Sure magazine photoshoot

On Feminine, Desexualized Asian Men: Beyond Emasculation, Toward Reappropriation

Asian men are represented in one of two ways: either as the wimpy egghead or the kung fu master/ninja/samurai. “He is sometimes dangerous, sometimes friendly, but almost always characterized by a desexualized Zen asceticism,” says Richard Fung, artist and post-colonial theorist.

Soft-spoken and shy, the nerdy Asian coworker or classmate may be hardworking and successful, but he rarely exudes sexuality. Today, when everything between French fries and surveillance database boast a vigorous bigger-is-better gusto, every Asian guy who has ever suffered a “small penis” joke knows the unsettling feeling of being emasculated by a culture in which the words “beautiful”, “handsome”, and “sexy” wear a white face.

This article discusses the ways Asian men are stripped of their masculinity and have their sexuality feminized, and postulates that East Asian popular music culture (i.e., Korean pop music) may be a harbinger for reappropriating the “feminine” aesthetic.

Shin TaeHo/Teo

Shin TaeHo/Teo

Due to the Western conception of “the Orient” in the 19th-century as foreign and exotic, a land and people to be observed and colonized, East Asian culture has been represented as alluring, passive, and feminine.Just as the exploration of the American West constructed an egocentric and masculine cultural identity for the frontier, so too did the penetration of new Asian markets for enticing and unfamiliar goods such as tea, silk, and porcelain.

For Asian people, the result of gendered projections onto their cultural identity has been the fetishization of Asian women and the desexualization of Asian men. Asian men seeking employment in the United States in the 19th-century were relegated to launderers, tailors, cleaners, and cooks: “women’s work.” U.S. laws prohibiting Asians from marrying whites persisted through the 1960s until the repeal of all anti-miscegenation laws in 1967 with Loving v. Virginia. While Asian women, allied with second-wave feminism, have begun dialogue about the oppressiveness of “yellow fever” in the eroticized “geisha girl” and “China doll” tropes, Asian men have remained notably silent.

Mainstream narratives of Asian men as viable and attractive romantic partners often rely on gendered stereotypes and “Otherization”. In a Newsweek article “Why Asian guys are on a roll” by Esther Pan, Asian men are described as “something different,” and a “smart, genuine, respectful” alternative to the “all-American guy.”If the Asian man is “different” and therefore opposite to the “all-American” guy, his gendered traits are also opposite to the normal, “masculine” image of the white male.

Shortly after, The Seattle Times published David Nakamura’s satirical piece, “They’re hot they’re sexy… they’re Asian men”, in which the author revealed longstanding stereotypes confronting Asian-American men. They were described by white women as “the best-kept secret around,” having a “slender physique,” “beautiful eyes,” and a “combination of ‘old-fashioned’ values and New Age insights that many women desire.” If wanted at all, Asian men are desired for traditionally feminine traits or their exotic, perceived New Age-spiritual identity. Romantically labeled as “different”, Asian-American men are set outside the ideals of the “normal”, “all-American” concept of masculinity.

The Asian male feminization have some peculiar social effects. Asian guys tend to either date “alternative types”, e.g., nerds, hipsters, or Asian girls, facing barriers in mainstream attraction (upon discovering that the pop star Lorde had an Asian boyfriend, the internet had a racist meltdown).

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A collection of twits: “Lorde and her boyfriend make me uncomfortable” (via Jezebel)

In the gay community, gay Asian males are expected to be submissive, and are “desirable only for a select subgroup of men who favor ‘femmes’ over ‘real’ men”. Eurocentric standards of attraction and the invisibility of Asian men in gay publications reduce the self-confidence of gay Asians and determine the overwhelming preference of white sexual partners. In the world of drag queens, Asian men are perceived as possessing a “natural advantage” over their white competitors due their ability to “pass” as real women and be more “authentically” feminine. Yet, given the historical and cultural context outlined above, are Asian-American men more successful because of their “delicate features,” or because the white judges and conditioned audience cannot see them as anything but feminized?

