(Content Note: eating disorders, rape, forced prostitution, minor attraction, violence against transgender women)
I was in seventh grade when my friend Kat looked at my feet and said approvingly, “You know what my brother says. Small feet, small kiki [vagina].”
Kat’s brother was cute. And as a newly minted teenager, my sense of insecurity was growing in direct proportion to my bacne and eyebrows. I lapped up any commentary on my body that I could interpret as kind.
Here is necessary context: I’m a cisgender Asian woman. I belong to the racial demographic probably most often described as cute and little – “Oh, you know Anis? Cute? Little? Asian?”
I internalized these descriptions before I had a chance to imagine a different identity. Before I knew I could write a good slam poem or rock a shaved head, I knew I had cute little feet, adorably small breasts, and a tight Asian pussy.
And I became invested in my size as a stand-in for my identity.
At thirteen, I was anorexic – and unhealthily obsessed with my own smallness. I needed to be every store’s standard of XXS. At five-foot-three, I was scared of hitting triple-digit numbers on the weighing scale. My body couldn’t handle physical exertion. I went to a soccer team try-out with friends; the coach had me sprint, then yelled after me, “Lanta [weak]!”
But at least I was cute. At least I was working to meet expectations. I wanted someone to want me one day, and in order for that to happen, I had to be small, and I had to be willing to please.
On dating apps, users who identify as Asian women receive the highest rates of interest. I have to wonder how many of the pursuers simply want the “experience” of being with a small Asian woman who will quietly disrobe, lie down, and offer a snug little spot for a dick to plug into.
I support people in having fetishes that they express without shame and that feel liberating for all parties. Many turn-ons don’t preclude consent and respect between partners.
But I also realize that a girl as young as nine could be hearing about the Tight Asian Pussy for the first time or a pre-teen boy could be learning about the Big Black Cock. And in this way, children of color begin to see themselves through a hypersexualized, racialized gaze – whiteness once again teaching them that their bodies are not their own.
I was thirteen when I learned that my tight Asian pussy was in high demand – and it shaped a perception of myself as a receptacle in sex, not an agent, as a means to an end (ejaculation), not a being.
The exotification of the Asian vagina is, like all oppression, erasure. Erasure is when the dominant culture convinces you and everyone else that you have no identity, no history, “no kingdoms.” The dominant culture convinces you that it is the only storyteller, so how can you exist independently from it?
The Asian woman can exist within it, but she is so small, she might as well have disappeared.
Here are four things erased by our obsession with the “Tight Asian Pussy.”
1. My Enjoyment of Sex
I have a tight vagina.
(Theoretically, now the Obamas can Google my name and know this about me.)
I was born with small equipment, and the issue of capacity is complicated by my condition called vaginismus. This means the muscles in my vagina contract when confronted with penetration. It’s common in people who have experienced sexual trauma or who, for whatever reason, feel emotional resistance to being penetrated.
Sex can be painful for me. And when it’s been painful, I’ve pretended it wasn’t. And even when it’s painful now, sometimes I’m still perversely proud of my tight Asian pussy, because even if I can’t enjoy the current sexual encounter, I know the person with the penis is enjoying maximum friction.
Part of why I tolerate vaginal pain during sex is because I think this is where my value lies: in my smallness, in my submission, and in my ability to provide pleasure.
At a young age, I learned about sex through implicit messages from the media and my community. I learned that I was in the business of servicing penises, and I had a mini customer service feature between my legs. I learned that I should hope for good sex (as a feminist, right?), but it sure would suck if I actually asked to stop painful sex and ruined a guy’s good time.
Debbie Lum, the filmmaker, says of Asian women, “We are largely invisible when it comes to politics and popular culture, yet there’s a very palpable urban myth that Asian women make better lovers than other women.”
This sums up how I saw myself for years: I was afraid I wasn’t good enough to hold a partner’s attention. I was afraid my partners would leave me for glamorous white women who were transforming politics and pop culture. The stakes in the bedroom felt high for me, and I engaged in painful sex to make use of something that felt exceptional about me: my tight Asian pussy.
2. The History of Sexual Trauma in Many Asian Countries
In Asia, many of the first encounters between foreign men and native women were ones of sexual violence during times of colonization or military occupation.
I grew up in the Philippines. During the Spanish, American, and Japanese occupations, Filipina women were raped by soldiers, community officials, and priests.
During World War II, the Japanese military abducted children across Asia and imprisoned them in brothels where soldiers could impose sexual and physical violence on them. The US occupation authorities permitted this to occur, knowing full well that American troops were participating in the abuse of enslaved children or so-called “comfort women.”
