daniel’s arm. Eventually, I played my part, heading to the bar for another beer. By the time I returned to our corner, they were both gone. Another successful evening at the Midnight Sun! My work there was through.
But Clay’s was just beginning. As I learned in a frantic phone call the next morning, things did not go as planned.
“He’s a top!” Clay hissed into the phone.
I was still half asleep. “So?”
“Well, I didn’t expect him to be a top. I’m a top! You know that.”
I knew it all too well. Clay was fond of working it into every conversation, the way lawyers never fail to mention that they’re lawyers.
Apparently, they had spent the first fifteen minutes in bed wrestling. Clay has often claimed not to care (or always notice) how well endowed his dates are, since they’re usually face-down on the mattress for the duration. When Daniel failed to give in so easily, Clay was at a loss.
“I didn’t expect him to be a top,” he said now. I was waking up.
“Well. …” The syllable dissolved into the wire.
“No, you didn’t,” I said.
“Look,” he said after a pause, “if I were into being a bottom, I’d date black guys.”
“No, you didn’t,” I repeated.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. No, to be honest, I wasn’t surprised; I just pretended to be to avoid embarrassing him further.
Clearly, Clay’s obsession with Asian men had more to do with stereotypes than aesthetics. Long ago, the image of the submissive Asian female had worked its way into the gay world, as well, with the notion that Asian men were somehow less threatening than their white counterparts. I remember first becoming aware of this phenomenon with the play M Butterfly. Immediately, I was struck by the absurdity of the story: that this white man could live with his lover for so long and not realize that she was really a he. (If you’ve ever had sex with a woman, it’s not likely that you’ll ever mistake the anus for a vagina, but maybe I’m splitting hairs.) To me, it was obvious that he was in denial, a state of willful ignorance: because his lover was Asian, he subconsciously reasoned, he wasn’t quite fully male. And if his lover wasn’t male, then the white guy didn’t have to confront his own homosexuality.
Not that Clay is in denial about his sexuality. His ass, maybe, but not his sexuality.
I’ve always felt that one of the great things about being gay is that it makes it hard to look upon your lover as an other. I’ve never shared the average woman’s aversion to being treated as a sex object—because in a same-sex context, both people are objects, and both are subjects. It’s when we look upon our sex partner as an other that we get into trouble—the same trouble that the straight world has promulgated for centuries.
The rent boys of Thailand certainly seem to have caught on. Clay would have had no surprises there, no need to look upon his partner as an equal.
If there is a sin in prostitution, it’s that: the tendency to look upon the payee as less than the payer. But haven’t men looked down on their wives similarly since the dawn of time? Isn’t that what the straight man’s fear of penetration is really all about? At least the prostitute gets paid for the privilege.