Dear Graffiti Artist David Choe: "Yes With Her Eyes" Is Rape
Trigger alert: This post contains a graphic description of non-consensual sex.
Los Angeles artist David Choe became famous after painting a mural for the small office of a little-known startup called Facebook. He was paid by Mark Zuckerberg in company stock; when Facebook went public in 2012, Choe became instantly independently wealthy, with an estimated net worth of over $200 million. Choe also painted a portrait of President Barack Obama that was chosen to hang in the White House, and has collaborated frequently with Asian American magazine Giant Robot.
Beyond his artwork, Choe seems to aspire to become a celebrity personality. For several years, he co-hosted a VICE web series following his adventures hitchhiking across the country, and he still freelances as a correspondent for VICE (though possibly not for much longer. He also co-hosts a podcast called DVDASA with porn star Asa Akira, which is basically a low-budget Asian American version of the Howard Stern Show.
It was on DVDASA that Choe stirred up trouble. In a podcast on March 10, Choe recounted what he said was his latest “sexual conquest”—one that sounds disturbingly close to rape.
During the two-hour podcast, in which the hosts share salacious stories of their lives on the L.A. scene, Choe tells a story about going to get a massage. After becoming sexually aroused (even though it was “not that kind of massage place”), Choe begins to masturbate. Eventually Choe gropes the masseuse and asks her to pour massage oil on his penis. He then asks her to masturbate him; when she reluctantly obliges, he forces her to masturbate him more firmly. Finally, he asks her to give him oral sex. When she says no, he recounts forcing her mouth onto him until he ejaculates. Buzzfeed has a transcript, and you can watch the 30-minute segment for yourself below, starting at about 1:13:00.
Co-host Asa Akira immediately notes that Choe is basically confessing to rape, but Choe laughs her off, ultimately agreeing that his actions were “rapey” but saying that he “is not a rapist.” Instead, Choe insists that the masseuse was consenting—she repeatedly said no or was reluctant to do the things he asked for, but, he asserts, “she said yes with her eyes”—and afterward, Choe alleges that the masseuse asked for his number (at which point, Choe says he gave her a fake number and has basically vowed not to return to the massage parlor ever again).
Now, let’s be clear on a couple of things:
First, this is an alleged incident with no complaining victim and no corroborating evidence of any kind. Choe has not been arrested and is not charged with a crime, and there is the distinct possibility that he fabricated the entire incident in order to appear more macho and to allow his listeners to live vicariously through a sexual fantasy (which, if true is pretty much the height of pathetic). Indeed, Choe has insisted he made it all up, in a statement released Friday on the podcast’s website. So, before the internet lynch mob goes after David Choe, let’s remember that he is innocent until proven guilty; more specifically, he is an alleged rapist.
Second, and far more important: Choe's story meets every hallmark of what we define as rape. Rape is a straightforward concept. There is no such thing as “rapey.” There is no “rape spectrum” wherein things are “kinda rape.” There is no consent grey area. Rape is one of the few things in the world that are a binary: Either you have your partner’s consent or you do not. If your partner is not providing clear consent and you proceed with sex anyway, you are committing rape.
Choe provides a fantastic story, one wherein a woman is secretly infatuated with him but is reluctant to have sex with him in case she “falls in love” with him. She says “no” only to spur him to take more forceful action, but somehow she telepathically also communicates her consent “with her eyes.” Choe chooses to go not with her words, but with “his gut feeling” that she is a consenting partner. Sound like the revisionist history told by a narcissistic, delusional douchebag who kind of knows he’s guilty? Sure does to me.
Choe insists that “Rose”—the pseudonym he gives to his victim—never fought him off. She refused his money. She asked for his number afterward. Never does he consider that her actions might be those of a victim trying to navigate the waters of sexual assault committed by someone who is basically her employer for an hour; someone who is far richer and more powerful than her; someone who could easily get her fired. He never considers that perhaps the story about being in love with him is a tale told to dissuade him from forcing himself on her further; he never imagines that her refusal of his money is because she views the act as rape and plans to go to the police; he never thinks that perhaps her attempt to get his contact information is so that she can press charges.
The rules of consenting sex are pretty simple: “No” means no, not “maybe.” If there is doubt, stop and ask for clear consent. If someone wants to have sex with you, she will let you know.
Honestly, what most disturbed me here was how David Choe’s story caters to a particular subset of the Asian American community: the highly misogynist counter-movement to the Asian American emasculation stereotype, which emphasizes the objectification and sexual conquest of women to reinforce Asian American masculinity. I doubt it's a coincidence that DVDASA’s hosts are predominantly Asian American, or that Choe quips early in the segment that Asian American men are seen as non-threatening and are not targets of sexual desire. DVDASA, like the Pick-up Artistry community, targets a subset of Asian American men who are so damaged by society’s denigration of their sexuality—itself a problem worth addressing— that they wrongheadedly react with an exaggerated caricature of locker-room bro culture that objectifies and demeans women.
That this sort of subculture breeds misogyny (and, allegedly, rape) is not surprising: Here, women are not so much equal sexual partners as a means towards a reinforced masculine end. Choe and company are less interested in finding intimacy, and more interested in proving to the world at large that they are men, too. It’s a giant dick-waving contest, and one that treats the agency of women as collateral damage. These men are basically trying to fuck their way to sexual and political empowerment. Not surprisingly, this kind of mindset breeds subsequent hatred of feminism, of female agency, or of any other notion that women exist beyond mere tools for advancing the cause of Asian American masculinity and sexuality.
I don’t know if “Rose” was actually raped or not, or even whether she exists or not. I do know that Choe thinks that a story about raping “Rose” was worth bragging about to his friends and his podcast audience; and that tells you something about how Choe views women vis-a-vis the assertion of his own masculinity. For Choe, proving his (Asian American) masculinity is about the depiction of the conquest and exploitation of women, where consent is optional and rape is entertainment. This applies whether or not this depiction was, as Choe insists, fictional.
If “Rose” is out there and is real and is reading this: Rose, if you believe you were raped, I urge you to come forward and press charges. Asian American men should not be forced to live in a society where their masculinity and sexuality is deemed inferior or sub-par; but, nor should this small subset of Asian American men react by reclaiming their masculinity or sexuality at the expense of women like yourself.
Let me put out there a radical notion: It’s not masculine and empowering to force yourself on women. It’s masculine and empowering (and not to mention far more sexy) to respect women.
I don’t know if David Choe is a rapist, but I do know that he cares less about the humanity of women then he does about using a misogynist attitude to advance the “legend” of his own penis, and thereby prove he’s that much more a man.