Gentlemen Prefer Asians
By Yuska Lutfi Tuanakotta
Published 2016 by ThreeL Media | Stone Bridge Press
$14.95 paperback ISBN 9780996485203
Reviewed by Krista Varela Posell
Yuska Lutfi Tuanakotta’s first book, Gentlemen Prefer Asians, is a collection of essays that details the marriages of three gay Indonesian men in their pursuit to become US citizens. Though the book’s subtitle is “Tales of Gay Indonesians and Green Card Marriages,” the essays amount to so much more, creating a nuanced portrait of family, love, and friendship in the 21st century.
The book begins with meditation on the impact of our memories, the way they “occupy,” “attack,” and “metastasize,” establishing one of the recurring themes throughout the book. The narrator invites us in to relive some of these “precious fragments” from his life, launching us into a narrative that is raw, vulnerable, and dynamic.
Throughout these essays we are introduced to multiple characters, many of whom are referred to by their profession: The Pilot, The Baker, The Nurse, and even the narrator’s husband is referred to as The Musician. In this way, the focus of the story is geared toward the narrator and his two Indonesian friends, Ario and Jaya. We witness the history of the narrator’s former relationships in a series of essays entitled “Gentlemen Suite.” Other minor but important characters include the narrator’s parents, who play a supportive role in supporting the narrator’s life. “Your Daddy’s Rich and Your Ma’s Good Lookin’” is an especially poignant essay that describes the narrator’s exodus from Indonesia from his mother’s perspective.
Ario and Jaya, two Indonesians married to American men, are the two other central characters and serve as a contrast to the narrator. Ario is somewhat conservative and subscribes to ideals about romantic love, yet complies with the open marriage his American husband desires and has trouble adapting to life in the US. Jaya is an outgoing, vivacious stud married to a man forty years his senior and, despite his bubbly demeanor, struggles to face his some of his own demons.
Many of the book’s most pivotal moments come through conversations between the narrator, Ario, and Jaya. These conversations highlight the insecurities and vulnerabilities of the three men within each of their relationships. Ario acts as the voice of wisdom for the trio and offers insight into the power dynamics between these men and their American husbands, spouting off lines like, “You are married, which means you are owned by a man,” and “Being equal means having power and power is sexy.”
Guiding us through these scenes is a narrator with a distinct voice that is witty and honest. He’s quirky, but intelligent. He’s well read and nerdy. He’s familiar with the Bible and Sylvia Plath, but also knows just as much about Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. He’s self-deprecating, describing himself as a “gay, feminine Klingon,” but this makes him all the more endearing. The self-awareness in the narrator’s voice gains the reader’s trust as he gives us an honest account of his previous relationships—the way he kept The Baker on the hook, the way he uses The Pilot as a rebound.
Tuanakotta plays with the essay form in multiple ways. Some of the essays experiment with the second and third person, and from multiple points of view. Other essays are lists—the “Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant Checklist” and “Permanent Resident Case Filing Checklist”—that give a more objective perspective into the process of becoming a citizen. While most of the book is rooted in scene, some essays collectively titled “The Demons of Indonesia” are devoted to exposition, bringing the reader up to speed on the current political climate and LGBT movement in Indonesia. These acknowledgements of the queer struggle on a global level help to illuminate the complicated feelings that the three main characters have toward their husbands, their marriages, and the places that they call home.
Ario asks the narrator about halfway through the book, “Would you still marry your husband if you were American?” to which the narrator doesn’t respond. This is one of the implicit central tensions of the book—the balance between trying to find true love and becoming an American citizen. Though the narrator’s marriage to The Musician is hardly played out on the page, it isn’t really the point. These stories don’t portray the typical fairy tale romance of finding true love and living happily ever after. Ario divorces his husband and returns to Indonesia, and Jaya resigns himself for the time being to a loveless marriage to ensure his future financial stability. The narrator himself ends on a note of ambivalence, acknowledging apprehension of the (at the time of publication) upcoming US presidential election. His final thoughts are a sobering reminder that we still have a lot of work to do to protect the voices of those like the narrator, Ario, and Jaya. Their stories must be heard and spread widely to continue the conversation.