When I graduated from college, 11 years ago, I’d never experienced an orgasm, my boyfriend at the time had never gone down on me, and I thought that “feminist” was a dirty word you called a woman who didn’t let men pay for dates.
As the saying goes, “We don’t know what we don’t know.”
We didn’t discuss sex in my family. The only type of relationships I thought existed were hetero ones, and the only depictions of sex I saw were on “90210,” where Brenda was satisfied with three Dylan thrusts.
It wasn’t until after college, when I was broke, living in a new city, and taking a community class on gender and sexuality with 13 strangers that I finally figured out why representation matters and what these feminists knew that I didn’t.
I had always assumed that my life was already carved out for me by what society deemed appropriate for an Asian woman: I was going to be a doctor; I would marry an inoffensive man; and though his three thrusts might not bring me to orgasm, we would have two babies by the time I was 30.
I didn’t consider whether I actually wanted that life, because no one ever showed me an alternative.
Seven years later, I created “Sideways Smile,” a comedy webseries about an Asian American woman on a journey of sexual discovery.
I wanted to share a story that hadn’t been told before — My story. A story where Asian women can be normal sexual beings (not nerds and not dragon ladies!); where queer Asian characters get to be happy, funny, and weird (not just sad and tragic); and where smart, but fallible people tackle topics like the whitewashing of Asian stories in Hollywood, anti-blackness in the Asian community, and the phenomenon of white man-Asian woman couples.
(“Sideways Smile” will be screened Sunday as part of the Austin Film Festival and Tuesday as part of NewFest)
Representation matters because it shows people that whatever story society has shoved down their throats is not the only story that they’re allowed to have.
This is true for everyone, but it’s especially true for people of color and LGBTQ people, who never even got to see themselves in Brenda’s lackluster sexcapades.
More voices, more stories
The women in my community class years ago told me stories about their journeys — stories about discovering their orgasms, sexuality, and power. They told me stories about getting to know their bodies and learning to love them. They told me about their changing feelings toward their gender and sexuality. They told me about their experimentation with new relationship models like non-monogamy.
Because I got to see these different kinds of women telling the wildly unique stories that were their lives, I began to see new paths for myself, opening my eyes to decisions big and small that I had never understood I was allowed to make.
We need to tell stories of people who look like them, who have felt the same things as them, who have experienced what they’ve experienced. Only then will we empower the next generation to do something entirely new: dare to question the status quo, break down barriers, and carve paths we don’t know we don’t know.