I am not your Asian fetish.
In my first year of university, on one of those rare occasions where I decided it would be a fun idea to go somewhere with sticky floors, dim lighting and $11 beers, I had a particularly memorable encounter which encapsulated both racism and sexism. I didn’t have a proof of age document, and was using my passport as identification. The bouncer took a long time to examine it, after checking my date of birth, he flipped through the pages, checking my visa and the places I’d traveled to and lived. I was too nervous to contradict the 300 pound man with the pin-up tattoos, so I just watched him, waiting for the inevitable barrage of questions.
You’re a Muslim? You lived in Dubai? How do you have an Australian passport?
I offered up my usual stumbling explanation of how my parents are Indian and I’d lived in Melbourne, and how I’m actually an atheist. He laughed and whispered to his co-bouncer and handed me back my passport.
The club was dark, the light from the ceiling fell in fragments and spliced through the moving silhouettes. There were some plaid shirts playing pool. Vomit and sweat mingled with marijuana fumes. I felt nauseous as I ordered a beer. They were playing ‘Lola’ by the Kinks, and I felt better as the beer kicked in. I closed my eyes and sang along.
Girls will be boys and boys will be girls,
It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world,
Except for Lola.
My friend was on the dance floor. I checked that my passport was buried in the depths of my bag, and after gulping down the last dregs of beer I joined her I was at the right level of inebriation to lose my self consciousness, and I danced as the music thrummed through my skull and the beer churned my stomach. We laughed and twirled and sang along. After a while, we decided to get some air in the beer garden outside. Everyone was smoking and we were enveloped in the swirling fumes. A couple of guys asked us if they could bum some smokes. One had horn rimmed glasses and the other looked like Jesus. We made small talk about university and music. Jesus was a big Motown fan, and he showed us his dance moves. Horn Rim Glasses talked about studying T.S. Eliot in his Literature class, and we talked about poetry for a while until he asked the impending question.
Where are you from? You look exotic.
I offered him my perfectly rehearsed answer.
Oh really? I thought you were Arab.
The music was too loud to hear properly, and eventually the conversation trailed off. The word exotic remained suspended in the air.
Do you want to go back to my place?
I didn’t, and I apologized and said I had to leave. I grabbed hold of my friend and we navigated through the crowds towards the exit. Jesus and Horn Rimmed Glasses followed us.
I didn’t want to seem nervous, so I tried not to walk too quickly, but as they approached, we sped up. The bouncers spotted us leaving in a hurry. The one who’d checked my passport called out after me.
Where’s your burqa you filthy little Arab slut?
I replayed those words in my head the entire walk home.
For me, my experiences of racism and sexism have always been inextricably linked. Every experience of street harassment I have faced has had both elements. As a woman of Indian descent (who’s often mistaken for Middle Eastern) I have a paralyzing fear of purity fetishists and reductive stereotypes. Sexuality is confusing enough to navigate without being cast in the role of the virgin/whore based on ethnicity, and this antiquated colonialist idea of Asian women as subservient and chaste is debilitating. I remember having an infuriating argument with a friend where he talked about his preference for Asian girls.
I like Asian and Indian girls because they don’t sleep around, and they have value for their virginity. You know they’re not going to cheat on you or have casual sex.
Black women face the opposite stereotype, they are often depicted as hyper sexualized and sex crazed, which again, has roots in the colonialist perceptions of women of colour.
Perceptions of race and gender are not mutually exclusive, which is why I sometimes find myself getting frustrated with middle class white feminism, which I often find to be an exclusionary movement, which does not recognize the complexities of this interrelationship. This is why I believe in the importance of intersectionality being recognized in the feminist movement. Intersectionality is defined as:
‘Intersectionality is the study of intersections between different disenfranchised groups or groups of minorities; specifically, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination. The term is particularly prevalent in black feminism, which argues that the experience of being a black female cannot simply be understood in terms of being black, and of being female, considered independently, but must include the interactions, which frequently reinforce each other.‘
Also, tattooed bouncer on Brunswick Street, if you’re reading this, you need to educate yourself about feminism and intersectionality. Also, go fuck yourself, because you’re a total asshole.