Youngmi Mayer is a comedian and host of the podcasts Feeling Asian and Hairy Butthole. She lives in New York.
When the COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020, I was deep into what I called my Chaotic Street Legend phase.
Recently divorced, I was trying to heal myself of serial monogamy. Not that there’s anything wrong with serial monogamy, but the way I was doing it was pathological. I never dated anyone who wasn’t completely obsessed with me, regardless of whether I was attracted to them or not. I always waited for a lead to follow. This was my way of making sure I never got hurt, that the other person cared more than I did, that I would never “lose.”
At the same time, I believed I didn't really deserve to date anyone I wanted to. If I was ever attracted to anyone, I would immediately give up out of fear and never pursue it. It also meant restricting my sexuality as a queer woman. I would never approach non-men because of the fear that I would be seen as repulsive, which was a projection of my own internalized homophobia.
As a practice to heal, I started sleeping with everyone.
And thus, my Chaotic Street Legend phase was born. If I found someone attractive, I would flirt with them in hopes of taking them home. And I did—a lot.
It was a healing time. It was an extremely painful time. It was the time I found myself in a way I never knew imaginable. I cried myself to sleep at night sometimes over the heartbreak, but most of the time I cried from absolute boundless ecstasy. Then Covid hit and all of that came to an immediate halt.
I looked back at the Chaotic Street Legend phase and realized something recently. I wasn’t just healing from pathological serial monogamy, I was healing from dating as an Asian woman. I realized my past behavior was in response to how society treated me and what I thought it wanted from me. I was acting like a submissive caregiver, a wantless pleaser. I was healing myself from internalized racism.
During this phase, I stopped dating cishet white men. Part of the reason for this is that whenever I would match with a white guy on a dating app, it was horrible. I had a “countdown” system where I would count down the time it took for a white man to say something so obscenely offensive I couldn’t continue texting or seeing him. Most of them made it to the 3rd or 4th text. Yes, this is something that can happen in all casual dating relationships despite the gender and race of the person. But there is a very specific “ick” white guy that targets Asian women.
This is why it is so difficult for me to explain that when Covid hit, I started to (remotely) date almost exclusively white men.
Like a light switch that went on, the week lockdown started, all of my dating app matches turned white. Random white guys were pouring into my DMs. I started chatting with all of them. I was bored. I could no longer go out and have sex with a stranger. This was a particularly jarring time because I experienced multiple instances of verbal harassment in the beginning days of Covid. I would come home after being screamed at Trader Joe’s and open up my phone to a bunch of white guy’s dick pics.
Sexuality is complicated. And I’m not qualified to really break down what was psychologically happening with me and the white men who were matching with me during this time. I think there is something about the fact that Asian people were probably seen as more taboo during the early stages of the pandemic, and maybe it played a subliminal role in the minds of some of these men. For me, I kept questioning why I was suddenly attracted to this specific demographic.
I brought it up to my close friend Sean. He said it reminded him of his childhood growing up gay in a very conservative small town. He constantly had crushes and occasionally relationships with boys in his class who were popular, extremely straight star athletes. He later realized he was infatuated with their security. He felt his proximity to them would protect him from the violence of homophobia in the community. I have not stopped thinking about that conversation since.
For the majority of the pandemic, I carried on remote relationships with multiple white men. But I never met up with anyone because I was too afraid to go outside.
It appeared that these men were seeking Asian women out.
I started working at a restaurant in late 2020 and one of my coworkers was also a single East Asian woman named Sheryl. I had just started talking to Adam (a white guy) a few weeks prior, and felt like this was the one I was finally going to meet in person.
At this point, I felt I had basically been re-virginalized and the Chaotic Street Legend days felt like a fever dream. I was afraid to actually go through with the date. As soon as Sheryl saw his picture, she said, “I’m talking to him, too.” She’d matched with him shortly before I had. Then, she showed me a photo of the guy she was currently seeing. I recognized him as one of the people I was infrequently messaging. When I told Sheryl, we both cringe-laughed. We then went through all of our matches and almost every single white guy I matched with also matched with her. Oh no.
Sheryl and I look nothing alike. We have completely different personalities and, consequently, Tinder profiles. The only thing we have in common was that we are Asian. We’d been targeted by a group of men I like to call “White Guys Who Lived In Japan And It’s Their Entire Personality.” There’s nothing wrong with white guys who have lived in Japan, but some of them hail from the dark parts of the webternet where misogyny and racism converge on one sad Reddit forum. It was dehumanizing.
I decided I would still try to meet up with that guy. We were supposed to have a date at 9 p.m. and he stopped replying to my texts an hour earlier. I was relieved in a lot of ways to be ghosted. Then, the next day he texted me at 7 a.m. saying he had blacked out while drinking eggnog (the caucasity) and had just woken up at the bottom of the stairs with a swollen head. That was about 18 red flags too many, and I ended up blocking him on everything.
For Asian women, the most harmful and dehumanizing stereotypes are disguised as compliments.
Think: “You’re all so smart!” And we are supposed to be thankful when we get slapped across the face with them. The trouble is a lot of Asians buy into this internalized racism against themselves. Many Asian men think Asian women are actually these crude sexualized stereotypes—and they should be that for them.
I did end up dating one person during the pandemic, and it was, indeed, a white guy. After sleeping with him a few times, I saw a bumper sticker on his car that said “Stop Asian Hate.” I’m not sure if it had always been there or if he had just put it on after we had sex. But I thought it would be funny if he had put it on after we hooked up, so I took a picture of it and tweeted it as a joke. The tweet went viral.
Most people found it humorous, but there was backlash mostly from Asian men who found it degrading that someone wouldn’t consider Asians important unless they were sexually involved with one. I understood the backlash. But, to be honest, I don’t know to this day if he had put the sticker on before he met me, and at this point, I am too scared to ask.
And even while writing this, I’m concerned about how I am coming across. The internet has done a number on my anxiety levels. Talking about dating white men has been especially dangerous for me since every time I do, I am met with a wave of bizarre DMs and comments. However, as I said, the last few years have been a time of healing from dating as an Asian woman. By that I don’t only mean healing myself of harmful ideas I internalized due to my culture, but healing myself of existing for external validation.
I am at the place where I can see that I care about what other people think and I want so much to do everything for their approval, but I am also understanding that that isn’t how I will achieve my happiness. Knowing that, I feel closer than ever to being a Chaotic Street Legend.