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Horizontal Oppression Among East Asian Gay/Bisexual Men


***This article is from a APIKC sponsored presentation from the 2013 NASPA Annual Conference. 

Historical media and academic literature in the U.S. portray a negative disparaging image of East Asians. There is even more ridicule for East Asians who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. This literature review reveals some ways that colonization and globalization create and feed horizontal oppression among gay and bisexual East Asian American men.

Only a limited amount of empirical research and literature focuses on racial horizontal oppression within the queer community. A thorough review requires an interdisciplinary approach, including sources from inside and outside of higher education. To deconstruct queer horizontal oppression, I reviewed literature focused on masculinity, gender roles, dating, mass media, anti-Asian sentiments, and diaspora.

Anti-Asian Sentiments
There are many attitudes towards various racial groups, especially those that do not hold a White dominant identity. Often negative, these attitudes are rampant in modern day United States. Racism is not new, but has a long and rich history it in its subtle and over forms, that many try to forget.
Stereotypes of femininity, docility, and exoticness (Erbentraut, 2010c) are perpetuated by mass media. The East Asian stereotypes of docility and femininity allow negative sentiments against this group to continue to be condoned in the gay community (Erbentraut, 2010a). Anti-Asian prejudice, along with anti-fat and anti-aging, is among the dominant forms of oppression found within gay male culture. There is a common dating exclusionary triad: no fatties, no femmes, no Asians (Erbentraut, 2010c). These prejudices are epidemic in the wider community of gay White urban American affluent men (Erbentraut, 2010a).

Asians in Media
In-group racial horizontal oppression can be traced to the assimilation, acculturation, and homophobia, which has long been institutionalized into the fabric of U.S. society. The homophobia of heterosexual Asian men towards queer Asian men is largely responsible for the systematic and horizontal oppression of queer Asian men toward one another (Erbentraut, 2010a; 2010b, 2010c). Because all Asian men are portrayed as effeminate, queer Asian men further perpetuate this stereotype. A well-known and controversial example of this was the 2004 spread in Details Magazine: Gay or Asian? The piece showcased an Asian male who presented an ambiguous sexuality. Details included commentary on his stance, fashion sense, accessories, and how well-kept he was. Although the spread was meant to be a satire, it caused uproar in the Asian community and illustrates why heterosexual Asian men blame queer Asian men for negative stereotypes about their cultural group (Erbentraut, 2010a, 2010b, 2010c). Even today, the media reinforces as well as perpetuates Asian stereotypes.

Gay Asian and Diaspora
In his research of Filipino gay men, Manalansan (2003) discussed how Filipino men have to negotiate between Filipino and American sexual and gender traditions; more specifically, between bakala and Western gay ideologies. Bakala is a Tagalog term that encompasses homosexuality,

hermaphroditism, cross-dressing, and effeminacy (Manalansan, 2003). Although the Philippines is not a part of the East Asia region, it is the best example I could find that mirrored the lack of language used in East Asian cultures for the nuances of gay sexuality. In my experience of speaking three dialects of Chinese, there is a lack of formal gay vernacular used in sexual and gender depictions. The lack of formal language and written history concerning gay sexualities can be attributed to the lack colonial history in East Asia. This history may also contribute to the lack of research on men who both identify as East Asian and Queer.

As Global Queering finds its way into the gay Asian Diaspora (Altman, 1993) due to the overwhelming influence of the U.S. as a global economic, political and cultural superpower (Altman, 1997; Gawthrop, 2004), queer Asian Americans find themselves dating more White- Anglos (Gawthrop, 2004). Altman (1995) attributed these relationships to two contradicting factors: the need to assert a universal gay identity invoking similarities with queer Westerners and, on the other hand, the proud embrace of a newly asserted “Asian-ness” that could potentially undermine an “assume solidarity” with gay White-Anglos. These trends show traces of horizontal oppression that can also be tied to assimilation and acculturation.

Identities are often too generalized and universalized. Manalansan (1997) asked a great question of who bestows legitimacy in the narration of gay and lesbian development. Available literature, research and even LGB identity development model and theories show that this legitimacy is centered around a monolithic association of gay identity with white gay masculinity. I hope through this review, I was able to change this monolithic association by focusing on various forms of horizontal oppression.

Written and Presented by: Vay Van, Residence Education Coordinator,  Residential Life, Purdue University ( 

Click the link for Vay Van – Presentation Slides or to view the Prezi Presentation CLICK HERE



Altman, D. (1993). The question of cultural identity. In S. Hall, D. Held & T. McCrew (Eds), Modernity and its Discontents (273-325). London: Polity Press.

Altman, D. (1995). The new world of “gay Asia”. In S. Perera (Ed.), Asian and Pacific inscriptions: Identities, ethnicities, nationalities. Victoria, Australia: Meridian.

Altman, D. (1997). Global gaze/global gays. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 3, 417-436.

Gawthrop, D. (2005). The Rice Queen Diaries, a Memoir. Vancouver, BC, CAN: Arsenal Pulp Press.

Erbentraut, J. (2010a, August 22). The last bias: How and why we tolerate gay anti-Asian prejudice and its pernicious effect on our community. Edge. Retrieved from

Erbentraut, J. (2010b, August 29). How Can Gay Asian Men Conquer Internalized Inferiority? Edge. Retrieved from

Erbentraut, J. (2010c, September 6). Gay anti-Asian prejudice thrives on the Internet. Edge. Retrieved from

Manalansan, M. F. (2003). Global divas: Filipino gay men in diaspora. Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books.

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