A lack of positive and mainstream representation in television and movies of Asian men lies at the heart of the problem. While academics write about the emasculation of Asian-American men, the publicity of the issue is as prevalent as Asian representatives in Hollywood (that is, little). Perhaps the most notable individual who has spoken out about Asian male stereotypes is Yul Kwon – (who?) – the winner of Survivor: Fiji.

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Yul Kwon, admired for what’s inside his head as much as what’s underneath his shirt: Kwon was a strategic player in a season intentionally split along ethnicities by the show’s producers.

In lieu of mainstream role models, Asians have taken to the democratic platform of YouTube, and KevJumba, Timothy DeLaGhetto, and Wong Fu Productions have made videos on thecommon theme of girls, interracial relationships, and self-image, in order to challenge stereotypes and encourage individuals to have pride in themselves and their identity. With their massive following, these individuals are vital oases to many Asian-Americans in the desert of popular culture’s stereotypical Asian representations.

However, there are changes on the (Eastern) horizon: in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, male beauty norms have undergone a transformation from the tough machismo of soldiers and gangsters to the effeminate beauty icons of Korean pop stars, or kkonminam (kkot = flower; minam = handsome man). Before asking if such a change could happen in the U.S., one first asks: Why? What could cause the disruption of masculinity, a strong foundation to these patriarchal cultures?

The answer: K-pop.

Since the late 1990s, Korean pop music has extended its reach throughout Asian and into the West, trumpeting a stylish, sleek aesthetic that combines cool R&B dance moves and catchy hooks. It’s taking over the world, breaking national boundaries and prejudices.

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The South Korean boy-band 2PM: coiffed and made-up for a shoot.

Some commentators associate the rise of kkonminam to the surge of popularity in Korea of the female-oriented yaoi comic genre, which originates in Japan. (The male characters in yaoi are usually drawn as androgynous and engage in homoerotic or homoromantic relationships; while targeted to young women, it is read by both males and females.) Others attribute the growth of male beauty to the changing role of men in society: in both the United States (remember how “metrosexual” entered the vocabulary?) and Asia, the popularity of the violent and brutish representations of masculinity is fading.

While these factors underlie the smooth faces and plucked eyebrows of the new, feminine Asian man, it’s still lady’s choice. If young women, the primary consumers of these forms of media, find slim and stylish men desirable, then these men, with their pretty faces, are the prototypes to a new standard of attractiveness.

The danger of K-pop looks and the kkonminam aesthetic is that, if universalized, they have the potential to reduce young men into commodified or fetishized bodies. On the other hand, efflorescent gender presentation and fashion allow individuals to embrace and rewrite their experience as desexualized or feminine men.

Studying the use of unconventional, feminine dress codes in Taiwanese men, Shiau and Chen write that “the employment of feminine aesthetics and strategies has enabled us to refute silently imposed ideological assignments and cultural expectations to reproduce the conventional masculine order in the post-capitalist Taiwanese society.” These “new Taiwanese men,” wearing Calvin Klein suits and Armani shoes, enjoy the experience of being “gazed at and wanted” like male models: clean and crisp, sexual and submissive.

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In a postmodern, transnational economy, commodities and culture alike become global – “Gangnam Style” proved that much. If Taiwanese men utilize Western fashion to connote a new sexuality, can Asian-American men leverage K-pop as a cross-cultural catalyst to reappropriate their ascribed femininity?

Potentially. The warm reception of Korean icons into American culture creates a space for “alternative” masculinities to become independent of their necessary opposition to the “all-American” masculinity. For Asian-American men, to see familiar body types and facial features in famous entertainment personalities is affirming. If K-pop continues to receive popular acclaim, Asian-Americans may be seen as more attractive and sexualized.

However, it is certainly not the sole answer to the variegated problem of racialized sexuality. Many individuals under the umbrella term “Asian-Americans” do not identify with the music and celebrities so heavily associated with Korean features and tastes. Others see K-pop as a foreign spectacle, and still wish to belong to the traditional, “all-American” masculinity. Moreover, the lifestyle and displayed wealth of these pop stars (the excessive grandiosity in K-pop videos can be unsettling) adds the dimension of class barriers into the already complex intersection of ethnicity, sexuality, and nationality.

