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Globalized Eroticism, Negotiated Identity
An ethnographic study of
Chinese gay men's erotic pleasures and identity formation in cyber-communities
The research analyzed the posting section of the most popular gay-themed
web-site in Taiwan to understand how Chinese gay men negotiate their
identities and derive erotic pleasure through sharing posted audio,
graphical, and textual messages. The research suggests that gay Chinese men
in the cyber-community form sexual identities through employing various
strategies, such as through role-playing. The rhetoric skills employed
includes gender-crossing, teasing, prostituting and reciprocating.
Globalized eroticism, negotiated identity
An ethnographic study of
Chinese gay men's erotic pleasures and identity formation
Paper submitted to
Gay, Lesbian, Transgender Interest group
The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Convention,
Aug. 4-7, 2004,
Department of Communication
Central Connecticut State University
1615 Stanley St.
New Britain, CT 06050
Globalized Eroticism, Negotiated Identity
An ethnographic study of
Chinese gay men's erotic pleasures and identity formation in cyber-communities
The research analyzed the posting section of the most popular gay-themed
web-site in Taiwan to understand how Chinese gay men negotiate their
identities and derive erotic pleasure through sharing posted audio,
graphical, and textual messages. By applying a snowballing sample scheme,
43 self-identified gay informants, all also participants of the online
community, were asked to discuss with the researcher their life stories
regarding their consumption of erotic texts featuring, among other things,
nude white males in relation to formation of their sexual identities. How
and why do gay Chinese men derive erotic pleasure through viewing erotic
texts featuring white males, when such a stimulus is virtually non-existent
in their off-line lives?
The research suggests that gay Chinese men in the cyber-community form
sexual identities through employing various strategies, such as through
role-playing. The rhetoric skills employed includes gender-crossing,
teasing, prostituting and reciprocating. The unfolded life stories narrated
by the informants suggest that the sexual desirability of white males is
more prevalent among older (aged 30 to 46) informants. Young gay Chinese,
growing up during the Internet age, tend to appreciate localized texts.
Key words: Identity Formation, Gay, Cyber Community (Internet),
Gender-Crossing, Eroticism, Post-colonialism
Gay audience reception studies
Since gay men are not born into their own minority, mediated messages are
crucial for them to be socialized into the gay world and become initiated
members of this co-culture (Dank, 1979; Hooker, 1965; Kama, 2003). However,
gay representations in the public sphere have been symbolically annihilated
(Gerbner & Gross, 1976; Gross, 1998) as a result of three main
chronological processes including quantitative absence, infiltration of
negative images based on prejudice and folkloristic stereotypes, and the
integration of actors whose minority identities are irrelevant (Dines &
Humez, 1995; Greenberg, 1980).
In the American context, the portrayal of gay people in the media has
increased tremendously since the late 1990s. In 2000, there were 22 shows
that portrayed gay or lesbian characters in leading, supporting or
recurring roles (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, 2000). Will &
Grace, for example, has been acclaimed by the popular press for its
positive representation of gay men, and the show has won numerous awards
and been commercially successful. And yet Battles & Hilton-Morrow would
apply feminist and queer theory to argue that Will & Grace in fact applies
familiar situation comedy conventions and can still be read as reinforcing
heterosexism (2002). In contrast to the situation in the U.S.,
presentations of indigenous Chinese gay people – Chinese gays living in
China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore – on Chinese media were scarce. The
majority of gay-themed text (literature, film, documentary) in Chinese is
produced in Taiwan (Chi, 2002). Although several gay-themed Taiwanese works
have received critical acclaim, and have been translated into other
languages and/or adopted into film, it was not until 2003 that Taiwanese
prime-time TV shows first introduced the 70s Taipei gay culture to
mainstream audiences. The locally acclaimed gay-themed works differ from
their American counterparts insofar as they target a highbrow and
well-educated audience (Chi, 2002; Chou, 2000). Despite the presence of a
few gay-themed works, only a small number of Taiwanese pieces have been
commercially successful and moderately received locally. Although the
Chinese audience interested in gay-themed works had limited local media
choices for their viewing pleasure, the gay audience in Taiwan was able to
consume heavily foreign (chiefly American) imported gay-themed media,
thanks to the rise of the Internet and the trend of media globalization.
In light of the impact of mediated messages upon gay people as well as
society more broadly, a myriad of research has applied textual and/or
content analysis to examine the influence of media representations (e.g.
