So before I get into this post, I do want to put the warning out there that this does contain some discussion on sex as the title would suggest.
A bit of back story: I identify as a queer, desi (identifies with the South Asian diaspora) lady folk who has lived in Australia for a massive portion of her life. This means I’ve spoken the main language as fluently as I can, engaged in the mainstream Western culture and Australian discourse, studied in it, worked in it and so on.
Now after all these years and experiences, you’d think I’d be taken in as a functioning member of society who is full of complexities and other cool things. You’d think I wouldn’t be an “other” any more. That my existence wouldn’t be watered down to a mere stereotype. You’d think so yeah?
Don’t worry, I’m crying too.
The thing is, despite engaging in all these things and all, I’m still an “other”. And this “otherness” has certainly been internalised, confronted, rejected and been the the trigger for many of my escapades with fried food. And the thing is, I was the last one to know of my otherness. And when I recognised it, it through everything I had struggled for to integrate into this society right out the metaphorical window.
This otherness certainly defined my most intimate aspect of my identity to the outside world before I even explored that facet of myself. My sexuality.
I think the first time it actually hit me was when this guy I was dating stated “so are you gonna show me a few tricks from the kama sutra eh?”. I was lost for words no lie. We hadn’t even made out yet and he already defined what I meant to him.
And then the statements got even more whack, one non-POC person at a time
“oh I thought you were different, you were new to try”
“but the way you do things is so exotic” (because apparently blowjobs are an exotic phenomenon? )
“give me some of that curried love” (no my vagina is not lined with spices that’s unhygienic )
“tell me how the caste system works” (mid-way through making out I MEAN REALLY PEOPLE. REALLY.)
“mmm spicy”(I USE DEODERANT MA’AM. THE SAME ONE AS YOU. )
“I can feel the Sahara in you” (I’M NOT EVEN AFRICAN WHO ARE YOU LEAVE ME ALONE IM EATING DONUTS HERE)
YES PEOPLE. THESE ARE ALL REAL THINGS THAT PEOPLE HAVE SAID TO ME.
AND APPARENTLY I’M SUPPOSED ACCEPT THESE AS A COMPLEMENT.
OH AND THIS ONE TAKES THE CAKE FIRST REAL DATE IN THE SPRING OF 2007
“Oh you’re Indian? I love Indian food!” WHAT IS WITH YOU PEOPLE AND ASSOCIATING US NON WHITE PEOPLE WITH FOOD
I started keeping a look out on POC representation in Western Media. Any POC rep. Especially from the sexuality angle. I observed that most black people of tv were hyper sexualised, magical, soulful, angry and/ or were still stuck in pre civil rights movement days. Or in plantations. Indigenous people of any type did not exist and if they did they lived in the forest. They too were hyper sexualised savages (why I do not know). The Asian man was either desexualised or incredibly hyper sexualised whilst the Asian women were a fetish. Middle Easter Men and Desi Men shared the same fate as the Asian man AS WELL AS BEING TERRORISTS YAY. Whilst the women were oppressed, scared of all of their male relatives, exotic belly dancers who will cook for you or you know, nonexistent. I admit to not discussing queer identities but I have observed that the reps of queer folks let alone POC queers is just as appalling.
Key words here- POC reps on sexuality often end in them being hyper-sexualised of lacking of any sexuality- and they were all rooted in oppressive fear mongering type stereotypes. When I raised this issue with a few “friends” at the time, they told me to quit whining and take it as a complement.
I longed to break that statement down and ask them how they would feel if the every essence of who they were was broken down to a food flavouring aka spicy. I longed to ask them how they would feel like if the entire grouping of white people had to conform to a sexual stereotype, but then it dawned on me. White people don’t have stereotypes in the mainstream because they are portrayed as complex, layered people with hobbies and favourite things to do and jobs and allergies and pets and shit. When white people had sex- they weren’t having “white sex” it was called sex. When they made out, it was called “kissing” not “white kissing”.
I felt a unbearable amount of helplessness and invisibility when I realised this. I could never compare them or argue with them when regarding to cultural and sexual references because non-POC folk had millions of identities to look at. They had plenty of positive representations of sex and sexuality.
Their sexuality came from within. Mine apparently came from the kama sutra.
Now I do believe that women still have shit rep in media in general. But even then there is a heir-achy. Without a doubt if we had to put a black woman up with a white woman in the media, I think it’s quite obvious to see who would be the main character. Who would be the love interest. Who would be whimsy cool complex hipster chick and who would be sassy angry friend with no heart? Who gets to make out with Ryan Gosling or some other hot leading dude at the end of the day? Replace the black woman with a woman of another ethnicity and you still have the same dynamic. She’s still viewed as less desirable.
