Asian-American lesbians exist, and is there to prove it


Yesterday, in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I counted down the top five queer Asian-American women in media and entertainment; today I’m revisiting some of’s coverage of queer Asian women in general. Despite the general paucity of Asian Americans on television and in film, there is a solid group of work out there about lesbian and bisexual Asian Americans, and I have to admit one of my favorites is the 2004 film Saving Face:

In this quirky romantic comedy, young doctor Wil (Michelle Krusiec) struggles with her relationship with her mother, played by Joan Chen (who is unexpectedly and scandalously pregnant), while she falls in love with Vivian (Lynn Chen). Yeah, parts of it are cheesy, but hey, it’s set in New York, they eat a lot of Chinese food, and everybody’s happy in the end. I loved it!

Saving Face isn’t, interestingly enough, the only film about a Chinese-American lesbian; in 2005, Georgia Lee‘s debut feature Red Doors was released. This drama/comedy about a uniquely dysfunctional Chinese-American family includes a story line about daughter Julie Wong (Elaine Kao), another doctor, who falls for bombshell actress Mia Scarlett (Mia Riverton).

Following in the family drama vein, Chutney Popcorn (1999) from out director and actor Nisha Ganatra is about Reena (Ganatra), a young Indian-American lesbian who offers to be a surrogate mother to her infertile sister.

In The Gymnast (2006), Addie Yungmee plays Serena, the graceful lesbian acrobat who falls in love with previously heterosexual Jane (Dreya Weber). And in Some Prefer Cake (1998), Machiko Saito plays a one-night stand who comes back to haunt the main character. In her review of the film, Danielle Riendeau wrote, “Saito is an incredible scene-stealer and plays Katie with fantastic comedic instincts.”

You know what’s so great about these movies? None of the lesbians die in the end! In fact, they pretty much all survive to live another day and even end up with a girlfriend. Hopefully, the upcoming romantic comedy When Kiran Met Karen, about an Indian-American actress who falls for her female co-star, will continue this positive trend.

Television, sadly, hasn’t been as kind to lesbian/bi Asian Americans. On the short-lived sitcom Coupling, Lindsay Price played a stereotypically manipulative bisexual, Jane. This past season on The L Word, biracial actress Sandrine Holt (she is of Chinese and French descent) played the wealthy (and, OK, manipulative) gambler Catherine Rothberg, though her Asian background seemed to have nothing to do with her character. (For a positive portrayal of an Asian lesbian on television, you have to go north of the border to Canada’s teen drama Edgemont, in which Grace Park, now on Battlestar Galactica, played a lesbian high school student.)

In real life, there aren’t too many out Asian-American women celebrities, but there are a good handful. If you haven’t done so already, read our interview with Margaret Cho or catch up on what Jenny Shimizu was up to last year. Don’t forget about outspoken poet (and co-host of She Said What?) Staceyann Chin and directors Alice Wu and Ligy Pullappally. And in 2003 we spoke to openly lesbian Kashish Chopra, who won the Miss Congeniality award at the Miss India U.S.A. pageant.

If you’re interested in looking beyond the borders of the United States, we’ve covered queer Asian women across the globe as well. In “Queer Asian Women Gain Momentum in Western Entertainment,” Helen Madison examines the evolution of queer Asian women in film and TV, including Joan Chen‘s sexy role in Wild Side. “From Fire to Journey to Kiran” explores how representations of Indian lesbians in film have changed over time. “China’s Super Girl Li Yuchun” takes a look at the 2006 winner of China’s American Idol-style pop music contest.

We’ve covered films set outside the U.S., too, from the Indian-Scottish romantic comedy Nina’s Heavenly Delights (which should be coming to the U.S. this year) to The Journey (2005), about young women in rural India who fall in love with each other, and the classic film Fire. Les Filles du Botaniste is set in 1980s China, while Butterfly is set in present-day Hong Kong, and Lily Festival is a rare exploration of lesbian sexuality among older Japanese women.

Finally, readers have had a treasure trove of same-sex stories in the Japanese tradition of manga (read “An Introduction to Yuri Manga and Anime”). More recently, Korean graphic novelist June Kim’s 12 Days was released, telling a moving tale about Jackie mourning the death of her lover, Noah.

If I have to say so myself, I think we’ve done a pretty good job. But we’re always on the lookout for more Asian-American lesbians and bi women (as well as more women of color) to feature, so if you have any suggestions, please let us know.

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