Kielwasser & Wolf, 1992; Gross, 1994, 1998, 2001; Battles& Hilton-Morrow,
2002). While scholars and activists emphasize the need to keep track of gay
representations, few researchers have adopted an audience reception
approach to examine how media representations of gay culture have impacted
the formation of identity among gays. Generally speaking, audience-side
researchers adopt either a uses and gratifications approach to categorize
gay demands (e.g. Yang, 2000) or pay attention to the attitudes of gay
audiences toward commercial advertisements (in which gay audiences are
considered to be an emerging demographic group of consumers with high
dispensable income (e.g. Bhat, et. al, 1998)).
Kama (2003) was one of several pioneering studies of gay audience reception
as relates to identity formation. By interviewing 45 Israeli gay men, he
delved into the patterns of gay men's media reception and concluded that
his informants intentionally consumed texts that focused on gay issues and
disengaged themselves from discourse that symbolically annihilated them or
their identities. His research employs a cultural studies approach,
recognizing the active roles of gay media consumers in interpreting media
texts in order to "produce the meanings that connect with their social
experience" (Fisk, 1987, p84). In a similar context to analyze media
consumers, Hall (1982) argues that TV viewers would produce negotiated
readings of the text; these are meanings preferred by dominant ideology, to
take into account the social differences of different viewers.
The lack of focus on gays in the indigenous media in Taiwan, however, has
complicated the reception of gay audiences in Taiwanese cyberspace. As a
result of the increased prevalence of American and, recently, Japanese and
Korean imported pornographic texts, eroticism in Taiwanese cyberspace has
been highly globalized. While consuming gay-themed media can help gay
people overcome feelings of social negation and enhance a sense of social
belonging, which is essential to the formation of identity, how can gay
Taiwanese derive their erotic pleasures for their cultural/sexual existence
when such a stimulus is virtually non-existent in their off-line lives?
Presumably, under such ambivalent circumstances, sexual identity is
reconfirmed or reinforced but racial identity, as Chinese, is symbolically
annihilated. Based on the theory of cultural proximity that audiences will
realize pleasure in recognizing their own culture in their programming
choices (Straubhaar, 1992, p 14-15), would Taiwanese audiences derive more
pleasure from viewing local texts?
White, buff and hot in Taiwan…but don't say it's real
Compared to such other industrialized or newly industrialized regions in
Asia, such as Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, in Taiwan there were,
historically, few opportunities for Taiwanese people to have direct contact
with Caucasians. Unlike Hong Kong, where Caucasians once constituted
approximately two percent of the population (Chou, 2000), Taiwan's
population has been almost entirely non-Caucasian. During the era of
Japanese colonization, very few white people lived in Taiwan (those who
were there were mostly missionaries). As the animosity between Japan and
the United States reached its peak after Pearl Harbor, Taiwan became even
more of an ethnic "non-Caucasian" island. It was not until the Vietnam War
era, when Taiwan became a U.S. ally and a major American military base,
that urban Taiwanese began to gain a greater exposure to white men – mostly
to male soldiers in their twenties. Based on current demographic data, it
is clear that white people remain a tiny minority all but invisible to most
Taiwanese, although more and more companies and schools are hiring whites
as they seek to increase their English-speaking employees.
Although Taiwan was a colony of Spain and the Netherlands during the 17th
century, it has not been colonized by any western countries since then.
After the Chinese Civil War, Taiwan's right-wing regime established a close
alliance with the United States, which provided Taiwan with financial
assistance (from 1951 through 1965) and military "protection (through
today)." Over the decades, according to Chou, the American presence has
resulted in a strong sense of cultural admiration with English considered a
superior language and white a superior color. The former can be epitomized
by the fact that among the top ten most widely read ranking magazines the
Chinese version of Reader's Digest is rated highest, followed by three
magazines devoted for the study of English language (Ishii, 1995). To most
Taiwanese people, the United States symbolizes progress and freedom (2000,
p145). Westernization has become a way by which gay Taiwanese can
emancipate themselves from the bondage of traditional Chinese family and
the control of the state apparatus. Indeed, since the 1970s gay Taiwanese
have been especially active group in importing western culture, with their
activity ranging from listening to western pop music, to viewing movies, to
identifying specific western icons and more recently, to reading erotic
content on the Internet.
Post-colonial discourses, which questions how knowledge of subordinated
people is produced, and how such knowledge is used to support the existing
power order, is another useful theorietical context to frame the
phenomeonon discussed (Wikipedia encyclpedia, 2004). For instance, Said
(1979), a scholar of post-colonialism, argued that European texts (e.g.
literary, artistic, and non-fictional) represented the Orient (its people
and culture) as "other"; consequently, the Whites internalized knowledge
that perpetuated the notion of superiority of Whites over non-White peoples
and cultures. It has been suggested that to understand post-colonialism,
one should analyze the texts that reinforce and strengthen the existing
power order (Said, 1979). The discourse and visual imagery of Orientalism
is laced with notions of power and superiority, formulated initially to
facilitate a colonizing mission on the part of the West and perpetuated
through a wide variety of discourses and policies. However, in a global
age, erotic pleasures are highly fluid and intertextual. We may ask: have
Taiwanese gay men cultivated "false racial conciousness" and internalized
the "power order?"
