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"The Most Outrageous Masquerade":
Queering Asian-american Masculinity
LEE: I knew you hated being Chinese. You're all chicken! Not an ounce of guts in all of you put together! Instead of guts you have . . . all that you have is is . . . culture! Watery paintings, silk, all that grace and beauty arts and crafts crap! You're all very pretty, and all so intelligent. And . . . you couldn't even get one of your own girls, because they know . . .
TAM: Know what?
LEE: They know all about you, mama's boys and crybabies, not a man in all your males . . . so you go take advantage of some stupid white girl who's been to a museum, some scared little ninny with visions of jade and ancient art and being gently cared for.
—Frank Chin, The Chickencoop Chinaman
When, in Frank Chin's play The Chickencoop Chinaman, Tam Lum declares to his "Hong Kong dream girl" that "Chinamen are made, not born, my dear" (6), he both anticipates and responds to the attack that Lee, the play's "possible Eurasian or Chinese American" (3) female character, makes against Asian-American men. In a text that is highly [End Page 858] anxious about the viability of Asian-American manhood and that mourns the emasculation of Asians in American history and imagination, the white woman presents a frightening, arguably monstrous, threat to the Asian-American male subject. 1 If, according to Freudian psychoanalysis, the woman embodies a castration anxiety for all male subjects because her body makes visible a feared lack, this threat reaches a spectacular pitch in Chin's play in the relation between the white woman and Asian-American man, because the woman herself is imagined to be the castrating agent, able to grant status as social and sexual beings to Asian-American men, but also able to withhold it, "reminding Asian-American men of their inability to be real men by reversing traditional gender roles" (J. Lee73). Chin's declaration that Chinamen are constructs of the social forces that produce them as well as of their own active self-generation is an assertion that seeks to historicize and counter the stereotypical images circulated of Asian-American manhood.
We can contrast this well-known stereotype of the emasculated Asian-American man that Chin both deploys and writes against with another, that of the "rice boy," a relatively new stereotype of Asian-American men (and women, although this latter is inflected quite differently). As young, attractive, professionals with access to and ease with the material symbols of socioeconomic status—cars, hi-tech sound systems, cellular phones, etc.—and participation in trendy social and leisure activities—"clubbing" comes most readily to mind—Asian Americans have garnered an enviable position in American culture. The "rice boy" image suggests something quite different from the better-known "yellow peril" or the "model minority." 2 The rice boy construct suggests to me an interesting manifestation of transnational formation, where cultural belongingness is first and foremost imagined in terms of consumption practices that mark the historical transformations that segments of Asian America have undergone because of globalization.
In its incorporation of some Asian Americans, namely middle-class, white-collar, US-born men into the logic of transnational capitalism and a nominally heterosexual normativity, the rice boy image seems to register a historical movement since the writing of Chin's play. 3 Unlike, for example, the fetishization of women of color by white foreign tourists or the exploitation of both men and women of color as cheap labor, the commodification of a select group of Asian-American men as "trophy [End Page 859] boyfriends" for white women (as an Asian-American man describes himself in a Newsweek article [qtd. in Pan 51]) also attempts to install Asian men as viable alternatives for heterosexual and patriarchal privilege. 4 The trendiness of Asian-American men, then, both as consumers and as commodities, does not disturb the binary matrices of orientalism and whiteness, femininity and masculinity, or heteronormativity and queerness. It does, however...