I was sitting down in a corner of a club with a man I’d met just fifteen minutes earlier when, in the dimly lit room with deafening music in the background, I vaguely heard a voice traveling from the other side of the table: “I see you’re a rice queen.” The man next to me accepted the title bestowed upon him with alacrity. All of a sudden, in that dark and loud space, my ethnicity was in the spotlight. Everyone became perfectly conscious of the presence of an Asian man in a popular gay club in London on a Saturday night.
Before leaving Washington, DC for London, I thought for a week I’d be leaving behind all the categorizations of desires in the gay community, where my physical and emotional attraction for other men could be untangled from my racial traits. I was proven wrong upon the dawning realization that this meticulous, perhaps somewhat pejorative, attention to one’s preference for gay men of a certain race actually existed across the Atlantic Ocean in the wider Western societies. I found in that encounter an eerie sense of familiarity.
My appearance, as a result of being situated in this specific context, is then closely associated with this particular food that’s meant to characterize the desire for Asian men. It’s funny, in fact, how I have come to facetious terms with it to the extent where I can no longer tell whether my obsessive crave for rice comes from this labelling or the other way around. I still wonder, however, how this categorization of our desires contributes, if any, to building relationships with one another within the community. Do most people pleasantly assume the role of a rice queen the same way as that man with whom I rendezvoused in the club?
Coming from Taiwan, where Asian men date other Asian men, I knew nothing about the different categories of desires; the dating scene is rather homogenous by contrast. When my profile picture first showed up on dating apps in the DC area back in 2015, I first ventured into the racialized field of desires and rediscovered who I was in the eyes of other gay men. I remember in lurid detail the encounter in which I first acquired the term “potato queen” when I was, again, in a gay club in DC. After some intense and rapturous kissing with a Spanish man, this title was likewise given to me. With all candidness, I was uncomfortable with the idea of having my desires put into categories.
The whole concept, by now, has been interpolated into the way I see myself in different relationships with other gay men as well as the way I look at the food I eat. The process of integrating or assimilating into the gay community in DC entails this subtle alchemy of adapting to associations with a certain type (of food). Never were dishes and desires so interconnected in a fascinating way.
I have learned to see myself against a larger cultural backdrop where we are defined by our desires as much as by the food that we consume. But tracing the discomfort I felt when I was first introduced to this categorizing mechanism and a brand new way of describing my social location based on the desired racial intermingling, I have never stopped challenging, while entertaining, such an idea. That visceral reaction has been a constant reminder of my resistance to being put into categories with which I don’t entirely identify.
Like I was saying, maybe it was part of the culture shock that I was experiencing having come from a country where race is rarely the focus of a relationship. Maybe I contested the categorization of desires when I could explore them free of the restraints from this heightened awareness of one’s race. On that note, I go back to the question, what does it contribute to the community?
Living in a multiracial society, we’ve become accustomed to the fact that desires are inseparable from who we are and how we look. What caused my discomfort turns out to actually bring some comfort to gay men growing up in this environment, as evidenced by the manner of that British man in London who claimed to be a rice queen. It was also seen in the occasions where some of my friends were surprised upon learning that I, a potato queen in their understanding, had dated other Asian men. It is, at the end of the day, a way for many gay men to navigate their desires as well as others’ and it cannot be more natural. With me, it’s a different story; it involves negotiation with how I deal with an intricate and delicate intersection of being a gay man and an Asian man in DC or in London.
We are, nevertheless, left with copious food metaphors that amuse us from time to time. Bearing in mind that our desires are protean and ever evolving, I would like to end with this remark: we are more than what we eat.
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