Cyber "gay scene" in Taiwan
"Taiwan's gay movement is also a movement of media" (Chou, 2000, p159).
Scholars analyzing Taiwan's gay movements claim that the rapid growth and
emergence of Taiwanese gay/lesbian/queer community in the 1990s can be
attributed to computer-mediated communication (Berry & Martin, 2003; Yang,
2000; Chou, 2000). The rise of the Internet during the 1990s has helped
form a virtual community where gay/lesbian/queer people increase their
visibility in an anonymous fashion.
The earliest form of interactive Internet communication in Taiwan was the
Chinese-text-based Internet Relay Chat (IRC). The most popular IRC site
for gays in Taiwan was MOTSS (Members Of The Same Sex). MOTSS was set up in
April 1994 at National Chiao-Tung University and was a strata group on the
TANET (Taiwan Network) operated by Taiwan's Ministry of Education to link
research and education institutes throughout the country (Yang & Cheng,
1998). Meanwhile, another IRC site devoted to same-sex discussions was set
up by Sting (Study Team of Identity and Gender) at National Central
In the early days of the Internet, members of MOTSS and similar sites were
allowed to "chat" in a group, or "talk" one-to-one, or "post" text-based
articles in a forum. In part due to the low-cost and government-owned
nature of TANET, hosts were able to operate their discussion groups free
from the intrusion of business-oriented content. It was under such
conditions that the MOTSS system attracted such idealistic, alternative,
and minority-oriented discourse and sustained public dialogues in civic and
social matters that epitomized the "emancipatory potential of mass media"
proposed by Habermas (1962).
Local web pages were scarce until 1997 and were not as popular as MOTSS due
to their relatively non-interactive nature. However, the text-based format
applied by MOTSS and similar sites gradually lost its attraction when a
regular website was able to adopt a new platform that enabled a higher
degree of interactivity. The number of sites targeting gay people increased
drastically after 1997. The advanced infrastructure of information
technology in Taiwan helped facilitate a rapid transition from the
text-based IRC to web-based gay virtual communities where users are allowed
to post audio/visual/textual messages and communicate in a more
Based on an analysis of the key word searches on the Yahoo-Taiwan portal
site, gay websites in Taiwan can be classified into three categories. The
largest consists of web pages, created by individuals to interact with
people in their circle. The second type was created by such non-profit
organizations as high school- or college- affiliated clubs or social
activists. The third type consists of gay portals that offer a variety of
gay-themed information and have attracted Chinese readers globally. These
gay portals do not charge membership fee for visitors and chiefly are
sponsored by advertisers. In order to increase traffic flow, these portals
are actively involved with community building, and personal ads placement,
audio/graphic/textual file sharing, and discussion board are integral parts
of the sites. Additionally, some gay portals host chatting rooms, which can
be sorted by location and type. Advertising pressure has consolidated
Taiwan gay portals during the past few years. As of March 2004, Topfong is
the most popular.
Topfong functions akin to gay.com in the English-speaking world; however,
it is localized to serve the unique demands of the Taiwanese gay community.
It features gay news, entertainment, discussion boards, gay personal ads,
chat rooms, audio/graphic/textual file postings, auctions, gay literature,
job posting, and legal consulting assistance. In terms of personal ads,
Topfong has unique descriptive categories targeting the local gay men in
Taiwan. Instead of using location, the method for searching used by
virtually all other sites, Topfong classifies users into seven categories:
(1) general personal without photo, (2) personal ads with photo, (3) for
future telephone partner, (4) bear (short, chubby and hairy) in search of
monkey (skinny and tall) with photo (5) bear in search of monkeys without
photo (6) alternative – chiefly seeking for sex partner.
This research applies an ethnographic approach to examine how readings of
audio/graphic/textual texts featuring white males affect formation of
identity among gay men. Topfong, the leading Taiwanese website targeting
gay Chinese, is the subject for analysis. More specifically, the research
focuses on the posting section because it is a place where Chinese people
(mostly living in Taiwan) are allowed to view and post
audio/graphic/textual content and respond to one another freely. Access is
free (i.e. neither registration nor payment is required), although the site
attempts to disallow people under the age of 18 from accessing it, such
users can fake their age so as to access the posting section.
