Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A.R.R., 22, San Francisco/Union City, CA

I am very cautious as I write this piece. It awakens many memories that were once dormant. But I will begin my story by saying that my experience in the downe scene was a roller-coaster ride. I remembered that it was in the year 2003 when I was first introduced to the downe scene.

I was simply minding my own business on Xanga.com (when it was popular) and venting about the day's event. Within a few minutes of creating my first xanga blog I was bombarded with messages from lovesick girls and boys who called themselves downe. I was confused at first. I didn't know what downe was. It soon became clear to me when these boys were asking for my phone number and filling my blogs with various compliments about my physical appearance. As time passed, my curiosity grew. These boys that seem to just compliment me then became regular friends, then maybe boyfriends (soon ex-boyfriends). I gained popularity in the downe scene overnight. I became associated with all the well-known downe boys in the scene.

All seem well, but I soon notice the consequences to popularity. I got so absorbed into the scene that I dated just about 26 guys in a period of 8 months. I became ONE OF THEM; the downe populars. I dated all the cute well-known downe scene guys and their exes as well. Everything became a VERY small world. So small that at every downe party, whether it was in the bay area or southern california, when somebody mentions my name or my face the topics and chitchatting brewed about the recent rumors about me. When I would attend a party with a friend, someone would whisper derogatory things about me. Calling me various names. The drama went so out of hand that RIDICULOUS rumors about me formed. ONES that didn't even make sense!

It got very tiresome. And with the consequences I came to see the sides of these downe populars. The shallow side. If you aren't cute then you're not in. If you're cute, you're in but watch out because loyalty within the scene is not very strong. Competition within the scene is very prominent amongst its peers.

My experiences were not all bad, however. I made lifelong friends and enemies just the same.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A. C., Mixed, Union City/San Diego CA, 20

I approach writing this memoir/grievance with an unquestionable nervousness. Though I have established a reputation among my peers for being a spitfire, the idea of my experience –which relates to none of the previous posted experiences in any way, shape or form – being visible to a greater population was, is, and will always be intimidating. To be truthful, I’ve actually vocalized my concerns time and time again, but I did so to an audience who was disappointingly unwilling to listen. The more I spoke, the more I was convinced that my opinions regarding the Downe subculture were falling on deaf ears. I in fact accredit a fraction of my courage in writing these words to the idea that they will be ignored in tandem with my previous banters.

With this courage came a defeatist attitude – my conviction that nobody would read at one point drove me to believe there was no point in exhausting myself to write in the first place. I had spent years trying to immerse myself in a culture that closed their doors in front of me – so why would they suddenly open and let in a story that didn’t contain the happy Downe ending everyone else’s did? However, inspiration came in Ben Cabangun’s response to a particular grievance, a response to this project overall, which contained memoirs of people I simply could not relate to. Rather than align with the majority and ignore my enraged verse, he encouraged me to elaborate on these feelings through writing them down, and insisted that my stories were just as relevant to his project as those which glorified the Downe subculture.

I’m well aware that, upon reading this, many will slam label upon label against me. It’s an abuse I’m too familiar with, so if you think tracking me down via various networking websites and cursing me out will render me vulnerable, you’re completely out of luck. I’ve developed thick skin over the years and at this point in my life, I’m damn sure that the last thing that can break my spirits are the words of people who are too busy immersed in their own self-commoditization to give respect to the story of someone who didn’t look, sound, or act like them, but did so with pride. At the same time, I’m not asking for sympathy. Endless IMs of “I’m hella sorry” won’t undo whatever damage one might have caused. All I want is people to read, and understand that, as welcoming as the Downe subculture may be to some, it is extremely marginalizing to others, and if people want the Downe subculture to be as open and familial as the past accounts claim it to be, action must be taken to foster progressive change.

I came out to my friends and family during my junior year of high school. My experience was a lot better than most experiences tend to play out, based on other accounts – my parents were receptive and my friends even joked that I was suddenly ten times cooler than before. After coming out, the rest of my high school career felt like heaven: I had been through two relationships, maintained a secure network of friends I trusted, and was on my way to my undergraduate studies at the University of California, San Diego. Throughout this whole experience, however, I hadn’t developed a network of friends who were LGBT-affiliated, and I hoped that through the Downe movement and Downelink.com I would be able to realize this endeavor. It was after doing so, however, that the positive vibes left me behind.

When I first activated my Downelink account and browsed around, the population boggled my mind. I knew that living in a suburb separated me from the rest of the world, but I still had no clue that the LGBTQIA population within the world, let alone the state, was so immense. Upon further browsing, I noticed several other things, such as the remarkable amount of nudity (and consequently high number of friends for profiles with such nudity), the fact that the Asian and Pacific Islander community made up the undeniable majority of active members, and the fact that everyone already seemed to know each other. Most importantly, it didn’t take me very long to realize that none of these people, established in reputation and swagger, related to me at all.

