Content warning: The following article includes discussion of hate crimes, racism, anti-Blackness, and police violence that some readers may find distressing.
Since recent comments by Jeremy Lin about taunts of “Coronavirus” on the court and the outcry over a German radio host’s racist attacks calling Korean boy band BTS a “virus,” the issue of violence and traumatic hate against those of Asian descent has gained more attention in mainstream media. As a result, the chorus of anxiety, pain, and suffering among Asian-Americans and diasporic Asians around the world has reached a fever pitch.
The ongoing global violence against East and Southeast Asians has led many in our communities, especially those who are elderly, to fear for their lives. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, we watched with alarm and concern as Asian-Americans were repeatedly assaulted on the New York City subway and even outside their Brooklyn apartment as they took out the trash. More recently, elderly Asians have been assaulted and murdered merely for the color of their skin. Thai-American grandfather Vicha Ratanapakdee died of his injuries in San Francisco several weeks ago, and in Flushing, Queens, a Chinese-American woman was hospitalized with serious injuries at the hands of a maskless assailant.
The feeling of anxiety and abject fear currently gripping Asians around the world is nothing new to me. I was a victim of a hate crime myself on December 23rd (yes, two months ago).
To avoid inconsiderate maskless pedestrians, I double-mask and venture outside before dawn for my daily walk. Only a few blocks from home, I was confronted by a maskless Trump supporter who yelled a racist slur at me before shoving me against a brick wall, knocking my glasses off my face, and punching me several times in the chest. The lenses of my glasses broke, and due to a severe chest contusion, I was bedridden until New Year’s Day. It wasn’t until the end of January that I finally regained full control of my left arm.
For Asians in America, the violence we face in the only homeland we know is nothing new. Many Asian-Americans have decried the notion that this uptick in violence is simply a fad or trend because of the rampant Sinophobia accompanying coverage of the pandemic and its origins. That's because for us diasporic Asians, these hate crimes and these racist attacks have been our reality ever since we first immigrated to these shores hundreds of years ago.
Ever since the founding of America, Asian-Americans were fixtures in the western United States before one of the worst lynchings in American history, which resulted in the deaths of perhaps twenty Americans of Chinese descent. The Chinese Exclusion Act directly fomented further violence against Asian-Americans across the country, cementing perceptions of those of Asian descent as somehow dirty and uncouth, a key aspect of the “Yellow Peril” racism we continue to face even if our families have been part of the multicolored American fabric for generations upon generations. The Japanese internment camps of World War II and the murder of autoworker Vincent Chin in 1982 only concretized the notion that Asian-Americans were somehow responsible for faraway sins we had no hand in. Whispers about Wuhan’s mischaracterized wet markets follow this pattern.
For many Asian-Americans, what is happening today is merely another chapter in a long-running saga of violence and hatred against us people of color who have never quite fit in properly with the uniquely American conception of race.
I know this firsthand, because I saw it coming.
Almost four years ago to the day, soon after my election as the first Mr. International Rubber (MIR) of color and the first Asian international titleholder, I attended Mid-Atlantic Leather (MAL) 2017, run by the Centaur MC, which happened to coincide with Trump’s inauguration as president in January 2017. Regular MAL attendees know the tradition of visiting the “atrium,” the top floor of the hotel where the event takes place—from which kinksters can watch exhibitionists in their hotel rooms who have left their curtains wide open.
Feeling a bit sheepish about this rather sordid custom, I left my title sash in my room and decided to hop into an elevator full of cis white men, all of them in leather harnesses, all of them quite intoxicated. I was the only one in latex. Scarcely had we made it several floors before one of the white men confronted me. I could smell the alcohol on his breath as he spat at me with venom:
“Now that Trump’s president, you can’t be in this elevator with us.”
This white drunkard then pushed me out of the elevator with all of his weight, and I fell to the ground, dazed. As I struggled to regain my footing, the others in the elevator remained silent and did nothing. No one intervened. No one came to my aid.
Some time later, I came to realize that what happened to me at MAL 2017—and the racist and misogynistic assaults that have traumatized so many in kink and fetish spaces—was nothing less than an unconscionable hate crime.
Hate crimes against Asians are rooted in many factors, but all of them have to do with the outdated, jingoistic attitudes and myopic views many people around the world still hold about those of Asian descent. We’re considered a foreign danger, a threat, a legacy of the “Yellow Peril” racism that permeated all aspects of American and European society before and during World War II.
This disease that considers us to be perpetually foreign and never acceptable is something I experienced firsthand during my visit to Folsom Europe 2017 in Berlin, where I was taunted in official event spaces merely for being Asian and where multiple white men pulled their eyes back at me in that classic but petulant schoolyard insult. Even worse, however, were those white supremacists who tried to take my sash from me, saying they would give it to a more deserving white fetishist and that the only title I deserved—as an American MIR—was “Mr. China Rubber” or “Mr. Japan Rubber.”
The model minority myth, routinely deployed by white Americans and also by some Asians who are racist apologists, also means that the racism and violence we face are considered less important due to our conditional "white-adjacency." Some Asians willingly subscribe to this myth, somehow fine with how that unleashes even more harm against Black, Latine, and Indigenous people—like the senseless murder of Latasha Harlins by Soon Ja Du. We’re considered “soft” targets, prone to stay quiet and to refrain from reporting the hate crimes that traumatize us—and violence against other people of color—because we’ve so often been told that that is the way to remain in the good graces of an inherently racist system.
