Arick was walking down the street in Seattle, and then a guy walked up to him and screamed, “Hey, I want to eat your ass!” He was disoriented. He’d never experienced that before.
However, Arick is used to being fetishized due to stereotypes of Asian men as feminine and submissive. But what Arick so powerfully shows us is that no matter who you are and where you come from, pushing anyone into a box because of the color of their skin or culture is not only disrespectful.
And even worse, it prevents that person from doing what’s most important: being who they choose to be, freely.
My parents are from Taiwan. My dad came to the New Jersey for his Ph.D. along with some of his other colleagues. There I grew up in a predominately white community, but there was a sparse Asian American community. When I was 12, we moved to Tennessee, and that’s where I spent most of my formative years. Going to public school there, I had to mature really quickly. My school had a couple drug busts and teen pregnancies: sixth graders were getting arrested for possession and a lot of middle school girls were getting pregnant.
The whole experience was shocking and displacing because I really didn’t know where and how I fit into anything. I went from a predominately white community to a community that was mainly black and white, with very few Asian Americans. As a result, people made a lot of assumptions about my race because they had never met many Asian Americans.
When I changed middle schools, one kid said, “Oh my God, we’ve got a Mexican in here!” Moments like that were tough, especially for a young kid, and that played a major role in silencing my Asian identity because I never felt like there was a space outside of home where I could process who I was and where I fit in the context of everyone around me.
In high school, I still struggled to make sense of my identity. Where a lot of my classmates were losing their virginity at a young age, I never thought of myself as a sexual being because I’d never seen people my skin color or culture have sex.
Part of that was because sex is really taboo in my culture and wasn’t something that I would tell my friends about, but there was a severe lack of visual representation of other Asian Americans with the exception of characters who were really feminine or deceptive and sneaky, like the guy in Sixteen Candles or the guy in The Hangover. And the only “masculine” portrayals of Asian Americans were through kung fu or some sort of martial arts.
In high school, I still struggled to make sense of my identity…I never thought of myself as a sexual being because I’d never seen people my skin color or culture have sex.
After college I experimented with nude and figure modeling. I remember being naked for the first time for an artist, and I immediately felt really comfortable and empowered, which was a little surprising since I wasn’t always very comfortable with my body growing up. For example, when I was on the swim team, I never wanted to shower with the other boys. But then again I believe a lot of that had to do with me coming to terms with puberty and my sexuality.
I believe I felt so comfortable figure and nude modeling because the artist and I were sharing personal stories and intimate details about ourselves. And even though I can’t remember a moment in my life where I felt the most beautiful, I do remember having an epiphany in that moment and thinking to myself, “I’m a beautiful person.”
However, figure modeling doesn’t feel as empowering for some men. I’ve actually had a lot of conversations and think a lot about how men aren’t used to being either thought of as beautiful and/or as the centerpiece of an artistic work. They just aren’t used to it, even the brawny and masculine guys who you assume would be. One of the artists I model for was telling me about an athlete who posed for the first time in a private modeling session. And when he took his clothes off, he accidentally ejaculated and ran out in embarrassment.
Whether people realize it or not, it doesn’t feel good to be fetishized. I don’t want someone having sex with me just because I’m Asian and because they are hoping I’ll fulfill some type of role or fantasy.
I was surprised by his response, and it made me think about how being naked and modeling could be sexualized for someone who doesn’t do it often, even though it doesn’t feel that way for me at all.
For me, what was most shocking was not only his physical response to being naked in front of the group, but the fact that he ran out of the room in shame. Ever since that moment, I’ve thought quite a bit about where that shame might have come from. I think it shows that very few men are used being treated as objects of desire. Rather, they’re used to being the one objectifying, catcalling, and making sexual approaches
As a queer Asian male, there are a number of stereotypes people assume about you, such as taking on a feminine/submissive role, being the “little spoon” in relationships, or being a bottom in sex. But that’s not always the case. And in some instances, people can be so aggressive that it makes you uncomfortable.
Recently, while walking down the street in Seattle, this guy walked up to me and said, “Hey, I want to eat your ass.” I was so shocked to the point that I was just like, “….okay.” And I kept going. It really made me feel weird because I’m not used to feeling so sexualized in a public place.
Whether people realize it or not, it doesn’t feel good to be fetishized. I don’t want someone having sex with me just because I’m Asian and because they are hoping I’ll fulfill some type of role or fantasy. That’s very nauseating to think about. Instead, I want someone to be attracted to me and see me for who I am, not who they hope I’ll be.