Invisible dreams: the intersection of fetishization

Written by Kuku Peck | Illustration by Marc Cataford

Author’s note: I actually identify as pansexual, but I use the term “bisexual” as it is more familiar and pervasive throughout society.

My name is Kuku. So right off the bat, most people can tell that I’m of Asian heritage. What they can’t see immediately is that my sexual attraction is not restricted to men. My attraction is not concerned with gender at all – whether you identify as a man, a woman, or an identity outside of the gender binary, if I think you’re hot, I think you’re hot. Sexual orientation is intrinsically personal; no one has the right to dictate another person’s sexuality. Simple, right?

Now imagine this: I meet some guy at a party. He tells me he’s straight. I then ask him: Are you sure you’re straight? How do you know? I don’t think straight people exist. I know you just told me you’re straight, and you’re standing right in front of me, but I don’t think straight people exist.

I’m being facetious. This kind of scenario would never happen, primarily because we live in a culture of heteronormativity, where straight is the assumed and privileged social norm. Yet if the subject of sexuality arises, or someone asks about my orientation, or I feel I’m in a situation where I want to share my orientation, that ridiculous scenario at the party suddenly becomes real: “I don’t think bisexuality exists. Are you sure you’re bisexual?”

A lot of people think I’m just confused: “You’re either straight, or you’re a lesbian. Maybe you’re a lesbian, and you’re just saying you’re bisexual as a transition.” It’s astounding that something so inherently personal as sexuality can be subjected to external aggression and such inappropriate invasion on a regular basis.

Being bisexual and Asian in Western society is kind of like being Schrodinger’s cat. I exist – and at the same time, I don’t. There is a severe lack of representation for Asians in mainstream media (not to mention Asian bisexuals), and when there is representation, it’s for the purposes of fetishization, appropriation, and commodification. This lack of accurate representation contributes to the dismissal and questioning of my sexual identity.

There is a perception that Asians should be quiet, demure, and guarded. They’re welcome to immigrate here to North America as long as they continue to quietly contribute to the economy and gracefully embrace assimilation. Now, throw gender norms into the mix. Stereotypes of Asianness have lead to the desexualization of Asian men in Western society. There seems to be irresolvable contradictions between what being Asian and what being an attractive man entails. If the attractive man is dominant, aggressive, and assertive, where does that leave the Asian man, who is assumed to be demure, socially awkward, and nonsexual? Asian women, on the other hand, are subject to hypersexualization. The well-behaving, well-mannered, obedient traits associated with the Asian race easily become subject to fetishization, frequently at the hands of straight cis white men.

Bisexuality, too, exists in the seemingly irreconcilable state of hyperfetishization and invisibility. Mass media is dominated by straight representation, with token gay representation (normally a cis white man) – but any other orientation, including bisexuality, is scarce. A frantic need for binaries is dangerously pervasive throughout Western society and representations of people within it, from the gender binary (man or woman) to sexual orientation (gay or straight). Binaries allow for categories, for the placement of complex ideas into neat little boxes with hard labels. However, both gender and sexuality are too fluid to be universally categorized. Attempts to do so are not only futile, but also harmful for those who identify outside of specific boxes.

Then there’s the hypersexualization and fetishization of bisexuality, to which I can personally attest. Bisexual girls, according to the dominant societal narrative, live in the realm of college experimentation, sloppy hook-ups, and “girls just wanna have fun.” Bisexual girls aren’t the kind of girls you bring home to your parents. Bisexual girls are the ones you fool around with on the side, have a good time with, and ultimately dispose of, precisely due to the nature of this fantasized bisexual girl. Her perceived traits of exhibitionism, experimentality, and excitement are in stark contrast to the well-mannered and proper girl with whom you’re going to settle down. A bisexual girl is easy, but being committed to her is not.

Now put the two together. How are bisexual Asian women commonly perceived? Asian women – meek, mild-mannered, possessing all the traits of the Girl You Bring Home. Bisexual women – wild, deviant, promiscuous, the Girl You Love But Just Won’t Keep. While an Asian man’s mannerisms are deemed incompatible with the ‘attractive’ trait of alpha male assertiveness, this same tension does not apply to the Bisexual Asian Woman. Instead, she becomes the best kind of vixen: the secret harlot, the presentable woman on the streets, but an insatiable beast in the sheets. And, to top it off, the Asian traits of complacency kick in in bed – not only does she love sex, she loves pleasing you. She gets off on getting you off. Isn’t that the dream?

And therein lies the problem: this is just a dream. This is a dream because bisexual Asian women aren’t placed on this earth to fulfill your fantasies. (Pro tip: Nobody is placed on this earth to fulfill anybody’s fantasies.) Of course there’s nothing wrong with people who are, in fact, privately far more promiscuous than their public image. But problems arise when a person’s worth becomes reduced to a projected fantasy. I am a person, first and foremost, and the meaning of my race or my sexuality or any aspect of my identity is for me only. I identify as something because I feel a certain way, not because I want to please anybody else.

History is working against us – years of colonialism, patriarchy, and heteronormativity rear their ugly heads for the marginalization of, essentially, those who aren’t straight, cis-male, and white. Very slowly but surely, representation of people who aren’t straight or gay is appearing. Famous people who have made open statements on being bisexual include Sapphire, Anna Paquin, and Michael Chabon. In popular fictional media, characters attracted to more than one gender include Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Brittany from Glee, and Frank Underwood from House of Cards, to name just a few.

Progress is coming, but it’s not just about more representation. The inclusion of Asians, bisexuals, and Asian bisexuals in mainstream media can help dismantle the harmful stereotypes and fetishization pervasive in society. Representation should be diverse and faithful, showing that bisexual people do exist and are people just like everybody else. And, of course, not just white bisexuality – bisexual people of colour are out there, and it’s time they are given the space they deserve.