And in media and pornographic portrayals of Asians and Asian-Americans, we’re routinely emasculated as gay Asian men and fetishized or dehumanized as exotic creatures who are to be collected and displayed like trophies—depictions that deeply contribute to violence against Asian women in particular. So many in our kink and fetish community see hate crimes against Asians as something that doesn’t concern them or that only occurs in “vanilla” society.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Not only are hate crimes against Asians in the fetish community common and widespread—they are also endemic to our community and our spaces.
The nefarious ways in which gay men in both the LGBTQ+ community and fetish community enforce a strict racial hierarchy, with Asians at the very bottom, is something every gay Asian man is familiar with. Consider how KeixSub, an Asian-American fetishist, was called a chink merely for not responding to a white man’s overtures. Think for a moment about the countless incidents of racist assault and harassment Asians have faced at fetish events, even culminating in harmful and overtly criminal behavior like the hate crime I suffered at MAL, whose staff apologized to me but took no other action.
Whether online or offline, whether in our virtual Zoom events at home or in gigantic spaces like MAL’s hotel lobby, hate crimes against Asians continue unaddressed. We Asians continue to suffer deep and lasting trauma for no other reason than the color of our skin and for daring to enter spaces that have long been closed off to us because we don’t fit the “Tom of Finland” ideal. We aren’t to blame for the actions of a totalitarian regime engaging in blatant genocide thousands of miles away. Many of us scarcely have any connections or tethers to our “homelands,” as we’ve been here, in the Americas and in Europe, for countless generations.
The injuries I suffered during the hate crime I faced on December 23rd could have had a happy ending. As my glasses shattered on the pavement and blows landed against my chest over and over again, knocking the wind out of me, a police officer was standing not more than fifteen meters away. Seeing what was happening, he did nothing to intervene and ignored the entire incident.
For those who ask, “Why didn’t you report the crime to the police? Why didn’t you call the hate crime hotline available for Asian New Yorkers?” I ask in response: Given my experience in broad daylight, how can American law enforcement officials, and indeed, many police forces around the world, be trusted to do the right thing when it comes to hate crimes against marginalized folx?
The very same day I limped home, clawing at my chest and wheezing for air after I managed to run away, another Asian-American man on the other side of the country faced violence of a different kind—but rooted in very much the same systemic racism. On December 23rd, Filipino-American Navy veteran Angelo Quinto was murdered by Antioch, California police officers who knelt on his neck for five minutes as he begged for his life in the midst of a mental health crisis.
Asian-Americans face police brutality too, and it is too often those who are darker-skinned and considered less “white-adjacent” (a deeply insidious term) who pay the penalty for the continued legacy of anti-Blackness that infects and decays our country and our world.
Hmong-Americans face some of the deepest challenges among Asian-Americans, not just due to the darker color of their skin and intra-Asian racism but also due to historical injustices that forced many Hmong to flee their homeland as refugees. In 2006, Hmong-American Fong Lee was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer who went unpunished. In a heartrending video soon after marchers began to call for justice for George Floyd, his mother Youa Vang Lee tearfully begged Hmong-Americans to join the fight for Black Lives Matter and put an end to police brutality against all people of color.
Asians across the United States, including Korean-American grandmas, linked hands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter in a clear chorus against racist hate and police violence. Though anti-Blackness remains a pressing and urgent problem in both diasporic and homeland Asian communities, many Asian-Americans have lent their voices in support of and have stood side-by-side with Black abolitionists around the world.
Most people of color are inherently wary and distrustful of police, yet so many in our community continue to rely primarily on law enforcement to support attendee safety and risk management at the events they organize. When the police officer who stood a short distance away from me did nothing to intervene during the hate crime that resulted in my injuries, how can you trust them to enforce security at your event? When law enforcement officials cannot perform the basic functions of keeping people of color safe, why do you continue to defer to them to protect vulnerable people at your events?
Event organizers and community leaders must step up and take responsibility.
As a professional event organizer for the past six years, I’ve seen firsthand how codes of conduct, anti-harassment policies, and clear enforcement processes—some of them written by one of my dear event organizer friends—have immensely improved the experiences of vulnerable people at software technology conferences. What makes our kink and fetish community so much better than software engineers at keeping people safe that we think we don’t need transparent policies? Ask the countless women who long faced rampant sexual abuse and harassment at technology conferences but now have solid, open policies to rely on as bedrock.
This “wave,” which is simply part of a centuries-long legacy of violence and hate against those of Asian descent, should serve as a clarion call to action, just as last year’s “wave” of brutality against Black people (part of its own harrowing history of hundreds of years) has galvanized countless allies. When Asians and other people of color continue to face hate, trauma, and violence both online and offline, both in fetish spaces and in public society, there is nowhere for us to turn. Many of us increasingly feel that there is no safe space to be both queer and Asian—anywhere in the world.
I long for a day when I can venture out in a latex catsuit without fear of becoming a victim of a hate crime, whether homophobic or racist. I pine for a time when Asians and other people of color are truly welcome and feel we belong in the fetish community. I yearn for a day when hate crimes and racist violence against Asians and other people of color will no longer be a fixture of our society and endemic to the places we call home.
What better place to start than the kink and fetish community, where hate crimes against Asians and other people of color remain endemic to our communities, events, and spaces?
Special thanks to @_abracadanielx on Twitter for alerting me to the case of Angelo Quinto.
To find kink and fetish events that are committed to antiracism, inclusion, representation, and safety, consult my spend guide.