Racial bias fails to surprise Asian-American actor Lee Doud. Speaking with professor Mark Martell in front of a small crowd at the University of Illinois at Chicago's ( UIC's ) Richard J. Daley Library at an event Martell entitled "No Fats, No Femmes, No Asians: Unpacking the Anti-Asian Bias in the Modern Dating World," Doud outlined the ways in which anti-Asian sentiment manifests both professionally in his life as actor, and personally on gay apps like Grindr and in real-life encounters.
Born in Hong Kong to a Chinese mother and white father, Doud grew up outside San Francisco. With Sean Connery in the film From Russia With Love as inspiration, he used to march around the house pretending to be James Bond. ( In fact, Doud aspires to make Bond both Asian and gay. ) Dedicated to high school theater, he went to UCLA for acting, although his mother initially wished he'd made a more conventional choice.
"I guess I was just really rebellious," Doud said about convincing his mother than acting was his chosen career. He said she eventually grew to respect his commitment and professionalism, particularly when he managed to get into UCLA despite mediocre grades, and had an agent a year before he graduated.
Doud's breakout role came in the show Californication, and he currently plays Jeff, the Asian best friend of main character Nate in the gay-focused web series I'm Fine. According to Doud, show creator Brandon Kirby had been disappointed by Looking, the HBO series about gay men, which, despite its San Francisco setting, features very few characters of color. I'm Fine, by contrast, focuses on characters "on the fringe" and in addition to featuring POC ( people of color ) and queer characters, brings up topics like PrEP and open relationships.
"We didn't want to showcase the glitz and glam of LA," Doud explained.
Initially Doud had been worried about being relegated to an "Asian sidekick" role in I'm Fine. "I wanted Jeff to have more dimension to him," Doud said. "I wanted to tell his story honestly." In the second season, Doud said he got the chance to shape Jeff's story and address his race, though drawing on his own experiences for the show was "scary." In a viral clip from the show, a white date compliments Jeff by telling him "you're mixed, I would never even think of you as Asian," and Jeff swiftly ends the date in response.
"That date is an amalgamation of some experiences I've had in West Hollywood," Doud said. While he acknowledged that perhaps people don't often realize they're saying something insensitive, he agreed with Martell's quip that comments like the one in the clip are "compli-saults." "What am I supposed to do, bow and say thank you?" Doud joked.
That clip prompted the Advocate to ask for Doud for an editorial about the gay distaste for Asian men, which Doud both had great trepidation about and great difficulty in writing. His original first sentence, he recalled, was "I don't give a shit if you like me or not," but he quickly realized that approach was damaging.
"Rather than turning in a piece that was attacking anyone, I wanted to start a conversation," Doud said. The finished piece, entitled "The Gay Community's Fear and Loathing of Asian Men Must End" has been shared over 10,000 times since the beginning of Februaryand it brought about Doud's UIC appearance. Martell, who teaches a course on "Asian Americans in Pop Culture," tweeted at Doud after reading, and eventually arranged the visit, marking Doud's first time in Chicago.
Doud was open with Martell about his experiences as a Asian-American actor. "Asians are the most underrepresented minority on television by leaps and bounds," Doud said.
He explained that most roles for Asians are "generic." Producers won't often either pick a certain ethnicityJapanese, Chinese, Koreanor they won't understand the differences between them.
Doud said he'd been asked to play a Korean in a film, and often gets called on for Vietnamese and even Latino roles. Accentless in real life, he's also been asked to have a "fresh off the boat" accent. He also pointed out that Asian actresses are still consistently confused for one another, and joked about creating a pamphlet with white faces that would explain how to differentiate between themas a way of explaining that Asian faces have similar differences. "Maybe a lot of mistakes of identity occur because of few points of reference," Martell agreed.
For Doud, an issue in both acting and dating is the desexualization of Asian men. He pointed out that actors like Jackie Chan are more often considered comic relief, and in the rare instance where an Asian man is a romantic lead, the actual romance is often relegated to a mere kiss.
"Media representation translates into what people say are their sexual preferences," Doud said.
To illustrate the Asian experience on dating apps, Martell showed screenshots of Grindr and Tinder profiles where Asians were often explicitly singled out as undesirable, often in a vulgar way, or occasionally fetishized by the term "rice queen."
"This type of messaging isn't new," Martell added, showing historical photographs of signs enforcing Japanese, Chinese and Filipino discrimination.
Doud called the dating world phenomenon "sexual racism," and said that while having types is fine, it ceases to be so when types are based on what people believe or to what they have been exposed.
"You don't come out of the womb saying, 'I don't like Black people,'" Doud said.
He called the response to his words "humbling."
"It made it all worth it," he said about sharing his experiences. "It created a community."