The New Complementarianism

Featured photo courtesy of Steven Lee — go check out his work at https://artistsyl.weebly.com/ or at his Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/stevenoclock/.
Model: Max Chang

As an Asian American man, wanting to be viewed as desirable is not based in superficiality, but an urge to abolish structural racism that disguises itself in desirability and sexuality politics.
– Phillipe Thao, “Crazy Hot Asians: Redefining Asian Male Desirability

I’ve recently been in conversation with a fellow gay Asian friend regarding my problematic attraction to white men. I once half-joked that simply given the demographic of gay men in the United States, the probability of me ending up with a white husband is fairly high. I then proceeded to joke how I’d definitely change my last name for him so I could benefit from his white privilege.

It’s really strange — for all the work I’ve put into undoing the internalized homophobia and racism of my upbringing, I’ve still yet to extricate myself from the idea that the circumstances of my birth dictate what I should or shouldn’t do on a moral level. What began with toxic gender complementarianism now presents itself as a matter of racial complementarianism — something just as bad and twice as complicated.

All three of my past boyfriends have been white. Off the top of my head, all of my close queer Asian friends’ partners are white. And I honestly can’t recall the last time I saw a gay couple where both were Asian American.

Whenever I’m feeling particularly single, I go on YouTube to watch videos featuring cute gay couples (because I love myself), and I admit that every time I see a gay couple where one is white and one is Asian, something about it just strikes me as good. Something desirable, something to aim for — and it’s only been recently I’ve discovered how deeply rooted my tongue-in-cheek joke about ending up with a white guy actually is.

It’s disturbing how quickly my life has turned into a gay version of Yellow Fever. About every other week someone makes some ignorant assumption about my romantic life based on my race as I get messages on my dating apps about how much a guy “loves Asians”. There’s even a term for it: so-called “rice queens” are typically white queer men who exclusively date Asians.

Asian women have been dealing with such harmful stereotypes for just as long, and in the gay male community we share similar paradoxes — we’re expected to be submissive yet independent, demure yet intelligent, exotic yet familiar, sexy yet totally asexual. Before I can even get a word of English in, I am but a stand-in for thousands of people who share my skin color and sexual orientation.

And you know what? As much as I hate it, some part of me doesn’t resist. I realize I am part of the problem, and it certainly doesn’t help since I happen to fit the gay Asian stereotype so well. On some level, I get a kick out of code switching my way through the dashed expectations of white men. Thanks to a combination of Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome, my thoroughly American upbringing, and my two degrees, it can come as a surprise that my English vocabulary is more expansive than a lot of white Americans’. That I can quote Plato and analyze poetry and talk centuries of dead European composers.

At the same time a brilliant success and a horrible dishonor, the assimilated Asian American is an expert navigator of two cultural identities and yet garners the full merit of neither.

The problem is not with dating white men — there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The problem is the way I’ve been centering my desire on white approval and benefitting from white privilege by mastering the navigation of Western culture. In some twisted way, being on a white man’s arm would be making myself into my own trophy for winning at the assimilation game. That is white supremacy by any other name.

The process of decolonizing one’s desires comes with a life of powerful paradox. For me, as a relatively small and physically fragile gay Asian man who is easily crushable, white desire is a mixture of both a fear of being overpowered and also of a craving for security within the folds of white privilege. I deliberately avoid dating anyone significantly taller, older, heavier, or stronger than me in order to minimize power difference.

But in my self-perceived weakness I also let a sense of internalized racism get the better of me: more often than not, I succumb to the belief that I’m not worthy of being desired in a dignified manner, and the cheap fetishization I’m frequently the target of is the best I’m going to get. Intellectually, I know it’s false. But after years of living in a world where whiteness is a prerequisite for beauty and models of healthy Asian masculinity are woefully underrepresented, it’s often easier to let myself be reduced to an exotic object than it is to fight back.

Every once in a while I’ll look in the mirror and really like what I see. I learn to savor those moments. And as the months go by I find myself thinking it a little more often, and I have to stop the negative thoughts from intruding on my self-appreciation. I was never ashamed of being Asian American, but really loving the Chinese body I was born with is a goal I yet work to attain.

Because I know at the core of my heart that just because I don’t look like the majority of my Hollywood crushes doesn’t mean I’m not a different kind of beautiful. That my personal worth is completely independent of who I’m dating — let alone the race of the person I’m dating. That though in the end it’s certainly possible my future husband happens to be white, it wouldn’t be because I did both of us a disservice by underpinning my desire on his whiteness and my non-whiteness. It’d be because I fully recognized my strength as an Asian man and responsibly decolonized my desires.

