Creative Nonfiction

Ethnic in the City

19 July 2016

2007. My hardcore, ultra-Buddhist parents made me go to a church so I could get a recommendation to get into Catholic school. They were afraid that my non-white religion in combination with my non-white appearance would be obstacles, so I had to rub shoulders with my local priest. He asked me what I wanted when I grew up. “To be in love and a husband.” I wasn’t even lying. I was an 11-year-old Charlotte before I even knew what a Charlotte was.

Flash-forward to 2014. People were obsessed with doing the Ice Bucket Challenge, Iggy Azalea was a big deal and an 18-year-old me was trying to find The One. I was sitting on Swanston Street with a friend, gossiping under the golden arches after a party. I felt so cosmopolitan. At the time I was seeing a guy who we’ll call Chris. Chris was – and still is – a man child. But he was also incredibly cute. Like he was a nine and I was a four cute. So I couldn’t wait to organically bring it up in conversation. “Hey Alistair, guess who I’m dating.” When I showed him photos, he naturally asked me what he did for a living. This was the question that I had been dreading. I confessed, “He’s… an… anime dubber.” I knew exactly what was wrong with him but I was never going to say it to myself. So I’m glad that Alistair and his Carrie Bradshaw wisdom did. “Do you think he likes you because you’re Asian?”

A couple of weeks later, Chris told me that he was seeing somebody else, so unfortunately, we did not get married in Paris like I had imagined. I lurked online and found it was someone also Asian – but more conventionally attractive. The dust of reality settled in. And as someone who has both delusions of grandeur and mild asthma, I hated it all. But I couldn’t help but wonder: does the ethnicity of a person affect their search for romance? The answer is always yes.

When you’re a person of colour and dating, most people will fall under two categories. The type that loves displaying their racist preferences through hateful rhyme: “Sugar or spice, no chocolate or rice.” And the other type that can’t get enough of you…r ethnicity. They like you, sure. But they love the idea of eating sushi off your naked body even more. Unlike the prejudiced people that mostly and flat out avoid you, the fetishists can fly under your racial radar. Especially if you’re me. I’m the type of person who suffers from red flag syndrome. A psychological condition I just made up for this article. It’s when you date somebody and constantly see red flags but choose to ignore them for romantic and/or desperate reasons. I’ve seen, dated and watched enough Marvel movies with these men to know the signs.

The first and most obvious are their interests. Do they love mansplaining Asian culture to you even though you yourself are Asian? If they own a kimono, just run.

Do they like your body a little too much? In a world dominated by Abrahamic religions and pornography, circumcised penises have become the norm. Except in East Asians like myself. I once dated a guy who was head over heels in love with my foreskin. He treated it like a blanket on a cold winter night. I knew it was specifically my foreskin because I have the confidence to say that there is nothing else spectacular down there. But to him, it was like a refreshing change from the usual cut. A genital palate cleanser. It wasn’t circumcised but it also wasn’t too unusual. It was in that Goldilocks zone of junk. Just right.

The roommate was probably the most humiliating sign. One time I went back to this guy’s apartment to have “fish and chips” after the beach. Since we had just come back from the ocean, I headed towards the shower. As I walked to my bag and change of clothes I heard a knock at the door. His roommate was coming home. He chirped from the other room: “That’s David”. It was like that scene in Mulan where she looked at her reflection. My date had conveniently failed to mention that his roommate was also of Asian descent. His eyes were saying “another one” as I made an excuse to leave. I pictured DJ Khaled saying, “Congratulations, you just played yourself” over and over.

Having one of those red flags doesn’t immediately constitute a fetishist. But if you have a gut feeling anywhere inside of you, then you are likely right.

Exactly a year after Chris and I stopped seeing each other, I was coming from another date to Melbourne Central station. I saw him again for a split second on the street. What were the odds? This is why I keep telling people that Melbourne is the New York of Australia. It was so quick we couldn’t even wave. I checked my phone a minute later to a thirsty text. “Hey handsome.” After 12 months, I was not the same person. I sat across from him on his couch, not believing what was happening. It was obvious that I had lost a Biggest Loser amount of weight and gained the dating experience of three Taylor Swift albums. I became a sexually awakened Samantha. Chris on the other hand was not looking so great. He hadn’t done any dubbing work after his second hernia operation. Suddenly I was the nine and he was the four. And in that moment I saw the silver lining of being racially fetishised by Chris. It woke me up to the reality of fetishism – particularly between Asian people and white men. It also taught me how to restrict my carb intake.

It goes without saying that having someone like “you” for your ethnicity is hurtful and damaging. Is it so hard to have someone love you for you and not for your skin colour, eye shape or supposed ability to do long division? The fact that this looms over every single romance I have to prevent myself from being hurt is disheartening. But this doesn’t mean I won’t stop searching. I will plough my way through yellow fevered frogs to find my prince. Because I am of course, still a Charlotte at heart.


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