The research includes two parts: (1) the analysis of posted texts that
involves white males, and (2) interviews with 43 informants sampled from
the posters and their friends whom I was able to reach and whom were
willing to talk with me. In the three-month research period beginning
December 11, 2003 and ending March 10, 2004, I reviewed 1,625 postings, 58
percent of which featured white males; 3 percent of content featured black;
23 percent featured Japanese males (nationality distinguished by language),
16 percent featured non-Japanese Asian (chiefly Chinese and Southeast
Asian). The prevalence of white males featured among the postings
manifests itself in the way in which other posters create titles for their
postings titles – races or nationalities are usually integral parts of
titles for content relating to "non-Whites." When the poster leaves the
ethnicity unmentioned, members presume such the posting is a white male.
Pictures of white males are often titled "hot guy," while pictures of Thai
males, for instance, are generally titled "hot Thai guy." Such ethnically
ambiguous titles as "fatherly good looking guy," "leather man,"
"boy-next-door," all refer to white males. Ironically, very few Taiwanese
have such a white boy-next-door living in their vicinity, but members sense
it in the imaginary community.
In the first part, textual analysis was used to examine which texts members
to serve the best interests of the community. The placement of
audio/visual/textual texts in cyberspace is a complicated process contigent
on the tastes of posters, perceptions of legal liability, and compability
of new technologies. Despite different methods by which posters publish
texts, the common purpose of the forum is to serve the erotic pleasures of
the community. Thus, the first inquiry of this research was to determine
what kinds of white male bodies are preferred by the community, and why? It
is imperative not only to analyze of "hits' to a particular posting
frequency but also to examine how participants respond to the posting since
the posting of a text is a function of such a variety of factors as ease of
availability, perception of liability and financial cost. The response to a
posting constitutes the process of meaning negotiation and production, in
which positive feedback reinforces certain types of postings, while
negative feedback or absence of feedback discourages other types of the
The second inquiry of this research is: how does exposure to white males
affect the formation of sexual identity among members of the community?
Since the analysis of the posting section on Topfong's posting board is
confined, this study interviewed 43 self-identified Taiwanese gay men by
various methods depending on the informants' availability. Due to time
limitations, only 12 were interviewed in person. The remaining interviews
were conducted by telephone and via email, instant messaging, or ICQ. Among
the 43 informants, seven were expatriates in the United States. Excluding
the seven, 16 informants have visited Western countries. Nine have had
sexual experiences with white people, and four have white boyfriends (two
American, one German, one Ukrainian). 18 of my informants have allegedly
more than 100 but less than 500 sex partners; six had allegedly more than
500; one jokingly indicated that he is a virgin.
The globalized eroticism
One-third of posters do not post anything in the forum, strictly speaking,
in part due to concerns regarding copyright infringement. Nevertheless,
they provide hyperlinks leading viewers to their intended destinations,
which the researcher was able to discern, were usually American-based
Among posted texts, direct or indirect, 74 percent of posted texts were
sexually explicit, featuring nude male bodies. Pornographic materials,
defined as any form of sexual intercourse displaying sexual organs
constitute 55 percent of the sexually explicit material. Approximately 30
percent of the pornographic texts simply connect to free-trial video clips
offered by western pornographic sites, mostly United States-based.
Among the non-sexually explicit texts, the most popular portray male
celebrities and fashion models. Several notable examples of the former
include Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings trilogy), Alain Delon (the Italian
actor in Rocco and his Brothers), Justin Timberlake, Jude Law (Cold
Mountain), British Prime Minister Tony Blair, or American President George
W. Bush. The response to male actors can be exemplified by two types:
first, articulated appreciation to confirm the "hard work" of the poster,
such as "thanks, that's great"; second, inquiries to advance the members'
factual knowledge of the subject. In both cases, responses usually lack
emotional involvement and are merely used to facilitate conversation among
members. Members articulate few sexual fantacies toward the celebrities.
For instance, members might post an inquiry regarding the name of Justin
Timberlake's old band. Other postings focus on such varied content as
President Bush, for instance:
Posting A (All participants' names are masked)
Title: Time is never forgiving man.
The President Bush's picture posted in which he is in his 20s;
(Audio: A Taiwanese song from the 60s)
Poster's comment: You see…time is so unforgiving; he looks dirty old now.
Chelsea boy (Response 1): No, you're exaggerating. He does NOT look old; he
simply looks "unsound."
Waterloo (Response 2): Bin Laden looks sexier.
Chelsea boy (Response 3): Laugh out loud…no, no…White people age
quickly...they only look good in their 20s.
