The first time my ethnicity was connected to my sexuality was in ninth grade French class. The boy was a pothead wearing a tie dye t-shirt, and even though he was lame I wanted him to think I was cool. I let him talk to me about pornography and sex so I could seem like one of the guys. But one day the discussion was directed toward me.
“Asian women are supposed to be freaks in bed,” he said.
My mother is Korean and my father is white. I identified fiercely with my mother’s heritage simply because that’s what people saw when they looked at me: black hair, dark brown eyes, flat chest, and – you know – the rest of those typical Asian features. I don’t look white, and the number one question I’ve been asked all my life is, “Where are you from?” South Carolina is never an adequate answer.
“No, like, where are you really from? You know, before that.”
It doesn’t matter that I’m an American. It doesn’t matter that I only speak English. With enough persistence, the inquisitor always gets to the heart of the matter: I’m really from Korea, even though I’m not.
It was even more challenging when I didn’t live up to the stereotypes such as being really good at math and having hairless arms and legs. The other Asians, the ones that were really from another country, had it down. They were studious, quiet, submissive, and spoke little English. I just wasn’t Asian enough.
But I was Asian enough to be fetishized.
As the conversation in my French class continued, so did the sexual expectations.
“Asian women’s tits are small, but their pussies are so tight,” said the pothead.
“Yeah,” another guy piped in, “they’ll let you do whatever you want to them.”
No one else was helping me shape my sexuality. The topic was off limits at home, and seemed not only secret, but shameful. My only guides were the girls who invited me to their sleepovers, practicing kissing or lying down in bathtubs with their legs spread beneath the faucet. And they were virgins. Our sexual lives were in our heads, in the smut novels we peeked in at Barnes and Noble, and in the AOL chatrooms where the most important question is, “Age/Sex/Location?”
One of my internet boyfriends introduced me to hentai, which is Japanese animated pornography. The formula is simple: draw a woman dressed up like a little school girl, but don’t forget to insert an inanimate object (or tentacle) into her vagina through her panties. Oh yeah, make her enormous breasts defy gravity and put some bodily fluid on her face while tears squeeze out of her eyes. This was the only type of pornography I’d been exposed to, and I watched it regularly for a number of years. Not only did it shape what I thought I should be as a sexual partner, but also what I should want. Of course, I should want to be hit and gagged. Certainly, I’ll put that in there. I’ll do whatever you want. Whatever you want.
But I didn’t realize that these guys who were telling me what I should be like in bed were probably inexperienced, too. They watch porn; they must know something I don’t. So, I retained the most important details: I need to be a sex freak, willing to do anything and somehow keep my vagina as tight as possible. I projected a flirtatious and erotic persona, wearing skin-tight, faux leather pants and snakeskin patterned tank tops throughout my high school career, but somehow remained teacher’s pet. Then I went to a state university.
Because I’m Asian.
College life eventually pumped the desire for explosive self-exploitation out of me, but this pornographic identity had been so deeply entrenched into my existence that I didn’t know myself as anything other than sexual. I couldn’t talk to members of the opposite sex without assuming that they wanted to not only have sex with me, but probably tie me up and call me their slutty little chink. I couldn’t develop healthy friendships with men because I believed that at some point they were going to want more from me, and I had no choice but to give it up freely. This was all I knew, so my personal boundaries were made up of never-built fences around a troubled heart.
I didn’t go to a support group or see a sex therapist. There wasn’t an intervention or prayer group that expressed concern for my soul. Getting free just took time, time to learn that I am much more than a half-Asian woman, that egalitarian relationships are really a thing, and I can say no to someone who makes me feel uncomfortable. It took time to find a man to not just fall in love with me, but learn how to love me. It took time to realize he didn’t need me to do all those awful things that I’d done for so many other assholes, that he actually didn’t want or like those things. It took time to recover and to heal, to craft a new identity.
And it took time to have a daughter that made me think about all this, to see how people identify her as something other than white, this exotic “China doll” with blue eyes. It’s taking me time to learn to speak up when a friend or acquaintance makes a stereotypical joke or assumption based on the way she and I look. I’m just hoping that the day she comes to me crying because of the boy who made fun of her flat Asian chest, I’ll be ready. I hope she won’t sit alone and confused in that classroom believing all the things those idiots say based on her being a quarter Korean. I hope I can be a safe haven, a source of wisdom, and occasionally a contract killer for her.
I hope I can teach her that she doesn’t have to be a freak in bed.
Well, unless she wants to be.
You know, when she’s like 60.
Natasha Akery is a writer, wife, and mother based in South Carolina. A graduate of the College of Charleston, she is a contributing editor to One for One Thousand and the author of Breaking Up With Misery. Her work focuses on religious and racial influences on sexuality, identity, and motherhood.