On exoticism, or that stabby feeling

February 8, 2009

Sex is not always PC. Kink is definitely not always PC.

Desire is a mysterious thing, not always under our control, but is that a viable excuse for those who fetishize and objectify others based on ascribed features? Non-whites are both demonized and fetishized (i.e. dehumanized)  by both mainstream and edge cultures. A particularly obtuse (and white) submissive guy once told me that Asian and black dominant women can charge a premium, since there are so few of us out there.

Head. Desk.

From a certain angle, BDSM is an enlightened form of sexuality. It’s a big tent and all kinds extra-normal desires, arrangements, identities and interactions are not only sanctioned, but celebrated. Hey, you’re a bisexual polyamorous switch who enjoys topping boys who dress up like puppies and having sadistic women insert metal rods into your urethra? Awesome. Can I watch?

But cock your head the other way and you’ll see the clearly conservative, possibly reactionary elements in BDSM. Take the endless damned arguments about who or what is or isn’t a real something-or-other, e.g. “You like being tied up and fucked? You’re not a real dominant!” Or the phallocentrism and even misogyny at the heart of mainstream BDSM depictions of female dominance/male submission. Or the apparently widespread condemnation of pro-dommes among even seemingly progressive, sex-positive kinksters (a debate that has both elements of moral sniffiness and old-school feminist outrage about pay-to-play…I wonder if people would get as mad if, ceteris paribus, women were paying men to play with them?).

If sex and kink aren’t always PC, then fetishes in general are way not PC. To fetishize something is to detach it from its everyday context, to surround it with the holy glow of obsession. A foot is not just a body part, but something to be elevated, strapped into six-inch heels, photographed, worshiped, mutilated, fucked. If you’re into big feet with high arches and scarlet toenails, then any high-arched, pedicured, set of big feet will do.

Analogously, if you have a black fetish, a Hispanic fetish, an Asian fetish, then pretty much any black girl, Hispanic girl, Asian girl will do, hm?

First, there’s this pesky thing that DuBois referred to as “double consciousness,” a phenomenon that’s heightened for women of color. Being “othered” is an unpleasant experience that the conventional white American man will most likely never know.

I grimace upon being questioned by strangers about my ethnicity right away (like knowing which country my parents come from will give you some great insight into me?) and then regaled with anecdotes about their Chinese babysitter, Vietnamese neighbors, Filipino classmate, etc. (yes, all Asian people know each other or only want to talk about other Asians). I vividly remember being taunted by other children when I was young. In fact, I still occasionally get the ol’ slanty eye from kids (of all colors…racism isn’t whites only), who are generally more honest about expressing racial attitudes than their parents.

And then there’s the Asian fetish.

Oh, the Asian fetish.

Personally, I associate an Asian fetish with “I can’t tell them apart” syndrome. I mean, Chris Isaak dated Margaret Cho (who actually has a brain and talent) and Bai fucking Ling (a perennial fashion victim more than anything else)–that’s fetishism at its gnarliest (OK, OK. There’s this, but I blame the network more than Cho or Tarantino).

I’m always a little worried that whomever I’m romantically or sexually involved with at the moment secretly harbors an Asian fetish. Especially white guys, whom my brother refers to as “Asian fetish motherfuckers”.

But I’ve only ever been in interracial relationships. So far I’ve been with Jewish, Puerto Rican, Indian (not Native, but sub-continental), Mexican and plain ol’ Anglo-American men. But the whole interracial thing is just so fucking fraught with politics and history that when I do date outside my race, particularly white dudes, I worry that I’m perpetuating a certain imperialist ethno-racial power dynamic.

Consequently, I’m hyper-conscious of how the things I wear, say or do might make me seem more or less Asian, more or less ‘other‘. Though, quite honestly, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. If I play down my heritage, then I’m ashamed of it and want to be white (as if being non-white requires one to Constantly! Not! Be! White!). If I play it up, then I run the risk of turning into a cartoon character. And I might encourage stereotypes.

So I refuse to date men who manifest a particular interest in anime, manga, martial arts, or Buddhism, have kanji tattooed somewhere on their person, or who slip phrases like “hapa,” “aiya” and “kawaii” into their everyday speech. This may not be the case, but I think that these guys probably want to connect with me solely or mostly as an Asian, and not me in all my interesting, intersectional complexity. (I’d rather be doing the objectifying, thanks.)

And I always get that stabby feeling whenever someone describes me as ‘exotic’.