Unlike celebrity postings, which rarely attract more than 5 responses,
fashion model posting frequently provoke heated discussion. The models
appear in advertisements for such famous Western brands as Boss Hugo
(German, 5 postings listed; each has more than 10 responses), Abercrombie &
Fitch (American brand, 4 postings), Calvin Klein (American brand, 4
postings), and Gap (American, 1 posting) among others. Discussions are
generally informational in nature and nevertheless led by "opinion leaders"
well informed of western consumer culture; nevertheless, respondents
express more sexual fantasies toward these nude bodies compared to
Title: Boss in motion perfume commercial
Poster's introduction: I posted two Hugo Boss commercials featuring Julin
Headquist last year; this one entitled "Boss in motion" is something new
Video Commercial clip plays.
Shawn (Response 1): It is said that the perfume sells. The shape of the
bottle is very cool, but I don't know how it smells.
Kevin (Response 2): I usually leave the perfume by my bed. When my alarm
clock rings, I wrongly press the perfume instead of my alarm.
John (Response 3): This perfume is great, but it is a bit too expensive. It
smells like orange.
Frank (Response 4): His poster now occupies a huge spot in the department
store close to where I work. He greets me in the morning and says goodbye
to me after work. Whenever I am sad, I walk out to smoke in front of him.
His eyes look strangely peaceful to me.
John (Response 5): Yehhh…wait until you can speak German well enough to
communicate with him_.
Responses drift from one topic to another, sometimes directed toward the
advertised products; other times directed toward the model. The dialogues
follow several themes simultaneously, posting can attract as many as 90
Posting D: Julin Headquist
The posting, organized chronologically, includes 40 pictures of Julin
Headquist. Several sentences were inserted between pictures so the members
could better understand the historical context of the pictures.
Scorpio: Supermodel is always a supermodel. He enhances the texture and
cutting style of clothes.
Terry: He is amazingly changeable. Did you see him on the Gap poster?
Sometimes he looks evil; sometimes he looks like an angel.
SOS: Was the guy on the Gap Julin? Which one?
Tangerine (also the poster): That is what makes a supermodel. Supermodel is
supposed to be blank and neutral. Yellow (Asian), brown or black are
inherently NOT as suitable. It is better white and tall because only white
color gets along with all colors and tall people make the clothes sublimely
Mike: WOW..Tangerine. You are so knowledgeable; I admire you. Your
introduction has expanded my horizon and enhanced my ability to appreciate
fashion. Could you discuss another supermodel to whom I am drawn: Christian
SOS: Stop talking about all this. If you don't, I will be tempted to buy a
truck of clothes…Last time you introduced an Armani guy. Shortly after, I
went bankrupt. Now I am still in debt. I have gone over credit card limit
in the past months, and my father takes charge of my credit card. So now I
can rely only on my mom's.
Tangerine: You, silly material girl, are simply making a fuss. Having the
clothing doesn't make you a Julin Headquest. It's his "temperature,"
looking cruel and mean, wild but warm at heart, that makes the difference.
SOS: Don't be mean to me... Whatever people feel about me is irrelevant;
it's good simply to feel "looking good."
Terry: Come on, my Fashion-Aunt Tangerine ... Don't push too hard on
SOS. She has grown up to be an empowered, independent, and respectable
OL_. By the way, how do you know Julin is warm at heart? Have you slept
with him; or what? I think he looks more like a juvenile
delinquent…constantly thinking of screwing. Does he screw guys?
In above posting, the opinion leader, "Tangerine," who introduces the Hugo
Boss model as well as the concept of what constitutes a supermodel. His
arguments are frequently contradictory, but participants make sense out of
the changing modes during the transitions. For instance, SOS initially
presents himself as a fashion information seeker but later teases himself
by recounting his compulsive buying history. True or not, the respondents
nevertheless seem amused. SOS takes the first step to feminize and
infantize himself in a self-effacing manner, and so the respondents are
invited to masquerade themselves as they wish, as Tangerine, the fashion
expert, becomes Fashion Aunt and SOS is a "silly material girl." Terry,
a sarcastic and presumably male third party, joins the masquerade, arguing
that the silly material girl should not be blamed because she is now a
mature and self-determined "OL."
Tangerine's comment on being white makes a better, while potentially
offensive to the posters, is not directly challenged. Most readers
implicitly align themselves comfortably with the dominant reading purported
by western advertisers: "the model to which all men should aspire is young,
white…with a well-muscled, smooth body, handsome face…and a high income
(Fejes, 2000, p115)." Regrettably, Taiwanese gay men are not born into the
segment; but in one sense, one can still "enhance" or "correct" his sexual
desirability through consuming the peripheral products or lifestyles
suggested by the supermodel. Some participants bring up negotiated
readings: for instance, Terry confronts Tangerine's purported association
of external qualities with being "warm at heart." Although he does not
challenge Tangerine's statement per se, the sexual unavailability has made
him less desirable.
