In light of manontheside’s recent post on racial fetishization, I though I might chime in a little. I recently read David Eng’s Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America, and while for the most part it was a review of everything I’ve already heard on the topic, the introduction was really interesting – the author provided a brief review of Fruedian fetishist theory to introduce the topic in a way I hadn’t heard before. So, in summary:

• Fetishes are sexual fixations that deviate from normative sexual behavior, and the subjects “are both inanimate and commonly considered non-sexual to an authoritative group in a society”

• Clinical psychologists typically diagnose sexual fetishism after six months of the above behavior, noting some kind of social dysfunction that results (anxiety, social displacement)

• “In the common English language, any degree of attention given to a singular inanimate object, body part, body feature or sexual behaviour may be said to be a sign of sexual fetishism. This use of the term is considered an overly compensatory gesture to the cognitive and emotional uncertainty caused by the liberation of sexual discourse, tastes and practices in the 20th century”

(thank you, Wikipedia)

For all the bad press fetishes have received over the years, doesn’t the above description of commonplace fetishism almost sound kind of normal? Perhaps an integral part of our socialization, perhaps the development of our sexuality, is founded upon fetish-like behaviors.

Now, I’m not saying that I support acceptance for cases of clinical fetishism that border on the extreme and are disruptive or damaging to the affected or the object. But the way I see fetishes described above, I can’t help but think that fetishes sound a lot like the product of the same socialized sexual behaviors we experience in the early stages of adolescence. I mean, how is it that we grow up and know how to have sex, as most understand it? We just turn 13 and realize that a penis going into a vagina is sex? Or we come out as lesbian or gay and then learn how to use strap-ons or perform anal sex, respectively (limited [and limiting] examples, I know, but bear with me)? I just don’t buy it. There’s a reason why we hear stories about guys who get off too quickly the first time they have sex with a woman – growing up, they dreamed about their first time for years; all those Playboys, porn from the internet, stories they hear from other guys. They were taught that putting their penis in a vagina is hot, empowering, infinitely pleasurable, and that it will turn them into a man – they are taught to harness their newly explosive sexual energy into an organized fixation around heterosexual, vaginal penetration. Sex isn’t natural; it’s a result of an accepted sexual fetishization.

So, if the above is true, then does that mean that most sexual practices we find attractive are the result of fixation? In many cases, “true love” is known as mutual fixation on each other. That’s nice. But what I’m interested in is how those of us develop our attraction. Rarely have I met sexual people that truly stand by their claim that “they’re open to dating most people”. Usually I meet people that adhere to a system of attraction that reflects western capitalist hierarchy. All gay men should know that the hottest guys are white and masculine, and the least favored are asian and flamers (black and latino men win points for being tough, but aren’t white, so often they hit a glass ceiling). Similarly, many heterosexual white women don’t realize that when guys “aren’t their type” they’re probably just not white or masculine either. Straight guys, of course, aren’t left out – thin women, white women, feminine women. We may be attracted to different things, but our systems of attraction, when analyzed, pretty clearly reflect a mindset created by the society they grew up in. There is of course room for deviation (we’re here for a reason!), but I speak of our society as a whole.

Then I guess the only way to deviate, or to escape how we were socialized growing up, is to fetishize. Maybe rice queens grow up learning to find many aspects of Asian/gaysian male culture extremely rewarding – among culturally rewarding factors, let’s talk sex: To deviate from society’s strong psychological push to infantilize Asian men, maybe some guys fetishize by race (and transform “the effeminate Asian man” from a repulsive concept to instead a perfect fit in a new, gendered sexual role that can fit like a glove – an exotic, submissive bottom) in order to get it up. Sad as that may be, I think it’s true in a lot of cases.

And I’m not escaping responsibility, here. Why do I typically find most attractive guys who are tall, scruffy, and white? Sounds pretty Brokeback to me – guess I fall into the trap of the western ideal. Is this okay, or is it racist? How much control do we have over our attraction? When do we reward our desires, and which behaviors should we suppress?

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