Monday, March 19, 2007

Reflections on Relationships

I essentially already gave overviews about some of my personal "relationships," at least the ones with women. I put it in quotation marks because I wouldn't say I've ever really had a real, serious, committed relationship with...well, anyone. I know I might seem like someone who avoids or fears commitment. According to this one article I read a week or so ago, that's true...all because I care more about my career and my freedom than relationships. Personally, I'd call it prioritizing rather than fear or avoidance.

In general, I view my getting into a relationship as impossible, partially for reasons beyond my control. A lot of people like to say that gay dating isn't really all that different from hetero dating. I beg to differ. Sure, you deal with some similar issues. But then with gay dating, you have some people who are not out, and you also have to worry about hitting on people who aren't on your "team" more than straight people do.

I think race also proves to be a more significant problem in gay dating than straight dating. For one thing, your dating pool was already narrowed, in my opinion, when you realized you like your same sex. After all, there are less gay people out there than straight people, and then you throw in the "closet." Race narrows things down even more if you're black. I can't speak to what it does for Asians and Latinos with any certainty, but my sense is that it doesn't cut the same for them as it does with blacks.

Since I spend most of my time in predominantly white, predominantly straight environments, I basically rely on the internet to learn about gays. And I learned some very interesting things over the weekend, courtesy of the AfterEllen message boards. I can't help but notice that every time I go to any sort of GLBT site that has forums, there are all these "general" boards--which translates into the white people boards--and then there's always this one sorry little spot for "people of color" that usually has less posts than even the most off-topic section of the entire message board section.

I clicked, not expecting much since there's not usually much from the "people of color" sections. There were a couple of incredibly revealing discussions going on, though, and, once again, I realized that some of my thoughts are not quite so "queer." One discussion was about interracial dating, and another was about acceptance as black lesbians.

I've written just a bit about my views on interracial dating here, but I will kind of spell them out better right now. It's not an easy, straightforward question for me to answer, the question of how I feel about them. As someone who has spent years kind of thinking of herself as bisexual, I have several thoughts about male/female interracial relationships. Normally when the concept of interracial relationships comes to my mind, that's what I think of--hetero interracial relationships.

Quite frankly, black men/white women irritates me, because when I look at those relationships I immediately assume that those black men don't like black women for whatever stereotypical reason or because they just don't find black women physically attractive. Of course, this is not always true. But I admit to making those assumptions rather quickly, and one of the reasons I do so is because I know that a lot more people than are willing to admit it do the same thing or have other issues with black men dating outside their race. Even the people in those relationships know it.

I remember this one time when I was at the Amtrak train station, waiting on my train to Chicago. This black guy came near me with an Asian girlfriend (and remember, Asian equals white, in my mind). I don't know if they both looked at me as if waiting to see how I'd react to them, but I distinctly remember the black guy doing so. Now, some people have indicated to me that my thoughts show on my face. So it's quite possible that he could have been looking at me like that because he could tell I was, at least, taking a clear mental note that this was a black guy with a non-black woman. And then he started speaking to me--about what, I don't remember--as if to show he's not one of those black guys who just completely disregards black women or doesn't identify with the black race at all.

Now that I think back on it, it reminds me a bit of the movie "Something New," when Sanaa Lathan's character first met the cute white guy at Starbucks or whatever, and she suddenly felt the need to speak to every black person she saw. I don't feel like you have to prove yourself to me--I fully recognize that I'm the one sitting there judging the relationship without really knowing anything, and I don't make comments to the interracial couples I see.

But one of the things that makes me more suspicious is when people say they "don't see color." I just don't think that's possible for anyone...and if it is, I seriously worry about that person. In a way, I feel like those are the last people who need to be in interracial relationships, because they almost seem not to understand that racism still exists. Well, the deeper you get into that relationship, the more likely you are to learn that it does, and I think it's a tougher lesson to take the older you are when you learn it. You've lived your life not recognizing certain things, and then you kind of feel like you've been lied to or have been living in a distorted reality. And, of course, you don't really need to be this naive raising any sort of minority child, but especially a mixed black child.

