Let’s face it. Unless you live in an extremely liberal city in the West Coast with a large Asian population, you’re not going to meet as many queer Asian-Americans as queer folk outside of your race. In addition, America is really quite the “melting pot,” and dating someone outside of your race, cultural, religion etc. is much more likely than finding a significant other just like you. Of course there’s the possibility that you’re a product of an interracial relationship. So let’s talk about it already!
Let me start by explaining that my mother is Japanese and my father white-American. Despite being Multi, I look more like my mom, and anyways the U.S. is infamous for its one drop rule. My first girl friend was white and had been out for many years already, including her extremely liberal parents. When we would go out on dates off campus, she would talk openly about lesbian issues. This was, of course, perfectly acceptable and yet I felt awkward since I had just come out. I later analyzed my feelings and realized that it wasn’t just the fact that I was a baby lesbian, but that I felt somehow less legitimate because I wasn’t a “white” lesbian, out and proud. She didn’t do anything wrong, yet I felt this way much of the time we were together, and it eventually led to out break up. Prior to this relationship, I had dated several white men, but it was as if their being a different sex already, put me at a different level and so my being Asian wouldn’t affect the already skewed dynamics. Being in a lesbian relationship however, meant that we were both female, therefore giving rise to the potential for equality. Thus, the long history of white, and out lesbians made me, an Asian lesbian feel (despite how hard I tried) inferior.
Despite all of this, I’m in no way saying that queer interracial relationships don’t work or are destined to make you feel inferior. What I want to say instead is that it’s important to talk about these dynamics with your partner so that they know how you feel. This was something I failed to do until we had ended our relationship.
When I started dating my current girlfriend who is Taiwanese, I ironically ended up on the other side because I’m half white. This time we talked about it though, and this time there were many other factors such as age difference, experience, language barriers that conveniently put us on the same page.
My friend Angela, a white lesbian who has lived in Taiwan for the past 12 years now has been dating Stacy, a Taiwanese woman for four years now. Since she’s in the minority in Taiwan, I thought her perspective on this topic would be really beneficial and so I asked her if she could write about her experiences with her girlfriend. Here’s what she had so say:
One day, about six months in to our relationship, we were sitting at the Kafka café in Gongguan, drinking coffee. Suddenly Stacy turns to me and goes, “You know what I just realized? You’re a foreigner!”
In my head I thought, “What gave it away? The being head and shoulders taller than everyone else? The too-hairy, too-pale skin? The poor grammar and incorrect tones?”
What I actually said, though, was, “Is that a problem?”
“Well, no, it’s just that, you know, you’re a foreigner. I just really realized.”
I’m like, “Well, you’re Taiwanese.”
“Yes, but this is Taiwan,” she says.
What she meant, she said, was that since I’m living in Taiwan, of course I’d date a Taiwanese, but for her, the idea that she’d date a foreigner was way more remote. And that she just realized, that since we’re starting to think in terms of ‘the rest of our lives’, that, you know, she’d be with a foreigner for the rest of her life.
Interracial relationships are hard. Intercultural relationships are hard. Everyone knows this. (As I type this, I’m thinking, are there any interracial relationships that are NOT intercultural? Considering?) But HOW they are hard, that’s what’s so hard to define. Relationships where you have two different mother tongues are also hard. Especially when you argue, and you just. can’t. get. your. point. across, because you or she has misunderstood a word, and that word makes all the difference.
But I think that what makes intercultural relationships hard, is you don’t know how to interpret. Does her silence mean she agrees? Or disagrees and doesn’t want to say? How come she never mentions when she has an important event coming up at work? Why did she smile when I said that—it wasn’t meant to be funny. Did I just embarrass her? There’s a thousand and one habits in human life, and each culture has different lines that you’re not supposed to cross. Or that you ARE supposed to cross, but at the right time. Learning this code can be a lifetime of work.
So where were we now, now that this fact of our difference had to be recognized? We were both foreign to each other. Our bodies are very different—we don’t match. When we stand together, nobody realizes we’re together. (Or when they do, they’re shocked that that weird foreigner and the ordinary looking Taiwanese girl are talking to each other in such a familiar way, almost as if they were, gasp, good friends!) We’re almost never understood to be a couple.
But we also have each had a lot of contact with the other’s culture. She’d gone to school in Michigan for two years. I’d been living and working in Taiwan for 8 years at that point. Our proficiency in each other’s language was both pretty decent, though I can’t read Chinese near to the extent that she can read English. So we had experience in each other’s cultures to make up a common ground, and enough of each others’ language to almost have a common language.
But the thing that makes it work, why we’ve been together for four years now, and have built a house together, as well as a home, is that we see eye to eye at a basic philosophical level. We value the same things, we worry at the same problems, we have the same vision for the world. And this builds a common ground that way transcends culture.
We also have made a commitment to each other, to always speak truth, to bring up problems and conflicts as they arise, to not let things fester, and to be as real to each other as we know how. This, beyond anything else, saved us when outside pressures and internal pressures combined to a real crisis, a year ago June. We survived that mother of all crises, because each of us was able to sit down and deal out every single last one of our cards, face up, and talk seriously about what was there, what was missing, and what we really wanted out of each other. And, we made a decision, that one you’re not supposed to, but we did: we each decided to change for the other. To grow, out of our old construction of self, into a new, better one. Stacy declared, “I’m Stacy 2.0! No, 3.0! Because I’ve skipped up two levels now!” And I knew that our life would not be the same, but that was a good thing, and because of it I’m more mature, more expanded, more real to my life, my partner, and our life together.