By the time outright warfare is over and countries are pronounced “free,” many have been too impoverished by combat to maintain true independence. In the Philippines, for instance, the US was able to set up local military bases to maintain their presence and oversight. And when a poor city can expect a steady influx of foreigners, the sex industry becomes an economic force; it provides women access to foreign money if they cater to the sexual demands of soldiers and tourists.
The next time you hear a male acquaintance say they prefer Asian women sexually, know that this preference may be an outgrowth of wartime, that they may want Asian women because, at some point in history, their grandfathers or great-great-grandfathers raped or sexually exploited Asian women and enjoyed it enough to spread the word.
Lest we forget, the exotification of my pussy began when the first imperialist rapists arrived in Asia.
3. The Millions of Children from Asia Who Are Forcibly Married Off or Trafficked into Prostitution
You know why Asian women are considered sexy (geishas), even as we are cooed over and infantilized (Harajuku Girls)? Because our dominant culture endorses childlike women as sexy. Asian women are sexy for being dutiful and grateful for whatever we get.
From what I can see, social messaging is not forgiving of adults with sexual interests in children – but, at the same time, it encourages men to develop a preference for childlike women. The line is being blurred, and it’s not okay.
The dominant culture has been telling a story about Asian bodies for some time: We are here for consumption, we’ll be the bones of your business, even the smallest among us—especially the smallest among us.
The Tight Asian Pussy is part of a story that drives the sexual exploitation of children. South Asia accounts for nearly half of child marriages in the world and two-thirds of human trafficking abductions.
For some men, the ideal Tight Asian Pussy belongs to a virgin or a child. The young can no longer be young when we sexualize and commodify smallness and perceived helplessness.
4. Asian Women Who Don’t Have Tight Vaginas – Or Vaginas At All
When the mainstream media says that Asian women are sexually attractive, they mean that small, cisgender Asian women are sexually attractive.
First of all, not every Asian woman has a tight vagina. Not every Asian woman was born with a vagina or has taken measures, for whatever valid reason, to construct a vagina. Not every Asian woman is small. Not every Asian woman is submissive.
All of this deserves recognition.
Secondly, I come from a deeply transphobic country. Based on recorded murders alone, the Philippines has the highest rate of violence against transgender women in Southeast Asia.
In 2014, near a US military base in the Philippines, US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton strangled Jennifer Laude, a transgender Filipina woman, in a motel room.
Olongapo City Councilor Aquilino Cortez Jr. was tapped to be the spokesperson for this case. He said, regrettably, “Transgenders are respected in the beauty parlor business and the fashion industry. They shouldn’t end up in situations where they pretend to be a real woman.”
Who gets to be a “real” Asian woman?
The fetishization of the Tight Asian Pussy creates a story of Asian women’s sexuality that is deeply cissexist, fatphobic, and restrictive.
If you are an Asian woman who is neither cisgender nor tiny, you are seen as transgressive for expressing sexuality at all, for daring to be sexually attractive at all.
Too many cisgender, straight-identified men feel entitled to one very particular kind of Asian woman – and they become upset and potentially violent when they encounter real women who don’t fit this mold.
I had my first pap smear recently. The gynecologist slipped the speculum in and said, “Oh.” I lifted my head. She said admiringly, “It’s a very pretty color. It’s this healthy soft pink.”
I felt entitled to gloat when I got home. My partner could not shut me up.
My younger self could not have told you that her vagina was pretty or that one day, someone would kiss it and make every light flare. She couldn’t have told you that one day, she would learn to give herself food, become a bigger body, take on a bigger life.
My younger self had to navigate the massive world of sexuality with very little information. She often felt awkward and greasy, not small enough and too Asian. She imagined the sex life she would have: She would count herself lucky if men didn’t mean to hurt her and especially lucky if they enjoyed fucking her. She would have told you that she was a feminist – then she would have needed you to tell her she was thin and so sexy in her smallness.
I wish she had known that she would grow up fierce. She would dismantle the stories people tell about women who look like her. She would have hot, self-affirming sex. And she would get to be happy—finally, happy.
Anis Gisele is a queer immigrant writer, by way of Manila, Philippines. She is a 2016 Everyday Feminism fellow, a 2016 VONA/Voices fellow (fiction), and a 2016 King Country Artist for Equity and Social Justice (poetry). Outside of her resume, she is a lifelong Tara Hardy student, an Ocean Vuong devotee, and a very part-time dancer with aggressive shoulders.