On Interracial Dating – The Asian Panel (2 of 3)

Rain, thinking of Full House

Welcome back to the Asian panel on Interracial Dating. Our panelists are:

N’Jaila Rhee, the mastermind behind BlaysianBytch.com (link NSFW); Elton, long time commenter and friend of the blog; refresh_daemon, blogger and occasional contributor; Christina Xu, friend of the blog and occasional contributor; Eric Zhang, occasional contributor; and Holly, contributor at Feministe.

Since minorities are seen in different lights (and with different accompanying stereotypes), what types of reactions have people had toward you and your partners? How are white partners perceived, as opposed to minority partners? Were any partners considered “off-limits” or “forbidden?”

N’jaila: I only know the perspective of the “forbidden” partner. My skin is brown and my hair is curly, my breasts are large and my booty is big. For many of my partners I was something sexually alluring and “dangerous” that was my main selling point. I was forbidden fruit.  I think a good number of my sexual partners took me as a conquest to prove their virility.  Asianness and Blackness is almost synonymous with sexual deviancy for many people.

Growing up I think that white partners felt the most off limits because they were so outside the realm of what was familiar to me.  If they were so alien to me I couldn’t imagine them looking at me and not seeing a laundry list of stereotypes either a dragon lady, mammy , Jezebel or otherwise.  I guess you can say I did not trust white men to make the distinction between genuine attraction and fetish exploration.

Eric: This may be a little bit contradictory to what I said above, but I remember one specific moment, the only moment I had where my mother specifically addressed interracial relationships. She told me and my brother that we were not allowed to marry a black or Japanese woman. My brother took it as a challenge, because he is very much involved in Japanese subculture, but I really just refused to say anything about it. To some extent, my mother’s racist beliefs about black people may have affected me subconsciously, because I remember one time mentioning to my friends that I had a crush on a black classmate, and that he was “the first black guy I’ve ever liked,” which in retrospect was not entirely true. As soon as I said it, though, I realized that I had been brought up to believe that I should not be attracted to black people, whether because of my mother or media representations.

The Japanese part is a result of long-standing resentment in many Chinese of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations towards the Japanese during WWII. I think on an academic level this type of discrimination fascinates me even more, because I have a friend who is half-Chinese and half-Japanese, and she would talk about how her grandparents were scandalized when her parents got married. These kinds of interethnic hostilities are often unspoken about, I think, but many of us who grew up with Chinese, Japanese, or Korean parents have these beliefs instilled in us, so my Chinese friends understand more personally why I was surprised about this girl being half-Japanese than, I think, many of my white friends do.

I often do explicitly wonder what my parents think about interracial relationships, and in particular about my interracial relationships. However, I try to keep them as separate as possible from my dating life, because I think they are uncomfortable with the idea that I date men in the first place, although I believe they accept it on an intellectual level. The only time I’ve told them about my partner was when I came out to my mother, and she was more concerned with the fact that he was a boy than that he was white.

On the other hand, I think many people expect me to date outside of my race, probably because of this common perception that Asian men aren’t sexy, or that they’re not my “type” (which is odd because I don’t think I have a “type,” but I believe that people expect gay Asians to be twinky feminine boys, and rarely think of them as more “straight-acting,” and that, in turn, my preference would be for a more masculine, non-Asian boyfriend, which is untrue). I think my friends especially would be surprised if I were to have an Asian boyfriend, because so far I have only been with non-Asians (though not for lack of interest). I secretly suspect that my parents similarly expect my brother and me to end up with white partners, but hope we will marry Chinese.

Holly: I’ve definitely had the experience of being the “weird, unexpected” partner, because sometimes people (and I guess I tend to think specifically of partners’ families) don’t know how to categorize me racially, and sometimes haven’t been able to make sense of my gender either. Sometimes I think the weird mixture of things has actually helped throw the radar way off: I had one partner whose mother was really upset that her daughter was gay and dating me (and I was her third girlfriend) but was also super-interested to talk to me about my family and Japanese background, plus the fact that she saw me as a “successful professional” relative to the lower-middle-class white surroundings of her family — I don’t know, maybe it was an exotic package that was both good and bad? I’ve had experiences of being seen as too masculine for some partners and too feminine for other partners — and those kinds of things always intersect with race in both predictable and unpredictable ways. Asians are stereotyped and unconsciously perceived as “more feminine” and that sets people’s expecations, which in turn means that they can disapprove of you because you meet the expectations, or be confused and dismayed that you don’t.