Consider a case of a second super model, Travis Fimmel, the Calvin
Klein-model-turned-actor who also erocticizes the cyber community. The
advertisements portrayed him nude or in a brief and were controversial in
the United States. Fimmel becomes an icon and is frequently posted on the
site. The responses are usually concise, often directly linked to sexual
fantasies (or even sexual activities). Below are several responses drawn
from various postings.
Corey: "WOW, he is so hot…like an animal"
Kiwi: Looking at him, I have jerked off twice. (Blushed face symbol).
Jason, you should not set me up like this, you know I have exam tomorrow.
Jason: So instead of hanging out in the football stadium, you can go to
Another masquerade scheme that the respondents frequently employ is the
triangular relationship among pimp and prostitute and client. The posted
white male is usually considered to be the prostitute introduced by the
pimp (the poster, e.g. Jason) and visually consumed by the clients
(supposedly members of the community, e.g. Kiwi). Posters frequently
masquerade as "Madame," at times apologizing to members for being unable to
match their clients with the right type of prostitute.
Corey: No hardcore picture?
Jason: He is a model, not a whore...if he does that, he must be very
expensive. Can you afford him?
Corey: So do you have anyone like him?
Jason: Let me see…be patient. My reputation as the most generous Madame
isn't gained over night.
It is worth mentioning that the way in which members respond to postings is
in part a function of the reputation of the posters. Popular posters
attract more responses since they have been recognized by more
members. For instance, a poster that identities himself as having a "foot
fetish" frequently receives foot-themed pictures forwarded by other members.
In terms of sexually explicit pictures, most are hard-core gay pornography.
Several preferred themes, if discernable, include athletes as jockeys or
baseball players, college students living in dorms, or military officers in
uniforms on duty. It may well be that pictures involving intercourse
between Whites and Asians (Chinese looking people) are considered desirable
and widely imported on the site because such a genre presents a form of
sexual activity that they may engage in, and therefore can relate better
to. However, further investigation suggests that such interracial sexually
explicit postings do not reflect such thinking. Notably, many genres
proliferate are racially and sexually "incorrect" to gay Taiwanese. For
instance, heterosexual intercourse and self-identified "straight males" are
two major themes that stray from the literally alleged "common interest" of
the community but are nevertheless enjoyed by members.
Generally speaking, members' responses to pornography can be classified
into one of two types: first, information inquiry; second, reaction to the
male body. As mentioned previously, information inquiry, such as of where
to buy and the identity of the actor, for instance, is a common response to
most postings. The second and third types will be discussed below.
The phallus the most commonly discussed part of the male body. Size,
authenticity, shape, and whether or not foreskinned, are regular topic of
conversation. The first two issues, size and authenticity, are
linked. Reaction is usually concise.
John: It's soooo big.
Uncle Kiwi: WOW…this is so huge. It's unfair. How comes White people are
all so well-equipped?
Madonna: God is fair…baby…because they are often impotent.
Notably, numerous respondents comment on the size of phalli, perceived as
essential to masculinity, but few express their sexual arousal directly.
The responses usually provide a fictitious but localized introduction to
the text that helps to erotizes members, frequently facilitated by the
posters (pimps), as aforementioned.
Jay (poster): This is his first time. He is closeted and shy. Treat him gently.
Luke: He has potential…I can coach him.
Along with erect phalli, faces and facial expressions, arms and feet,
muscular torsos and anus generate sexual pleasure for the community. Given
that responses to hardcore pornographic texts are mostly short, the
researcher interviewed 43 self-identified gay participants of the community
in order to better examine how participants' sexual identities were formed
in relation to viewing texts featuring White male bodies.
The narrative of media experiences and identity formation
The informants in this study are aged from 16 to 46. The informants under
18 should be barred from joining the posting site, but many of them
nevertheless are users. One of my 16-year-old informants, who identifies
himself as a heavy user, told me that most of his gay friends view the site
on a regular basis. In order to reflect this reality, this research
includes three informants under the age of 18. 24 informants are aged from
18 to 30; eleven, from 30 to 40; five are more than 40 years old.
For the informants growing up during the 80s, a segment that constitutes 60
percent of my informants, most recalled that their first encounter with
hardcore pornography featuring White male was in junior or senior high
school (aged 12 to 17). A small percentage of informants had not seen any
sexually explicit content until they started using the Internet in the late
90s. Many informants first watched pirated American hardcore pornography
rented from "mom-and-pop" video rental shops in Taiwan. Although none
identified themselves as a big fan of the pornography, they continued to
watch it until the dawn of the Internet age.
I grew up watching porn rented by my older brother or father. Sometimes the
Fourth Station (the Taiwanese CATV before its legalization) carried it.