And if a POC woman is desirable? It’s not because of who she is, but because of her POC-ness (as I often observed). She’s exotic. She’s a flavour. She’s an “outer world experience”.The thing is, these are common portrayals of POC women in our media. These are the norms in what we see, and these norms influence us. They even get internalised by some of us POC’s who’ve grown up in Western society for all our lives.
Fed up and hurt by the failure in representation of WOC sexuality, I didn’t know what to do. I saw a few recommendations for this one show called Misfits, and I thought “what have I got to lose I’ll be drinking anyway”.
Damn was I wrong. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t seen good portrayals of POC women before (Skins, Degrassi, The Cosby Show, ATLA etc) but to see a POC woman being treated in a main couple, being showered with real affection and love, having awesome sex because she can, being called beautiful because she really was and not because of her “POC-ness” just blew my mind. This scene alone just meant so many things to me
Not once did I ever hear Simon say something that high-lighted her otherness. She wasn’t called his “chocolate girl” or his “exotic beauty”. There wasn’t this massive issue made about the fact that they were an interracial couple. They were just a couple.
And the thing is, Misfits did it again.
And not once was I left disappointed with their portrayal of POC folks in relationships and all.
But you think I’d be appeased by this and never criticise tv and movies ever again yeah? No- I got more critical. I was always on the lookout now. Again, I will make a shout out to Skins (all seasons) and Degrassi too- but I am a bit detached from those shows because I can’t really personalise with them, though I am interested in what teen POC’s and people who do connect with these shows have to say about them.
So after my Misfits binge of POC reppin goodness, a good friend of mine suggested the show- Being Human, to me ( the UK version of course).
Look, I don’t want to make the comparison that British tv is better than US television-because I have seen some pretty epic US based shows- but so far in my limited adventures in TV land, the UK does pretty well in repping POC folks and their sexualities. Once again, I was impressed by the portrayal of Annie. Like, they gave her depth, they gave her a sence of agency over her sexuality, and there wasn’t this sense of “othering” when she engaged in that glorious relationship with Mitchell.
Now don’t get me wrong, POC rep wasn’t the only thing that got me to love these shows. Like the writing was epic, the acting was glorious, I mean both shows did such an epic job at story telling and characterisation well I could babble on forever.
But as a POC woman who for most of her life was only ever shown other POC women on tv as flimsy stereotypes and side characters who turned into weird fetishes when they had sex- this was ground breaking stuff for me. Shows like this told me that WOC had a place in romances and leading roles and could embrace their sexualities. These shows told me that WOC didn’t have to be raped or experience some sort of sexual violence to be complex individuals. I look to Skins for the next example- if there was one thing I loved about that show, it was the diversity in POC people in that show. People could watch these shows without being given the opportunity to stereotype POC’s the way a lot of the media often does. Again, I do accept that Skins was also riddled in some problematic stuff and I’m not haling it as the beacon on all things diverse- but it did a far better job at it than most other shows have done.
I do admit to the obvious fact that there are probably a lot of other Western shows out there that also done a good job at repping POC folk, but I have not had the opportunity to see them yet. But shows like Misfits and Being human give me hope for the future of POC representation especially in regard to our sexuality and our identity in general. I’m keen on seeing more complex explorations of Asian identities in a Western society. The same goes for Middle Eastern identities. Indigenous. African. Just generally marginalised ethnicities and cultures which are often appropriated and erased in the process of making it into mainstream media.
I dunno how to end this or what I’m asking the reader to do here- but I guess as a POC woman, I’m just tired of what have to see and deal with in real life and in the media. I’m just longing for the day when the word “exotic” is removed as a way of describing someone.
I also to accept and acknowledge that I may have skipped to some vital shows and point that I did not mention, so I’d also like to make this my invitation to anyone else who’d like to add to this or create more discussion from it. This certainly won’t be my last post on the topic of POC identities and sexualities in Western society.
I have this weird tendency to make myself an Other, probably because I look and am perceived by most folks as white. So I make a big deal out of my nativeness to validate my identity, I guess? I’m really starting to feel how damaging that is though, because then people I’m hooking up with (usually dudes, for some reason most girls are cooler about race? actually I’ve never been with a white girl…) start doing what you were describing. Especially when I consider how disturbingly native women get treated by white people/society (missing and murdered Aboriginal women, ridiculously high rape statistics, etc). So I guess I suck.
ALSO in the American remake of Shameless, there was this awesome interracial couple (white dude, black girl) who love each other so much, get pretty great character development, and have lots of awesome sex