Is writing 'No Asians' on your Grindr profile racist, or just personal preference? The debate hit new heights earlier this week as one man announced his intention to sue the world's most popular gay hook-up app for perpetuating racial prejudice. CINEMQ speaks to Sinakhone Keodara about his case, and his rallying cry for other gay Asian men to join the fight.
I'm not racist, but...
It was the weekend, and Sinakhone Keodara was bored, horny or both. The 43 year old CEO kicked back, and did what any right minded person with a smart phone and a sex drive might do: he logged-in to Grindr. Then he got angry. A few days later, he announced he was suing the gay hook-up app ‘for being a breeding ground that perpetuates racism against gay Asian men,’ in the process renewing an international debate about racism in the queer community.
As Keodara was browsing Grindr profiles that night, he had come across one that said, 'Not interested in Asians.' It wasn't the first time he had read something like that, but this time it struck a chord. "It disgusted me," he tells CINEMQ. "[This guy was] not interested in me or any of my beautiful Asian brothers because of the color of our skin? He really thought he was superior to us? Heck, I wouldn’t fuck him with someone else’s dildo.”
Keodara spoke to his friend, New York based artist Daven Mayeda, and the two compared notes about being told they weren’t desirable because of their race. It was decided that the best course was to pursue legal action. “We thought about all the young gay Asian boys who haven’t even come out yet. We wanted to leave a better world for them.”
It is called sexual racism: when a person declares they are not willing to consider people of another racial group as desirable. It's a contentious issue. Some argue that a person has the right to express their personal attraction type as they see fit, including excluding some ethnic groups. Others see it as racist, part of a structurally oppressive system that permeates society.
'No More Mr. Nice Gay' - Sinakhone Keodara
The argument has been ongoing for a number of years, and extends to body image and gender expression. Grindr, as the default app for gay men, is, for better or worse, at the heart of that debate. Even casual users will be familiar with the phrase, 'no fats, no femmes, no Asians,' brought into the popular vernacular by rival app Jack'd with their 2013 campaign, 'Don't be an app-hole.' Seeking to raise awareness of discriminatory language in the gay community, Jack'd publicly called out Grindr for allowing, and thus re-enforcing, intolerance and hate.
Keodara falls clearly on one side of the debate, and he says the overwhelming response to his case has been positive, with support from people of all racial groups. But not everyone agrees with him. "Some Asian gay men attack me, saying I'm an idiot...that [my lawsuit] would be thrown out of court and I'd be mocked and ostracized by the whole gay community. It seems to strike all kinds of nerves among Gaysian men. Some are still under the spell of the white supremacy structure and have yet to wake up."
Whilst racial bias is a cross-cultural phenomenon, globally it is based on the legacy of ethno-categorisation from the European colonialist period. Ideals of beauty, intelligence and humanity were determined by European standards, and the echos of this are still felt today. But is dating app preference part of that, or are Keodara and others like him wrong?
A 2015 Australian study found that the majority of Grindr users do not feel that sexual racism is a problem. Of those surveyed, a relatively small 15% had written 'no Asians' on their profile. It is worth noting, however, that Australia is a white majority nation, and that the majority of that 15% were also white. Delineating 'preference' against markers of racial prejudice in other areas, the researchers surmised that sexual racism, '...is closely associated with generic racist attitudes, which challenges the idea of racial attraction as solely a matter of personal preference.'
In his seminal 1991 work, 'Looking For My Penis,' queer scholar Richard Fung notes that anti-racist strategy has failed to interrogate issues of sexuality. 'Racism cannot be narrowly defined in terms of race hatred. Race is a factor in even our most intimate relationships.' He traces a historical line in which the supposed sexual threat of Asian men attracting women otherwise meant for white men led to their being designated 'wimps' and 'desexualised.' Riffing on Fanon's assessment of hyper-sexualized African men, Fung continues, 'Asian man is defined [in Western culture] by a striking absence down there. And if Asian men have no sexuality, how can we have homosexuality?'
Perhaps it is here that the main point lies. As the fight for LGBTQ equality gains momentum globally, the reluctance to address racial bias means non-white people are being left behind. "Our sexual preferences aren't just our own, they are cultural, biological, and historical constructions," say civil rights lawyer Hussain Turk, Keodara's friend and legal advisor. "People of color...experience higher rates of substance use disorder, homelessness, unemployment, and mortality from HIV/AIDS than our white counterparts. But hey, isn't it just a preference?"
Keodara lives in Los Angeles, but is originally from Laos, arriving in the U.S.A. as a political refugee in 1986. He acknowledges that gay men in Asia do not experience sexual racism in the same way because, "they are the majority." It is worth considering though that in Asia's more cosmopolitan cities, white gay men are still held as an ideal by many, and often wield significantly more social currency than local Asian men. It is a power dynamic that is still only just beginning to be addressed.
From sexual fetishisation to outright discrimination, Keodara and his co-plaintiffs believe that the time is now to make a statement. "This issue has been a long time coming and the timing is right to take action in this drastic way...The aim is to eliminate anti-Asian, anti-black, anti-POC profiles from Grindr's hook up app all across the world. This is for all of us. Gaysians unite!"
Sinakhone Keodara's full statement can be read below or on his Twitter account @frogseatmoon
Words: Matthew Baren
Translation: Jack Yan
Originally written in English. Images are from the interviewees and the internet.
CINEMQ is a queer short film screening + party series. It is run by a group of queers with too much on their mind to sit still for long. We’re publishing articles on queer cinema and screen culture every week. Want to contribute? Message our account or email firstname.lastname@example.org