Usually American pornography features better looking male characters and
also take several shots of the facial expression and muscles of guys.
Actually, there was tons of Japanese porn back in the 1980s, but I disliked
it. The male protagonist was usually masked and strangely out of shape.
I think people my age first watched porn on the Internet. I don't know why
people still buy it if they can look it up online. You have to find a place
to store your porn. I live with my parent and I can't even imagine how
embarrassing it would be if my mom were to find it in my closet. Having gay
porn in your room is de facto claiming that you're gay. It's similar to
writing "I-a-m-g-a-a-a-y" on my face.
The informants' media experience does confirm that it is the Internet that
"liberates" gay people and makes pornographic texts widely available.
Informants growing up in the 70s or 80s indicated that they were mostly
"enlightened" only after the rise of the Internet – seeing men having sex
with men and understanding that homosexuality is a possible way of life. Is
viewing gay pornography important for my informants? The short answer is
yes, but they relate the importance of gay pornography differently.
I don't know if this is true for the majority of gay people; I myself
consider watching porno to be integral part of being gay. You see, you go
to Yahoo or Google and type gay as a keyword, most of results are porno.
Gay and porno are simply like twin brothers. (Uncle Kiwi, 37)
For me, how could one practice "gay life" without watching and learning
from porno? It is almost impossible to channel our fantasy into practice in
real life. How many gay people have sex with a well-built plumber
accidentally coming to your house to fix your faucet? (Danny, 22)
Gay or straight, men watch porno. Men can be easily turned on by visual
things. (Jon, 38)
With porno, I come to a realization that I am not a "weirdo" who possesses
bizarre fantasies; in fact, I am so boringly ordinary. (Dave, 29)
When asked "when was your first gaze upon a nude white male? How did you
relate the gaze to your sexual identity?" The answers from informants more
than 30 of age varied:
Growing up, I have seen numerous posters featuring nice looking white guys
in the glasses store owned by my parents. I was particularly drawn to white
guys wearing sportive sun glasses skiing or surfing. My face blushed and my
body reacted to it. I kind of sensed that something had gone wrong with my
I saw a straight porn movie accidentally when I was about 12, noticing how
huge the tool that a White guy can be. Strangely, I was so eager to see his
tool, facial expression and particularly the ejaculation, which you don't
usually see on straight porn. I ransacked my dad's closet examining his
collection, but couldn't find my type; I was sexually frustrated. (Bob, 27)
However, most informants below the age of 30 recalled that they first saw
"him" on the Internet, and he was engaging in sex with another male.
I first saw white male's nude on the Internet. When I did keyword search,
thousands of pictures popped up. To be honest, I am not a big fan of white
male nude picture, compared to the Japanese counterparts. They are usually
hairy and sexual...just like an animal. To me, it is a regressive and
uncivilized type of human being that I don't know how to relate to. (Tom, 19)
I was like 15 and I started watching straight pornography. I told myself
after viewing it: I want to be a white guy in my next life and screw
everyone. WOW, the Bai-Kwei,was so buff, with a hard, huge, and durable
tool and their sex partners must have multiple orgasms. In retrospect, I
became self-loathing because I found I could never live up to the manhood
that women or gay men aspire. (Dan, 22)
White male as emancipators
This research acknowledges that remembrance of things past is a
reconstruction of real events based on a person's needs at the time her/his
story is unfolding (Nardi, Sanders & Marmor 1994; Kama, 2003). During the
interviews, my responsibility is to help my informants retrieve their
memories with regard to ways in which media uses helped them become who
they are today. Many of my informants went into significant detail with
respect to frustration or satisfaction surrounding their sexual
experiences, even though we had not known each other prior to the
interviews. Based on the interview, I found a sharp discrepancy between gay
people in their 20s and those in their 30s in terms of relating white males
to their sexual identity. The gay informants more than 30 years old tend to
associate white males with progressively liberated sexuality to
which Asian males "ambivalently" aspire. Samples of answers include:
I am a frequent moviegoer; I watch a great number of western movies. A
movie I saw in college years, Maurice, has had impacted me tremendously. I
had have equated male homosexuality with a lack of masculinity until seeing
the movie in which all main male characters are "normal" and homosexual. I
was much thrilled and rewarded. Unlike those covered by the Taiwanese media
such as old gay people molest boys or transvestites haunting the New Park.
