Her Campus: Playing the (Asian) Dating Game

By JT Tran

Wednesday, May 4, 2011
By Annie Pei



Physically unattractive.

And cursed with a small, ahem, “package.”

Stereotypes about Asian men date as far back as 200 years ago when the first Asian immigrants arrived in North America to seek jobs and a new life. Those same stereotypes have managed to pass the test of time and still shape society’s general perception of Asian men. While very few people completely believe in stereotypes, racial generalizations about the Asian male continuously influence our first impressions and interactions with Asian men on an everyday basis.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the North American dating scene. In February 2006, YouTube celebrity Wong Fu Productions uploaded a 15-minute homemade comedy entitled “Yellow Fever,” which eventually became Wong Fu Production’s claim to fame. The movie follows an Asian male college student in his quest to understand why, as he says, “White guys get all the Asian girls.” The movie garnered attention not only because of its hilarity, but also because of its depiction of obstacles Asian men face trying to find a partner.

That’s where JT Tran steps in. At a modest 5’5″ and blessed with a happy round face, the native of Dallas could very well be anyone’s average Asian-American. But, there’s a catch: Tran has been named the Greatest Asian Pickup Artist…for two years in a row. Not only that, but he runs his own boot camp known as The ABC’s of Attraction.

Tran is part of a fairly recent movement where pickup artists (the technical term is PUAs) is gaining prominence. While PUAs have been around since the 1970s, in 2005 investigative reporter Neil Strauss’ book The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists granted them renewed attention. The book follows Strauss as he undergoes a PUA boot camp program, run by a man known as Mystery, and explores the seduction community. Tran himself is a product of Mystery’s teachings which, for him, shed light on the importance of confidence in our everyday lives. Inspired by what he learned at Mystery’s boot camp, Tran sought to teach Mystery’s principles to a multicultural audience. His biggest customers, however, is the Asian male, a demographic with its fair share of romantic troubles.

According to Tran, two sources in particular create a “feedback loop” that influences not only society’s perception of Asian men, but also how Asian men perceive themselves. The first of these is the media, which has long offered an external representation of Asian men as non-aggressive, shy, and socially awkward. Though people do understand that the media’s image of Asian men is not necessarily true, Tran specifies that society still inadvertently projects those images upon the Asian male demographic, affecting the Asian man’s confidence and self-esteem.

But the media cannot bear all the blame. A great deal of the problem, according to Tran, lies with Asian men themselves.For many, the lack of confidence comes from their inability to break from traditional Asian values, especially for first- and second-generation Asians.

“The first time these men or their parents arrived [in North America], they are essentially strangers in a strange land, so they concentrate on things that would help them survive,” Tran illustrates, “So, they focus on grades, quality universities, and good jobs. Social skills, however, are perceived as an aside from necessary survival skills. Therefore, many Asian men have grown up with the notion that social skills are not as important as academics or employment.”

Tran further emphasizes the importance of breaking from old traditions by referring to the modern woman’s dating strategy. The PUA movement, Tran explains, began as a reaction to the women’s movement, during which contraceptives and beliefs that women could choose their partners as they please were popularized. Today, women’s personal romantic values challenge men to adjust to the female’s decision-making role in the dating process.

As a result, social interaction often stresses Asian men as many (though not all) are timid in communicating with their peers, and their discomfort is only heightened by how others react to their shyness. Studies show that Asian males are more likely to be bullied in school than males of other races, as many possess a reserved nature that, in a bully’s eyes, makes them easier targets as they are less likely to retaliate. This perceived Asian male non-aggressiveness also translates to the difficulties Asian men face in their romantic lives, with many women believing that Asian men are simply too shy to date.

Such observations have produced what Tran terms a “silent minority” phenomenon among many Asian men, where people’s reaction to their actions and words makes Asian males feel as though their opinion does not matter. Because of this belief, Asian men are less likely to take the chance to speak up for themselves and instead retreat into their timidity. This, according to Tran, worsens Asian males’ image of themselves and plummets their self-belief and self-esteem to the point where many Asian men are unwilling to try and be heard as fears of rejection run deep.

“I’m not just talking about dating here,” Tran clarifies. “I’m also talking about defending yourself, speaking up for that job…based on their experiences, many Asian men are afraid to try and express themselves. If Asian men had more successful results when they spoke out, they would do so more, but of course you can’t have that success if you don’t at least try.”

To help Asian men fight their fears, Tran’s ABC’s of Attraction boot camp works to boost Asian men’s confidence, using their romantic life as a springboard. Over several days, Tran subjects his program’s participants to hours of lectures and drills to demonstrate that while everyone has to face rejection, rejection does not need to define a person’s actions and personality. As an added bonus, participants also get to hear about Tran’s early personal experiences in grappling with the same self-esteem issues, which Tran is always happy to share in order to motivate his students.

“I understand how these men feel because it took me years to get past the same insecurities, and I find it really helps my students to hear about my own successes,” Tran tells me. “I’m 5’5″, and I wouldn’t consider myself a very attractive man, but I’m able to not let that affect me. When my students see that I can look past points of insecurity like that, they start to believe that they can do the same.”

But classroom sessions aside, Tran’s favorite part of the boot camp is when “[feeds his students] to the sharks,” which involves taking program participants to clubs, bars, and other social hot spots to practice their skills. The first night always proves the most challenging, as Tran describes that many of the men feel “shell-shocked” at being thrust into an unfamiliar environment.

“Something you need to understand is that the men I teach are generally very well-educated and extremely nice guys,” Tran elaborates. “Despite that, the majority of their romantic interactions consisted of being introduced to women by their parents and friends. Therefore, a lot of the men have never personally introduced themselves to a woman before and the experience is completely new to them.”

At the end of each night, participants meet with Tran for advice on how to improve their interactions with women and encouragement to continue any successes they may have had. With each passing night, Tran explains that his program’s participants become more and more confident as women’s reactions to them become more positive. This inspires the men Tran coaches to keep striving for success and to remain unaffected by rejection.

“When I first began JT’s program, I was scared out of my mind about approaching women because I worried about how I would appear to them,” Ben, a former student of Tran’s, relates. “But after JT’s program, I conquered my fears of being socially pressured by women to stay away from them. It’s a life skill to be socially intelligent, and JT taught me that.”

But men aside, Tran also has words of advice for women (and hence Her Campus readers) about how to react to men, especially for those who may perceive their efforts in a negative light.

“Please understand that there is a huge gap between a nice guy and a guy who behaves like a jerk. While it seems like most men are aiming to be that jerk who manages to get all the women, most guys are actually targeting somewhere in the middle. 99 percent of guys don’t want to be jerks; they just want to be perceived as cool and well-liked, and it really helps if you at least give them the chance to be that.”

Keeping that message and Tran’s lessons about confidence in mind, the ABCs of Attraction program can teach everyone, man or woman, a bit about overcoming your personal insecurities.. So, girls, next time you’re at that lab session, party, or concert and you see someone who catches your eye, approach them and take your chances. The worst that could happen is you trying again at a different occasion. Check out (and perhaps sign up for?) JT Tran’s program at  https://www.abcsofattraction.com/.