Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Fetishize Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar

A creepy Dan Savage column this morning.

Here's part of the first question.
I’m a straight white woman in my early 30s. In theory, I’ve always been into men of all races—but in practice, most of my exes are Latino and white. In September, I met this really handsome Chinese American guy, and I feel like he rewired me. I’ve been exclusively attracted to Asian guys since. I’m not writing to ask if this is racist, because I’m not asking these guys to, like, speak Korean to me in bed or do any role-playing stuff. We just date and have sex, same as my past relationships. But if any of these dudes saw my Tinder matches, they’d be like, “This woman has a thing for Asian guys.” Which I do, but it’s pretty new. Is this normal? Do people just change preferences like that?...
Here's the beginning of Dan's answer:
Here’s my general take on race-specific sexual preferences: So long as you can see and treat your sex partners as individuals and not just as objects—we are all also objects—and so long as you can express your preferences without coming across and/or being a racist shitbag, and so long as you’ve interrogated your preferences to make sure they’re actually yours and not a mindless desire for what you’ve been told you’re supposed to want (i.e., the currently prevailing beauty standard or its equally mindless rejection, the “transgressive” fetishization of the “other”), then it’s okay to seek out sex and/or romantic partners of a particular race.
There are okay things here, like "we are all also objects", and the prescription of treating one's partners "as individuals and not just as objects".  But there are problems.

For one, the demand to interrogate one's preferences "to make sure they're actually yours" etc.  Imagine how Dan would react if someone told a young gay kid to interrogate his or her preferences.   Couldn't being gay be just "a mindless desire for what you've been told you're supposed to want ... or its equally mindless rejection"?  (I was interrogated along these lines myself by heterosexuals when I first came out, in fact.)  And certainly one could demand the same of heterosexuals: are you sure your desires are yours, and not just what you've been told to want by the society, the media, et al.?

As for fetishization, that also characterizes mainstream heterosexuality, and mainstream homosexuality if there can be such a thing.  (Gay men are doing their best to make it a thing.)  Dan would cluck over it, but I don't think he's interrogated his own desires and discourse enough.  Once you start being suspicious of your or other people's motives for a pre-rational phenomenon like sexual desire, you'll find how deep the rabbit hole goes, because there is no bottom to the mind.  As I've discussed before, my own tastes in men have excited criticism from other gay men because I wasn't as excited by certain types as they were, and attracted to types they didn't like.  So, was I just "mindlessly rejecting" the norm?

It's certainly possible, and not uncommon, to treat people badly by objectifying them, but I don't think "fetishization" is the right word or idea for it.  I think there's a great deal of what we used to call puritanism in this interrogation of (usually) other people's desires: it involves a suspicion of desire and pleasure, especially other people's desires and pleasures: I like what I like because it's natural, you like what you like because it's your fetish, your paraphilia.  I've read, though I haven't checked it carefully yet, that some authoritative Christian divines postulated that the ideal, Edenic copulation would be done under control of the will, without irrational pleasure caused by the Fall.  (This distrust of pleasure is not only a Christian, or "Abrahamic" impulse, of course.)  Dan's Catholicism, even though he's left it behind, has not entirely left him.

But back to Dan.  He drags in an Asian American "writer and comedian whose work often touches on race and desire," and the guy helpfully piles on:
“It’s not uncommon for people later in life to discover that they’re attracted to something they’d never considered sexy before—full-grown adults are out here discovering they’re bi every damn day,” said Booster. “But she went 30 years before she saw one Asian man she was attracted to? And now this guy has ‘rewired’ her to be attracted only to Asian men?”
First, I don't think the lady said she'd never been attracted to any Asian men before.  Read it again: she's been "into men of all races" "in theory." Most of her exes have been white or Latino.  Since she's evidently dating around, I see no reason to suppose that she's never dated an Asian man before, let alone never seen "one Asian man she was attracted to."  (I've seen many men I was attracted to, but didn't have sex with because they weren't available for various reasons.)  But who knows?  We both might be reading too much into a query that doesn't answer every question we might like to ask.

Second, I take her claim that she's been "rewired" with a grain of salt.  She met the guy in question in September, six months ago.  Who knows when her letter was written, how long it sat around before Dan answered it?  Six months is a very short time for an adult to decide that her life has been permanently changed.  For comparison, Dan usually advises couples to live together for at least a year before they get married, because marriage is a big, quasi-permanent commitment.  And this writer is not even making a commitment.  No one, I hope, would criticize her if she starts dating non-Asian men again in another six months, or a year or two, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if she does.  My own tastes and desires have changed over the years, and I don't expect them to be permanent.  We hear a lot about the "fluidity" of desire and sexuality, but hardly anyone seems really to believe in it.

Dan's consultant is concerned that "she has shifted to exclusively fucking Asian guys and feels the need to write a letter about it. That feels like a red flag, and yet I can’t pinpoint why."  Well, maybe she feels the need to write a letter about it because she has experienced a seismic change in her attractions, which is interesting, and also because many people including Dan and his consultant would like her to feel uneasy about it, so she wants some reassurance.  I don't see any red flags in her letter myself.

What takes this particular column over the line from annoying to creepy is the second letter, from a white guy married to an Asian woman.  They have great sex, but she doesn't like to give blowjobs, and now the husband is fantasizing about getting a blowjob from a man.
How do I convince my wife to agree to this? She’s afraid I might like it; I obviously hope I do. There’s nothing I want more than to get head on the way home and then be able to tell her about it and fuck her later that night. How can I convince her to let me do this while also being able to tell her about it and be truthful?
Dan's answer focuses on an issue the writer hadn't actually raised, whether he would be bisexual or still straight.  This distracts him from what I see as a red flag, the writer's repeated wish to "convince [his] wife to agree to this" despite her anxieties.  Dan does at least say that if she says no and sticks by it, the answer is no.  I think he should have borne down a little harder on the husband's entitlement and even obliviousness.  As the first letter writer's experience shows, a good erotic experience can have a powerful effect on a person.  There is no guarantee that one hot blowjob from a guy won't lead this husband to want more of them, and as Dan would ordinarily stress, opening up a relationship increases the risks of STDs and other problems.  The wife's worries are well-founded.  (That she teased him about getting a blowjob from someone else before they were married doesn't change that.)  The trouble isn't that the husband is fetishizing anyone -- though fantasizing specifically about getting a blowjob from another man indicates that some of that is going on -- but that he's minimizing his partner's concerns and interests.  I can sympathize, Ven der putz shteht, ligt der sechel in drerd and all that, but Dan's take here lacks a certain amount of conviction.