Ami+ identifies as “a biracial Japanese American born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother and a White American father.” Ami also describes herself as having light skin and very rarely (if ever) White-passing. Ami presents mostly in a gender-normative, feminine manner, and experiences sexual and romantic attraction “to men, women, and many other kinds of people.” Through engaging heavily in queer theory and politics, Ami has taken to advocacy and organizing for queer communities. Ami notes that her queer mindset has led her “to forefront my sexuality more than those who are cis[gender] or het[erosexual]. Even if it isn’t specifically about queer sex, I find myself thinking and talking about sexuality more than many of my peers, and I attribute this partially to the intentionality required by my queerness.”
This is her story.
Tell me about a period of time or a particular experience where you felt desexualized.
I don’t feel as though I am necessarily desexualized for my social location—if anything, I am hyper-sexualized as a young Asian woman—but I continue to find that my sexuality is invariably read through my race.
I’m going to use the word ‘ethnicity’ to refer to the multiplicities of my national origins, linguistic and cultural competencies and family histories, and ‘race’ as the way that most Americans see me: as monolithically “Asian.”
I moved from Berkeley, California, where my high school had a plurality of Asian students, to D.C., where Asian people are a nearly invisible minority in comparison. I have experienced a completely different reception in this city than in California; people see my facial structure and react in a variety of bizarre ways. For example, my manager at my job told me last week that every time he looks at me, he is “reminded of a geisha.” He said my eyes and my general demeanor indicated my similarity to geishas. He asked me if that was an offensive thing to say, but then reassured me that he wasn’t being offensive—that it wasn’t that I was a prostitute, but that I was well educated and beautiful and that’s what made me similar to geishas. I had little to say in response. I mumbled vaguely about caricatures and Western imagination, but ultimately said nothing of substance. Good employees and good Asian girls don’t talk back.
This interaction demonstrated the way that my body, and my implied or perceived sexuality, is constantly mediated by my race. Especially in a city where my race is so marked, these exchanges happen almost daily. Offhand comments and “compliments” remind me that I can never just “be”–I can’t just be attractive or good at my job. My image will always call to mind notions of Asian femininity and racial tropes like the submissive sex kitten and the severe Dragon Lady that are in turn projected on to me, obscuring my humanness and turning me into an object of the Western imagination.
Tell me about a positive experience you had of feeling sexual.
One night last semester, I met someone I’d met once through a friend at a cafe in the city. We met at 8PM, but I just had a cup of coffee and we talked and got to know each other. I learned that Max+ lived nearby so we walked to Max’s house together, where Max lived with five other housemates in a beautiful, historic three-story home. There, we began having sex after very few formalities. The sex was incredible, especially for near-strangers; not because either of us are particularly phenomenal at it, but because we were relatively confident in ourselves and were able to interpret and meet each other’s needs very well. Although Max wasn’t Asian, Max was mixed-race. I think I found comfort and familiarity in that. I trusted Max completely that night. Afterwards we lay naked in bed together, awed at ourselves and each other. We compared tattoos and birthmarks, laughing incredulously; it wasn’t until then that Max clarified how to correctly pronounce my name. Max was saying it wrong all night. It was awesome.
+ Name has been changed.
Anonymous. Personal Interview. 6 Nov. 2014.