By Cleo Falvey
Just as my Tinder date leaned in to give me a hug at the end of our eight-hour long first date, she said, “Just so you know, I have an Asian fetish, so I’m super thrilled you’re Asian.”
Newly eighteen, lonely, and desperate not to ruin my first real queer relationship, I did what many of us have naively done in the face of a red flag. Through rose-colored glasses, I brushed it off, reassuring her that the fetish “wasn’t a dealbreaker for me.” It was not until the relationship was long over when I realized how it actually was a dealbreaker.
Now, let me explain. I have absolutely no problem with individuals having preferences or types; I’m a sucker for nerdy brunettes with glasses myself. Unfortunately, oftentimes, racially-based preferences quickly become fetishes based on harmful stereotypes. This phenomenon of “yellow fever” is nothing new – it has colonial roots, but it still persists today, as Asian women are statistically the most sought-after ethnic group on dating websites.
It took more than a few unsolicited dick pictures and countless hours of swiping on Bumble to come to a stark, and somewhat depressing, realization: I needed to screen potential dates to make sure they were really interested in me. Online, I defended myself from microaggressions, dodged requests for threesomes and to “be kinkier,” and blocked anyone who opened with “Ni hao” or, worse, “ching chong” in their opening lines.
Even though I tried my best to screen online dates before meeting them in person, I still dealt with a lot of creepy comments. One guy leaned across the coffeeshop table, sizing me up. “All the girls who’ve ever been interested in me so far have been Asian,” he said, winking, and suddenly, this one wasn’t. No one viewed me how I wanted to be seen. They saw my bisexuality, East Asian features, and only considered dating me to fulfill sexual conquests.
However, I am not alone in my dating difficulties: According to one qualitative study, Asian-American women who are queer are more likely to experience fetishization while dating, with one woman pointing out that she “didn’t feel like Asian lesbians are taken seriously.” As an Asian bisexual, I completely agree with her sentiment. In fact, I wrote this piece to bring awareness to the double standards that we face. Although these identities are important to me – I am proud of my Chinese heritage and I’m also out and proud and bisexual, these are not the only things about me. I do not want to be reduced to a submissive china doll in relationships because of these biases.
Dating for everyone is an act of resilience, of picking yourself up and trying again, because rejection hurts and everyone wants to be accepted for who they truly are, not just paper cutouts of what society thinks we should be. I want to be accepted for who I truly am, and being bisexual and Asian is only a small fraction of that.
Cleo Falvey studies biology at UMass Boston and began volunteering with the BRC in 2020.