I've always had much respect for Alison Bechdel and her wonderful work on the life of lesbians in the big American city. Unfortunately, the recent turn of events in her comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, has left me and my other Asian dyke friends feeling disappointed and betrayed.
In strip 280 (1998) Ginger (African American) learns from Lois (white) that their housemate Sparrow (Asian) had began seeing a man. Previously, Sparrow had broken up with Asian girlfriend June. The reason: June had suggested having an open relationship since June was going to Boston for an MBA.
Of the 3 housemates Ginger, Lois and Sparrow, Sparrow (the Asian) is the most femme-looking. Lois (white) is heavily into non-monogamy. Sparrow, as evidenced from the breakup with June, is stuck on monogamy. This certainly does not negate the white-male-constructed mainstream stereotype of the Oriental female as being ultra-feminine and loyal/dedicated/faithful/yadda-yadda.
In strip 283 The Ice Man Cometh Sparrow appears confused when questioned by Ginger and Lois about her boyfriend, giving answers like "I don't know", "...I think so". She also admits under questioning from Lois to want to be "schtupping" the white man she was seeing. Sparrow hardly seems to be in control of the direction of her life and doesn't even know what she wants. Again, the weak emotionally vulnerable Asian woman.
In strip 286 Buying the Farm Sparrow moves out with the balding bespectacled white man Stuart. Subsequent strips show condoms, spermicide etc. Of all the dykes featured in the strip, why does it have to be the main Asian character who gets picked to play "turncoat" and sleep with a man?
And why a white man? Interracial sexual couplings involving white males and Oriental females already dominate white male fantasies represented in mainstream media. I come to a dyke strip for refuge from mainstream oppressions, not for the same stereotypes.
In strip 295, It's a lifestyle choice, Sparrow suspects she might be pregnant. Strip 306 finds her in a drugstore buying a home pregnancy test kit. The store clerk embarrasses her by calling out her order over the microphone. She then runs into Stuart, something she wasn't planning to do.
The vulnerability of unplanned pregnancy is again the sole privilege of the sole Asian main character in Dykes to Watch Out For. All the other lesbians who got pregnant, both white and of color, planned it.
The strip certainly doesn't give Sparrow any control over events in her life: incidents like getting embarrased in the drugstore and running into Stuart when she least wanted to REPEATEDLY emphasize Sparrow's vulnerability. While these things are certainly not anybody's fault if they happen in real life, in the story, they only serve to highlight Sparrow's powerlessness and expose her in a way no other character has been exposed.
I am saddened by the portrayal of the main Asian character in Dykes to Watch Out For. On a secondary note, let's see Asian dykes getting together with other dykes of color for a change. I don't believe I've seen an Asian dyke paired with another dyke of color in Dykes to Watch Out For. Even for minor characters, they are always Asian and white. Alison Bechdel has portrayed black and black couplings, black and white couplings, black and Latina couplings, Asian and white couplings, but certainly no Asian and other folks of color couplings. This trend is also in keeping with mainstream media.