Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Me for You and You for Me

Over at Yo, Is This Racist? Andrew Ti has been grappling with the question of interracial dating.  He's even broken his normal rule against follow-up questions.  It started here:

Anonymous asked: Why is it racist to say you just dont find blacks attractive? Its a matter of personal preference, in my opinion, but my friend keeps saying its racist.

Yo, dipshit, are you seriously unable to grasp the concept that “personal preference” can be racist as fuck?
... and continued here and here without really adding anything.

This is all really ironic, because as often as not white people who do date interracially will be accused of racism, of objectifying and exoticizing and colonializing and degrading their non-white partners; or, in the case of their non-white partners, collaborating in their objectification.  For example, in his Global Divas (Duke, 2003), Martin Manalansan IV reported:
In a 1993 presentation to the Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY), a gay Asian group in New York, Gene Chang, a student at Columbia University, transported the rice queen phenomenon into the realm of the psychopathological ... He suggested that the rice queen’s desire for Asian (young and young-looking) men is really a mask for pedophilic tendencies. He supported his contention by graphing the “incompatibility of physical attributes” (height, age, penis size, and so on) between Asians and Caucasians in personal ads. Chang further explored the exploitative and “imperialist” possibilities of encounters between a Caucasian and a young Asian by examining mainstream gay porn films. He contended that the Asian gay man is relegated to passive sexual (as insertee) and social roles (i.e., masseur, houseboy, and so on). What is interesting in this presentation is Chang’s leap from his “findings” of corporeal asymmetry mapped out in personal ads to the contention of a rice queen's real pedophile identity.  Using statistical techniques and graphs, Chang charted the differences between Caucasian and Asian gay men in personal ads in terms of average height (two inches), weight (thirty to forty pounds), and age (fifteen to twenty years). He directly equated such differences with actual power inequality in gay Caucasian-Asian sexual politics [84-5].
This was too much even for Manalansan, who pronounced Chang's views "faulty" (while allowing that they are "prevalent ... among the growing number of politicized Asian gay men").  Chang's methodology is basically that of someone like Paul Cameron, the eminence grise of antigay pseudoscience on the Christian Right.  Manalansan admits that "these same 'radical' views construct the Asian gay man as devoid of agency" (85); I would add that on Chang’s logic, gay Asians who want older, bigger, hairier Caucasian men would be suspect of covert gerontophilia, if not bestiality.

(Incidentally, the gay Asian men I've known laugh to scorn the claim that rice queens are all tops.  But that's another post.)

I don't deny that there's racist stereotyping in a lot of sexual discourse; we live in a racist world.  This can be true whether you're attracted to people of other "races" or not: I don't know if it's universal, but it's clearly very common for people to generate expectations and fantasies about a person's personality from his or her looks. But that's a problem in people's intraracial sexual attitudes and interactions too.  As I've written before, nobody is attracted to everybody in their nominal pool of potential partners, be that pool defined by sex or class or race or any other attribute, and the reasons for interest or lack of interest are neither rational nor up for discussion.

What we do owe each other, I propose, is basic courtesy.  Yet it seems that many people, not all of them men, believe aggressive rudeness is the way to another person's heart.  Maybe it works some of the time: I recall seeing a batch of stories of how some heterosexual couples met, in which a recurring theme was Hate At First Sight; at some indefinable point Hate turned into Interest and then to Love.  I've never experienced such a pattern myself, but it seems to work for some people, at least sometimes.  Other people think that fetish talk (as I'll call it for lack of a better word) works.  In another one of the diatribes against rice queens that proliferated in the 1990s, a gay Asian writer quoted an obnoxious racially framed come-on he'd received online; when I read it to a straight white woman about my age, she snorted: He should see what women get!

(It's worth remembering, if you've seen She's Gotta Have It, that there's not a lot of detectable difference between the "dogs" and the "decent men" Nola accepts as boyfriends.)

On the other side, rejections should be made with courtesy.  "No, thank you," is enough.  There's no good reason to detail what is wrong with the person you're turning down.  I've had some strange conversations with (usually) gay men who, when called out for vilifying effeminate men, or older men, or fat men, or men of color, would insist that they had nothing against such men -- they just weren't attracted to them.  But we hadn't been talking about dating to start with; it was their wish that such men should not be visible in the Community, and shouldn't be having sex with anybody.  Now, that's bigotry.  I would tell them that I wasn't saying they had to date men they weren't attracted to, and they would flail around incoherently.  There's a difference between lack of romantic interest and wanting certain people to disappear altogether.

And yet, the only conclusion I can draw from Ti's position is that he believes people should date people they aren't attracted to, or don't want to date for some other irrational reason.  No one has to have a good reason for not wanting to date me, be it my age or my race or my general repulsiveness.  But if he goes off into a racist or ageist or other rant, he can expect that I'll give him a hard time for that.  By then I'll have retracted any invitation I might originally have offered anyway.  I suspect this ties into something I've written about before: the widespread belief that other people, especially hot people, should look past my meager looks and bone me for my personality -- but I don't have to.

So it doesn't matter why you're not attracted to someone who's attracted to you.  If you feel the need to tell me how repulsive people in your suitor's group are, though, I will probably have something to say about it.  I'll probably conclude with words to the effect of: I don't see why they'd have wanted to date a bigot like you anyway.

I also suspect there's something of the old "I wouldn't belong to a club that would have me for a member" hangup going on here, the assumption that sexual desire is necessarily predatory and exploitative.  (Except when it's put on a pedestal and spiritualized, just as unrealistically.)  Sometimes rationalization and projection are involved: I'm not attracted to him, so he must want me for something bad.  And everything bad you can imagine is probably involved some of the time: some people do want to use you, others want to be used by you.  But you could say that about any human interaction.