Emerging from historical legal barriers to interracial relationships and emasculating media narratives, Asian-American men in the 21st-century are coming to an awareness and protest of their devalued masculinity. Like tectonic plates, the morphing landscapes of YouTube, social gender roles, and international popular culture consumption send quakes under the feet of Asian-American identity, fissuring past tradition. Navigating and negotiating sexual identity, collectively and individually, Asian-American men must understand and discuss, as Judith Butler put it, the hegemonic social conventions and ideologies scripting our most personal acts. With that awareness, the road toward self-creation and identification opens wider, freer.

Originally published at The Wang Post.

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Works Cited

Fung, Richard. “Looking For My Penis,” (1991). In Bad Object-choices (Eds). How Do I Look? Queer Film & Video, pp. 145-168. Seattle: Bay Press. http://www.richardfung.ca/index.php?/articles/looking-for-my-penis-1991/

Han, Chong-suk. “Being An Oriental, I Could Never Be Completely A Man: Gay Asian Men and the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Class,” (2006). Race, Gender, and Class: Volume 13, No 3-4. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41675174

Maliangkay, Roald. “The effeminacy of male beauty in Korea,” (2010). The Newsletter, No. 5. http://www.iias.nl/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL55_0607.pdf

Park, Michael. “Asian American Masculinity Eclipsed: A Legal and Historical Perspective of Emasculation Through U.S. Immigration Practices.” The Modern American 8, no. 1 (2013). http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1164&context=tma

Pasztory, Esther. “Paradigm Shifts in the Western View of Exotic Arts.” http://www.columbia.edu/cu/arthistory/courses/Multiple-Modernities/essay.html

Shiau and Chen. “When Sissy Boys Become Mainstream: Narrating Asian Feminized Masculinities in the Global Age” (2009). International Journal of Social Inquiry, Vol. 2, pp. 55-74. http://www.socialinquiry.org/articles/mak-esas-4.pdf

Achievement Anxiety, The Model Minority, and Raving Asians: On Substance (Ab)use and Asian American Identity

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Stories of marijuana legalization, e-cigarette bans, and DUI accidents proliferate throughout media, from newspapers to newsfeeds: and it has always been this way for decades. You hear about drugs in school, in church, and in pop music. It’s undeniable that drugs and institutional forces surrounding them play a large role in individual and national psyches.

I wish to investigate a very specific subset of the discussion of drugs, one often overlooked: What is the relationship between Asian-American identity and the use of drugs?

As most prominently shown in a recent surveys of Asian-Americans in the dance club/rave scene, the model minority myth serves as counterpoint to various viewpoints regarding drug use among Asian-Americans pertaining to cultural pressures and psychological health, institutional barriers in public policy, and identity creation.

Institutional Myths and Cultural Barriers to Treatment

The “model minority” stereotype depicts Asian-Americans as intelligent, non-confrontational, and upstanding students and workers who achieve social status through merit. The 1966 New York Times article “Success Story: Japanese-American Style” introduced the term to American discourse, praising Japanese-Americans for having strong family values and a resilient work ethic. Similar articles about Chinese-Americans followed suit. According to this positive image, Asian-Americans’ good values prevent them from being a “problem minority,” i.e, committing crime and using drugs.

Statistics confirm that Asian Americans have very low rates of arrest and have the lowest rates of drug use; however, do these figures also confirm them as the “model minority”? I believe the argument is reductive.

Though statistics are unavailable, it is believed that the rising use of “study drugs” such as Adderall in university settings is specifically on the rise for Asian American students. This is attributed to the academic pressures prescribed by social narratives and Asian American families.

Students are in a double bind: either they fulfill the stereotypical image of achievement and are burdened with the anxiety to continue performing well, or they fall short and feel the effects of parental and social disappointment. Psychological research confirms that the model minority stereotype harms the psychological wellbeing of Asian Americans. The cultural expectation can lead to social isolation, anxiety, and depression. If Asian parents are stressors rather than supporters of their children, Asian Americans may find drug use a method to cope with the pressures placed upon them.

