A College Dean is Trying to Shine a Light on Asian-Americans’ Contributions to San Francisco’s Gay Scene
Earlier this month, we shared with you the fact that San Francisco is officially recognizing the gay kink and leather community by honoring a specific section of the city as a cultural and historic district.
That said, it seems that gay culture, and specifically San Francisco’s gay culture, has yet to recognize and appreciate the contributions that Asian-Americans gave to it (sometimes against their will). But, one academic by the name of Amy Sueyoshi is on a mission to spread that information.
Amy Sueyoshi is the Associate Dean of Ethnic Studies at the San Francisco State University. On top of that, she’s written many academic articles and research books to talk about race and sexuality.
In her new book, “Discriminating Sex: White Leisure and the Making of the American ‘Oriental,’” Sueyoshi is sharing history in order to talk about the cultural work that Asian-Americans put into modern gay culture.
“The narrative in Asian American studies is that Asian men lived in bachelor societies,” she told San Francisco State University, “but clearly they also mingled with the white men in San Francisco and beyond.”
In order to create her new book, Sueyoshi read through over 1,000 newspaper articles, illustrations, essays, plays, case files, and oral histories. As daunting as that may sound, she says it was engaging and exciting.
But what exactly were the historical and cultural findings that Sueyoshi came across in her research?
“I had found a gold mine of connections between Asian immigrants in the city and white guys who would likely be considered queer in the 21st century,” she said
Sueyoshi notes that the Bohemian Club, a fraternal order of white men in San Francisco that would later have ties to the LGBTQ community in the city, was deeply invested in Asian culture.
The members thought Asian culture was symbolic of high class and consciousness. Not only did they collect Japanese art, but they also conducted secret ceremonies with Buddha statues and kimono uniforms.
It doesn’t stop there however, as member’s also established intimate relationships with Asian men as well. For instance, Charles Warren, a San Francisco writer and one of the club’s founding members, had an affair with Japanese poet Yone Noguchi. In addition, fellow member Joaquin Miller often hosted Japanese men in his Oakland home.
The actions of the club members eventually became more blatant as time went on. For instance, they would use Japanese and Chinese storefronts as meetup spots to signal interest in gay hookups with other men living in the area. The group even had a Baker Street hideout that was raided by the police due to “sexual deviancy.”
As San Francisco State University reports, that wasn’t the end of the club’s exploitation of Asian men. From creating stories focusing on Asian men committing homosexual acts to performing secret ceremonies, the club fetishized Asian culture without ever contributing to Asian immigrants themselves.
Sueyoshi says. “[The Bohemians] were taking parts of Asian culture to enhance their own leisure lives but not taking a political stand to enhance the lives of the people they were taking the culture from.”
Amy Sueyoshi’s book “Discriminating Sex” hopes to focus on Asian-American’s struggle and trials in San Francisco gay culture and says the stories above are only a drop in the water.
It surely will be an interesting read.
h/t: San Francisco State University