If you have not dated interracially, what has contributed to the reasons why not?

Elton:  I have not dated.  A perspective missing from the interracial dating conversation is that of Asian men raised not to date and to focus on education.  Not having a girlfriend deeply troubled me as a teenager, but now I look at the modern Western pressures and expectations regarding romance with much more skepticism.  Am I less of a man because I’m Asian American?  Hell no.  Am I happy being single right now?  Hell yes.

Latoya: I’m going to break the mod wall for one hot second, since you brought up something often not represented in dating conversations, which is not participating. To speak personally for a sec, one of my close friends is Korean American – she’s been on exactly one date, and its one I set up for her. (She expressed interest in dating a few years ago – we are all in our late 20s now.)  She has a lot of trouble picking up dating signals – in our conversations, she told me that a LOT of her friends have never been on a date and never had a boyfriend and were now wondering about marriage as we approach 30.  I have no idea how to cover that though, its so far from my experience…

Elton:  It’s a big unspoken issue–not everyone conforms to the modern Western romantic “plan” for dating and marriage, which is a very, very recent invention.  So how can we deal with intercultural dating when different cultures have different concepts of dating itself?  We can’t just assume that assimilation (Asian men need to ask more women on dates, problem solved) is the only way.

Latoya: True. But in that case, that raises more questions. (And perhaps this needs to be its own conversation, in another post.) So exactly how large of a factor are cultural norms, even in framing this conversation? And how widespread is this exactly? Last time I checked, there was something like a 15% outmarriage rate among Asian Americans; do we need to do an “opt-out” rate as well?

Elton:  I would be very interested to see a post on this topic.  I think many young people are skeptical of traditional concepts of dating and marriage–not because we want to be promiscuous, but because we want to be independent and possibly childfree, we’ve seen how much misery the institution of marriage has caused our parents and others, and the conservative “defense of marriage” agenda has made us wary (and weary) of marriage, period.

Besides, who can afford to date or get married anymore?

refresh_daemon: Like Elton, I’m a non-dater and in my youth, it was because my parents strongly discouraged (but didn’t outright prohibit) me from dating so that I can focus on my studies and getting into a good college. And likewise in college for getting a good job. I was always a bit of a straight arrow, so I complied with their desires.

However, why I am not actively seeking a relationship at the moment is simply because I don’t have the time to invest in one: I have more projects than I can handle at the moment on top of my day job and I’m very aware that were I to engage in a relationship with someone, I would very much be a boyfriend only on paper, which is something I would rather not be.

Were I to actually start dating, despite my parents preferences, I am not opposed to interracial and cross cultural dating, although I would personally also prefer to be in a relationship with someone who can relate well to my parents and someone who would be willing to adopt and learn some elements of Korean culture if they don’t already have it, as well as learn or know the language. Note, it’s just a preference, but I foresee the possibility of working in Seoul as well as the US and so an ability to navigate both worlds is important, as it’s also important to me that a potential spouse would be well integrated into my family.  And, I would likewise be willing, if she is of another culture, to learn and practice critical elements of her culture as well as learn the language of her parents in order to foster deeper communication with them and become a better integrated part her family as well.  Of course, this is an ideal scenario and I understand that in real life, you can’t get everything you want.  And I know that pragmatically limits me primarily to Koreans in terms of an ideal, but I’m probably more than willing to overlook these considerations if I meet a woman of another ethnicity or culture of great character that I share mutual attraction and compatibility with.

My parents forbade me to date when I was younger, it wasn’t until I was 17 that I was allowed to have a boyfriend. Of course my parents didn’t know that I was dating since I was 14 years old. I think It just taught me be secretive and feel a bit shameful about having relationships. Almost ten years later and I still can’t imagine taking a man to meet my parents.  I can talk to my mother about going on dates, but never my father. Its just not spoken of.

refresh_daemon: I am kind of curious as to those who are unwillingly single versus those who choose to be single.  It does explode my brain to think that someone (particularly women, given mainstream dating paradigms) could stay single into their 30’s without willfully choosing to do.  It can’t be for a lack of interested partners, right?  But, I do think that this is a bit off topic and more suited to a separate discussion about singleness.

Conversations around Asian American men mirror the conversations around Black American women and dating. What do you think contributes to this positioning, and why isn’t there more cross cultural discussion about this issue?