It’d be because I’m worthy of dignity, respect, and a boy who recognizes that I’m amazing as hell. Full stop.

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A God of Love and Surprises

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
– 1 John 4:18 (NRSV)

Exactly one year ago, I publicly came out as gay. Today I’m formally coming out in full moral support of same-sex relationships. You probably saw this coming (especially if you read my latest post), and if you know me in person this is no surprise. But I felt it might be helpful to tell the story of how I ended up here — though if you’re looking for a theological exploration, I’m afraid that’s for another time.

Back in the summer of 2015, a friend I found on an online group for LGBT+ Christians was considering becoming a Catholic priest, and one day, he struck up a conversation with me about celibacy. I confessed to him that I had only tentatively parked myself on Side B and maintained celibacy because it was the “safe option”.

In truth, something felt very off about my experience with “lifelong” singleness. I felt trapped by my faith, forced into a vocation I never desired for myself. And though I tried to convince myself I could learn to love it, I could never shake the feeling that I was living a lie.

My primary concern through everything has always been to remain faithful to God. I never set out to prove any particular viewpoint right or wrong — I just wanted the truth, but in order to do that I needed to look further into affirming theologies. A lot of what I came across didn’t strike me as very convincing, but I was willing to dialogue with this new friend of mine, who ever so graciously walked me through his beliefs. We respectfully disagreed and began to learn from each other’s experiences.

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A Posture of Mercy

college-photo_15333Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
– Matthew 9:13 (ESV)

Three years ago, I fell in love. It was Preview Weekend at Westmont College and the air was alive with excitement, with perfect Southern California weather beaming down on a group of hopeful students just dipping our toes into the pond of postsecondary education. I had never felt so welcome before, so at home — so loved. My mind was reeling with the possibility of attending such an amazing place, and as soon as I returned north I sent my application in. I chose to love Westmont, and it was one of the best decisions I’d ever made.

But much has changed since then.

I used to wear rose-colored glasses when it came to my school. Choosing only to see the good, I found it easy to accept the rules and regulations expected of me when I became part of the community. And yet I still vividly remember sitting at my desk, my eyes fixated on a single sentence on my computer screen:

The college does not condone…occult practices, drunkenness, theft, profanity, and dishonesty…sexual relations outside of marriage and homosexual practice.
– 2013 Westmont Community Life Statement (bold added for emphasis)

This was before I accepted my sexual orientation, and still I found myself reading that one clause over and over just to make sure I didn’t miss something. I didn’t know what even constituted “homosexual practice,” but it made me nervous. Several conflicted minutes passed before I hesitantly clicked the “agree” button. Deep down, despite my tightly locked closet, I knew that rule was directed towards me.

And perhaps this made sense — a boy who spent his life feeling estranged, unloved, and dissociated from himself ran to a place of security. A place where he could find himself, find joy, find Jesus.

I trusted Westmont because I thought it would be that place. I hungered for the true knowledge and love of Christ, and I fought down my hesitation because I thought Westmont would be the place I finally tasted it. And for a while, it was.

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Pulse

To the victims of the Pulse Shooting in Orlando, FL on June 12, 2016.

Yesterday I walked with you down that beaten asphalt path,
my brother-sister-neighbor-father-mother-friend,
because you were brave and you were you, the way God loved you.

You were a warrior — you fought for us, for us who had no voice —
and you were and are and forevermore will be with us
in our hearts, in our minds, in our tears, in our songs,
in our voice-cracking-sobbing-breaking whispers because

sometimes courage is written in bloodstains.
Sometimes fear is written with bullets.

Sometimes prayers feel so weak,
running down saline rivers to a crumpled-up whimper:
“Lord, in Your mercy.”

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To Chase the Light (Coming Out)

Most wardrobes don’t have secret worlds with epic adventures and magic waiting inside, but a few of them still conceal stories of their own. There, the sun never shines, the eternal winter doesn’t thaw, and the lion isn’t your friend.

You spend years upon years fighting the monsters, hiding from lions, and wishing that someone would come to strike down the wicked witch, but no one ever does. You stand by the lamppost for hours at a time, ready to escape your cold shadow of a world, but always stop at the border, thinking it safer to fight the demons you hate than fight the people you love.

Until, one day, you realize that living in darkness is hardly living at all. That if there was even a glimmer of light where the wooden doors have cracked open, it would be better to die in the sunlight than to waste away in the shadows.

