“So, I lived abroad in China,” my date said. It was somewhat of a non sequitur from the conversation.
“Oh, okay. Cool,” I replied.
He proceeded to give me a knowing look before launching into a monologue about his ever-enlightening travel experiences and exes overseas.
“Just to be clear,” I inquired, “you don’t have an Asian fetish, do you?”
He tells me no, he doesn’t, but he chooses to not go out with blonde women because they remind him too much of his mother and sister. He doesn’t even really like white girls. He grins at me. I give him side-eye.
Flash forward a few months and I’m on another first date with another white guy. This one has lived abroad in South Korea. He tells me he likes my tattoos and asks how my parents feel about them. He’s heard that Asian parents can be strict and disapproving. I tell him I’m my own person and it’s none of his damn business what my parents think.
Between dates like these, receiving first messages that ask, “what nationality are you?” and being catcalled not only for being a women but also for being Chinese (“Nǐ hǎo! Konnichiwa! Where ya going, baby?”), I’ve been fetishized by white — and non-white — men everywhere. I’m not alone — Asian women are widely known to experience this.
One study conducted across four U.S. cities found that Asian women and white men are considered “the most desirable potential mates” when it comes to online dating sites. But while white men likely do not get messages like, “I want to try my first whitey” or “I want your sexy Caucasian body on me,” Asian women do.
If someone messages me, “Hi, I think Asians girls are hot,” I almost immediately block them. I’m not playing that game. Nope. However, there are those sly fetishists who can appear innocuous on the outside but have yellow fever vibes brewing beneath the surface.
While not all white guys I’ve dated — and I’ve only entered serious relationships with white guys — are like that, I’ve fallen prey to a few short-term relationships with these types. They all managed to white-splain Chinese or Asian culture, whether in the form of travel stories, pop culture, anime, or tales of the Asian communities they immerse themselves in while simultaneously putting me on a pedestal for, well, just being Asian. These casual relationships have been short-lived. I only got into them because I was not fully aware, at first, that I was being fetishized.
Perhaps these men are looking for an Asian woman who fits the stereotype of being submissive and quiet, but I am hardly that. I’m assertive and sometimes too loud — not to mention straight-up mean if you’re a creep. I grew up in a largely white city in Ohio, and I always have been and always will be vocal about mistreatment of people of color and backwards politics.
So why have my partners all been white? Well, I’ve only had four long-term relationships in my 28 years of living. The first was with a classmate from my predominantly white high school. The next two were also Ohio boys with whom I had mutual friends and a past. I met my current partner online, and we immediately hit it off over our shared interests. My race is not one of them.
None of these guys have a history of seeking out Asian ladies. In every case, I was their first Asian partner. And that is something I keep an eye out for; if someone’s social media only shows them with Asian ladies, I’m going to be skeeved out.
I too have dated men of various races and backgrounds. I’m open to dating anyone, so long as I’m attracted to them and they don’t fetishize me. Now that I live in the diverse city of Los Angeles, I feel it would be silly to only seek out one particular race.
It’s taken years for me to unlearn internalized racism, which at one point, made me hate myself for being Chinese. Now, it’s an integral part of my identity that I wear on my sleeve. I talk about my parents’ pasts in communist China, how my dad was granted asylum in the U.S. during the Tiananmen Square protests, and their struggles as immigrants in this country. I talk about how these experiences have shaped me into who I am today and how I always want to be more connected to my roots.
Once I trust someone, I open up about my background and life as a Chinese-American woman. I want them to understand how it has shaped every aspect of who I am, but also doesn’t define me or reduce me to anything less than a full person. The guys I’ve chosen to be with in the long term are not perfect by any means, but they never sought me out or pigeonholed me for being Chinese. They didn’t expect me to behave a certain way or be submissive because that’s how they perceive Chinese women. I’ve been through enough of that to know exactly how much I hate it, so if you’re going to fetishize me, I have one thing to say to you: zǒu kāi (get lost).