Exotic to whom, exactly? I’m not denying my cultural background, but on the surface, at least, I’m the opposite of exotic. I’ve lived in this country for my entire life. I speak perfect, American-accented English (slight nasalliness, regional middle-classed sigh-drawl and all). I have a cat. I dress like the perpetual student that I am. My most-used kitchen thingy is a crockpot, not a wok. And the music that would accompany me into a scene of my imaginary TV show would be more like this, not like this. And I live in a part of the country that has a high concentration of Asian-Americans, so it’s not like I’m actually that unusual based on looks alone.

Seriously, get your exoticism straight. Redheads are exotic. Aboriginal people with naturally blond hair are exotic.  Sarah Palin is exotic.

I won’t be exoticized when I’m about as exotic as New Jersey.

Being into BDSM complicates all of this even more. As a dominant woman, there are already forces attempting to mold me into a certain type (the Super Dominatrix). As an Asian dominant woman, well, then I’m basically a dragon lady. (If I were submissive, I’d be a geisha).

OK, I don’t feel stabby as much as I feel tired right now.


5 Responses to “On exoticism, or that stabby feeling”

  1. axe Says:

    I have a people-with-vaginas fetish.

    Is that bad??

    Would you still date me?

    P.S. I originally wanted to reply with a comment that would match the brainpower in this post but soon realized I couldn’t come close.

  2. W Says:

    Wanted to write in earlier and say I was a fan…

    (*Especially* after the post titled “Please”)


    But reading this post I remembered reading an article about this subject in college in a NYC alt-paper. The article was written by a young woman whose family was from the Philippines. I remember this because the author related the anecdote that she spoke to a couple of men about it, with one responding “I only really am attracted to petite dark haired women…”which I related with, then immediately wondered if I was relating to the statement as a cover for a fetish, or if it was genuinely my feelings.

    While trying really hard not to be the “doth protest too much” person, I ask what do you say to a man (light skinned Hispanic) who has grown up with dark haired women in his family & community? Who grew up in a neighborhood with a largely Asian American community, who went to school (from elementary to high school) with a largely Asian American female population? Knowing that those years are the formative years of most people’s sexual development?

    Again, last thing intended is to excuse d-bag behavior by white guys (and non-white guys) (And white/non-white girls).

    But the last time I started a conversation with a woman waiting for the subway (who happened to be Chinese-American), I was wondering if she 1)could have an intelligent conversation not about clothes and shoes, and 2)would be interested in getting together for coffee when it turned out we did have a good rapport. I approached a short, dark haired woman, not an “exotic/Other.”

    I tend to feel that we all have inherited biases, but can’t spend all of our time second guessing everything that makes us wet, or hard, (or hard & wet). Life is too short to go crazy over other people’s stupidity.

    You’ve found a (very lucky) submissive boy who you’ve vetted, and found lacking in fuckwittery. Just hope that being aware that the world is full of asshats doesn’t take away from your enjoyment of the people and things that aren’t.


  3. W, I don’t try to go crazy over other people’s stupidity. But it’s hard not to get irritated when it’s shoved into my face. I’m expressing my exasperation over the profound ignorance and insensitivity that minorities can experience in both mainstream and edge cultures.

    As for your experiences…well, those are yours. I was merely airing my opinion of these matters. I certainly don’t think of myself as The Official Asian Woman Who Approves Asian-Women-Related Things.

    Like I said at the beginning of the post, desire is a mysterious thing, highly personal, and not always rational or politically correct. One can’t control one’s desires, but one can bring them to light and interrogate them. I believe that we are marvelously malleable creatures and that even our desires, as primordial as they may seem, are not fixed or immutable. If everyone took greater care to follow the Delphic Oracle’s injunction, then perhaps posts like this one wouldn’t be necessary.

    But thanks for reading, despite my crankiness.

  4. W Says:

    Dear S&L (May I shorten it to that?)

    I can understand being exasperated (a childhood full of “But you speak English so *well*!” did it for me…)

    I think I was just trying to inarticulately make the point that, keeping in mind the importance of fighting against the throngs of jerks in the whole wide world, you don’t let the fight rob the enjoyment of who you are & what you do.

    Anytime I come across anyone trying to represent themselves as The “Official” Anything of Anything, it becomes a struggle not to laugh out loud. There was no coming across as that from the post. Reading “..Stabby Feeling” just made me realize that I had come across the examination of that issue before, (surely no small issue in your community), and I might *still* be doing my own interrogations and light bringing to my own motivations.

    Cranky? Didn’t seem like that to me. Thought it made you more like a real person, not just an avatar and words on a web page.


    And the fact that you can express the “real” part of you makes the hot posts even hotter! I likely would have just kept lurking (and taking cold showers) otherwise.

    (Didn’t want the posts about you doing EVIL things to your boy to stop, that’d be a shame!)

  5. Hank Says:

    Word. Thank you for this post =]

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