Sunday, June 13, 2004

Shirts vs Skins

Once, at a gay bar, a drunk guy stumbled his way towards me, reeking of a mixture of sweat, CK One and alcohol. If it was closing time, I might be willing to ignore this combination of odors, but at 12:30a.m., I didn’t want to seem too desperate. There’s time enough for that later.

"Where are you from?" he slurred.
"I’m from Chicago," I tentatively replied, not sure why he was talking to me.
"No, no! I meant, you’re Asian, right, so like where are you from?"
I looked at him blankly.
"C’mon, say sumthin’ in your native tongue," he cajoled.
"Cun-nee-leeng-gus," I said.
"Cun-nee-leeng-gus," he repeated. "What does that mean?"
"It means 'I love my mother' in my language," I replied.
"Wow, can you write that down so I can tell my mother later?" He said. "Write down your phone number too."
"My pleasure," I grabbed a napkin and wrote down the syllables and the number to my favorite Chinese take-out.

I was really surprised by this guy’s question. I mean, I made sure to park my rickshaw where you couldn’t see it.

I also have a typical Midwestern accent, so your only tip-off that I was not born in the good ole U. S. of A. would have been that I, like Avril Lavigne, have a tendency to pronounce David Bowie’s last name "Ba-wee" instead of "Bo-wee."

Normally, I would find this only mildly annoying. I would just say I’m Chinese-Filipino and be done with it. Maybe it was the Attitude I was getting from the royal queen bitches parading at the bar that night that put me on edge, making me unforthcoming to this drunk.

I found it offensive that he assumed that despite my Aberzombified attire, I was anything but a corn-fed Midwesterner—you can check my toilet, I’ve got the corn kernel encrusted poop to prove it. I even use an extra-strong deodorant to get rid of that fresh-of-the-boat odor.

Being treated like a "skin" or racial stereotype is a universal experience: Latinos, blacks, white people from Canada—we’ve all experienced it. We cannot control what assumptions, prejudices, stereotypes, people put upon us. It’s a part of human nature, like a short-cut to getting to know someone. I mean, I do it all the time when I meet new people: if you talk to me, I assume that you want to go to bed with me.

There are certain things that you can do to control people’s impression of you: your job, your car, the smell of your feet. When people look at me, they see that I wear designer labels, fancy watches and Italian shoes, and they conclude that I have maxed out my credit cards. For me, it’s really important that people don’t think I’m boring. I think it’s much, much more interesting to be superficial.

But there are certain impressions that I cannot control. That is, despite what logo shirt I wear, it is the color of my skin, the shape of my eyes, that registers in the back of your brain.


*I realize of course that cunnilingus is not spelled like it is above. Don't shoot me. :)

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