Guest Post: The current state of asian representation in LGBTI+ romance (spoiler: it’s not great)

Hi, let’s talk about asian cultures and LGBTI+ romance publishing.

 

In particular, let’s talk about asian main characters and love interests written by white authors who might have an interest in the culture but will have never lived it or understand it. The character names aren’t even always names but rather phonemes from an asian language strung together (and not even always from the same language as the character’s ethnicity), the title refers to at least one stereotype, and the cover invokes anything generically asian from imagery to font. It seems deliberately designed to offend anyone with any degree of racial sensitivity. 

 

Now, off the top of my head, I can think of four or five novels/novellas that fit the bill. And I’m betting that there are tens morel I haven’t run across yet.

 

These authors and publishers claim to respect the culture they represent, but do they? These are more acts of exploitation. Is this what’s meant to pass for diversity?

 

LGBTI+ romance publishing community talk the big talk about equality and diversity, but there is very little evidence I’ve seen of that. I can’t talk for other ethnic minority groups and their representation, for obvious reasons, but at least when it comes to asian characters I frequently end up salty as fuck.

 

What exactly is the problem, some people might ask. Isn’t it great just to have these asian characters living their lives as anyone else would? Sure, I love the idea of people being treated like anyone one else (aka the white american dude that is the baseline apparently) but culture and skin colour informs our lives in a thousand of small ways. It’s the smell of our homes and the way we relate to others in our community. It’s our childhood names and the little habits we develop because of those folklores and beliefs. And even second generation immigrant kids carry some of that with them through their lives.

 

And if you think all of that can be conveyed by making the character eat kimchi/noodles/sushi and throwing a few korean/chinese/japanese words in there, well then, let me politely say, fuck you very much.

 

Remember this? [Source]

As Jasmine Hong rightly points out [Source]

Yeah, lemme tell you, it’s great to see asian authors being told “you need to make them more Other” while poc characters by white authors (who are basically white characters with white childhood but asian names) get published without drama.  

 

And hey, let’s not even touch on how many of these characters are actually half-white, which seems to be a convenient way for authors to write Other without them being too Other. And its often done without understanding or respecting the position of mixed race individuals in culture and society.  

 

I think what bothers me most about all of this, is that there are popular LGBTI+ authors and boutique publishers happily producing these stories, and no one is calling them out. I’ve seen PoC authors I respect promoting these authors and these books. I’ve seen respected reviewers call the books “amazing” and “unique” and “diverse.”

 

No, they aren’t. And the sooner we acknowledge that the better.

 

I’m a believer in providing solutions along with pointing out an issue. So here are some solutions. If you are a writer, get a sensitivity reader/consultant. Make sure it’s someone who will tell you the truth. Consider whether this story is one that needs to be told by you. Ask yourself why you’re writing this story. Is it to get the pats on the back? Is it because asian characters are hot right now? And if you’re a publisher, seek out and publish PoCs. Think about what you’re putting on covers

 

Just. Make the effort. Please.

 

Added note:

1) God do I hate that I have to even use the word ‘asian’ as if we’re all one homogenous culture.

2) Notice how many of these books are about Japanese culture and characters? Because I guess that’s the only asian country worth noticing and fetishising.

Peace out,

M. Sithu

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