Over Valentine’s Day of this year, I had been invited to speak at a literally packed house at Yale University on the topic of Asian Male Masculinity. Then we had a Valentine’s Day bootcamp in New York City with students ranging from a 20-something Indian virgin to a really good looking, muscular boxer from London.
And amongst this motley crew was a journalist, one Wesley Yang. He was a reporter for New York Magazine and he was going undercover at our ABCs of Attraction PUA bootcamp. His story?
Asian Americans who are fighting the Bamboo Ceiling featuring yours truly, JT “the Asian Playboy” Tran.
My featured portion of this vast exploration of the Asian American experience starts on page 6 and so I’ve taken the liberty of just copying and pasting my portion of the story.
What if you missed out on the lessons in masculinity taught in the gyms and locker rooms of America’s high schools? What if life has failed to make you a socially dominant alpha male who runs the American boardroom and prevails in the American bedroom? What if no one ever taught you how to greet white people and make them comfortable? What if, despite these deficiencies, you no longer possess an immigrant’s dutiful forbearance for a secondary position in the American narrative and want to be a player in the scrimmage of American appetite right now, in the present?
How do you undo eighteen years of a Chinese upbringing?
This is the implicit question that J. T. Tran has posed to a roomful of Yale undergraduates at a master’s tea at Silliman College. His answer is typically Asian: practice. Tran is a pickup artist who goes by the handle Asian Playboy. He travels the globe running “boot camps,” mostly for Asian male students, in the art of attraction. Today, he has been invited to Yale by the Asian-American Students Alliance.
“Creepy can be fixed,” Tran explains to the standing-room-only crowd. “Many guys just don’t realize how to project themselves.” These are the people whom Tran spends his days with, a new batch in a new city every week: nice guys, intelligent guys, motivated guys, who never figured out how to be successful with women. Their mothers had kept them at home to study rather than let them date or socialize. Now Tran’s company, ABCs of Attraction, offers a remedial education that consists of three four-hour seminars, followed by a supervised night out “in the field,” in which J. T., his assistant Gareth Jones, and a tall blonde wing-girl named Sarah force them to approach women. Tuition costs $1,450.
“One of the big things I see with Asian students is what I call the Asian poker face—the lack of range when it comes to facial expressions,” Tran says. “How many times has this happened to you?” he asks the crowd. “You’ll be out at a party with your white friends, and they will be like—‘Dude, are you angry?’ ” Laughter fills the room. Part of it is psychological, he explains. He recalls one Korean-American student he was teaching. The student was a very dedicated schoolteacher who cared a lot about his students. But none of this was visible. “Sarah was trying to help him, and she was like, ‘C’mon, smile, smile,’ and he was like …” And here Tran mimes the unbearable tension of a face trying to contort itself into a simulacrum of mirth. “He was so completely unpracticed at smiling that he literally could not do it.” Eventually, though, the student fought through it, “and when he finally got to smiling he was, like, really cool.”
Tran continues to lay out a story of Asian-American male distress that must be relevant to the lives of at least some of those who have packed Master Krauss’s living room. The story he tells is one of Asian-American disadvantage in the sexual marketplace, a disadvantage that he has devoted his life to overturning. Yes, it is about picking up women. Yes, it is about picking up white women. Yes, it is about attracting those women whose hair is the color of the midday sun and eyes are the color of the ocean, and it is about having sex with them. He is not going to apologize for the images of blonde women plastered all over his website. This is what he prefers, what he stands for, and what he is selling: the courage to pursue anyone you want, and the skills to make the person you desire desire you back. White guys do what they want; he is going to do the same.
But it is about much more than this, too. It is about altering the perceptions of Asian men—perceptions that are rooted in the way they behave, which are in turn rooted in the way they were raised—through a course of behavior modification intended to teach them how to be the socially dominant figures that they are not perceived to be. It is a program of, as he puts it to me later, “social change through pickup.”
Tran offers his own story as an exemplary Asian underdog. Short, not good-looking, socially inept, sexually null. “If I got a B, I would be whipped,” he remembers of his childhood. After college, he worked as an aerospace engineer at Boeing and Raytheon, but internal politics disfavored him. Five years into his career, his entire white cohort had been promoted above him. “I knew I needed to learn about social dynamics, because just working hard wasn’t cutting it.”
His efforts at dating were likewise “a miserable failure.” It was then that he turned to “the seduction community,” a group of men on Internet message boards like alt.seduction.fast. It began as a “support group for losers” and later turned into a program of self-improvement. Was charisma something you could teach? Could confidence be reduced to a formula? Was it merely something that you either possessed or did not possess, as a function of the experiences you had been through in life, or did it emerge from specific forms of behavior? The members of the group turned their computer-science and engineering brains to the question. They wrote long accounts of their dates and subjected them to collective scrutiny. They searched for patterns in the raw material and filtered these experiences through social-psychological research. They eventually built a model.
This past Valentine’s Day, during a weekend boot camp in New York City sponsored by ABCs of Attraction, the model is being played out. Tran and Jones are teaching their students how an alpha male stands (shoulders thrown back, neck fully extended, legs planted slightly wider than the shoulders). “This is going to feel very strange to you if you’re used to slouching, but this is actually right,” Jones says. They explain how an alpha male walks (no shuffling; pick your feet up entirely off the ground; a slight sway in the shoulders). They identify the proper distance to stand from “targets” (a slightly bent arm’s length). They explain the importance of “kino escalation.” (You must touch her. You must not be afraid to do this.) They are teaching the importance of sub-communication: what you convey about yourself before a single word has been spoken. They explain the importance of intonation. They explain what intonation is. “Your voice moves up and down in pitch to convey a variety of different emotions.”
All of this is taught through a series of exercises. “This is going to feel completely artificial,” says Jones on the first day of training. “But I need you to do the biggest shit-eating grin you’ve ever made in your life.” Sarah is standing in the corner with her back to the students—three Indian guys, including one in a turban, three Chinese guys, and one Cambodian. The students have to cross the room, walking as an alpha male walks, and then place their hands on her shoulder—firmly but gently—and turn her around. Big smile. Bigger than you’ve ever smiled before. Raise your glass in a toast. Make eye contact and hold it. Speak loudly and clearly. Take up space without apology. This is what an alpha male does.
Before each student crosses the floor of that bare white cubicle in midtown, Tran asks him a question. “What is good in life?” Tran shouts.
The student then replies, in the loudest, most emphatic voice he can muster: “To crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and to hear the lamentation of their women—in my bed!”
For the intonation exercise, students repeat the phrase “I do what I want” with a variety of different moods.
“Say it like you’re happy!” Jones shouts. (“I do what I want.”) Say it like you’re sad! (“I do what I want.” The intonation utterly unchanged.) Like you’re sad! (“I … do what I want.”) Say it like you’ve just won $5 million! (“I do what I want.”)
Raj, a 26-year-old Indian virgin, can barely get his voice to alter during intonation exercise. But on Sunday night, on the last evening of the boot camp, I watch him cold-approach a set of women at the Hotel Gansevoort and engage them in conversation for a half-hour. He does not manage to “number close” or “kiss close.” But he had done something that not very many people can do.