Hey, Will Yu f*ck me?
A reflection about my relationship with white women
I believe that when it comes to choosing your romantic partner, you are attracted to who you are attracted to. An individual’s personality and values are the attributes that make that person interesting to another person. When I refer to the term “partner” I don’t just mean it in a declare-you-mine-in-a-True-Blood kind of way, but also in a I’m-two-whiskeys-deep-and-you-may-have-looked-at-me kind of way. Whether you’re falling in love or making love for the night, there’s an intangible quality that comes into play.
In digging deeper, it’s clear that many factors come into that play that define this feeling. Cultural values. The media. What society expects of you. Family expectations. Like when my mother not so subtly suggests, “I’ll support whoever you love… But wouldn’t it just be easier if you two came from the same background?” The support of friends. Your self-esteem. All these elements have to come together just right in order to find a person that checks all the right boxes. And the only way to find out what those boxes are is through trial and error. Through the success of when you meet someone who shares your passion for bowling. Through the failure of when you tell someone you’re in love with them, only for them to respond with, “I think you’re just in love with the idea of love.”
When I look back on my romantic history, the majority of my experiences have been with Asian-American or Caucasian women. As a young boy who spent much of his childhood in Hong Kong, I had a particular fascination with white girls and viewed them as a rarity. Before I moved to Massachusetts in 2002, my experiences with girls who did not come from Asian backgrounds were limited to the odd ex-pat family friend and American teenage films. These family friends always received a shy hello from me without a single romantic thought. But when my friends and I threw a VHS of Road Trip into the tape player, we always made sure that no parents were home and the door was locked. As a member of the Asian majority in Hong Kong, other girls from Asian families were familiar and relatable, but didn’t yet quite fit the bill of being desirable. To me at age 12, there were two types of women: There were girls, and then there were American (see, white) girls.
When I arrived in Weston, a small suburb outside of Boston, my attraction to white girls grew. Before, these young women could only be seen in movies and magazines. Now, I saw hundreds of them every day. Girls with sharp noses, dark hair, and pale skin. They came from towns like Newton, Brookline, or Milton, and had parents who wanted you to call them Ronald or Barb. Ambitious, smart girls that would go on to captain track teams, represent classmates as student government leaders, and eventually attend institutions that spanned the Ivy League. I would befriend and admire these girls. We would walk to the snack bar together and caffeinate between classes. They would come to my basketball games and laugh with me in the student center. I’d applaud their acapella performances at all-school assemblies and agree with their frustrations over essay deadlines and pop quizzes. And I’d listen to their squealed exclamations and hushed whispers as guys with names like Josh and Kyle would walk past us. From where I sat, these guys were similar to me. Except for one obvious difference. I’d smile, nod along, and wait for the subject to change.
It is an unsettling feeling: That you can feel just as smart, just as talented, just as friendly as a white man, but, when it comes to matters of the heart and white girls’ attention, you realize you are seen as less than.
One of my first memories of when I realized that white girls didn’t see me the way I did came early freshman year in high school. A transfer from my public middle school, I spent the first few days sticking my hand out in front of every student, smile beaming, head bobbing up and down. I didn’t want to be popular. I just wanted to be liked. And it was working. More and more students would say hi to me in the hallways. I was invited to sit at tables in the lunchroom. In class, there was always at least one other person I could make small talk with before the teacher walked in. As I sat alone in Ruth King Theatre, picking at the itchy red polyester that lined the auditorium seats, I convinced myself that if I turned around and introduced myself to the three girls who had just sat down behind me, I’d be on my way to not just making new friends, but new girl friends.
The scene went something like this (Names are not real):
INT. KING Theatre — AFTERNOON
KING Theatre is a three story horseshoe auditorium with concrete walls, thick maroon exit doors and rows of wooden seats with red cushions that populate the ground floor, while the higher floors are lined a single row of balcony seats. The theater is medium sized but looks intimate enough to host both plays and visiting speakers.
WILL fidgets in his seat. He sits in the middle of the auditorium, far enough back from the overeager students seated in the front rows. He pulls out his phone and checks the time. Looks around the room at the other students who are early for the assembly as well. Checks his phone again. His toe taps.
Three girls enter the auditorium and sit in the row behind Will. Talkative. Bubbly. They sit a few seats over from him. He glances and can see them speaking, but can’t hear what they’re saying. LEAH glances over. Will snaps back forward, eyes focused on the seat in front of him. He takes two slow breaths, perks up, and quickly turns around.
Hi! I’m Will. Nice to meet you!
Nice to meet you too! I’m Leah, this is DANI, and that’s JISU.
… Wait, is your last name Yu? Are you Will Yu?
(voice rising, in surprise)
Yeah! I’m Will Yu. Why’re you asking?
