"You look so exotic": When sex and ethnicity collide


So a couple of weeks ago, I found myself nearly sleeping with a guy. We clicked. I wanted to do it. He wanted to do it. But in the end, we didn’t. What had gone wrong …?

He told me I was hot and sensual and sexy. That was kinda nice. It’s always nice to get compliments, right? But then he pretty much ruined it by saying four fatal words that extinguished any chance of anything happening between us: “You look so exotic.”

His words made me think of sex tourism, an industry pretty much fueled by the promise of “exotic” people to sleep with, and supported by an underlying mindset of colonialism, racism, sexism, and classism. His comment on my “exoticism” made me feel cheapened and objectified, not to mention angry and completely turned off.

However, things aren’t that simple. This incident made me really reflect upon my Chinese heritage, something that I don’t do often or in much detail. As the first person in my family to grow up and spend my formative years in Canada, I’ve often had identity issues.

When I was a kid, I tried to renounce my Chinese background. My eight-year old self cringed when I saw what my grandmother had packed in my lunch box, and I’d look longingly at Sam Joyce’s Lunchables snack kit instead. I went through a phase where I wanted my mom to call me “Amy” instead of “Yun”, my birth name. I stiffened when the kids in my mostly-Caucasian elementary school spoke Chinese-sounding gibberish (“Ching chong shee shaw”) and would ask me what they just said.

I gravitated towards other Asian kids like me, kids who grew up in Canada and were also trying to navigate the path between fitting in yet accepting their ethnic and cultural backgrounds. However, despite our mutual experiences, we never quite discussed our Asian heritage, possibly because we were ashamed of it. We, the first and second-generational Asians, even shunned the “new” Asians. These were kids who had come to Canada more recently, and thus were “more Asian” than us, whatever that meant. Looking back, I feel ashamed by that, though I can sort of see the reasoning behind it too. We were just trying to compensate for our differentness by distancing ourselves and refusing to acknowledge it at all.

I thought long and hard about this stuff while I was walking home, still slightly horny, though no longer for that guy. Yeah, I took issue with his words because I found them to embody ideas and mindsets that I found intolerant and colonial. But at the same time, I wondered: What if I was so bothered by his comment more because I was once again feeling that shame of being Chinese? How much of my anger was fueled by my disgust towards the beliefs that lay beneath his statement, and how much of my anger came from that underlying fear and shame of my childhood, of being associated with my heritage?

And to take it even further, the type of life that I lead right now – one that involves casual sex with and attraction towards people of all genders – isn’t exactly one that garners approval among traditional Chinese families. It’s just not something that “good Chinese girls” do. But why do I do it? Is it subconsciously just another way for me to distance myself from my heritage?

Until that incident, I’d believed that I was no longer ashamed or embarrassed to be Chinese. Sure, I knew I hadn’t yet developed to the point where I could fully take pride in my Chinese background the way I’d like to, but I’d previously thought that I was on the road to doing so. That comment from the guy really threw me off, because it led to me questioning just how far I had developed after all. But I guess self-evaluation isn’t a bad thing; it’s just a damn hard thing to do.

– Yun (not “Amy”)

PS: By the way, for those who are interested, next Thursday is Blog Against Sexual Violence Day. To participate, all you gotta do is write about anything having to do with gender-based violence, be they experiences you’ve heard of, links to further resources, or your own thoughts. Even small gestures count, yeah?


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3 Responses to “"You look so exotic": When sex and ethnicity collide”

  1. Yoko Says:

    I was thinking about something you mentioned in your article today. I was cooking..then suddenly, I remembered the time when I told my mom to make me peanut butter sandwiches for lunch instead of making that japanese lunch “bento” where you have rice and all these sidedishes in a little (hello kitty) tupperware. totally asian….obviously making that took way more time than a stupid peanut butter sandwich. but my mom never stopped.

    I had a phase like yours. instead of amy, I wanted people to call me Crystal! I used to have a time in elementary school when I told everyone I was Christian, because everyone white seemed to be christian in my school. I told people I was from Hawaii, when only I lived there for only 3 1/2 years of my 18 years of life.

    but I guess I was more fortunate in that I actually lived where my “heritage” is. Im a damn proud japanese bitch. My mom, whose a full korean, often told me that if she could start her life again, she wished she wasnt a korean born in japan but a korean korean. And shes like…almost 50, okay? So I dont think identity is such an easy thing to cope with.

    so yeah, ok ill stop now.


  2. kita Says:

    Its Gross

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Get over it. Being called exotic is a compliment. Deal with your problems. If every girl I called a slut thought I was insulting them how much fun would that be. It’s just romantic banter.

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