In their article “Asian-Americans, Addictions, and Barriers to Treatment” by Dr. Timothy Fong and Dr. John Tsuang from the Los Angeles School of Medicine, they write that “AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islanders) may be less likely to ask for help” and are “are greatly underrepresented in addictions treatment,” due to social shame and stigma. While shame is a barrier for any ethnicity to ask for mental health assistance, it is magnified in the case of Asian Americans, whose “traditional response to crises is either denial or attempting to handle problems within the family itself.”

For fear of “losing face,” Asian Americans suppress addictive disorders, seeing them as “a medical problem, a sign of weakness, or a lack of willpower over Western temptations.” This response is often accentuated from past experiences in native countries, “whereupon such treatments are often equated with incarceration, banishment, or long-term institutionalization.” Thus, due in part to specific cultural modes of thinking, Asian Americans are far less likely to utilize substance abuse and mental health care, resulting in the underreporting of data on Asian American drug abuse.

In fact, the drug use among AAPI and mixed-race individuals was not subject to any studies prior to 2013. In past research regarding race and substance use, AAPI and mixed-race individuals were often omitted, or placed into the category of “other.” One can read the lack of research on Asian Americans as a byproduct itself of the model minority myth, which becomes self-fulfilling on an institutional level: If Asian Americans are not a “problem minority,” then there is little need to report on their drug use or devise culturally-specific mental health treatment for them.

Asian American Identity in the Dance-Scene 

Now, from institutional to subjective perspectives: how do Asian-Americans understand their own drug use?

In their study “’How Asian am I?’ Asian American Youth Cultures, Drug Use, and Ethnic Identity Construction,” Hunt, Maloney, and Evans interview 100 young people in the dance club and rave subculture who are consumers of various drugs including: alcohol, marijuana, ecstasy, and “club drugs” such as cocaine and LSD. The researchers investigated the connection between drug use and its role in shaping and constructing first and second generation immigrants’ ethnic identity from a personal standpoint. Seeing that there is no unified answer to Asian American identity and drug involvement, they sorted these narratives into three general categories.

1. Narratives of Disjuncture. These respondents describe their drug use as deviating from “typical” Asian Americans, as a result perhaps of increased assimilation and acculturation with American culture. They juxtapose themselves against their understanding of other Asians as “model minorities” and don’t consume drugs, which may be a source of anxiety or shame if seen as a “losing [of] one’s Filipino or Asian culture.”

Yet, this deviation may also be seen positively, as a source of pride for defying stereotypes. Whether positive or negative, these individuals employ different strategies to deflect stigma and criticism. For example, they may keep their drug use and party going activities secret from their ethnic group and experience “leading a double life,” or disidentify from other Asian Americans and associate with other racial groups. This result is a result of the idea that it is “not an Asian thing to do” to use drugs or go to clubs.

2. Asian American Hybridity. Rather than seeing their drug use in opposition to Asian American identity, respondents in this group see their participation in dance scenes as connected to “being both Asian and American and having an identity that transcends and/or fuses the two.” Many Asian Americans note the “in between status” as being neither fully Asian nor fully American.

Dance and drug use are ways for these individuals to find “balance and grounded identity” between cultural pulls from East and West.  Torn between the Asian emphases on family and academic achievement and American values of individualism and personal expression, one interviewee saw her partying and “rebellions as intrinsic to the experiences of young Asian Americans.” Other respondents viewed their activities as a form of “self-medicating,” a release from the pressures of achievement and satisfying the “need to reconcile conflicting expectations of multiple culture or achieving balance in their lives.” For these individuals, the use of drugs is a natural outgrowth of their unique ethnic identities.

3. Narratives of Normalization. For these respondents, ethnic identity had no remarkable connection with their dance-scene involvement. “Neither drug use, nor being Asian and American, nor being an Asian American drug user are seen as unusual, deviant or problematic,” but simply part of everyday life. These individuals conceptualize their drug use “as only one of many different commodities marking out the style of an individual.”

