It was a regular day on the old social media feed. I was seeing what my old boss was up to on his Insta stories when one image stopped me dead in my tracks. It was a photo of Steven Yeun of Minari fame. The photo was part of the cover story for the April issue of GQ. Yeun was basking in the golden afternoon light like he just woke up from a nap, shirt unbuttoned half-way. I did what any rational adult would do: took a screen shot and saved it for my ‘special alone times’.
How did little Glen, that wily pizza boy from The Walking Dead, grow up to be such a fine specimen of a man? The photo shoot coincided with the historic announcement of Yeun's nomination for an Oscar for Best Lead Actor. Yeun is the first Asian-American nominee in the category for his role as Jacob in Minari. Eye candy aside, Minrari was also the first movie my partner Andrew and I saw physically at the cinemas in over a year after the pandemic struck.
Watching movies has always been an important part of our relationship from the beginning. It still is. Andrew is a cinephile. He doesn't discriminate. He loves excellent ‘bad cinema’ as much as questionable art house films. When we play trivia, he is the freak that knows every actor’s names, the directors’ names, their entire back catalog of work, everything. I find his IMDB knowledge sexy. Which is strange, because when we first met, I wasn't into Asian men at all.
Like me, Andrew is Vietnamese-Catholic. I had always vowed that I would never marry someone like him. My mum had a turbulent relationship with my father.
Like me, Andrew is Vietnamese-Catholic. I had always vowed that I would never marry someone like him. My mum had a turbulent relationship with my father. Growing up, she would routinely tell my sister and I to avoid Vietnamese men. Occasionally, she might even suggest, why don't we avoid men in general and become nuns?
So when I met Andrew, it was already deeply ingrained in my psyche to not find Asian men attractive. Which is why I was surprised to find myself drawn to him. He is six foot tall, slender, slightly nerdy with glasses, a great dresser. He was also into alternative music and indie films. In other words - an Asian version of the guy I grew up having a crush on throughout my teens: Seth Cohen of the OC.
Andrew himself didn’t identify as attractive. Growing up an Asian male in a predominately caucasian neighbourhood, he had absorbed the message that ‘attractiveness’ was just not a quality associated with him. On the magazine stand at his parents’ independent grocery store, each Dolly or Girlfriend would routinely have Nick Carter or Brad Pitt labeled as the heart throb. There were no ethnic minorities that graced the cover as “hottest man alive”. Not even Idris Elba was considered attractive back in the 90s and he is so damn fine.
When Andrew started dating a caucasian girl, he would regularly get high-fived for it. White men going for Asian women is common. But an Asian boy with a white girl was rare. Even when he would get compliments on his looks it was always with a disclaimer. “You're really handsome - for an Asian”. Or “I'm not normally attracted to Asians but you're alright”. That was the flip side of yellow fever - the objectification of Asian women went hand in hand with the de-sexualisation of Asian men, as ‘the other’.
When Andrew started dating a caucasian girl, he would regularly get high-fived for it.
For all the annoyance at the oversight of male Asian hotness, I must confess - for a while I was guilty of of my own prejudice. It wasn’t until meeting Andrew that I realised that across the board of humanity, the notion of ‘beauty’ isn’t hinged on whatever ethnicity they happen to be. Andrew would be a beautiful, caring, and physically attractive person if he was any other race. But while it seems obvious now, that wasn’t something I understood immediately. Because such is the power of systemic racism - it’s hard to be attracted to who you can’t see.
These days, the world is slowly getting better at recognising the beauty in Asian men. BTS have become synonymous to ‘heartthrob’, Steven Yeun has taken his rightful place on magazine covers that was once reserved for white Hollywood stars. Marvel have just dropped the trailer starring Simu Liu of Kim's Convenience fame. He is the first Asian comic book hero to ever grace our screens and he's a total stud.
As for me, I have become an unlikely beneficiary of the society telling Asian men they aren’t attractive. A part of me suspects I am punching above my weight with my husband, since we met at a time when he had no idea how handsome he is. But truth be told, I'm happy to reap the benefits.