When I was in my second year of university, a stranger approached a friend and me on the streets of Melbourne, asking to photograph us for his website about interracial couples. A little taken aback, we told him we weren't together but had friends that might fit the bill. He went on to explain that many of his friends were Asian men who thought Anglo-Australian women just weren't interested in dating them. His website was his way of showing this wasn't true.
After a fittingly awkward goodbye, I never saw that man or, concerningly, his website again, but the unusual encounter stayed with me. It was the first time someone had given voice to an insecurity I held but had never felt comfortable communicating. Get our newsletter for the best of ABC Everyday each week. My first relationship was with a Western girl when I was growing up in Perth, and I never felt like my race was a factor in how it started or ended.
I was generally drawn to Western girls because I felt we shared the same values. At the time, I rarely felt that assumptions were made about me based on my ethnicity, but things changed when I moved to Melbourne for university.
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In a new city, stripped of the context of my hometown, I felt judged for the first time, like I Nice Singapore asian seeking caucasian guy subtly but surely boxed into an "Asian" category. So, I consciously tried to be a boy from WA, to avoid being mistaken for an international student. Since then, my experience as a person of colour in Australia has been defined the question: "Is this happening because of who I am, or because of what people think I am?
It's a never-ending internal dialogue that adds complexity and confusion to aspects of life that are already turbulent — and dating is where it hit me the hardest. I'm in a relationship now, and my partner is white. Talking to her about the anxieties I experienced around dating, it's easy to feel like my concerns were caused by internalised racism and problematic stereotypes that I projected onto the world around me.
So, I decided to start a long overdue conversation with other Asian men, to find out if I was alone in my anxieties. Chris Quyen, a university student, photographer and creative director from Sydney, says his early interest in dating was influenced by a desire to fit in. For Melbourne-based hip-hop artist Jay Kim, this approach to dating is understandable, but not without its problems. Dating coach Iona Yeung says Asian men are represented largely through "nerdy stereotypes" in the media, with few positive role models to draw confidence from when it comes to dating.
Chris agrees, saying the media plays an "important role in informing who we are attracted to". When it comes to Asian men, they're often depicted as "the bread shop boy or the computer genius who helps the white male protagonist get the girl," he says, if they're represented at all. An interaction with a female partner who called him "exotic" similarly affected his sense of self. Having these conversations has helped me realise that although my anxieties around dating come from my experience with sex and relationships — they're also connected to how I value my culture.
It's fitting that some of the people I spoke to have embraced their backgrounds as they negotiate the challenges that come with dating as Asian Australian men. For Jay, "practising a lot self-love, practising a lot of empathy for others, and being around the right people" has allowed him to Nice Singapore asian seeking caucasian guy moments of intimacy for what they are, and feel real confidence.
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Dating coach Iona says finding role models and references to bolster your confidence is key to overcoming concerns or anxieties you might have around dating. My advice would be not to wait seven years until you talk to someone about your feelings or concerns, and certainly not to wait until a stranger on a street approaches you for a suspicious-sounding website you later can't find to have this conversation with yourself.
ABC Everyday helps you navigate life's challenges and choices so you can stay on top of the things that matter to you. We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn and work.
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