I don't think there's anything wrong with seeing race, in the sense of noticing someone is a different race than you are and has different features. There are certain features I like more than others. A lot of people say they have "preferences." Obviously, some people don't use that word right. That's another problem I have with interracial dating--a "preference" is not a preference if you're eliminating entire races of people, whether you're doing it consciously or subconsciously. And I think a lot of people who interracially dating eliminate entire races subconsciously. So some of these black men I pre-judge, some of them have dated all kinds of women or genuinely would...and some consciously don't like black women...but some subconsciously don't like black women.

What I learned this weekend is that these same kinds of things are happening among lesbians. It was a bit surprising to me how many black lesbians engage in interracial dating. For one thing, I was kind of assuming that wasn't really much of an option for us, because it's not really much of an option for straight black women. Men generally aren't interested in us. Then again, all of this probably depends on where you live. Anyway, a lot of the comments translated into very politically correct ways of saying "I 'prefer' white women" or "race doesn't matter," in my opinion. They just kind of reminded me of straight black men, except they weren't saying things like "black women have an attitude problem" and crap like that.

Another interesting thing I noticed is so many of us claim not to approach women. I definitely don't, and so it's somewhat surprising and pretty disappointing that many other black women don't do it, either. One of the interesting comments I saw was the idea of not approaching women because of the assumption that she's straight. For me, it's more so internalized gender roles, which I suspect is a big problem for a lot of lesbians. I am also just not an initiator or a pursuer by nature with any sort of relationship, not even friendships, which I think was another challenge between LA Girl and me. I like for people to approach me and pursue me, and if they don't then odds are nothing's going to happen.

So, thinking about the possibility that many of us are just not going to approach each other--whether because of race and/or because of that not being our style--and the fact that I don't seem to live places where non-black women are going to chase after me like what allegedly happens where these black women live...I definitely see a huge challenge for me if I ever decide to think less about my career and more about a relationship.

I want to make it clear that I'm not against interracial dating for anybody. I just admit I make negative assumptions with some of them. For me, the person has to have a good understanding of racial issues and demonstrate that she is interested in me rather than my race. I don't want someone who dates exclusively outside of her race, and I don't want to be someone who dates exclusively outside of her race. I mentioned not having had a real relationship yet, but everyone I've dated has been either white or Asian. So now I really want to meet some black women who are not straight. I see good-looking black women all the time, but they are just straight. Almost every lesbian I come into contact with is white.

As far as my preferences, I go through phases. I think, in general, I tend to like people with features similar to mine, i.e. I like yellow/brown people, i.e. Asians (especially darker ones such as Indians, Southeast Asians, etc), Latinos, and other "exotic" backgrounds, as well as light-skinned blacks and mixed blacks. I kind of worry about that...I feel like it's narcissistic, since I'm always being told I look like an Asian Indian or Latina, or am being asked which of my parents is white (which, I will discuss more in another entry).

I remember when I really first started getting interested in men and women romantically, it was just Asian after Asian after Asian. I really liked Asians and Latinos, and I still do. There just weren't really any Latinos where I grew up, though, or at my I was getting with Asians. Before I started dating, though--and before my mind got messed with by learning about things like slavery in AP US History and AP European History--I was kind of into white people more. Honestly, things have never really been the same after those history classes. It's been yellow and brown people since then.

At the same time, the hottest woman at my law school, to me, is a dark-skinned black female from an African family. Ahhhh...sometimes I wish she weren't straight...but then, I don't know how useful it'd be if she weren't, given that I'm not going to approach her either way. In addition to that, it seems as if I'm in this blonde phase right now--which I never thought would happen to me ever. It's really shocking to me. One of my best friends was pointing it out to me, and I was in denial for quite some time--because I guess this phase has been going on for the past few years or so--and one day I finally realized she was right.

Even when I preferred white people before, it was ones with dark hair. But I went from Heidi Klum (whom I actually like better with darker hair) as my celebrity crush to Portia de Rossi. And the last woman I dated was a blonde (in fact, she started the phase, I'd say), as is LA Girl, who is the most gorgeous woman I've ever seen.

But there are good-looking people of all backgrounds, so I think that we should all be open to dating outside our race. I just think it's something that should be done for the right reasons, not as an experiment or because something is wrong with a particular race, etc. And I want to be sure I'm not excluding anyone, particularly black women. I do think about it, and I just don't want to be the kind of person I tend to have a problem with.