Savages, Schoolgirls and Thugs
I like brown boys. This is a familiar refrain of mine, part-truth and part-jest. It’s genuine, because I am often attracted to men of Middle Eastern or Indian Subcontinent-background. But I also recognize it’s a silly thing to say and, because it makes people uncomfortable, it gets laughs. A certain friend of mine even promised me an ‘I Heart Brown Boys’ t-shirt which I am still waiting for. She knows who she is. But when does my interest (I don’t want to call it a fetish) cross the line from silly into racist? We all have superficial preferences we freely admit, like hair-colour or body type, but when it comes to the race of a potential partner we’re on much shakier political ground. By pursuing certain types of people, are we expressing a healthy sexual preference that’s a part of who we are or are we reducing people to ethnic stereotypes, denying their full humanity in order to cast our fantasies?
I had been thinking about this already after the random ending about hot Native men to my last post (I found another ridiculous comment on youtube: “What state can you find all these men in? I want one. Gimme gimme!”) when an event at work yesterday played it out.
I have a Japanese co-worker named Noriko. She is sweet and reliably helpful, despite her English not being that strong (though we think she understands much better than she speaks). She works harder than any of us Canadian employees and smiles all the time. She likes me because I sing at work (“Max, you are always such fun”) and once tried to teach her about Queen Victoria.
Today this man acted as though he was going to buy something but instead stood there lecherously chatting with her as she tried to get away. “So you don’t have many friends in Canada?” I heard him ask. Creeper. Eventually, my boss called her away and whispered, “If they’re not buying something you don’t need to keep talking.” I thought the subtext of the situation had passed by her until half an hour later when she asked me a question.
“Max, what do you…think of Japanese girls?”
“I, umm, I don’t know many Japanese girls,” I answered. “I think you’re the only one.” She sighed, knowing that I didn’t understand her point.
“What do Canadian men think of Japanese girls?” she asked. “Do you think… they think… they are more… easy?”
“Oh. I don’t know,” I stammered, uncharacteristically at a loss for words. “I know that a lot of white guys think Asian girls are very pretty.” She nodded. “But ‘easy’…? I don’t know.”
“When I was in Australia, a lot of men think Japanese girls are easy,” she said. Neither of us found more words of explanation and the conversation ended.
How could I tell her that it went beyond thinking Asian girls were “pretty”, that there is a very specific fetish about young, submissive, preferably ‘schoolgirl’ Asians? Why, as a gay man, do I even know this? Because it’s everywhere, although especially concentrated on that repository of fantasy, our society’s hidden-but-not-hidden id: the internet. A cursory glance online demonstrates that pornography is not peopled with human beings so much as with accepted types. While some types are as general as hair-colour (blondes) or body types (busty), others are much more specific. Different races are tied with different predetermined personalities. Fetishes are not based on physicality as much as a series of cultural archetypes. Therefore, while Asian schoolgirls are ‘submissive’, while ‘big-bottomed’ Latino and black women are meant to be boisterous. And it’s not just a straight thing: gay porn is populated by tough-talking black ‘thugs’, swarthy ‘Italian stallions’, innocent blue-eyed Russian youths, stoic Indian ‘noble savages’ and waifish Asian ‘twinks’. (Wow, ‘Russian’ was the only descriptor there I felt safe not attaching quotes to!)
You could argue, as I’m sure some social constructionist somewhere has, that admitting your attraction to a specific race is no different than admitting to liking redhead girls or hipsters who wear skinny jeans and have bad facial hair. Some might think that as soon as we label ourselves heterosexual or homosexual we’ve already placed assumptions based on body types unto future lovers (he has a penis and all that implies, therefore I can be attracted to him), though I don’t think preference for an ethnic group is as central as our preference for sexes.
But these fetishes don’t exist in a vacuum. While I am pro-sex and am in favour of people expressing their fantasies, I worry about what socio-politics are behind them. How does an ethnic-minority subject of a fetish feel about being on the receiving end of it: turned on or used (or both)? Why do so many personal ads specify race: do the posters want to attract one specific group, or disincline another? Why is interracial sex so prominent in pornography: are fetishes a way of dealing with itchy social issues we’re uncomfortable talking about openly?
Do I like brown boys because I’m attracted to their dark, expressive eyes, or because I have a series of subconscious conceptions of them I want to see played out?
That’s a lot of questions that I don’t have answers to. Sexual preference is one of those crazy-complex human things which we may never get to the bottom of. Which I can live with, I guess.