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I asked my boyfriend what kind of porn he watches and his response is, exclusively, what you see in the title.

I asked my boyfriend what kind of porn he watches and his response is, exclusively, what you see in the title. I laughed it off. Someone close to you says something that makes you that uncomfortable and you think, they must be joking.

“Asian” is a loose and arbitrary term. People (maybe not all people, maybe not you, but people) think: the Big Three (Chinese, Korean, Japanese) or Filipino or Thai or maybe a loose, clustering conceptualization of slender girls with slanted eyes – just the right amount of ethnic ambiguity to intoxicate and intrigue. It’s a large continent, but these are the ripe pickings that float upwards in popular imagination. 

I’m sitting there in the dark of my room, voice light and whispery-suggestive, trying to imagine what he looks for when he’s browsing Pornhub. 

I wonder if it should be a relief that he likes Asian girls so much, whether it would be a relief if he likes Asian girls who specifically look like me.

I wonder, with an anxiety that unfurls its tentacles around my ribs and into the cavities between my lungs, and a shame that burns deep in my stomach, if I am Asian enough for him. 

When he insists that it’s not yellow fever, that he likes that they look like me, something akin to excitement, or glee, or shame, or disgust, or something darker – something that melds all of the above together, a shadow in the corner of my reflection – climbs up the back of my throat. It tastes like bile, but it lingers longer. It feels like the worst kind of nostalgia. 

I have flashbacks to life in the Philippines. My nannies engineered an alter ego with which to torment me when I was being a brat, a version of myself that was, among other things: full Chinese rather than half, lighter skinned, purer, a princess. She, anti-me, was their favourite charge. I was the deformed twin. 

I am quick to blink these memories away. What do they have to do with me, now, a world away and a decade since? 

Obviously – is it obvious, or just obvious to me, who has been sitting with this private shame for years? – he’s not the first guy I’ve dated who has a “preference” for Asian women. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with having preferences, right?

Like the Filipino girls who call themselves Night Riders and emulate Black culture, from their gelled down baby hairs to their practiced, clumsy imitation of Ebonics. Or the White guys who see a dark-skinned Black girl and think, Nubian Queen, holding her up like a sign at a protest. Or the Brown guys who see a White girl and mentally stamp their ticket up and out of discrimination with her lip gloss print. Anyone at all who laughs and groans in exaggerated disgust at the prospect of dating someone of their own race. 

The more I think about it, the more I realize that every guy I’ve been with has had a thing for Asian girls – the whole lot of us, who look only vaguely alike, but who share enough of the same features to awaken something primal, shaped and bent by fantasy. One time, a regular at my cafe pulled up to the drive-thru and told me that I looked like, “a Chinese singer, but I don’t know how to pronounce her name…. um…. Jen… Jenny…..”

“Jhene Aiko?” I offered.

“Yes!” She was so excited. “It’s your eyes, they look just like hers.”

Jhene Aiko, by the way, is Black and Japanese. Not that it would have been any less offensive if she guessed correctly.

It’s not that I think they look at me and leer at the resemblance to their favourite Asian porn star. (If they have one; I don’t think they discriminate when it comes to the porn they like, to be honest. Is it telling, at all, that my exes like Amateur porn? A real girl, who they could really fuck.) The objectification isn’t that grotesquely obvious. 

Maybe if it was, I could differentiate between the closeted perverts and the outright racists. It begs the question – if someone is nice and decent and good in everyday life, so lacking in self-awareness that their decency doesn’t even have a whiff of pretentiousness, so kind that it’s undeniably a facet of themselves and not a facade; if someone can be all of this, but still harbour secret perversions that culminate in you, their girlfriend, their partner, how do you draw the line?

Where do you end, where does their fucked-up fantasy begin? 

You ask them what they want from you and they insist they don’t see you as an Asian woman. You ask them why they think you’re attractive, and they say, “Your eyes are so pretty. Like, they have the Asian shape, but they’re not… small, you know?”

More often than not, these guys I date, they also are anime enthusiasts, Shogun fanatics who denounce Western society in favour of their idyllic Japanese dreamscape, they cry over K-dramas – in and of themselves, these aren’t red flags in the slightest. 

But in concert with the unnerving fascination with Asian bodies – it’s classical conditioning. I hear you love anime and I flashback to all the guys who love Asian culture and want to own it in the shape of my flesh, want to fuck it through me.

(Let’s not forget that with the upswing of Korean culture’s popularity, East Asian men are becoming more and more fetishized as well.)

I imagine that what they want is to collect us Pearls of the Orient. I imagine them drowning in all their hunger. Pearls rammed up their assholes, filling the crevices of their ears, their nostrils, surging down the ringed muscle of their esophagus. 

This article is misleading in a lot of ways. If you tease apart the contradictions, I think you’ll get a glimpse of who I am, though if you figure that out I’d appreciate it if you told me, too. I am, still, in the dark. For all the vitriol that you’ve read, the truth is that it’s hard for me to maintain this; people describe me as “chill”, but I think I’m just a selective amnesiac. 

Laying aside the ascetic labels of victim and perpetrator, just for my own sake, the fetishization I’ve encountered almost always comes down to consumption. Probably, I should be more horrified by my boyfriend’s taste in porn; sometimes, I am. More often than not, it is a drive-by thought, horrific and painful – that’s why he likes me – but I survive, intact, barely.

The way it feels, when people comment on my eyes, or my hair, or try to guess what I am, or when I date non-Asians who have a troubling history of only dating Asian people – the way it feels is this: like I am complicit in my consumption. Complicit in the sense of, like, a feminist surfing Pornhub (hint, hint, that’s me too!) 

They can take and take, but so can I. They consume me. I lean into it. Because, the way it feels is also like this: the sweet sigh of validation.  Second gen immigrants have an old adage: I never felt like I truly belonged anywhere. It’s infuriating when cliches turn out to be true. 

In the Philippines, I am considered a half-breed. In North America, since Asian is apparently a  monolith, that’s all I am. Somehow, on both sides of the Pacific, my identity has been continually reduced to the parts of me that matter the least: the way I look; how well, or not, I conform to a standard.

Conversations about colourism and the immigrant experience aside, I offer you a vignette:

Me, five years old, standing in front of a mirror. My eyes: too small, the lids uneven. My nose: too flat. My skin: too dark. My hair: too curly. Pantene commercials of light skin Filipinas, skin-whitening billboards, flashing past. Twenty years of doing this, and now, when I look at my reflection, my eyes graze over her and I forget. Who this person is. Where she belongs. The ways in which her body fits together. 

Tell me who I am. Tell me I am good enough. Tell me I am the right kind of Asian. Tell me anything. The offerings spill like sand through my fingertips, but maybe if you bury me in them, I won’t forget. 

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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