Not your Asian manic pixie dream girl

Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - 3:10pm

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Grace Cho/Daily

As a Chinese-American bisexual girl, my love and sex life have been a mess from the start. Long before I knew I was also into girls, I was super into boys, and not afraid to be upfront about it. I think I was something of a feminist in middle school before I really learned about or knew what feminism actually was because I thought that girls waiting for boys to ask them out all because of social and gender norms was dumb. I’d ask boys out.

But growing up as a kid in the 2000s, I didn’t feel very attractive. I didn’t look like Barbie and have long blonde hair, big blue eyes, freckles, or the tiny, upturned nose I wanted to have so badly. All of these, of course, were Eurocentric beauty standards. In the romance movies I watched as a kid, all the female protagonists were white — there was very little Asian representation in the media. When I was younger, I didn’t think I was attractive at all because I wasn’t white. And of course, as a kid, I went through the whole “only attracted to white boys” phase — something that’s very common among young Asian girls, but deeply rooted in internalized racism and societal norms about what the West deems beauty and desirability to look like. I dreamed of being the good-looking, average American girl next door and I so badly wanted a white boyfriend. I used to think that if I could just have a white dude named Jake to love me, I would somehow feel validated and more beautiful because someone like that could be attracted to someone like me.

Looking back ten years later, I realize how wrong I was. It took me a while to accept myself as Asian. In my early teen years, I tried to play myself off by being the most non-stereotypical Asian girl: I was super outgoing and not afraid to say what was on my mind, wasn’t afraid to make the first move with boys I was interested in, listened to a lot of Green Day and wore a lot of black. I was trying to send out the message that I was “not like other Asian girls.” In my mind, I imagined Asian girls to be unattractive nerds complicit in our own dehumanization and oppression (Chinese culture places importance in society on older men, and most older Chinese families have a preference for sons over daughters). But with social media now, I see a lot more faces in my feed that look like mine — Asian girls on Instagram being fashionable and looking cute. But with the rebranding of Asian girls from being the undesirable nerd with bangs to being the sexy, long-haired tattooed party girl with eyelash extensions, it still didn’t quite fit with what I was.

And, for better or worse, my experience with boys changed from “you’re not attractive because you’re Asian” to the “you’re attractive because you’re Asian” sort of fetishization by white men — which I soon learned, did not put me in a better place at all (both above statements are gross and racist). A number of guys I’ve hooked up with have told me, “I just think Asian women are the hottest,” or “You would make so much money if you did porn.” In pop culture and porn especially, Asian women are fetishized and portrayed as submissive sexual objects or “Dragon ladies,” a stereotype of Asian women as mysterious, deceiving, and domineering (much like a sexy ninja). It’s hard for me as a girl who enjoys asserting and owning my sexuality to not fit into these sorts of stereotypes — and what’s more, I hate it when men try to play it off like I’m doing this for them like no, stop, my sexual prowess is my own.

Even after coming to college at the University of Michigan, I still encounter such ignorance and fetishization of my race. Someone I met at a tailgate said to me, “You’re the sexiest Asian I’ve ever seen,” and someone from my economics discussion told me, “I’ve never had Asian pussy before.” I told him to stop fetishizing my race, to which he replied, “If anything, I thought it would be more of an incentive for you.” Excuse me, “Chad,” I’m not eight anymore and I don’t need a white boy’s attention to feel accepted and wanted.

Now: women. Being bisexual is hard enough as it is. But being Asian and bisexual is where it gets even more complicated. When I tentatively came out at age 14, people were shocked that I was attracted to women and were shocked that someone who grew up in a strict Asian household could be bisexual. Again, I was haunted by stereotypes of being the perfect docile Chinese daughter who never did anything wrong (although my peers knew perfectly well what I was up to behind my parents’ backs). Additionally, being fetishized for my race was already annoying enough — I now had to deal with guys fetishizing my sexuality and asking me if I would have a threesome. It’s hard to be a sexual person by nature and not fall into these racist, sexist stereotypes of being merely a sexual object for men’s pleasure. I wanted to be able to enjoy sex and relationships without being overly sexualized and objectified just for my identity.

I’ve even been referred to as an Asian “manic pixie dream girl.” Manic pixie dream girls are a trope in film and television for a quirky and alternative sort of female character who “isn’t like other girls,” and exist only to help the male protagonist rediscover or better himself. But that’s not me in relationships or sex at all. I — like every other woman — am complicated and smart and angry and confused and happy. I have interests outside of the bedroom. I have goals of my own that don’t include fixing broken men and being the mysterious dark-haired lover with black combat boots and big eyeliner-rimmed eyes. I — like other bisexual women of color — am so much more than that. And I sure as hell don’t need society or “Chad” telling me how I should act based on a shitty pop culture reference. My bisexuality is not for men to sexualize. My Chinese heritage is not for people to fetishize and make assumptions about — and most of all, I am not your Asian manic pixie dream girl.