These styles range from “FOB” (“fresh off the boat,” a mocking term for recent immigrants) to “Twinkies” (or “Americanized Asians”) “gangsters,” and “square Asians” (who don’t consume drugs or dance). For these individuals, other “types” of Asian Americans are the basis against which they construct their own identities. The question for these respondents “is not so much whether” they would use drugs as Asian Americans, “but how.” At this point in our discussion, we have reached the deep end in ethnic culture, whereupon institutional narratives about drugs as a response to acculturation are divorced from the social settings of these youth cultures.

Drug use and treatment among Asian Americans have multiple, complex relationships with dominant stereotypes, institutional policies, cultural attitudes, and personal interpretations surrounding the treatment and use of drugs. As an ethnic group, Asian Americans are a diverse set of individuals facing different economic and sociocultural problems. Understanding the unique experiences and identities of Asian Americans in relation to dominant institutions and narratives is critical for policymakers or individuals to deal with the issues surrounding drug use and abuse. Further, it is also important for young Asian Americans to consider their own drug use and behavior within the culture their own individual surroundings. Rather than using drugs as merely an escapist tool, such contemplation may be useful for individuals looking to understand themselves.

Originally published at The Wang Post

On Asian Americans In Hip Hop Dance

“Where Did All The Asians Come From?”: On Hip Hop Dance and Asian Identity

After stepping into the audition room for PhiNix Dance Crew, a college hip hop group in Chicago, my first thought was, “Where did all these Asians come from?” Growing up in the suburbs and attending a White prep school, I had little exposure to other young Asian Americans, let alone hip hop culture. The large number of Asian American dancers popping, breaking, waacking, and moving in a diverse array of styles astonished me. After joining PhiNix, I’ve had the chance to explore both hip hop dance, and the construction of identity through that dance.

Ever since the visible breakthroughs of crews such as the Jabbawockeez and Kaba Modern on America’s Best Dance Crew, Asian Americans have become a mainstream establishment in the world of hip-hop dance. The history began with Arnel Calvario’s founding of Kaba Modern at UC Irvine in the early 1990s after performing a hip hop choreography at a Filipino Cultural Night. Other Asian American urban dance groups in California soon popped up. And with the advent of video-sharing websites says Calvario, “Visibility and networking between Asian American dancers exploded not only nationally, but internationally.” Indeed, South Korean and Japanese break dance crews have become some of the best in the world.

Why are Asian dancers so good? Mike Song, a well-known choreographer and member of Kaba Modern, has a theory. In an interview with Audrey Magazine, he explains, “There are so many Asians who are forced to play instruments, so many, its so common, so part of our culture.” The practice of learning to read music “ties into our style… I feel Asian are so precise, and it goes along with the music training,” which “subliminally affects the way we approach dance, with so much precision.”

How does Asian American engagement with street-dance and hip hop shape racial and cultural identity? For one, urban dance challenges the stereotype of Asian Americans as merely passive and intelligent academic overachievers. Hip hop began as a subculture among marginalized black and Latino youth in the 1970s. Its dance forms are now used as an expression in opposition to the “model minority” myth, which functions to make invisible and exclude Asian Americans from mainstream American social life. As a community, Asian American dancers create their own artistic identities outside of dominant norms.

However, Asian American’s preeminence in urban dance is not without controversy. In the same manner as White Americans, Asian Americans have been criticized for appropriating hip hop from Black culture. Within the framing of historic racism and appropriation of black artistry, I believe the critique has merit. I personally cannot identify with “real” hip hop culture. I do not wear hip hop fashion, or pretend to be hard core. To do so would be inauthentic.

Yet my experience in PhiNix Dance Crew has shown me that hip hop eliminates boundaries and hierarchy much more than it creates them. It is inclusive and composed of a spectrum of diverse races and experiences, creating connection between individuals, other dance crews, and the larger community. Hence, for me, dance is a harbor and vehicle for individual expression. My body becomes understood and respected by others for its movement, liberated from its color.

