Crossing Boundaries: Familiarizing Queer Asian American Media

By Kaitlin Wright

“When I came out of the closet in college in the late 1980s, I thought I was a unicorn. That is, I believed that I was a mythical creature. Surely I was the only gay Asian-American person in the universe. All the gay spaces that I belonged to were white, and all the Asian-American spaces that I belonged to were straight. There couldn’t possibly be others like me!”

Rev. Patrick S. Cheng “A Unicorn at the White House”

Asian American history is littered with hundreds of stereotypes. These stereotypes have a way of dwarfing the existing realities of individual Asian Americans. In light of showcasing the factual realities of Asian Americans, stereotypes and labels are a way of compartmentalizing people into categories. The problem is that obviously not everyone fits into these categories, nor are these categories stable. In “In the Arms of Pirates, Under the Bodies of Sailors” by Mimi Thi Nguyen the theme of precarious boundaries is discussed in relation to Nguyen Tan Hoang’s PIRATED! film. The film exposes and crosses boundaries between child and adult, male/female sexuality, and fantasy and reality. The ambiguous relationship between these themes asserts that specific “truths” are not completely stable. Nguyen writes, “a fixed sense of self becomes impossible” (68).  People’s lives and memories are fragmented and in trying to piece the story together people fashion what is before them around generic conventions. 

In the movie PIRATED!  there are a lot of repeated images that might allude to this regurgitated reality that people have fixed around certain stereotypes. The video repeats images over and over again in an attempt to construct a narrative. The key here is the constructedness of the narrative. For instance, there are images of a boy sleeping in a hammock immediately followed by half-naked homosexual pirates. The way these two different scenes are ordered implies that the boy is dreaming of these sexual pirates. The film thus disrupts the naivety of children’s dreams and at the same time comments on the persistent myth of the “gay pirate”. By coupling images of children with adult themes such as sexuality is one example of how the filmmaker tries to disavow or at least acknowledge, the judgement the audience makes in terms of the fabricated “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “bad” of our culture. 

This idea of a constructed image is applicable not only in terms of being gay or straight, but this identity image compares to the boundary of race. Racism is about prejudice based on race; A superiority is set up that limits one group in relation to another. Like with sexual orientation, there can be a false hierarchy established in society that limits the visibility of homosexuals of color. Using art such as the film PIRATED! helps to show the need for a “disruption of the hope for a static, pure, or essential identity” (74). There isn’t only one way to describe or to “know” someone. Films and other pieces reveal the supposed “unwavering truths” of our culture to be relatively unstable after all. 

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