Oof, listening back to my episode "On Identifying as an Asian Female" brought up some feelings.
If you've been following my recent blog posts, you'll know I've been sharing my four-years-later take on my Season 1 episodes. This reflection is on Episode 6.
By the way, I want to acknowledge that I'm sure my terminology around gender (etc.) was not on point in this episode. For example, this post says to use "woman" instead of "female" to be more inclusionary. Also, I know that using the term "Asian" to encompass an incredibly diverse group of cultures has been highly criticized – especially considering that some of those groups have much more privilege than others (I identify as Korean, which is considered one of those more privileged groups).
I still have a lot to learn with respect to inclusionary language. For now, I ask for your grace in meeting me where I was then in understanding my identities. Many thanks. ❤
I started off this episode talking about identities in general – how, for example, racial and gender identities are socially constructed, as are the expectations and ideas of what it “means” to fit into those categories.
As I shared, I know that many folks might feel uncomfortable with the idea of shedding themselves of their identities, as some spiritual approaches might encourage. I get uncomfortable at the thought too at times, especially when it comes to my Asian identity.
Recently, the #VeryAsian hashtag went viral on Instagram "after a viewer left a racist voice message for an Asian American news anchor who said that she ate dumplings in celebration of New Year’s Day" (NBC News). That shit made me want to buy one of those pink #VeryAsian sweaters and wear it proudly to stand in solidarity with my people.
As I said on the podcast, I don’t think identities are bad in and of themselves. For example, there are things about Asian culture (specifically Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese culture) that I grew up with and love, including the food and eating rituals.
Also, it's become more important for me to learn about my Korean culture to establish a closer relationship with my ancestors and even myself as part of my healing process. There is definitely stuff around identity tied up in that work.
I think identities, and our attachment to those identities, can become problematic when the preconceived notions of how we “should” act, think, behave, etc., that are tied to those identities aren’t in alignment with how we authentically want to show up in the world.
They’re also obviously problematic when they lead to racism and biases that privilege one group over another. Identities can lead to harmful groupthink and an "us versus them" mentality. Viewing people through the lens of narrowly defined identities can strip away the humanity and uniqueness of those individuals.
So, for me, I've needed to do the self-work of unlearning the internalized stereotypes and expectations I developed through experiencing racism due to my Asian identity as well as in witnessing a lack of representation of people who look like me in the media, positions of power, etc. (And let's not forget, there's also the self-work of unlearning my unconscious biases related to my privileged positions.)
This unlearning will undoubtedly be a never-ending process as long as I continue to live in a patriarchal, white supremacist culture. Because within that context, I will always continue being fed the message that I am less than. And so, our social justice efforts toward an equitable world must continue on as well.
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A few big things have happened for the Asian American/Canadian community since I recorded this episode four years ago. (Again, holding this broad term of "Asian American" or "Asian Canadian" with a light hand.)
For one, the movie Crazy Rich Asians came out. It was “the first film by a major Hollywood studio to feature a majority cast of Chinese descent in a modern setting since The Joy Luck Club in 1993” (Wikipedia).
While there has certainly been criticism of the movie from within the broader Asian community regarding how representative of "Asians" the movie was, many Asian-identifying folks saw the movie as a huge milestone in terms of visibility in the media.
Then there was the #StopAsianHate movement, which was born during the pandemic due to increased violence against Asian Americans in particular (although we also felt the repercussions of the growing hate crimes in the U.S. here in Canada). Of course, this movement is still happening to this day.
In these two examples, we've seen many folks who identify as Asian (and our allies) come together to both celebrate and grieve/mobilize, respectively. In these ways, perhaps we do hold on tightly to our Asian identity because we’ve been told that because of what we look like and what that represents to people, we don’t matter, we don’t belong, we don’t have a voice. And so in fighting for a space to simply exist as an equal human being, we have to talk about and stand up for our identity.
We're just not at the point yet in our evolution as a human society where we can say that "All Lives Matter."
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I mentioned more broadly in the episode that these stereotypes, internalized oppression, and power dynamics can show up in all types of relationships.
Being more active in the dating space recently has brought up questions of inherent power dynamics or unconscious biases that can express themselves in certain relationships or conversations.
Sometimes the question of whether a guy is pursuing me because he has an "Asian fetish" comes up. Sometimes it's hard to know, other times the dude will actually say shit like he's always wanted to date an Asian woman, and other times yet I'll pick up on clues that get my guard up.
Back when we could see our Instagram followers’ likes, comments, and follows, I noticed that a guy who had been paying a lot of attention to me was constantly liking and commenting on posts of other Asian women who all had a similar look (young, attractive, etc.).
It's nothing new for me to come across a guy with this hyper-focus on Asian women, but it still feels super icky to experience it and wonder how he views me. What kind of fucked up glasses does he got on? What does he imagine I'm like? It's tough to be open and vulnerable with someone when you don't trust their underlying motives.
Thinking of it now, I’d want to ask him: Why are you attracted to these women who look like this? What do you think they’re like as people? Where do you think you formed that impression? If you actually got a chance to date one of them, what do you think that experience would be like? What do you think sex with them would be like? How do you think they would treat you?
Some people don't quite understand how this is problematic. I don't think it's a bad thing to have a preference when it comes to looks. But if a guy were to reflect on those questions and realize that they think an Asian girlfriend would always be super sweet/considerate (serving), non-argumentative (passive), and perform in bed like whatever Asian porn stars he's been jerking off to, then there's probably some inner work to do there, bud.
The issue with fetishization is that you're not being seen as a human being. That guy isn't entering the relational dynamic with an openness to really learn about the unique, individual human before him. He's not entering the bedroom with a mindset of curiosity and seeking consent – it's just about fulfilling some fantasy he has in his head regardless of whether that's also her vision for pleasurable sex.
As you can imagine, there's more unlearning to be done here. But it's gotta be done if we want to stop harming each other.
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Toward the end of the episode, I talk about how really getting to the core of who I am as my authentic self means going beyond even the identities woven into how I see myself as a creator, someone who camps in the backcountry, etc. It’s really getting to that timeless essence of who I am, that stays constant no matter how much my preferences, abilities, and lifestyle change.
In doing a lot of the trauma-healing work and somatic practices that get me more in tune with my body, I understand even more now what it means to just be as my spiritual Self that is devoid of any identity. And that when I relate to someone at that soul/heart level, and receive the same in return, all the ideas of how you're "supposed" to show up in that dynamic fade away.
And also, I still stand by my caveat that we can’t just jump into the whole “let’s all be one” kumbaya vibes when the reality is that being seen and met on that soul level is not most folks' experience. There are many obstacles to that, one of which can be our internalized racism/sexism/etc. and biases against certain groups.
It takes active reflection and unlearning to truly get to a deeper place of genuine connection with others. And, as with most of this work, it is lifelong and never perfect. But this is an integral part to how we get free and help others get free, both internally and in the ways we are able to live our lives and navigate the world.
With love, Janice xo
P.S. You can listen to "On Identifying as an Asian Female (S1, EP6 | The Soul's Work Podcast)" on: the website | Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Podchaser | Stitcher | Please subscribe + leave a rating and review to help others find the show! ❤