Straitjacket Sexualities: Unbinding Asian American Manhoods in the Movies

Straitjacket Sexualities: Unbinding Asian American Manhoods in the Movies

Straitjacket Sexualities: Unbinding Asian American Manhoods in the Movies

Straitjacket Sexualities: Unbinding Asian American Manhoods in the Movies

Synopsis

Depictions of Asian American men as effeminate or asexual pervade popular movies. Hollywood has made clear that Asian American men lack the qualities inherent to the heroic heterosexual male. This restricting, circumscribed vision of masculinity--a straitjacketing, according to author Celine Parreñas Shimizu--aggravates Asian American male sexual problems both on and off screen.

Straitjacket Sexualities: Unbinding Asian American Manhoods in the Movies looks to cinematic history to reveal the dynamic ways Asian American men, from Bruce Lee to Long Duk Dong, create and claim a variety of masculinities. Representations of love, romance, desire, and lovemaking show how Asian American men fashion manhoods that negotiate the dynamics of self and other, expanding our ideas of sexuality. The unique ways in which Asian American men express intimacy is powerfully represented onscreen, offering distinct portraits of individuals struggling with group identities. Rejecting "macho" men, these movies stake Asian American manhood on the notion of caring for, rather than dominating, others.

Straitjacket Sexualities identifies a number of moments in the movies wherein masculinity is figured anew. By looking at intimate relations on screen, power as sexual prowess and brute masculinity is redefined, giving primacy to the diverse ways Asian American men experience complex, ambiguous, and ambivalent genders and sexualities.

Excerpt

The April 2004 edition of Details, the popular U.S. men’s life and style magazine, features a photo of an everyday Asian American man-on-the-street, albeit one with a “man-purse.” the caption professes to convey a light-hearted ribbing that ultimately conflates and makes mutually exclusive the differences and similarities between Asian American and gay men: “One cruises for chicken; the other takes it General Tso–style. Whether you’re into shrimp balls or shaved balls, entering the dragon requires imperial tastes.” Asian Americans protested the image on a national scale with a massive internet campaign that included tens of thousands of signatures demanding an apology from Details. in the Harvard Crimson, Jacquelyn Chou ‘07, a student involved in the protests quickly organized outside the magazine’s offices in New York City, critiques the image as one that “stereotyped Asian men, stereotyped gay men, and it also stereotyped our concepts of masculinity…. in a nation where we are composed of so many different types of people, we should work on being inclusive rather than exclusive.” Chou identifies how Asianness, gayness, and manhood are all denigrated in this stereotype—what Homi Bhabha defines as “arrested representations.” Indeed, the Details image ridicules not only the looks but attributes, behaviors, acts, and practices of gays and Asians and reduces them to uniform and static identities. in evaluating this image, however, Chou recognizes differences within gay and Asian America and refuses to fear the queer or keep racial identity . . .

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