It may seem unfair to equate the Downe subculture with Downelink.com – after all, a networking website can only go so far as to define the community that has formed through bonfires, conferences, and other sorts of in-person mingling – but at the same time I get the vibe that the Downe subculture is Downelink.com. People use it to network because it obviously works to a more convenient level, given the speed and ease at which one can browse through fifty or so photographs. Chatrooms, picture comments, messages and testimonials serve to further eliminate the barrier of physical distance between two people. Given this plethora of options, it would seem impossible for someone to maintain social invisibility and remain excluded from groups. I soon learned, however, that such was most definitely not the case.

I will admit that Downelink helped me get my first date, and that I am very close friends with a boy whom I wouldn’t have met without the website, but the benefits of maintaining my profile stop there. I’ve tried time and time again to network in an honest and progressive manner, only to have genuine messages ignored by man upon man who feels they have license to disregard me on the basis of my visage alone. When I first attempted to align myself with the Downe movement, I unfortunately missed the memo that I was supposed to have activated my Downelink no later than my freshman year of high school if I didn’t already have gay friends, because starting any later is starting too late. Thus, before even activating, I had already made a mistake and was far behind. I also missed the memo that the mere existence of extra fat on my stomach was tantamount to second-class Downe citizenship. Several other things were instantly not working to my benefit – most notably, as a Mixed Asian American, my acceptance in the community became dependent on how hot I looked, and unfortunately for those who fetishize the Mixed Asian American, I was not Sam Milby reincarnate.

Ronald Sese claims that the Downe movement is not subtle racism. I agree; the racism is blatant. The gap between acceptance as an Asian American in the Downe community and a non-Asian American is so outstanding that you could probably fit a stealth bomber in between it. People insist that they want to get to know people beyond color and body-type but interactions and pictures prove otherwise – Downelink materializes the politics of sex and belonging. It’s not my fault that my parents are of two very different ethnic backgrounds. That’s like saying I played an integral role in choosing who my parents fucked – it’s nonsensical. It’s not my fault I grew up in a Bay Area suburb too far away from San Francisco and not in a city as restless as Los Angeles. It’s definitely not my fault that my body isn’t built like an Olympic gymnast – chocolate and ice cream haven’t ever broken my heart, while men have. In terms of talent, I have definitely paid my dues - I choreograph folk dances for Kaibigang Pilipino @ UCSD, enjoy singing, can draw, and I speak four languages. It’s unfortunate that not looking the part of a star has clouded any hope for these talents to emerge within the Downe community. I am just as beautiful, talented, and motivated as any other person who aligns themselves with the Downe movement, though these strengths aren’t necessarily executed in similar fashions. I just wish that this difference didn’t have to create such a separation – but it’s not like that’s my fault.

Outside the online realm, my experiences with the Downe subculture are no more uplifting. I believed that I had maintained a close network with friends at UCSD who had identified with the Downe subculture, until at a semiformal event, when they asked me to photograph their group without me. I had later learned that the group frequently went to GAMeboi, the most popular dance club in West Hollywood for the Downe community, without me. I wanted to believe that they were exclusive for reasons that weren’t as shallow as phenotypic differences; after all, a friend of mine who hung out with them was Mexican American and went with them to GAMeboi on occasion. I soon learned that they were only using him for his car – when another friend returned to UCSD with a car, this Mexican American friend was no longer invited to go clubbing. Another instance involved two friends who I had talked to frequently before they realized how compatible they were with the Downe clique. One had not yet learned to embrace his homosexuality, while the other was just entering UCSD and thus had no opportunity to immerse his self further. I maintained close yet strictly conversational relations with the two, until they both encountered the UCSD Downe community, and from then on, both physical and conversational communication was limited, and despite any close relationships that might have formed through the months or so I spent talking to these people, the two had learned to embrace Downe acceptance in a manner that eclipsed whatever friendships might have developed between us. The interesting thing is, attempts to approach these people individually usually are successful for the most part, but when Downe folk are a collective entity, they refuse to do so much as regard any communicative action on behalf of myself with respect.

