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The Making of a Gay Asian Community: An Oral History of Pre-AIDS Los Angeles

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In this unique oral history, gay Asian Americans talk frankly about their struggle for self-determination and independence. For the first time, in their own words, pioneers in the Los Angeles movement discuss the gay scene in Southern California and the development of a distinctly Asian American identity. Despite its size, until recently the gay Asian American community in In this unique oral history, gay Asian Americans talk frankly about their struggle for self-determination and independence. For the first time, in their own words, pioneers in the Los Angeles movement discuss the gay scene in Southern California and the development of a distinctly Asian American identity. Despite its size, until recently the gay Asian American community in Los Angeles was fragmented and marginalized. Gay Asian men separated into their own ethnic cliques and preferred whites as sexual partners. Eric C. Wat convincingly demonstrates that these patterns are legacies of both a racialized hierarchy of desire and racial exclusion from the mainstream gay community. Using a cultural studies lens to interpret the rich oral narratives he collected, Wat shows how a dominant sexual ideology can influence our desires and contradict our memories. He follows the development of 'specialty' bars that at once reinforced this dominant ideology and highlighted its contradictions. By documenting the founding of the first gay Asian organization in Southern California (Asian/Pacific Lesbians and Gays [A/PLG]), the author powerfully portrays the ways gay Asian men confronted these contradictions publicly and struggled to reconcile them as they fashioned a coherent identity and community based on both their race and sexuality. Wat's analysis returns gay Asian men to the center of their lives and celebrates the power of individuals working collectively to define their desires and to change what is unjust around them. As living history, their voices are valuable and overdue.


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In this unique oral history, gay Asian Americans talk frankly about their struggle for self-determination and independence. For the first time, in their own words, pioneers in the Los Angeles movement discuss the gay scene in Southern California and the development of a distinctly Asian American identity. Despite its size, until recently the gay Asian American community in In this unique oral history, gay Asian Americans talk frankly about their struggle for self-determination and independence. For the first time, in their own words, pioneers in the Los Angeles movement discuss the gay scene in Southern California and the development of a distinctly Asian American identity. Despite its size, until recently the gay Asian American community in Los Angeles was fragmented and marginalized. Gay Asian men separated into their own ethnic cliques and preferred whites as sexual partners. Eric C. Wat convincingly demonstrates that these patterns are legacies of both a racialized hierarchy of desire and racial exclusion from the mainstream gay community. Using a cultural studies lens to interpret the rich oral narratives he collected, Wat shows how a dominant sexual ideology can influence our desires and contradict our memories. He follows the development of 'specialty' bars that at once reinforced this dominant ideology and highlighted its contradictions. By documenting the founding of the first gay Asian organization in Southern California (Asian/Pacific Lesbians and Gays [A/PLG]), the author powerfully portrays the ways gay Asian men confronted these contradictions publicly and struggled to reconcile them as they fashioned a coherent identity and community based on both their race and sexuality. Wat's analysis returns gay Asian men to the center of their lives and celebrates the power of individuals working collectively to define their desires and to change what is unjust around them. As living history, their voices are valuable and overdue.

32 review for The Making of a Gay Asian Community: An Oral History of Pre-AIDS Los Angeles

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chloe

    When I began this book, I knew absolutely nothing about the history of LGBTQ people in Los Angeles, let alone LGBTQ Asians in Los Angeles. I was beyond eager to learn what I could from this book, and to be honest, at first it disappointed me. I'm biased in my interests - I was hoping to hear from women in this gay, Asian, Los Angeles community, but at the start of the book it's made clear that the focus was almost exclusively on men (I was hoping to be at least re-directed to a book with queer f When I began this book, I knew absolutely nothing about the history of LGBTQ people in Los Angeles, let alone LGBTQ Asians in Los Angeles. I was beyond eager to learn what I could from this book, and to be honest, at first it disappointed me. I'm biased in my interests - I was hoping to hear from women in this gay, Asian, Los Angeles community, but at the start of the book it's made clear that the focus was almost exclusively on men (I was hoping to be at least re-directed to a book with queer female Asian protagonists, but I digress). I was disappointed further to find that the narratives covered by the book don't represent my experience at all. They seemed exclusively to be the voices of immigrants or Asian Americans far removed from their culture, while I grew up in a Los Angeles full of first-generation Americans like me, comfortable with the language and food and community of both white America and our Asian roots, and I was astounded to realize that experiences like mine are perhaps unique to my time period and hometown. Once I got over the initial disappointments of not finding voices like mine, however, I realized how invaluable this book is in telling stories that I literally know nothing about, despite being a reader with a vested interest in the subject. There are a lot of heavy topics addressed by the narrators and the author - rice queens and uneasy race relations are prominent, although coming from a strong social justice background meant that here, too, I was disappointed by how many narrators didn't register the kind of rebuttal/rebellion I would have wanted them to. Then again, this isn't a novel with themes to pick apart, it's an oral history of a complicated time period that I didn't personally have to live through. If anything, I wish the author stepped in more and took more authorial control to critique the institutions described by the narrators. Because I'm currently taking a class (Oral History and Lesbian Subjects) that deal with the very same issues tackled in this book, I was particularly pleased and engaged with the appendix On Methods on Methodology, which gave me a lot to think about in regards to the construction of this book. I would highly recommend this book to my fellow queer, Asian-American LA natives. I'm not sure that the world painted in this book resembles at all the queer scene in Los Angeles today, but it is for precisely that reason that I would recommend it. Our histories are so important for creating a sense of community, and an understanding of the struggles that came before can only benefit our understanding of the communities we are a part of today. I'm really glad I was able to read this.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Darren Mitton

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sheela Lal

  4. 5 out of 5

    Genevieve Tan

  5. 5 out of 5

    Diann

  6. 4 out of 5

    Melvin

  7. 5 out of 5

    soul.in.my.fist

  8. 4 out of 5

    Wuttipol

  9. 5 out of 5

    Laurence

  10. 4 out of 5

    Maurice

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Hale

  12. 4 out of 5

    Grace

  13. 4 out of 5

    Maura Harrington

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ching-In

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

  16. 5 out of 5

    Qwo-Li

  17. 4 out of 5

    abcdefg

  18. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ray

  22. 4 out of 5

    Annie

  23. 4 out of 5

    Elis

  24. 5 out of 5

    UTAustin Dean of Students Library

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  26. 5 out of 5

    Andre

  27. 4 out of 5

    Grumblyqueer

  28. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

  29. 5 out of 5

    Grace

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kai Q

  31. 4 out of 5

    Rem

  32. 4 out of 5

    Fahad Mayet

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