May 20, 2024

As an Asian Woman in the Dating World, Exotic Is Not a Compliment

One night while waiting to order a drink at a bar, a large, muscly man pressed his hand against my back. “I just want you to know,” he said, leaning in, “that I’m down with what you are. My ex-wife was Filipino, so I’m down with the exotic. ”

I recoiled, all too familiar with “yellow fever,” the phenomenon where non-Asian men fetishize Asian women.

On paper, I am half Asian and half white: Okinawan and Chinese from my mother; Irish, Scottish, British, French, and German from my father. Because I have slightly angled eyes and wavy, dark hair, I’m often told I look exotic.

Growing up, strangers mistook me for my father’s wife, and they’d coo, “Well, isn’t she exotic? ” as if praising him for sailing into the heart of a paddy in the «Orient” and smuggling me back, swaddled in a silk cocoon.

I spend a significant portion of time playing the Guess What Ethnicity Malia Is? game and fielding questions from men and women alike such as:

“What are you? ”

“Where are you from? ”

“No, where are you really from? ”

When it comes to dating, I struggle to trust men, always worried about when I might get quizzed on manga or my DNA. Or, worse, that months into dating, I’ll find out he has a thing for “mixed chicks. ”

Rationally, I know not all men see me this way. But when you’ve spent so much of your life feeling valued for your foreign features, it can be hard to shake the suspicion that you might scroll through someone’s Facebook photos and discover that all of his exes look like you.

Several times over, I’ve gone on dates with men I later found out exclusively date Asian women. Over drinks, I’ve been pestered about whether I speak Cantonese or Mandarin, as if those were my only two options. I’ve been casually informed that half-Asian women have “tighter vaginas, everyone knows. ” Once, halfway through a date I thought was going well, the man bluntly asked, “Which of your parents is the half? ”

Dating apps, which rely on appearance, are a primary way for me to meet people. I regularly delete opening lines from men like “Sup, Mulan? ” and “Looks like I found me Thai Barbie. ” One time I accidentally accepted a text from a man wearing a T-shirt in his profile picture that read “I <3 ASIAN GIRLS. ”

On a related note, I’ve completely stopped dating in the past year. You could attribute this lack of motivation to fatigue from the emotional hellhole that was 2017. But I can’t separate the president’s gross words about women or the rise in outings of shitty men from my own experiences. The explosion of #metoo stories has only served to further deepen my anxieties about most men and their expectations of women.

When I broach the subject of yellow fever with men, they often argue that having an attraction to Asian women is similar to having a physical preference for brunettes or dark eyes. In reality, the idealization of the submissive but sexually skilled Asian woman has more to do with the othering of an entire race of people.

Of course, people always mean it to be a compliment when they say you look exotic. But to be exotic implies that you deviate from normal, and normal almost always means white.

Because white is the standard, it’s the canvas for the paint. It’s why anything labelled as nude is really only nude for those with fair skin.

If you’re exotic, then there appears to be a whiff of something else in you other than white—some trait that demands definition. When you’re constantly being prodded to reveal what your “mix” is, you wind up feeling more like a designer dog than a human being.

Let’s lose the word “exotic,” this idea that I should be valued differently for my ethnicity. Skip the sweet nothings. Ask me about who I am, and I’ll do the same for you. We’ll start again, in some far-flung place, in strange, new territory that feels…what’s the word?

Funny, I forgot.

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