I don’t enjoy being fetishised for my race. I generally don’t enjoy being racialised at all. But I get it if you like straight black hair and smooth bodies — that’s alright, I have certain preferences around physical attributes too; probably everyone does to some extent.
I’m much more put off by those who fetishise “Asian culture” and assume that will connect with me. I’ve lived in Melbourne since I was four. My intellectual inheritance is very much Western. I’m not westernised. Culture is never native, but Australian culture (including Asian Australian culture) is naturalised to me. My aesthetic, moral, political and intellectual values, as some kind of critical theory grrrl punk or whatever, spring from and struggle within a Western genealogy. Not that there’s nothing similar within various Asian cultures, or that similar strands there are necessarily imported. But when I say counter-culture, it’s counter to the dominant culture in my life.
My family has been through the Cultural Revolution followed by transnational migration, so I’m pretty aware that even the cultural practices I think of as Chinese are often unique to my family. Migrants from any country adapt their traditions to their new context. Besides which, culture is rapidly evolving in China itself too, as it is everywhere in the world.
When I first started identifying as a person of colour, I was so struck by the depth of my affinity with my new-found peers, I forgot for a moment how that affinity was constructed — as a very specific, strategic, deliberate political project. As Iris Marion Young might put it, we were a group that arose through a common intention in relation to our serialised condition – but the series itself is not already a group.
I’ve had friends and lovers from different backgrounds, and there’s no rule for what makes a strong connection. Two people may have “a lot in common” in terms of experiences, but it’s how we understand and respond to those experiences that creates affinity. Some of the most extreme instances of cultural dissonance I’ve experienced have been with people who have a very similar background. The fissure between our identities and thoughts was so much more dramatic from having been produced out of such like experiences, the same trajectory suddenly diverged. And there are people I’m really close to because we’ve been through a lot of the same shit. We have this camaraderie which is so precious to me. It’s precious because it’s rare, and it’s rare because it’s a potent mix of similarity and solidarity — of experience and desire. The intersection of culture and subculture, seriality and intentionality is what positions me as a queer POC feminist, rather than a pansexual Asian woman, or a radical democrat.
For others, overlaying culture/subculture on seriality/intentionality won’t be appropriate. Many subcultures are founded around aesthetics, and people won’t consider their moral and political desires as situated in or in any way related to their subculture. While I can identify the former independently of the latter, and certainly it’s refreshing to speak to those with similar values who are outside these subcultures, my own subculture is very much a community of political intentionality, and I think locating my values within it helps keep them fresh and fighting. I’ve been grappling with a lot of subcultural resentment lately, but I have a lot of appreciation too. Behind the bandannas, black jeans, faux-hawks and glitter, sometimes there is some real serious support and solidarity.