I understand that no amount of gym time, tanning, and starving myself will ever get my body to look the way that the typical Downer’s does. That’s fine with me, for I’ve learned over the years how to make my flaws beautiful – a necessary skill that the shallow Downe community is too busy inciting drama to grasp. In spite of this, as much pride as I have in my own physical and spiritual makeup, I cannot deny that I often blame this lack of acceptance to my own insecurity, due to the fact in which the majority of fit, popular, Asian American half-naked men dominate over my ability to vocalize effectively. It’s easy to feel like you’re the one at fault when friends who maintained good relations with you suddenly leave you for better-looking cliques and stop communicating. It’s easy to feel like you’re the one at fault when there’s nobody out there who looks, acts, or sounds like you. It’s easy to feel like you’re the one at fault when nobody is listening. And frankly, I’m tired of the disrespect.

I maintain my Downelink profile, but under “Orientation” I put “Gay” because my experiences have taught me, while being defined as gay goes little beyond homosexuality and stereotypical flagrance, being defined as Downe creates this condescending and self-glorifying aura about oneself that I’m not willing to accept. I have worked too hard for myself and for others to accept a label that would only hold me down (pardon the pun) and make others assume that I am cliquey and materialistic. The only reason I maintain my Downelink profile is to hold strong to my tenet of acceptance, so that, unlike the majority of the population, there can be someone in the midst of the networking chaos who actually lives up to the credo of diversity of which he boasts.

It would be ignorant to assume that the Downe subculture and Downelink.com are both nothing but bad news for the LGBT community, and to assume that these two phenomena did not in any way contribute positively to gay empowerment, networking, and friendships among peers, both Asian and non-Asian. At the same time, it would be empowering to understand fully the reason why cliques form within the Downe community and thus divide the people it seeks to unite. Maybe someday someone at the top tier of the Downe social hierarchy will defy assumptions and take progressive action, but until that day comes, I feel that I’ll constantly fall victim to stereotypes and assumptions as to what my purpose in this community or any community is.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

N.A., Mixed; San Diego, CA, 20

My coming out was a horrible experience. When I was 18 I had dropped out of school and moved home. When I told my parents my dad walked out of the room. One day I got into a car accident with one of my friends. When my mom found out, she was still only concerned about my coming out instead of the fact that I was just in a car accident. I feel like my parents just “swept it under the rug.” Today, I’m really proud of them, they’re working as much as they can to understand who I am.

One time a friend asked me “Are you Downe?” I had no idea what that meant. Now that I know what it means today, I think it’s bullshit. Since when did we start identifying by a website? Whatever happened to social cliques? I feel like today we have to hide behind a computer screen, and because of that, people can be anything they want to be. I think people should be real with themselves.

At Rage you can find all of the Filipinos in the hip-hop room upstairs. I know that the downe community is trying to separate themselves from the gay mainstream, but as someone who is not Filipino looking into this community, I feel like they try too hard to classify themselves that they end up creating their own stereotype. It’s like they’re sticking their flag in their own community. Now days, it seems as if they all know each other. If I date one guy, I’ll find out that he dated this guy, who is the ex of that guy, who dated this guy…etc. These spaces never change, what changes are the faces we see.

Friday, February 9, 2007

M. F., Filipino; Walnut, CA, 19

Growing up, I was never exposed to anything such as homosexuality. I grew up in a small town where the majority of the people I knew were white conservatives. It was difficult enough to be a minority living in an all white neighborhood, and being openly gay at that time would have just complicated things even further. It's strange because I led a completely straight life, or at least attempted to, without even knowing that I was in fact gay. I had girlfriends, I liked girls; or at least I thought I did. I never really understood what attracted me to them. It could have been their outfit choices and femininity for all I know.

After moving to Walnut and making a diverse group of friends, I realized that I became increasingly curious about men. It was in my sophomore or junior year of high school when I first came out to someone. I remember that day and the days to follow as if they were just yesterday. I remember being so scared when someone would confront me about it and ask me if what people were saying was true. A part of me always wanted to deny it and continue to keep myself closeted, but I didn't. I discovered that being gay isn't something that I should be ashamed of, and I also realized that people respected and accepted me more when I truly acted like myself.

In the few months following my "coming out," I experienced more things than I have in my entire life. I was very reckless and I went through all of the things that people usually experience at older ages. I had smoked, drank alcohol, gone clubbing, and had sex. But aside from all of those things that I did, I also had my first meaningful relationship with a guy. In the time that we were together, it was incredible. But, as an example of the stereotype that gay relationships usually don't last very long, our relationship came to an end. I have to admit, that just until recently, I believed in that description of the stereotypical gay male. I believed that all gay men are out to just hook up and have sex without any of the responsibilities that come with it. I also believed that gay relationships never last and usually end because of infidelity or loss of interest. But, being with my boyfriend now, I have gained so much confidence in our community and I believe that all of those views can be changed, and that we should seriously make examples of those who stray away from those stereotypes.

