Slant’d: Interview with Mikkoh Chen

With an eye set on wider, more richly textured horizons, Mikkoh Chen takes us on his “Road to Remarkable” for the third installment of our month-long interview series. The Taiwanese American, New York-based entrepreneur and Wilhelmina model talks candidly about playing hide and seek with his true self, shirking cultural expectations and wanting Asians “everywhere” in media. 

This month, we’re partnering up with the #badasians at Slant’d — a magazine, online community and multimedia world-builder focused on shedding light on the stories and identities of Asian Americans — in preparation for the release of Issue 02: Light and Dark. You can purchase it here

How did you come to get involved with Issue 02 of Slant’d? What inspired you to contribute?

I was at a point in my life where I started to recognize my own bias against Asians. One day it dawned on me that not wanting to be around them also meant that I inherently disliked myself. I realized that I was part of the larger problem — and it was then that I decided to start supporting Asians in full force. And it started with my friends.

I saw Slant’d as a platform that would allow me to openly showcase a range of stories of remarkable Asians in hopes of empowering others to break out of their boxes and be remarkable themselves. Each one is a clear and distinct example of how an Asian man has actively chosen a life that shatters stereotypes and cultural expectations, one that brings happiness and success.

How did your personal experiences influence the direction of “Road to Remarkable,” which touches on different ways that Asian men defy stereotypes about masculinity and success?

The gay community has always glorified masculine men. I can’t blame them. What’s not to like? The issue arises when the public makes a blanket assumption that Asians just can’t be masculine and we’re therefore deemed less attractive.

As a gay adult and an Asian American, I created a habit of hiding my true self for a very long time. At a very young age, I thought I knew what being gay would mean for future Mikkoh: a life of struggle, hardship and rejection from the world. I began to live out the American definition of “masculine” and hid my gayness. I lowered my voice, tried to make it a little raspy, never sat cross-legged, and didn’t join “feminine” activities like choir or performing arts. Guess what? It worked, but at a cost.

Now having been in the modeling industry and meeting other Asian male models, I wanted to use “Road to Remarkable” to dispel the stereotype that Asians can’t be masculine, that they can’t be attractive. Modeling helped me discover an amazing part of myself that was always there but laid dormant. I wanted to help others understand that that they can actively choose the life they want to live, instead of letting others or societal pressures dictate that life for them. You can choose to be masculine, but never at the cost of losing yourself.

You talk a lot about standing up for the community and uplifting other Asian Americans. What part of today’s Asian American movement are you most excited about?

I’m passionate about getting more Asian Americans in media. I want them in ads, movies, social media. I want them everywhere. I firmly believe that one of the big reasons why we haven’t glorified Asian beauty is because it just hasn’t been widely showcased in the right form. It’s about time that we stop hiding in the shadows and stand boldly in the spotlight (and enjoy it!). It’s important that we not only support other fellow Asians, but also celebrate them when they succeed.

How are you redefining what it means to be Asian American? What makes you a #badasian?

As someone who rejected my Asianness for a long time, I want my story of self-acceptance to help extinguish this fear that Asians are “less than” and help more people celebrate the differences that come with being Asian. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I felt the need to tell this story, and I hope that it inspires more remarkable stories in the future.

You can read about Mikkoh’s story and the remarkable stories of several other #badasians in Issue 02 of Slant’d, now available for purchase.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.