The Exoticism of South Asian Queer Women

When queer women are first coming out or becoming involved in the mainstream queer community they are often becoming subject to misogyny and objectification at the hands of other queer women.  However, in a lot of cases queer women are bred into a heteronormative lesbian culture where they feel they should be the misogynists, although they probably don’t recognize it as such.

White queer women often feel subject to this objectification and misogyny in the queer community.  However, South Asian queer women and other queer women of color have a level of exoticism, or some may experience it as tokenization, that we have to deal with that most white women do not.

This misogyny that exists among queer women is the result of misogyny by heterosexual men, which is set as the norm.  Misogyny in the heterosexual community plays out as men’s both overt and covert disrespect for women.  Their attitudes and behaviors may affect their relationships.  Furthermore, this is created by a larger culture in which women are disrespected and degraded, especially in the media.

Misogyny that is prevalent in heterosexual spaces pervades and spreads into queer spaces, where queer people become objectified on a daily basis in personal interactions.  Queer women may feel that it is not the same disrespect since they are both women.  However, there is still the possibility for the same power dynamics between people of the same gender, whether in a relationship or otherwise.  Queer women often degrade other queer women emotionally, physically and sexually.

This same process happens with exoticism; the queer community replicates a version of exoticism from heterosexual communities.  Exoticism in heterosexual communities has been a contributing factor in violence against South Asian women such as human trafficking.  South Asian queer women are also objectified by this idea of South Asian women as an exotic, foreign endeavor to be sought.

While South Asian queer women are exoticized, objectified and oversexualized, they may feel a tie to their culture of origin, which may result in feelings of guilt.  South Asian queer women may already feel a sense of guilt from being queer, identifying as queer, and exploring their sexuality.  As South Asian queer women explore their sexualities in an environment that is viewing them as hypersexual, exotic beings, they may feel flattered, disturbed, and/or confused.  To be hypersexualized for coming from a culture that is often experienced as sexually conservative can be confusing.

However, South Asian women inside and outside of the queer community undoubtedly feel that they have sexualities that are not always out of their hands.  Furthermore, South Asian queer women are not always the passive objects of misogyny.

This discussion of exoticism is not to discount legitimate feelings of sexual empowerment that South Asian women may feel when exploring their queer sexualities.  South Asian queer women often feel that they have positive experiences in the queer community, free of exoticism where they can enjoy, celebrate and explore their sexuality.  Some times, in regards to sexuality, there is a freedom that South Asian women feel they could not find until they came into their queer selves.

Simultaneously, while vulnerable to exoticism, South Asian queer women may also perpetuate the misogyny in the queer community.  South Asian queer women may not always have the power to be able to exoticize South Asians in a way that is detrimental, however they can have the power to objectify queer women.

South Asian queer women do not have one assigned role in any discussion of sexuality.  Freedom, repression, power, control and so on; these words all have relevance in any discussion of sexuality regarding South Asian queer women.  This shows that women can not solely be described as powerful or weak in discourse surrounding sexuality.  When it comes to misogyny and exoticism among queer women, it can be said that South Asian queer women are often in a complex tug of war.

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Anurag is a queer, feminist, social worker-to-be. Currently residing in the cornfields of Illinois.  Fierce, emotional and reclaiming the brown-ness. 

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