N’jaila: I actually think that the similarities with Asian men and Black women have been emphasized by grossly oversimplifying issues. I think most people think we are in the same boat because of the disparity that supposedly caused by Asian women and Black men choosing White partners. I think that how each group sees the “problem” is very different.

I think for a lot of Asian men , this is more of an annoyance than a life altering issue. Statistically speaking most Asian American men get married. Do they marry less whites than their female counterparts, no. I think there’s a very vocal minority of Asian men that make attaining a white woman a sign of manhood and belonging. Asian men on the Internet and the Asian men that are in my friends and family seem to see this issue very differently. Of course I grew up in Bergen County NJ where seeing mixed marriages and couples is nothing shocking or of note. So I might have a skewed view of this.

I think many Asian men are angry about being excluded from the white dating pool because they’ve been fed the line that they are the “white minorities” and if anyone was the most qualified to marry into whiteness it would be them. They’re finding that not to be the case. So I think for Asian men its more of a ,”Hey where’d my privilege go?” than with Black women.

I think the much hyped “Black Male” shortage for Black women has a lot more to do with Black women’s reluctance to marry non-Black men. A man of color with a White woman is seen as progress, a Woman of color with a White man is seen as regression. I think many Black women also see marriage and the need for a “traditional on paper” home as something a bit passe. Black women also seem to get married a lot later in life so when people talk about that figure that 42% of Black women are not married they fail to ask what age demographic these numbers came from , usually they are talking about women 18-25 , when you raise the age to 35 the amount of unmarried Black women drops dramatically.

refresh_daemon: The position exists simply because the rates of out-marriage (or it just out-relationships?) mirror each other between Black women and Asian men (in comparison to Black men and Asian women). And I do think there is some correlation in terms of how the mainstream views Black femininity and Asian masculinity in particular, but I think that some Asian men and Black women unfairly take shots at their intraracial counterparts for some kind of perceived betrayal, rather than direct their attention to the overwhelming and subtle messages given by mainstream culture about what is desirable in a partner and who that partner should be.

In terms of cross-cultural discussion, I do think that, at least on the internet, this kind of discussion does tend to happen, but only in hotspots where people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds collide, like on Racialicious. Otherwise, the bigger question that’s begged is: why aren’t we all in more cross-cultural discussion altogether?

Holly: I have a tendency to see this as intrinsically linked to gender stereotypes as well. With white people as the hegemonic “norm” against which everyone else is measured in a white-supremacist society, all the “others” are either seen as more submissive, feminine, smaller, weaker, but maybe smarter (asians, generally) or as more dangerous, threatening, bigger, more masculine (black people, generally). (Of course with the way stereotypes work, contradictions operate simultaneously and manage to both deny and reinforce these things — as with the “angry asian misogynist business-samurai” stereotype and the “emasculated submissive ass-kissing black man” stereotype.) But generally, I think that the hegemonic view is that asian = “more feminine” and black = “more masculine.” Maybe it’s too simplistic, but this also handily explains why asian men and black women have lower rates of out-marriage. Black women are too loud, threatening, angry, big, belligerent, masculine. Asian men are too small, weak, feminine, hairless, whatever.

Eric: (I am going way off topic with this!!)

Within the gay community, which has historically and still presently does at times reproduce many of the same kinds of roles as in heterosexual relationships (perhaps the biggest point of contention being topping/bottoming, which some activists have argued reproduces heterosexist views that one partner must be the “masculine” top and the other the “feminine” bottom), I believe Asian men are often seen as automatically the “woman” in the relationship. Nguyen Tan Hoang’s work “Forever Bottom!” documents the tendency in gay pornography, for example, to cast Asian men as the bottom. There have been exceptions, particularly in amateur gay porn, which seems more open to casting masculine Asian men as tops, but for the most part in mainstream gay porn, the Asian man almost always bottoms. Of course, we can get into a whole discussion about whether bottoming necessarily equates to feminine, and the gendered/sexualized questions about that, but let’s just say for the sake of argument that, at least in mainstream porn, the bottom represents the more feminine partner. Similarly, the fascination and exotification around the phenomenon of the ladyboy, or Thai transsexuals/feminine boys (depending), has created a market around Asian men as feminine.