Now, being a first year in college and being out to the majority of my friends and a few members of my family, I have grown to become a more aware and more responsible person. I'm still 'within the scene' and, like most people of our community, go to Rage and network on myspace and downelink. But, I'm safer about what I do and who I become friends with and I think that's something really important that we should all practice. Being who we are, it will probably always be a struggle for us, but I realized that being gay is more of a unique characteristic than a flaw.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

G.C., Chinese; Los Angeles, CA, 22

I grew up in LA, in an area that was very Asian. My high school was predominantly Asian, and there were a lot of “Asian thugs”. I was not that way, I turned heads, I was “the gay guy”. I never cared about producing a straight-acting image. It helped me become who I am today.

I came out when I was 16 years old. I was pretty young when I was active in the scene. This has definitely played a significant role in my experience. The stereotypes deemed on us didn’t only come from white men; they were internalized, and even enforced by other Asian men. I find these stereotypes very offensive. Once, on gay.com, I was bombarded with messages from older white men asking me if I needed “financial aid”, thus implying money in exchange for sexual favors. I’m sorry, but I am not a tool nor a plaything nor an object. I throw up whenever a guy comes up to me asking for “boy pussy”. It’s vulgar. It’s offensive. I am not the stereotypical smooth feminine Asian boy. I was at LA Pride once, and I was walking in the parade. This group of Christians protesting our march shouted to me “Bad Bad Buddha!” Apparently because I’m Asian, and I’m gay, I’m sinning against Buddha. It’s sad to say that these views of Asian men are still common today.

My white friends always talk about Tigerheat. All the white boys are out on Thursday nights, while all the Asian boys were at home waiting for GAMeboi on Fridays. However, when my Asian friends and I go to Tigerheat, I notice many things. There definitely was an Asian corner. Even out on the smoking patio there was an Asian corner. What was so different about Buddha Lounge and Red Dragon was that those venues were spaces for white men to find Asian men. At Tigerheat, Asian men are never at the top of the list for men searching for men. We were ignored and stepped on. I’m not surprised, in a club full on guys who don’t find Asian men attractive, why would they be considerate? Stepping away from our Asian corner, it was like a foreign land.

GAMeboi is a place you can be you and have fun. This community is experiencing a movement. In the mainstream gay community, the gay Asian scene is always perceived in one category. We are ALL viewed as the femme bottom boys. The downe scene allows us to be ourselves and individuals, butch, femme, and all other respective roles. We have no need to push that stereotypical image. It’s empowering.

The word “verse” becomes so much more common among Asian men than it used to be. I once told a guy I was verse and he didn’t believe me. He replied “You’re verse? But you’re Asian?” Apparently white men don’t believe in Asians as versatile sexual partners.

What I love about this community is that we have moved past that. Experiencing stereotyping and facing them has made me realize my place in the fight for liberation. Liberation for this community and myself. I view downe as a community, as a group with common interests and goals striving for a similar cause.

V.L., Chinese; Oakland, CA, 19

I never envisioned it as a movement. I never saw a difference between identifying as gay and downe. Now that I have become aware of this issue, I am now noticing that this in fact is a movement. I grew up in a school environment that was very ethnically diverse. There were a lot of minorities at my high school. But despite the presence of many ethnic communities at my school, there was a lack of a queer community. Coming out my senior year of high school, I was not able to find a queer community to associate with. With the prominent portrayal of a “straight-acting” persona, I felt the need to portray the masculine straight-acting image in order for acceptance. That as well as family pressures and expectations.

The lack of white men on my campus as well as the community probably caused the lack of my attraction to white men today. In a prospective partner, besides being Asian, I definitely look for maturity, direction, independence and stability.

I see the downe identity similar to the down-low. Maybe even someone who does not what to admit they are gay. But I also see it as a sub-culture within the gay community. When one hears the word gay or sees a gay person, they have automatic stereotypes of a loud “gay-pride” kind of guy. I think the downe identity is a reconstruction of the gay identity.

Monday, January 15, 2007

R.S., Filipino: San Francisco, CA, 18

To me, being 'downe' means many different things. It means to have that strong community to turn to that can give support for the special interests you share. This isn't fetishism. This isn't subtle racism. This is justice, appreciation of heritage and yes, even a subconscious rebellion against our parents and grandparents. We are strong asian men who want to challenge the status quo. We will not glorify another race by means of stereotypes & ideas put into our heads by our parents, but instead we will thrive, culturally grow & fight the mainstream so that we are not exoticized for being something we know we aren't; some bullshit idea of the ideal submissive gaysian man often compared to the ideal of an asian sex slave or even a geisha.