Originally Published at The Wang PostI’ve been contributing weekly content for them, which has been a great experience. This topic of hip hop and Asians is so interesting that you can take college classes about it! More stuff on Asian American culture and identity coming soon. 

Gender, Performativity, and Long Hair

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David Chiang, model

(Hair) Growth

In how many ways can a man grow in one year? I wish to be a mutant of growth; body and soul seeping in all different directions like tendrils of smoke. Unexpected developments in familiar places, reaching outward and spiraling inward. A second puberty: anxious and awkward, though without self-loathing. Confidence in self-consciousness, which if you strip away the denotation of insecurity, just means self-aware.

Speaking with a long-haired outreach worker earlier this year (written about in The Fun House), I made the conscious decision to let my hair free for a year. Thousands of strands rooted at my head — timelines marking growth and memory.

Why? For one, I’ve never done it before, and the thing about doing new things is that you learn new things. For another, my twenties are going to be the most practical (i.e. socially acceptable) time to grow my hair out. Lastly, because it seems like every male man, dwarf, elf, or wizard (hobbits have hockey hair) in the Lord of the Rings movies have long hair. And their braids and ponytail rings are just awesome.

On Gender, and a postmodern aside

Though this experiment is simple, what does it mean? Treatment of the body and its hair brings up firstly questions of gender and performativity, so let’s begin there. What is gender?

To quote Butler, “There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results.” Gender is formed by performative acts such as in mannerisms and stylizations, rather than by an internal or biological fact. One understands gender through socially constructed codes and signifiers — there is no reality of gender underneath.

Though writing from a very different philosophical position, Camus writes that even if there exists a Truth behind the actions of another person, we cannot know it. In The Myth of Sisyphus, he says that we do not know anything about an actor’s personality by watching him act. However, if we make a list of 100 characters the actor has been, it is true that we learn a little more about him upon hearing the 100th name. Thus, “a man defines himself by his make-believe as well as by his sincere impulses.”

We are all actors to the extent that we all perform. When in contact with others, we consciously change our habits and behaviors to manage impressions and avoid embarrassment. Using the lens of theater and dramaturgy, Erving Goffman wrote about the sociology of face-to-face interaction in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Each individual can choose their costumes and their props, in addition to the way they choose to present themselves to others. I haven’t read the book, but the Wikipedia article is great. The point is that there’s a substantial portion of social life which is regulated by appearances, and those appearances carry social meaning.

I’ve been having fun screwing with gender norms by wearing skirts. I am cismale, and straight. Mostly. And while men of all sorts (gladiators, monks, Irish dancers) have worn skirts for thousands of years, this culture has designated skirts as a clothing for women. My dip into transvestism probably has something to do with both gender and fashion. So too is the decision to grow out head hair. “Long hair is feminine,” says heteronormativity. We’ll rebut this soon, but my initial reaction is, “Excellent – this should be fun.”

Regarding the ‘meaning of gender,’ I find interesting the tension between gender roles as a social constructs, and the individual’s agency to perform the signs that determine their own gender. Think again to clothing. In modern terms, the clothes that we wear are signs that refer to an underlying meaning, most obvious that of socioeconomic status. There is a social meaning between signifier and signified. So too are certain gendered roles that one ‘puts on,’ expressing through action some type of truth about identity.

But if we think in post-modern terms, then the images and signifiers that one wears have no referents, and the way that one chooses to dress is an act of self-identification and self-production on the level of signifier to signifier. There is no unified or stable truth, and ambiguity reigns. At this point, to say I am male is empty of meaning. To quote Camus again, “Of whom and of what indeed can I say: ‘I know that!’ This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction. For if I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers.” So what is the postmodern identity? I’m afraid I can’t answer that question at this time, though it’s a question on my mind.

