Banana Bending: Asian-Australian and Asian-Canadian Literatures

by Tseen-Ling Khoo

excerpt

[...] Richard Fung’s perspective tallies with that of Ayres in his study of the power and politics of gay pornography. In finding that most of the white characters took Asian men and that it was never the Asian man penetrating a white man, Fung quotes Fanon on black men being eclipsed and turned into the penis, and then discusses Asian men’s representation as “desexualized Zen asceticism” (“Looking” 183). He questions the allowances for homosexuality in a group that is symbolically without a penis. To address this desexualisation, Asian-Canadian Wayne Yung created the Beyond Yellow Fever chapbook for inclusion in the Pomelo Project’s “Work of Pleasure” series. He prefaces the 23-page text with:

Peter’s white, HIV+, and eighteen years older than me. I’m Chinese, HIV-, and relatively inexperienced. I can only imagine the sex, drugs, and alcohol he knew before AIDS. It would be easy to let race, age, and antibodies divide us. It takes constant negotiation to find our common ground. We never pretend these issues don’t matter (i).

Beyond Yellow Fever is a close study of Yung’s relationship with his white partner. The dialogue text encapsulates the racist and judgmental attitudes within the gay community and is accompanied by explicit line drawings and polemical titles. The “Work of Pleasure” project involved varying forms of media, including music on cassette (Don Chow’s Ancestral Tracks) and multi-printed single sheet (Laura Kang’s The Work of ‘Asian Woman’). The chapbook’s “Candid exploration of homoerotic desire in an interracial context” (Mather, Review 2) was not palatable for corporate sponsors, and the sexually detailed line drawings of naked male bodies probably shifted perceptions of whether the publication was one that would favourably reflect corporate aims. The Asia Pacific Foundation refused to be acknowledged as a supporter of this series by The Pomelo Project after the chapbook was sighted.

Yung’s use of italicised commentaries work with the dialogue and summary to offer the reader a layered experience of how a personal relationship functions (or founders) when overdetermined by others’, or one’s own internalised, expectations. The chapbook’s conversational structure emphasises the day-to-day negotiations for Peter and Wayne, about age, race, HIV discrimination, and public declarations. One part of their dialogue focuses on Peter’s realisation that his reluctance to show affection publicly was linked to being “afraid that someone will think [he’s] a rice queen or a chicken hawk” (12). Appearing with the title, “Asians are oversexed” is the summary:

Rice Queen: a white fag who prefers Asians.
Potato Queen: an Asian fag who prefers whites.
Sticky Rice: an Asian fag who prefers Asians.
Normal: a white fag who prefers whites.

Yung emphasises the hypocrisy of judging only interracial or coloured relationships as situations requiring categorisation. The centre of white/white relationships remains unquestioned, whereas white/Asian, white/black, or Asian/black become “uncommon desires” (16). Raymond Wei-Cheng Chu argues, however, that “not to represent such relationships as racially complicated at all can be judged only as uninformed romance or as escapist fantasy” (230). The apparent power disparities between white men and those from racial minorities transfer to relationships and their dynamics. Yung himself comments that “denying [his] racial preference was like denying [his] sexual preference” (18), a statement that lends the subtitle of ‘the quintessential enemy within’ a twist. His up-front admission of being unable to find other Asian men attractive stems from his difficulties with unsettling the negative connotations of ‘Asianness’. He states, “I’m tired of convincing white boys that Asians are sexy. It’s hard enough to convince myself I’m sexy” (20). The insidious racial hierarchy of desire engenders a self-hate that persists even though Yung is aware of the reasons behind it. As a whole, Beyond Yellow Fever’s close study of a single relationship provides no singular lesson of acceptance or contentment. Ashok Mathur applauds the appearance of a work like Yung’s and comments that it “is of cutting-edge importance to literature in Canada today” and “explod[es] falsehoods about Asian gay sexuality” (Review 1). Although Yung certainly exposes many of the myths pertaining to mixed-race relationships and the effects of internalised racism, the chapbook perhaps does not explode falsehoods as much as reveal his complicity with these myths.

Numbers of publications for Asian-Canadian writing about queer issues are relatively low, and representation is complicated by the fact that many authors are subsumed in ‘North American’ or ‘Asia Pacific American’ compilations. Yung’s Beyond Yellow Fever is a beginning for altered literary versions of gay Asian representation in Canada. It is certainly one of the first that specifically focuses on issues of interracial male relationships and living with an HIV-positive partner.

[...] Accompanying the recent spate of publications and a higher profile for diasporic queer studies are new modes and, perhaps, ‘rules’ of representation. With a page in his Beyond Yellow Fever chapbook titled ‘Not just a gwm in a yellow skin’, Yung protests what he perceives as the prescriptiveness of recent representations: “I’m sick of these new ‘positive’ images of Asian men. Now we’re so empowered that no one can fuck us up the ass anymore. We’re supposed to be so strong, smart, and together. It drives me crazy” (3). As argued earlier, it is not a matter of only having better, stronger representations but a proliferation that shares the task of representing various types of diasporic Asian men and their masculinity. Yung’s lament highlights the fact that the goal of new and recovered representations should not be to dictate, but to keep pushing at the boundaries of accepted depictions.

Banana Bending: Asian-Australian and Asian-Canadian Literatures, Tseen-Ling Khoo
Hong Kong University Press, 2003, pages 145–148.