So with one final push, the closet door swings open, and you know there’s no going back. The next words will change your life forever:

Dear world,

I’m gay.

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An Exploration of Love (My Testimony)

On April 14, 2015, I had an article, which I intended to call “The Expectation of Love,” published in Westmont’s school newspaper, in which I briefly discussed my perspective on romantic love as a celibate gay Christian. It left a lot of questions unanswered, and I felt it deserved some elaboration. This is my story, along with a few extra thoughts — without a 750 word limit.

Coming out at Westmont was the third best decision of my life; the first being my decision to follow Christ, and the second being my decision to attend Westmont.

Although I expected a bit of backlash from the controversial nature of coming out as gay at a Christian institution, in reality I received the largest outpouring of love I’ve ever experienced.

I continued to brace myself for the insults and the condemnation, but it never came. For that I’m extremely thankful, but I also know that as an openly gay man in the modern evangelical church, the road I want to travel is one filled with pain and difficulty. It always has been.

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Family Matters

This past week has been quite the whirlwind in the gay Christian world. Julie Rodgers, a prominent Side B Christian, recently published a post on her blog, in which she came out as a supporter of same-sex relationships. Despite how gracious and honest she was in her writing, it didn’t take long for the internet to explode afterwards, resulting in some scathing reviews (which I refuse to link to, but Eliel Cruz touches upon in his news report). Julie has been a role model of mine ever since I entered this conversation (and still is), in part because of her convictions and character, and also because of her bold decision to minister at Wheaton College as a part of the Chaplain’s staff — a position she has since resigned from.

Especially since Tony Campolo voiced his support for the full inclusion of gay couples in the Church, this tilting of the scales has been made more evident as more and more Side B Christians trickle into the Side A sympathy boat. And while I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing — many of my good friends are Side A — I am extremely upset that there’s always a vitriolic response whenever it happens.

If I’m to be honest, I’m scared. Frightened at the possibility of being the next generation to take up that mantle — a mantle that’s already been burned, scarred, and martyred beyond recognition.

But this is not just me being a coward — more than fear, what I feel right now is intense sadness. I weep because we’ve made factions of “good gays” and “bad gays.” I weep because we’ve put ourselves in God’s judgment seat. I weep because the voices of peace and vulnerability have been weaponized for everyone else’s agendas.

A mentor of mine recently said that she feels Christianity has lost its identity as a whole, and though I may be taking her words slightly out of context, I agree completely. We have lost what it means to be the body of Christ — we have forgotten what it means to be a family.

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The Right Kind of Misfit

You don’t belong here.

It was what I thought to myself as I walked the dirty streets of San Francisco, surrounded by thousands of cheering people — straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, intersex, genderqueer, tall, short, fat, skinny, white, black, yellow, brown, purple, red, clothed, not-so-clothed, and sort-of-clothed, just to name a few. The air was thick with the smell of big-city trash and marijuana, and what little breeze I managed to catch was tinged with the stale heat of the crowds. Rainbows dotted my vision as flags, bracelets, tie-dye shirts, and other paraphernalia seemed to shout: “I AM PROUD TO BE ME.” I was standing in the middle of the biggest inclusivity celebration of the year, yet in the back of my mind a tiny voice kept whispering, you don’t belong here.

No left turns.
Obligatory pride flag photo.

Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I went to SF Pride expecting not to enjoy myself, and I really didn’t. It was a learning experience that I felt almost obligated to go to; for a newly minted baby gay, Pride is like the coming-of-age ceremony of induction into the gay community. After coming out to my whole college a month prior, I considered myself newly minted and in need of effectuation. Thus, Pride Parade.

I had expected there to be a partygoer spirit to Pride that I knew I wouldn’t like, but apart from that I thought I would find at least a little bit of common ground with the people there. After all, it’s called the LGBT+ community for a reason. But with the exception of the friends I went with (who kept the experience from being outright horrible), I couldn’t see myself relating to anyone around me on any meaningful level. I called myself gay, sure, but my gay was definitely different than theirs.

With a theme like Equality Without Exception, I couldn’t help but notice the apparent lack of justice surrounding the city. Homeless people were still begging for money while heavily commercialized booths and floats populated the streets. The male-dominated industry within the LGBT+ community was overtly sexualized and marketed in every other display I passed by (though thankfully, there was a tiny feminist section I had to smile at). And after the Supreme Court overturned all same-sex marriage bans across the nation just two days before, Equality had effectively magnetized itself to the concept of the right to marry. Everyone was happy. Everyone was celebrating. Everyone except me.

Continue reading “The Right Kind of Misfit”