Asian-Australian author and playwright Michele Lee describes how a meeting through online dating led to realisations about the subtleties of living in two vastly different worlds.
The email conversation, from memory, went something like this.
Him: Hey Edende, I read your profile and thought I’d email you because I believe you’re the female equivalent of me! I never used to date Asian girls, only white girls, until recently when I had sex for the first time with a girl from Hong Kong. And, you know, it wasn’t bad. Approaching you is probably foolish because if you’re like I used to be, you won’t reply simply because you’ve seen my picture and you’ve seen that I’m Asian. But I can say that I’m amazing in bed, which is after all the main reason we’re on this site.
Me: Thanks for writing. I ummed and ahhed about replying because, yes, you’re right, and it makes me feel bad to acknowledge it, but I don’t date Asian guys. I realise it’s racist, and that’s especially bad because I’m Asian too. I’ve been socially conditioned in Australia to see Asian guys as a different sort of prospect from non-Asian guys.
Me: Um. Because.
Him: I don’t think that’s good enough.
I tried to log on to Lavalife to retrieve the exact transcript of our conversation but it’s been so long since I was on the hook-up website and the usual passwords I rotate across various online accounts didn’t work. I was locked out of Lavalife.
Casting my mind back to those years I spent as a one of the many little fishies in the ocean of Lavalife, wagging my tail at the non-Asian men, flitting away when Asian-Australian men approached me, another interaction springs to mind.
Him: Hey pretty girl. Want 2 have sex?
Good question. My criteria for sex, according to me, seemed to be a discriminatory policy of non-Asians only. I clicked on this person’s username and went to his profile, my hawk eye on the scout for spying any Asian-ness.
But this guy revealed nothing. No pictures. No words.
I stayed silent. He persisted. I gleaned from his short messages that he was attracted to my pictures, to the idea of me. The idea of Asian. He kept re-appearing in my inbox. Eventually, and politely, I emailed him.
Me: Hi. I don’t usually respond if people have little information on their page. I’ve put up a description about myself and I’ve put up pictures, so I like to communicate with others who do the same. Can you tell me more about yourself?
A curious thing happened. What might have been the best sex of either of our lives, had I not asked for more information and had just met up with him, turned into violent cyber bullying. It seemed that no, he did not want to provide more information. I was a cock-tease, I was a stupid bitch, I was so stupid, why did I bother to reply if I was just going to tell him off?
I raged back at him, then him at me. And so on, for a few emails. And this was not masochistic foreplay. This was trolling. I reported him to the administrators of Lavalife but they wiped their hands clean as who was to say I didn’t start the stoush.
What I found most indignant was that in one of our angry email battles he called me a “third world rat”. I had to laugh; I’ve never been called that before. Nip. Gook. Ching chong. But a rat? And how did he know that my parents had fled to Australia from a third world Asian country?
The laughter softened the shock, and what lingered was his ugly tone and his racism. The flipside of the man that approaches an Asian woman on a sex-site is that he can in one email fantasise about having sex with you because you’re Asian and then it the next breath he can hate you because you’re Asian, because you’re a rat. No longer human.
If there’s anywhere that can so acutely expose you to stereotypes of who is or isn’t attractive, to your own internalised racism and to the vicious racism that might bubble away just beneath the surface, it’s the realm of online hook-ups.
This is not to say that I didn’t have friendly encounters too, those far outweighed the bad, but in the years where I was in the ocean, in the lava, at times I was jarringly aware of myself swimming between cultures.
Michele Lee is an Asian-Australian playwright and author who lives in Melbourne. She studied at the University of Canberra, and did further study at RMIT. Her recent works include the site-specific audio theatre work Talon Salon and her memoir Banana Girl. For more information see www.michelevanlee.com.au.