Recognizing that within me there are competing and complementing aspects of both femininity and masculinity, I seek to find out how each of them express themselves. Recognize that like a table of contents and the word ‘natural’, these categorizations and labels are both useful and misleading.

feminine : masculine ::

baking dessert : baking bread

unicycling : running

dancing with hips : dancing with legs

washing dishes : walking Scamper

“Long Hair is Feminine”

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Matsuda Shoda, actor

Let’s go back and add color and complexity to that statement, “Long hair is feminine.”

I read an essay titled “The Significance of Male Hair: Its Presence and Removal,” in which author Raj Singh inverts the dominant understanding of the femininity of long hair as it pertains to men. Some sharp prongs of his argument:

( 1 ) Demonstrated in its extreme in military regimes and prisons, and in its everydayness in employment expectations, the social expectation of men to cut their hair is a “token of submission” and reminder that “you are not a free person and cannot do as you please with your own body.”

( 2 ) Forcing or coercing men to cut their hair is emasculating. On the level of appearance, shaving has the effect of making a person look younger, “mimic[ing] the surface quality of the pre-pubertal face,” which may have the effect of changing the shaved man’s self-perception to that of a child. On the symbolic level, removing cranial hair has a clear meaning: castration.

( 3 ) To the extent that men are perceived as dominant, willful, and aggressive by nature (hence dysfunctional as a potential employee), the clipping of hair demonstrates “the best of both genders in that…he communicates to the employer that he intends to be as docile and obedient as would a female be presumed to be.”

Another interesting thing that Singh analyzes are the linguistic biases that we have against cranial hair, which reveal certain assumptions about our modes of thinking. The very phrase “clean shaven” creates the oppositional “dirty bearded,” and if one is “clean cut,” then the implication is clear that one who does not shave is unclean. Another interesting one is the phrase “grow a beard”:

Do we say that a man can make an affirmative decision to “grow a beard,” much as the expert, dedicated horticulturist can grow petunias in the desert? Or do we say that male facial hair growth is the default category and acknowledge that men can only become and remain bare faced when they “scrape off their faces with a piece of steel” on a daily basis?

Singh concludes by placing cranial shaving on a similar level of cultural rituals such as breast enhancement, liposuction, and genital mutilation. He argues that men who let their hair free are “relatively masterful of their own lives and valued as such,” recapturing their manhood and their personal autonomy.

I wasn’t expecting this argument. To be honest, I see pictures of men with long hair looking like women, and relish that prospect for myself*. But I am fond of these associations, and the tension between a feminine, physical appearance and masculine, symbolic demonstration is one that I’m pleased with.

I’m at two months without a cut. I’d normally be getting a haircut in a week or two, which means that I’m about to enter the awkward stage. I’ll look silly, but I see then I see the pony-tailed men at retail stores and the gym, and look forward to each day of growth.

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This is gorgeous. Chiang again.

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*Not of small import is the Asian racial identity of these models as well as myself. The discussion of intersectionality as pertains to sex and race deserves note. In the essay Looking For My Penis (1991), artist and postcolonial theorist Richard Fung investigates dominant (white) cultural representations of Asian sexuality. In these representations, while Asian women are fetishized

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 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.

All Asian men who have ever been the victim of a small-penis joke should immediately understand how culture has made its mark upon their sexuality. I conjecture that a substantial portion of sexual frustration and anxiety in Asian-American males today can be attributed to these dominant understandings.

Further Reading

“Are Subcultures Conformist or Libertine?” An essay about postmodernism, hipsters, and appearance. http://katrucia.tumblr.com/post/2053437322/are-subcultures-conformist-or-libertine

“Jean Baudrillard” An encyclopedia article about Baudrillard’s understanding of dress and fashion, and how their meanings have changed as pre-modern, modern, and postmodern societies have developed. http://angelasancartier.net/jean-baudrillard 

Bibliography

Asian Guys with Long Hair. http://aznguyswithlonghair.tumblr.com/

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. 1990.

Fung, Richard. Looking For My Penis. 1991. http://www.richardfung.ca/index.php?/articles/looking-for-my-penis-1991/

Singh, Raj. The significance of male hair: its presence and removal. 1997. http://www.choisser.com/longhair/rajsingh.html