My ethnicity is a mystery even to me. I tell people I’m broadly South Asian, but it’s because I say it to make sense to people. I have family members from South East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. My grandparents, who have a background from India and Iran, are from Burma. They had my mother in Pakistan, and she had me with my dad, who is from Pakistan. So it’s really a broad category to go through life.
I grew up in South Orange County, California, and, eventually, moved to North County. Orange County is generally very conservative and suburban so it was challenging trying to find ways to express my individuality.
The only references I had of other South Asians was Bollywood. They were speaking in languages I barely understood, and it was hard immediately relating to their lives.
I identify as a cisgender gay man. I think being a gay man is complex. On one hand, I like the validation I receive based on my appearance, but, on the other hand, I sometimes wish other men would value my ideas and what I do as a complete person. I understand I’m making choices to present my sexuality in ways that are risqué, and, yes, I believe it’s empowering, but I am also a complete person with thoughts and feelings.
For me, because I don’t read as East Asian, I think it’s hard for people to question my masculinity by looking at me. For me, it happens in a different way where the expectation that I dominate someone because of my physique is always there, and it’s coded because of my ethnic background. Regardless of whatever I choose to do with how I express my masculinity, I feel like I should have the option of being able to decide how I interact sexually rather than it being presented as a given.
Everyone thinks I look Middle Eastern because I’m brown and hairy. People don’t associate Asian men with looking like me so I somehow must be in a different ethnic category to these people. So when they see me that way, that’s when they make assumptions about my sexuality. It was uncomfortable one time when a Jewish man asked me to pretend I was a Palestinian terrorist to his Israeli captive. I drew the line and walked out.
I think people just eroticize us because they think South Asians are Middle Eastern. I thoroughly understand the discrimination that East Asians go through, and, because, in the United States, a lot of people don’t see us as Asian, we don’t deal with the same kind of stigma. Granted, we don’t have the same amount of media representation or the political power as East Asians, but I do understand that I’m fetishized differently because of my body hair, physique, and skin color.
One of my best memories was walking down LA Fashion Week as an underwear model. That was one of my biggest personal achievements involving my sexuality.
I think the idea that our bodies aren’t valued the same way as white men is problematic. Like I feel like the onus is on me to have a perfect body to have half the cachet of a white man and to just survive in spaces. I became interested in bodybuilding because of the racism I endured, being ignored, and I even work a side gig as a personal trainer to help people combat racism.