Oh my god, oh my god. I had heard that there was a guy named Will Yu in our grade, and I got so excited to meet him! Because your name, it’s like a question, right? That’s amazing.
Yeah it is! Like… “Will Yu help me?” or “Come here, Will Yu?”
Yeah, or like, “Will Yu fuck me?”
I remember being caught off-guard. If my life were a sitcom, maybe a DJ scratch would’ve sounded. Or a Tim Allen Home Improvement “AEUHH?” grunt. Instead, I laughed with those girls. I don’t recall reacting negatively to the question. “Will Yu” jokes were something that I had endured from the moment I moved to the States, but at least this take was something new. At least she was being original. And in that moment, fourteen year old me continued to laugh, unaware that in a single question, my name, ethnicity, and masculinity were all under attack. I didn’t know that my identity had been served up as a punchline. I didn’t get the joke. At fourteen, I just wanted to be the guy who she wanted to fuck.
My sophomore year of high school, I made the decision to not date anyone from an Asian background. I felt that in order to satisfy this need for acceptance, I required validation from white girls that I was no different than a white guy. I was the same. I wanted the access to success and acceptance that my white male counterparts took for granted. In high school, stories of house party blow jobs and on-campus sex were badges of honor. These were badges that I neither possessed nor was considered for. I thought, maybe if I were more like them — dick jokes for my bros, never ending sexual innuendos for the ladies — and less like me, I’d get somewhere. To be honest, relationships or getting laid wasn’t even the goal. The goal was to be accepted. Being on a level playing field, having the same options, that’s the status I wanted. And from what I observed, comparing my worth to those of my white male counterparts was the fastest way there. Being less Asian = being more accepted. I thought that if I equated myself with this group of young men, then my masculinity and my self-worth would be secure. Never once did I consider that I was placing my value in the hands of others. I never took a second to step back and ask myself, “What is this all for?”
When I think about the mindset I had in high school, I get so mad. Yelling into a pillow doesn’t work. Going to the gym helps a little. Journaling helps a lot. Talking about it with people helps the most. I want to chalk it up to teenage foolishness. Unfortunately, the excuse of teenage foolishness doesn’t erase the experience. The scars of my lost individuality still exist, and I’m ashamed to show them. I’m astonished at how uncomfortable I felt in my own skin. Frustrated that I predicated my happiness and self-worth on what I thought others wanted. Fearful that the resentment I’ve built towards these people will make it harder for me to open up and invite the person who will be the right fit for me in.
Today, I view the prospect of love and partnership with a greater emphasis on the principles I’ve learned to value. Honesty. Empathy. Thoughtfulness. Kindness. While I’m by no means an expert, I can only tell you that these pillars mean a lot to me and that I am continually trying to get better at adhering to them. I do this by asking questions. By letting others know that I am here for them. By apologizing for the moments when I let the people I care about down. And by accepting that I might not end up where I want to, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. Although my insecurities still manifest in my love life today, the questions I have about relationships are much more existential in nature. Are we growing? Are we happy? Do you also want to order chicken tenders at 2AM on a Wednesday?
At the risk of being a millennial cliché, my attitude towards dating closely aligns with the wants of your average twenty-something: Meet amazing people, have great experiences, and maybe learn something about myself along the way. But still, with every swipe or new introduction, I can hear my mother’s voice. In those moments, my mind flashes to that day in King theatre. I see Leah’s half grin. Her knowing eyes. I hear the giggles from the two other girls. And every time a new woman enters my life, the anxieties of being my most authentic self come surging back around. Am I being too white? Am I being too Asian? What does that even mean? But slowly, the traits of this person are becoming clearer. He spends a little too much time nuancing his bedhead in the morning. He’ll tweet for 30 minutes about director Edgar Wright’s ability to drive film narrative using audio cues. He’s experimenting with his facial hair for the first time. He constantly observes his father. He has an idea of what kind of man he wants to be. He doesn’t want to let anyone down. He’s trying. He’s trying.
About the writer
William Yu is currently a freelance writer and Senior Strategist. During his experiences at TBWA\Chiat\Day and SapientRazorfish, Yu worked on brand strategy and digital projects for brands like BNY Mellon, Accenture, Verizon, and Mastercard.
Yu created #StarringJohnCho, an award winning (2016 Shorty Award for Best Use of Hashtag and the 2016 American Advertising Federation Mosaic Award for Multicultural Digital Campaign) social movement that literally shows you what it would look like if today’s Hollywood blockbusters cast an Asian-American actor as their leading man. The project has garnered over 1 billion impressions worldwide and continues the conversation regarding the lack of Asian-American representation in film.
His work has been featured domestically and internationally from major media outlets such as The New York Times, BBC, CNN, NBC, CBS, The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and The Hollywood Reporter, and more. He is based in New York City.
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