I was always a tall kid. So growing up, whenever I met an adult who felt compelled to attempt conversation with someone several decades their junior, they would, without fail, say something like the following:
You’re so tall! Do you play basketball?
Other than one season of tee ball when I peed my pants at practice and never returned, I haven’t played any organized sports in my life. I was never very coordinated or athletic as a kid, but in that moment I always wished I could have had something to say, like “Only on days that end in ‘y’,” or “Not since my dunking injury,” or “No, my first and only love is tee ball.” But since none of those were true, I was regretfully forced to say simply, “No,” and the already awkward conversation would become even more so.
I certainly don’t hold it against these adults for asking. I’d imagine their thinking goes something like this: Basketball players are tall. This kid is tall. This kid might play basketball so, since I don’t care about Nintendos or Pokemons or whatever kids do, I should ask him about that!
Then the emasculating question would spout from their yap, and I’d feel terrible about my complete waste of being tall for the rest of our conversation, which was at least brief – apparently adults are only prepared to ask kids one question per interaction.
Since I first started writing this blog, I’ve wanted to write a reaction to the annual Asian Men Redefined calendar. I commend that it raises funds for Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center, and I certainly don’t mind what I see…
But the name of the calendar itself seems to imply that there is something inherently wrong with the definition of Asian men, and from what I can gather by the photos, the thing that’s “wrong” is that they are not all muscly sex objects.
I get that stereotyping is bad, so showcasing a lesser acknowledged side of Asian men is definitely a good thing. But for every Asian guy out there who is offended by the stereotypes like short, nerdy, or not athletic, there is another Asian guy out there who actually is short, or nerdy, or not athletic. And guess what? That’s fine! I happen to be quite fond of short Asian guys, I think nerdiness is cute, and I couldn’t care less about athletic ability. I’m white and I can’t dance, but some calendar of white guys who are awesome dancers isn’t going to change that, in fact, it might just make me feel worse.
The recent obsession with Jeremy Lin, point guard for the New York Knicks, is the latest example of well meaning people trying to “redefine” Asian men, and they certainly picked an excellent poster boy. In addition to his athletic prowess, Lin sounds like a smart, humble, and nice guy.
But if the title I chose for this blog post sounds like a shout carried on the whisky-laden breath of a toothless carnie to lure you into some dank boxcar side show, it’s because that’s what Linsanity has, in many ways, become.
Step right up and see the Amazing Asian Man Redefined! Over 6 feet tall! Plays sports! GPA under 3.5 – and that’s not in computer science, people! Still, 100% Asian blood! You won’t believe it ‘til you’ve seen him with your own eyes! Also, don’t miss the swan with two penises in the next cage…
People are treating Jeremy Lin as a spectacle, an icon, a model that Asian men should aspire to. But what are we as a society saying to young men when we put physical ability and masculinity on such a pedestal? What does that say to the uncoordinated kid, the fat kid, the short kid, the disabled kid, or the effeminate kid who will never be Jeremy Lin?
It’s creating the same type of atmosphere that made me feel ashamed to admit I’d never played basketball. If someone had asked me if I played backgammon, I’d simply have said “no” and moved on with the conversation. I care as little about playing basketball as I do backgammon, so why did basketball make me feel ashamed?
I’ve never much enjoyed watching sports, I’ve never much enjoyed playing them. I’m a writer! I’d rather invest my time brainstorming story ideas, or writing blog posts, or, let’s be honest, doing the thing a writer does most: procrastinating. I’ve never gotten to the end of a screenplay and thought, “Damn, I could have practiced so many layups in the time it took to write this!”
I’m not saying that Jeremy Lin’s success is a bad thing (or that I don’t own 5 of those Asian Men Redefined calendars); he’s opening minds, he’s inspiring a ton of people, and, most importantly, he’s getting my friend over at IAMYELLOWPERIL.COM laid and published. But for those young Asian guys who aren’t muscular, who aren’t 6’3”, who have zero hand-eye coordination, and who don’t have a blue tongue…
…there are a ton of other people of all colors and abilities in this world to be inspired by. Just because certain characteristics become idolized doesn’t mean we should feel ashamed if we can’t match them, especially if we don’t even care about those characteristics in the first place!
Just to be clear, I am a fan of Jeremy Lin and the whole Linsanity epidemic. I support any movement that plasters the photo of a cute Asian guy all over the internet, TV, and grocery store checkout aisles – hell, I finally have a reason to watch basketball, and who knows? I could become so inspired that I buy a ball and practice dribbling until I’m competent enough to go to the gym and shoot free throws during non-peak hours when nobody will see me; then, once I can make more shots than I miss, go to the park to join in a pickup game where maybe one of the players will be in a local league, he’ll invite me to join, and I can spend every weekend playing basketball so that the next time someone says “You’re so tall! Do you play basketball?” I’ll proudly be able to answer: “Yes, I do. I do play basketball!”
…Actually, that sounds like a lot of time I’d rather spend on other things.
I’ll stick to writing about it instead.