Gay white males in Maurice are extraordinary: handsome, noble, cultural,
I grew up in a rather conservative family. Both my parents are high school
teachers and extremely disciplinary. I went through a suppressive
upbringing in which any curiosities about sex were deemed distracting to my
academic pursuits or, worse, filthy and perverted. The gay porno would
definitely fall in the latter "worse" category. God knows it is the
Internet along with gay porno that helps me explore the unknown aspect of
my sexual identity. I was very envious of white guys living in a society
where having sex anywhere, anytime, with any possible subject seems to be
all right. (Will, 35)
The discursive positions of being gay and being Chinese are constantly
negotiated with underlying and conflicting ideologies. On the one hand,
white males are dehumanized to support Taiwanese gay men's racial
"self-esteem" – for instance, white males are "uncivilized haunting
ghosts"; they tend to be promiscuous, irresponsible or indifferent to
family obligation and in some cases, AIDS carriers. In addition, white
society has a high criminal rate and lower moral standards, at least
according to this line of thought. On the other hand, it is being
"uncivilized haunting ghosts" that makes white males animal-like,
therefore, liberalized as well as sexualized. These arguments are
frequently intertwined, responding to one another ambivalently.
Unlike us, Bai-Kwei (white ghosts) are better equipped. They can have sex
everywhere…but they can easily get old and out of shape. It is very
miserable to be old and gay in white society. After the age of 30, they
start haunting on street…
I think generally speaking being gay is the white's privilege not granted
to other races. After seeing Long Time Companion, Philadelphia, I cried not
because of the supportive relationships, but of a society that give such
relationship a name and allows them to thrive. It is sad that gay son is
still a curse to a family; a son living with HIV positive would be
disowned…Luckily…AIDS does not affect our society as much.
The Internet as an emancipator
Older informants tend to read media texts in terms of race, a tendency
epitomized by white's privileges mentioned by Johnny. However, the junior
group does not necessarily perpetuate. For instance, to Johnny, "whites are
particularly hot." However, Johnny's subversive reading, following
race-highlighted thinking, is that white males are inhumanly sexual
associated with "sexual disease" or "impotence" that do not as prevailing
in Chinese community to justify the cognitive dissonance. Ironically, the
being animal-like and sexual is also a commonly mentioned trait to
interpret the sexual desirability of white males.
Sexual desirability of the white, along with such a discourse, was not
necessarily perpetuated in the junior group. Having grown up during the
Internet age, the informants under the age of 25 speak out very
differently. The rise of new technologies has facilitated a more free arena
where sexual and racial identity become more fluid. Most of the younger
Taiwanese indicate that their motivation going online is instrumental: to
see if their counterparts can be their companions or potential sex
partners. Sexual availability has become the more crucial factor, as a
result, and the sexual desirability for white males per se is discounted
I did yearn for having sex with white guys in the pornography. Yet, this
type of guy in the gay pornography does not exist in Taipei. Most white
guys you can see here are ugly and old.
I am a person who does not masturbate; I need real sex. I meet people
online or in cruising areas. I simply cannot find white people (Honda, 26).
I can alienate myself seeing white people as sexual and hot. But I don't
know how to put them in my sexual scenarios, thinking of having sex with
them. I am little bit small; they are generally big. I can't even imagine
how it would be if they want to screw me; and I guess they don't find me
attractive; either. (Brian, 19)
As indicated above, the younger informants growing up during the
Internet age interpret the "white body" more pragmatically. They seek
something that they can relate to better so they could practice such
scenarios in their real lives. Given this, white males are neither
romanticized nor the object that younger Taiwanese prefer. Desirability of
white males, complicated by the global and new competing local actors, has
decreased, and the younger informants tend first to examine local texts in
search of erotic pleasures available in their real lives.
In this study, most of the audio/visual/textual texts featuring white males
were produced in the United States. Presumably, they were initially
produced by whites for their own enjoyments. However, these texts were
imported, legally or illegally, to serve the erotic pleasures of an
unintended target – Chinese. Examining the cyberspace, researcher finds
several texts manifesting the notion of Orientalism: for instance, Chinese
looking men (non-western) were "marginalized" as biologically inferior;
culturally backward, and sexually dominated in relations to the whites.
However, this study posits that it is too premature to presume, based on
the discourses of post-colonialism, that Taiwanese people have internalized
the "dominated-dominating" power order and submissively taken the pleasures
from these texts.
Topfing is owned and operated by Taiwanese gay people to serve the best
interests of Chinese gay people. The study found that Topfong's members
have employed various methods, ranging from role-playing, to teasing, to
masquerading, to prostituting and to reciprocating, to define and refine
their sexual identity. Members'readings of nude white males in pornographic
texts are contraditory and multifaceted. Among the old members group, the
readings of white male are especially ambivalent. Racial discourses remains
dominant ideology employed to interpret sexual pleasure, despite some
resistance to associating sexually desirability with white male
masculinity. The subversive readings of white male sexual desirability are
evident. Younger members group growing up during the Internet age, tend to
de-emphasize racial meaning and instead appreciate localized texts.
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