Written by Kelly Pau.
Photo by Anthon Smith.
I was walking along 5th avenue, slightly tipsy after a date night with myself, and I was fully vibing. I’m talking headphones in, big boots stomping, and arms a-swinging. Then, a man stopped me. He followed your normal par for the course pick up lines (“I like your outfit, you seem cool”; “how are you?”) until he asked me–and I quote– “Are you sixteen?”
When I said that I wasn’t, I’m 21–hence the Asian red glow on my face–he grew more insistent. “Are you sure?” he said. The red flags grew brighter than my flushed face.
Why did he ask me if I was sixteen? And why did he pressure me to change my answer? The interaction stuck with me on my long walk home. As a short Asian woman, I can understand being misjudged as a teenager, but how much of my body is seen for what it is and not what others want it to be?
I thought back to all my relationships, situationships, and random hook-ups in the past, and couldn’t shake the feeling that those people didn’t see me as me, but as a body to fulfill some school girl fantasy.
It’s funny how a single encounter can color your memories. I thought back to all my relationships, situationships, and random hook-ups in the past, and couldn’t shake the feeling that those people didn’t see me as me, but as a body to fulfill some school girl fantasy. What did Luc, 29, from Tinder see when he put his finger in my mouth? Did you put your hand on my throat because of my race or my perceived age or both, because we didn’t agree to it and you certainly didn’t ask? Why did I get the most amount of numbers on the night of my first college party as a freshman than I ever did during the rest of my college years combined?
So, cis straight men: what is it with you and minors? Because the problem is that it’s not just me. Almost all my femme presenting friends have fended off advances from older guys, or slept with them and toted it as a mark of sophistication, or worse, regret. And even though I’m no longer a minor, I still have to weed out potential pedophiles who’d paint me as one. For Asian, Black, Indigenous or other femmes of color, this projection of ‘nubile teen’ is ten times more persistent and dangerous, yet the sexualiazation of our youth and even parts of our adulthood, are normalized to the point that we don’t think of pedophilia as people in college or something that can happen to legal adults. Pedophiles are synonymous with creepers on a registered sex offender list, not upperclassmen who seek out younger students, or the people on Tinder who’s age is outside the range you set, but the algorithm serves you to them framed and topped with a blue star anyways.
When you throw in the complications and misconceptions of race on top of it, things get trickier.
In fact, many people do not see the problem with this, because it’s not defined within the terms of pedophilia per se. When a 24 year old dates an 18 year old, sure they might both be ‘legal’ ages, but we know that the arbitrary numbers of what defines maturity isn’t what’s at stake here, nor is the age gap. What is at stake is the difference of power. To seek out those in newly legal and influential ages is predatory. End of story.
When you throw in the complications and misconceptions of race on top of it, things get trickier. Many Asian women already defend themselves against stereotypes of meekness or submissiveness thanks in part to the porn industry’s typecasting of Asian women as sexually submissive. Not once have I gotten to decide if I want to fulfil this role in the bedroom, because the decision is always decided for me long before I’ve entered the room.
A few months ago, a new Netflix film, Cuties, sparked controversy over its perceived sexualization of children, yet the backlash of the film indicated in its own blind and ironic twist how rampant levels if misogynoir push to portray Black women as sexual predators even in a film critiquing said hypersexualization of young black women that both centers their experience and is written by another Black woman, as pointed out by Rebecca Epstein-Levi for Bitch Media. If that doesn’t prove how far the patriarchal dreamscape turned reality has internalized the ertoicization of women, then I don’t know what will.
Does this person like me for me or do they see me as an anime school girl?
It’s hard to navigate sex and relationships with the knowledge of your likelihood to be fetizhsized. Every new potential partner or show of attraction is shrouded in question marks. Does this person like me for me or do they see me as an anime school girl? I’ve taken a long break from any dating or sexual scene because I’m scared to hook up with someone only to find out later that they’re a creeper and not only did I get them off, but I let them use me as a fodder for those fantasies. There’s no filter you can input to block these people, no good way to ask someone on a first date: “hey, are you by chance going to project a certain age or sexual fantasy onto me? Do you have yellow fever?”
I don’t have a grand solution to date while filtering these people out. All I can say is that I won’t play these parts. I am not your Lolita. I am not a category on PornHub. I don’t need you to reinforce that I’m attractive, underage or not, because I know that I am.
About The Author
Kelly (she/her) is the editor of Our House L.A and staff writer at Mochi Magazine. She describes herself as the Asian Carrie Bradshaw (if you swap relationship articles for race and culture, but keep the closet of course). She is determined to continue reporting and uplifting marginalized communities even if it means existing on cup noodles to do so (as if she doesn’t already).