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Op-ed: The Perils of Dating While Asian

Op-ed: The Perils of Dating While Asian


This writer and Advocate intern used to revel in the fact that men found him attractive because he's Filipino. Now the attention feels like pandering racism.

I have a secret escape whenever I feel like I'm losing my grip because of the exhausting course load that accompanies being a student at the University of California, Berkeley. I take the BART from Berkeley to San Francisco, ride the MUNI to the Castro District, and walk along the streets of the friendliest gay neighborhood in the U.S. People welcome my arrival with two- or three-second-long stares, sly smiles, and the occasional, "Hello, cutie." All of a sudden, I turn from a stressed-out college student into an alluring object of fantasy. No matter how many times my mother would tell me otherwise, I've never felt so beautiful in my life.

I grab a seat in a bar and order a Stella Artois, even though it's happy hour on cocktails. After about half an hour, a man, usually older and clean-cut, approaches me. Then the interaction launches into what has become a familiar routine: He asks why I'm sitting on my own, introduces himself, and compliments my facial features he finds pleasing. He gets my attention by giving me tons of attention. I just take everything in; every comment feeds my confidence and ego.

Before the conversation goes beyond the free drink, I have to ask a crucial question: "Do you like Asians?" Sometimes, these suitors take a step back and try to deny it at first. Some just blatantly declare how they adore the smooth skin and luscious dark hair Asian men usually have. Every once in a while, someone changes up the script and tells me, "Not really, I'm only attracted to Filipinos. They look so exotic."

Of course we do.

To the men of the Castro, I'm pretty only because I'm Filipino. I'm pretty only because I somehow represent or fulfill the criteria for a Filipino. I'm almost always tempted to call out these fetishes, but I also want to keep the drink. So I take the come-ons as a validation, even when it's clearly an empty gesture of approval.

When I was younger, hearing a guy state his personal "preference" regarding race never really made me think about what that actually says about him as a person. It never bothered me. I just read it as a simple inclination, like how I usually go for guys who are smart and relatively tall, and how I definitely give out bonus points for glasses. I also generally prefer someone who has a job that can pay our Uber fares. My young brain didn't detect any inklings of racism, nor did it grasp the problematic nature of such racial preferences. So I played along with it. I took advantage of the prejudice toward Asians so I didn't have to pay the (rice queen) bartender.

My understanding of those who claim they are solely attracted to a particular race is that those individuals have identified a dominant trait that they believe cannot be found in people from different ethnicities. Sure, people can argue that their romantic racial preferences are mostly about physical traits, but that defense falls apart when we consider the reality. In truth, humans are inconsistent, diverse creatures; not all Asians have smooth skin, a tiny frame, or thick jet-black hair. Those who don't correspond with the stereotype can feel disoriented and deeply rejected.

I'm Filipino of Spanish descent. I match most of the perceived stereotypes about Asians in general: I'm slim, I look younger than my actual age, and I'm pretty good at math. But according to the men who buy me drinks at bars and compliment those traits, I'm actually too forthright and mean "for an Asian guy."

I remember one time when a guy approached and informed me, "I like Asians. You guys are easy to handle." He was tall and huge. I asked him if his preference had anything to do with his own insecurities -- that he needed to dominate small-framed guys. He walked away without even buying me a beer. Rude.

I've never really known whether I should take these come-ons as a compliment or not. My so-called beauty only gets validated and recognized if I fit what "rice queens" believe all Asians should be. That perpetuates the problematic presumption that race and ethnicity should be key factors in determining supposedly "objective" standards of beauty.

Summarizing my own dating history, I can acknowledge that I mostly date white men who are at least 25 years old. Whenever I go out with someone of a different race, they usually are closer to my age. I admit that I do find most white men attractive. Their pale skin, brown or reddish hair, and their ability to attain a perfect 5 o'clock shadow just draw me in. Despite this, my preference doesn't give me the right to reject and refuse to entertain a conversation with another individual of a difference race. The key is to see beauty detached from a checklist of stereotypes.

Because they intersect with the supposedly immutable laws of attraction, racial preferences in dating usually don't appear as outright racist. But if you start to think you like men of a particular race for reasons beyond their typical physical features and it begins to affect your entire perception of a class of people, it's time to reevaluate.

Three years ago, I met a guy eight years older than I am. He was white, tall, and wore glasses. He was definitely my type -- even though his breath reeked of nicotine. During the course of our brief affair, not once did any discussion about racial preference come up. I believe that that was the only time my race didn't factor in to how a guy saw me. But when things got a little too serious, he cut it off. I'm still glad I met him, because when he said he found me "very attractive," it was the most genuine validation I ever received.

What everyone should really be searching for is that moment in the first few minutes of an intriguing conversation where we crumple our "checklist" and allow ourselves to be genuinely attracted to a whole person, rather than just physical or racial characteristics. When this happens, there's no way to really know whom you'll end up with. And that's the beauty of it.

MAJICK TADEPA is an intern for The Advocate. He's now entering his senior year at the University of California, Berkeley. Send rations, prayers, and encouragement to his Twitter @majickhere.

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