Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I'm Your Fetish

I'm starting to notice a pattern in Andrew Ti's treatment of racism and dating.  This went up a few days ago on Yo, Is This Racist?
Variations on this question have come up before, but I don't believe that Ti has ever explained "the difference between fetishizing a race and sexual orientation."  Maybe because he's too young to remember when homosexuality was officially classified as a mental illness, the fetishizing of a sex.  Yes, I wrote "a sex," meaning males or females.  "Sexual orientation" is not about gender.  Many people seem to think that the word "sexual" in "sexual orientation" refers to erotic desire or intercourse, but it means which biological sex a person desires erotically.  The misunderstanding leads to such confusion as some people claiming that pedophilia is a "sexual orientation," though children are not a sex.

Recently I watched The Loving Story, a 2011 documentary about Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and a black woman from Virginia who married in Washington DC in 1958, because the District of Columbia permitted the marriage of whites to blacks.  The state of Virginia didn't, and they were ultimately arrested and forced to separate.  Eventually they took legal action, and their case went to the US Supreme Court, which in 1967 overturned all laws against interracial marriage.

As I've pointed out before, Loving v. Virginia was not decided on the understanding that the Lovings had a racial orientation, perhaps genetically determined, which impelled them to seek love in the arms of a partner of another race.  No one seems to have argued that their personal psychology, driven by biology, had anything to do with the case, or the validity of their marriage.  Such arguments routinely feature in current arguments about same-sex marriage, however, postulating that gay people's inborn nature renders us incapable of heterosexual marriage, so we must be allowed to marry homosexually.

I think Ti's underlying assumption is that biological sex is somehow more fundamental than race, so that crossing racial lines is easy and something that anyone might do, but sexual difference is a barrier that can only be overcome if you are radically, biologically different: same-sex love, desire, and eroticism are so repellent that you have to be practically a different species to experience such things without revulsion.

Two things need to be borne in mind here.  First, objections to interracial eroticism have, historically speaking, taken for granted that whites and blacks are virtually different species: that persons of African descent were so different from persons of European descent that the latter would find the caresses of the former intolerably repulsive; and that if they did manage to overcome this repulsion, their intercourse would be barren.  The word mulatto, used to refer to the offspring of white and black parents, means "mule," and implied that such children would be sterile.  Many educated whites believed this, even as they sired children on their black slaves.  Similarly, the belief in natural interracial repulsion was always belied by the many people who showed no such repulsion, and seems to have been more wishful thinking than anything.  The similarity of the rhetoric to antigay propaganda, which posits that sodomy is inherently revolting and that no man could be interested in another man's hairy butt, is hard to miss.  Part of the idea in both cases is probably to demonize those who managed to transgress: miscegenation and sodomy are disgusting, so only a monster could commit either one.

Second, despite all the rhetoric one hears nowadays about "sexual fluidity," many people forget or rule out in advance the possibility that anyone could engage in sex with someone of the "wrong" sex for their "orientation" and enjoy it.  This idea was for a long time a pillar of gay Christian apologetics: when the apostle Paul claimed in Romans 1 that male-to-male desire was against nature, he must have been referring to natural heterosexuals who had homosex against their nature, out of sheer wickedness and perversity, and not to those whose nature forced them to have homosex because they couldn't function with other-sex partners.  But in fact many people are not so rigid, and are able to enjoy sexual relations with persons of either sex under the right circumstances.  I think it's extremely ironic that ostensibly pro-gay people would be in agreement with antigay bigots on this point, that homosex is naturally repugnant to true heterosexuals: they only argue that gay people are biologically different from heterosexuals, and so can enjoy what heterosexuals could not.

I'm not sure I believe that there are many people who have a "racial orientation" towards only one "race."  There might be, but I believe the barriers to interracial romance are mostly cultural, and the number of people who leap those barriers are evidence of that.  I've pointed out before how people like to absolutize relative differences, so that when I dated a few Asian men, for example, many white people chortled, "You sure do like the Asian boys!", even though the non-Asian men I've dated far outnumber the Asians, and I was accused by some Asian men of being a rice queen, which I never bothered to deny.  Both groups assumed that I was, in Andrew Ti's words, fetishizing just one race, without bothering to find out if that was true.

Also ironically, many "politicized Asian gay men" demonized eroticism between Caucasian and Asian men; one, quoted here, claimed to have proven that white men who wanted to date Asian men were closet pedophiles.  It seems not to have occurred to him that he was casting Asian men as children, and that Asian men who wanted to date Asian men would by his logic be just as pedophilic, or at best merely playing Doctor instead of having mature sex.  That such blatantly racist, not to say delusional thinking, had so much currency among "politicized Asian gay men" for a while -- it seems to have faded in the last decade -- didn't speak well for them.  And does anyone else remember Spike Lee's movie Jungle Fever, which postulated that eroticism between blacks and whites can only be exploitative curiosity, simply because he said so?

Still, I don't think it would be illegitimate for anyone to "fetishize just one race."  I think Ti is implying that romantic / erotic desire is properly rational, which I think is obviously absurd.  There is no good reason why I'm attracted to one person rather than another -- to this man rather than that woman, to one man rather than another man.  (I understand that Ayn Rand believed that desire was rational, that two rational people would naturally be drawn to each other, and I think Ti would be appalled to learn that he's echoing her ideas.)  I don't have to have a good reason to be attracted, or not, to a given person, and he doesn't have to have a good reason to be attracted, or not, to me.  On another occasion Ti ranted that "'personal preference' can be racist as fuck," which is probably true, but why would Ti want someone to date a racist who was, moreover, only dating them to try not to be a racist?

I'd like to know how (or if) Ti distinguishes between "fetishizing" desire and acceptable desire.  His furious refusal to explain himself indicates to me that he hasn't thought that far ahead.  I fully agree that people should treat their sexual partners as human beings rather than fetishized objects, but objectification seems to be so widespread as to be virtually the norm, and much of popular culture is built around it.  One gay Asian-American man published an article in 2000, during the heyday of the rice-queen frenzy, in which he said that he'd always dreamed of finding himself a white prince, but he'd seen the light and was now going to date (fetishize?) Asian princes only.  How about dating human beings, instead of living in a Disney animated feature?  (In the same issue of the magazine in which that article appeared, there was another piece exulting that increasing numbers of white American women were dating Asian-American men.  Who was fetishizing whom there?)

Still, my point is that I'd like Ti to explain why he thinks it's okay not to date persons of a given sex, but not okay to reject persons of a given race.  Or vice versa: why "fetishizing" a sex is okay but "fetishizing" a race is not.  His reliance on rhetorical questions indicate that he doesn't have a good reason for the distinction.