I was talking to another Asian friend about dating — bad dates, embarrassing dates, funny dates — when we inevitably got to the topic of dating as women of color.
“I had a guy ask me once what he should call me — ‘Oriental?’” I said. “I think he thought calling me Asian was offensive.”
My friend laughed. “I wonder what the stereotype is for white women,” she said.
“That they’re multidimensional? A real person?” I joked.
As I said it, the truth of the words hit me. When you’re in an interracial relationship, you will be the subject of many misguided notions.
A guy I used to date asked one day to look at my eyes up close. He preferred women without make-up, but I have sparse eyebrows and monolids, like a lot of Asian women, which means I usually need a little more eye makeup than most. Other women have not had to do this, I remember thinking, as he examined my face. This is an Asian woman’s experience.
A coworker once asked my boyfriend at happy hour if he was “into Asians,” as if I were flavor of the week.
On a vacation to Virginia Beach, a homeless man high-fived my boyfriend and asked him, without ever looking at me, what it was like to sleep with an Asian girl.
Once, at a bar, someone said to him, “I don’t like Asians,” as casually as one says, “I don’t like pickles,” or “Spinning is just not my thing.” I’m not into you either, I should have said. But the moment passed and no one batted an eye.
I brought up the comment later on the car ride home. It wasn’t a huge deal, I said. It was a microaggression that people of color are used to, that we take in stride, but it did hurt that he’d said it right in front of me. Immediately, my boyfriend got defensive and accused me of overreacting.
We’d only just started having conversations about what it was like to be a person of color. They weren’t comfortable, or easy, conversations, and we’d had fights like this before.
Well-meaning people can be ignorant. Well-meaning people can be your friends. They can be your partner. Well-meaning people can misunderstand if you try to show them the ways you feel dehumanized. Well-meaning people can try to explain it away.
My well-meaning boyfriend once asked why me why the stereotype of Asian women’s sexual attractiveness was offensive. In the scope of all the other possible stereotypes, it didn’t seem like the most negative one, did it?
At first, the weight of the question, and the anger of years having an idea thrust upon me, overwhelmed me. I felt like the question trivialized my experience of being objectified. How do you explain to someone that a stereotype, whether positive or negative, makes you the object of someone else’s expectations? How do you explain feeling small when you know you are magnificent?
I thought about it for a while before I answered.
“Because that’s the kind of thinking that makes someone walk right up to you and ask what it’s like to sleep with me, without even giving me the respect of looking me in my face,” I said.
He was immediately sobered. He nodded. “Okay,” he said.
This is what being in an interracial relationship is like.
You will have moments when your well-meaning partner will try to understand the things that upset you. Sometimes — a lot of the times — they won’t.
You will have moments when, because they love you, they will try.
You will have moments when your loved ones will stand up for you, loudly and visibly, because even though they don’t understand completely, you are a person to them.
Sometimes you will have to show them who you are. Loud and soft and whole and flawed. They won’t be able to deny you.