Straight, Asian American and Alone

Originally published at: Newcomers of New York

It’s 2014, and the dating habits of New Yorkers, always cosmopolitan, are now more visibly diverse than ever. While Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda were once the (white) faces of big apple romance on the small screen, a new generation of fictional daters are making multiracial love mainstream – like OB/GYN Mindy Lahiri, played by South Asian actor Mindy Kaling on Fox‘s Manhattan-based comedy, “The Mindy Project”.

With over 50 percent of New Yorkers unmarried, and approval ratings of interracial dating at an all-time high, it seems like it’s going to be a good year for the newest non-white New Yorkers looking for love.

Unless, that is, you’re an Asian man, says Vietnamese American, former engineer and current dating coach, JT Tran.

Tran is the love guru behind ABC’s of Attraction, a pick-up system designed to help heterosexual Asian men in America find dates. Traveling across the country to major metropolitan cities, Tran hosts bootcamps during which he shares his secrets to picking up women with anybody willing to shell out the $1,650 to take his three day course.  For those who need more intensive help, Tran offers one-on-one sessions in New York and Los Angeles for $4,500.

Based on the activities of other prominent pick-up artists like Neil Strauss, Tran devised his ABC’s  to specifically cater to the needs of first and second generation American Asians.  His December 2013 NYC bootcamp was sold out weeks in advance; New York has been the first city to fill all its seats for the last three years, says Tran.

Tran’s program was created to solve a simple problem – a second generation Asian American himself (albeit based in Texas), Tran couldn’t get girls.  Statistically, he was playing against the odds. Women, of any race, are half as likely to date Asian men as they are white men, a 2007 research study by Columbia University found.

Tran believes that online dating websites and apps haven’t helped the situation since then.

“Malcolm Gladwell calculated that Asian men would have to make $247,000 more than a white man in order to get the same response rates (on dating sites),” said Tran.

“I mean that’s a quarter of a million, that’s a Bentley just to get the same response rate,” he said. “OK Cupid has done a few studies and universally, Asian men fall distinctly in last place. ”

Flipping through dating apps like TindereHarmony  and even the more youth-oriented OK Cupid, a common aversion to Asian, particularly East Asian, men is plainly visible. Phrases like “no Asians,”and “no Fried Lice” appear in bio blurbs to discourage Asian men from contacting their owners.

It’s called “preemptive discrimination,” writes Kevin Lewis, a researcher from the University of California San Diego in a 2013 report. Online dating allows someone to justify their inner prejudices by claiming that they’re just not attracted to certain ethnic characteristics. As if not wanting to date the members of a whole race is the same as not being attracted to red hair, or bushy eyebrows. Even the founder of Tinder, Justin Mateen, has been accused of anti-Asian racism.

The prevalent aversion to Asian men amongst women in the dating pool is partially the fault of the media, says Tran.  Depictions of Asian men in American pop culture playing comic roles or as subservient  sidekicks don’t set up expectations of virile lotharios in real life. When women look at characters like Ken Jeong’s giggling ghoul Chang, in NBC’s Community, or Ken Jeong’s erratic gnome Leslie Chow, in The Hangover, or Ken Jeong’s grotesque (and transphobic) transvestite Ballerina, in Burning Love, they’re rarely struck with untamable lust.

“I think that the emasculated image of Asian men tends to be true amongst most groups of women. The media plays a part, culture plays a part, it tends to be pretty normal for women to not think of Asian men as sexual people, I think,” he said.

Worse, though, Tran says that many Asian men begin to internalize the image the media promotes of them. This makes Asian men often their own worst enemies in the dating scene.

He said, “We are exposed to that selfsame media of being emasculated and treated as second class citizens and, at some point, some guys begin to believe that it sucks being Asian and “woe is me” and it creates that kind of victimization.”

One of the major goals of Tran’s program is to reverse that process of internalization — to encourage Asian men to see themselves differently. It’s one of the reasons his course is specifically tailored to its ethnic clientele. Tran believes New York, with its significant population of second generation Asian immigrants, is in desperate need of his help.

The second biggest obstacle that Tran feels his trainees  encounter is also embedded in their immigrant roots.

“Typically for Asian American immigrant families the family concentrates on those things that are necessary to survive and flourish in America which creates the social isolation affect and puts pressure on the son to stay within the family to take care of Mom and Dad and things like that,” he said.

Specifically, men from Asian American immigrant families tend to focus on their education and work, to the detriment of their social skills, says Tran.

“(Asian men) were told to concentrate on their goals and their career and then women would fall into their lap and that kind of life path would naturally happen. And once they did all that they discovered that having a job, women wouldn’t just come flocking. It might enable them to be able to date but one does not  follow the other.”

Tran’s course helps to build up the social skills that may be lacking. He also works extensively with new immigrants who may struggle with language skills and culture clash. And, Tran says, his methods have met some success; he officiated his first wedding in September, 2013. The groom was a New Yorker who found his bride after attending one of Tran’s bootcamps several years ago.

Tran says he finds his work fulfilling and he feels he’s making a difference, in a small way. But it’s going to take more than him to make the love scales balanced.

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