Although Asian men historically have been marginalized and desexualized, I see that a lot of attitudes have been starting to change. Aside from gay porn, I also mentioned earlier that K-pop has become increasingly popular, to the extent of turning a particular type of Asian men into sex symbols. Obviously there’s still a far way to go, but with the success of actors like Daniel Henney, Daniel Dae Kim, or Harry Shum, Jr., I think people are beginning to see Asian men as sexy. In a way, we’ve always been sexy in the gay community the way that Asian women are marketed as desirable to white men, but the stereotypes persist. In the most basic way, I have noticed that talk about Asian male sex symbols often tend to make mention of penis size (like on Glee, did we really need Tina to say that about Mike Chang? There was also a minor controversy about an amateur gay porn site that described a mixed-race model as getting his exotic facial features from his Asian genes and his “big dick” from his Polish side).

I can’t speak that much to the experiences of straight black women or even gay black men, but while gay Asian men are often cast as effeminate, submissive bottoms (an obvious analogue to the geisha figure), black men in gay porn are often the complete opposite. They are large in all senses of the word, they top more often than not, and usually they do not conform to stereotypes of the fairy fag. More often than Asian men, black men (and white men) are cast as “gay-for-pay” actors to fuel stereotypical gay fantasies about “turning” straight men. What does this say about non-effeminate, straight Asian men?

refresh_daemon: Eric, I know I’m answering a rhetorical question, but I believe that would mean that non-effeminate straight Asian men simply don’t exist. I think you are Holly are on the same track in noting the feminization/masculinization of race in mainstream culture, with white people being “normal”, Black people being “masculine” and Asian people being “feminine”. (Where do all the other people fit on this spectrum?) But I have an issue with the masculine/feminine binary to begin with, especially as many modern cultures are exaggerating these aspects to cartoonish degrees and overemphasizing femininity and masculinity in identity and perhaps how the problem relates to Black women and Asian men having a dearth of relationships is connected to the hyper-masculinization/feminization issue when combined with those racial perceptions of gender.

Holly: Since white people get to be the unmarked, assumed-ordinary norm and actually experience subjectivity and individuality… who do you think has to play the roll of “cartoonishly overemphasized icons” in the cultural formulation of gender? Black people, Asian people, everyone else. It’s part of being the other.

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  • Matt E. Allen

    This whole series has been a great read.  I’d love to see a spinoff post on people who haven’t dated as well.

  • thanks

    Thanks for the non-dating discussion (Well, all the discussions, really)! In a lot of circles in the States it is often not acknowledged that people in their twenties or thirties would not be sexually active by choice for cultural or personal reasons (sometimes religious reasons are discussed).

  • Guest

    I’m not American so my comments might be irrelevant but the part about Asian men being percieved as less manly seems very wrong to me, my racist stereotype is that white American/European men are unmanly and childish but Asian men are more strong and silent types which I see as proper manliness. I honestly think people confuse masculinity with height. The inter-Asian prejudice is a serious topic, it seems stupid so many different cultures are put together. “Asian” is such a meaningless category really, it’s just geographic. But I guess I could say the same thing about “Chinese”. I’m Polynesian and 2.5/8 Asian but I don’t think of myself as mixed race at all, I just identify as a member of my “tribe”. Apparently in America Polynesians are classified in the same catgory as Asians which seems bizarre to me because where I live Polynesians are considered “black” and all the same stereotypes, masculine, strong labour, racialised criminal underclass etc. I find that white men treat me completely differently depending on if they think I’m Asian or Polynesian from an Island or Maori from main-land NZ – but not very well in any case. I have only dated 1 Asian man, everybody thought I was a gold-digger. He was Taiwanese, he wasn’t racist aganst “blacks” but he offended me with his racist views about Indigenous Taiwanese people. I also dated an African American guy the American part was more confusing than the race part. I wonder if I have anything in common with Asian-American people. I think N’Jaila Rhee’s comments are pretty similar to my experience but I don’t really think of myself as anything other than Maori with Chinese relatives.

  • refresh daemon

    A little resource regarding out-marriage rates for some Asian American ethnic groups: http://www.asian-nation.org/interracial.shtml

    It does show, for most Asian American groups, that women do marry-out more frequently than men, East Asians Woman/White Male around 10-20% more and different Asian American groups marry-out at different percentages too. Some interesting data to help frame some of the discussion around the Black women/Asian men discussion. My not-so-sophisticated Google searches haven’t turned up any similar data for Black out-marriage data, though, so I can’t draw those comparisons.

    Some more IR data from OKCupid, which was talked about here on Racialicious a while back: http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/your-race-affects-whether-people-write-you-back/

  • Grace

    Woooooooow. What a discussion. Two thumbs up! On the bus on my way home from work. Will mull over this and perhaps add something more in depth later on, lol. Great read though, you guys!