There is a wonderful scene in Trainspotting when the main character Renton and the psychopathic Begbie go out to celebrate after winning a bet. New to London, they go out clubbing and end up at a gay club — unbeknownst to the homophobic Begbie — who proceeds to hook up with a transgender woman, much to his horror and Renton’s humor. Reflecting on it, Renton says,
“Diane was right. The world is changing, music is changing, drugs are changing, even men and women are changing. One thousand years from now there’ll be no guys and no girls, just wankers. Sounds great to me. It’s just a pity that no one told Begbie.”
This is the idealized imagination for all those modes of oppression which rest on little else but a lack of knowledge of secondary school’s biology class: race, class, gender, and a whole bunch of shit people get upset about are nothing more than social constructs that the human race has been wasting way too much time on. For many of us less cunt-y types, this is the logic with which we approach mixed relationships.
The idea of inter-racial/cultural/national relationships really plays into an idealized future that the likes of globalization and the Internet were supposed to usher in. Note: we’ll refer to all these relationships as “mixed relationships” for lack of a better term with which to encapsulate a relationship composed of different races, nationalities, and cultures. It is a bit heavy but maybe someone would like to suggest a better label in the comment section. The idea that all these superficial distinctions that create artificial barriers between people will eventually be rendered ludicrous by the amazing mixing of people that there will be few set prejudices against a person that is part Latvian, Nicaraguan, Moroccan, and Austrian with ginger hair. Unless, of course, you’re one of those “kick a ginger” type of cunts.
Despite the allusions of some utopian future through mixed relationships, we’re fully aware they are fraught with political complexities and demand a lot more inquiry. Whenever we consciously engage social constructs like race, nationality, culture, and other modes of border crossing, many questions arise as to they are engaged. Saying “I love you” in no way supersedes the political implications of this relationship. As such, we propose four things to keep in mind when in a mixed relationship so as to avoid your relationship becoming a source of oppression.
1. You don’t date nationality or race. You date an individual.
Next time you’re out in a bar having pints you will overhear someone roar something like, “My boyfriend is Irish so…[LARGE GENERALIZATION!]”. please inform them they don’t date a nationality but a person that just so happens to be from a different country.
It appears that there is a presumed right of individuals who are in a mixed romance to make large generalizations about either the race or nationality that their significant other is. Make this clear: you do not date a nationality or race. You date an individual full of all the wonderful joys and peccadillos that define not a country, not a race, not a region, or religion. You do not have a unique insight or authority about the Philippines because your girlfriend (or ex) is from there. Much in the same way that you are not any more informed dating someone from your own country and do not subject them to the hyphen treatment, you should likewise do the same while in a mixed romance.
They’re an individual who simply has that one difference from you and you don’t have the right to make silly generalizations about that.
2. Just because you’re in love with someone from a different cultural background doesn’t mean you aren’t a bigot or a racist.
In an ideal world, mixed romances, through their magical qualities of breaking down differences, would lead us to some heartland like a post-racial society. But let’s not fool ourselves.
Sex, love, and the rest of all that jazz are just as political as anything else. Saying that you love someone or are dating someone doesn’t mean you are any less of a racist or bigot. Saying that you can’t be racist or bigoted because you’re in a mixed romance is equally absurd as saying you can’t be sexist because you’re dating someone of the other sex. Mixed romances are littered with political differences, such as class and race issues, that love will not be enough to wash over.
Don’t take this to signify that being in a mixed romance can’t be educational or a way to understand the struggles that your partner goes through. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t confront your own bigotry.
3. Don’t fetishize your difference.
Why are certain countries more popular targets for dating agencies for wealthy westerners? “Beautiful Ukrainian women are waiting for you”, “Humble Philippine girls will fulfill your life”, “Add some fire and temperament to your love life by dating a Latina”.. this bullshit is everywhere, shamelessly exaggerating and manipulating stereotypes and prejudice about certain races and nationalities to create an unrealistic and oversimplified image. By ignoring complexities which are inherent to any culture and, moreover, every individual, entire populations are degraded and reduced to one or a few simple characteristics.
– Georgian men don’t know how to respect women.
– Slavic girls are beautiful.
– African men are well hung.
– Thai women are modest and know how to take care of a man — as opposed to over-emancipated Western women.
Not only is this ignorant, it is also offensive and dangerous. Obviously, a person’s socio-cultural background is a major shaping factor, but generalizing an entire nation and reducing all members to fit in the same box? Russia is a pretty fucking huge place and borders many other countries, yet in the Western world, the celebration of, say, Mongolian women is yet to take off. Just stop and think before you idealize, romanticize, and disregard your next target.
4. Cultural misunderstandings are an inevitable part of mixed relationships, so don’t impose your culture on that of your love interest.
Colonialism still exists in many people’s minds, yet we ought to know by now that no single culture is more civilized or superior to another. Even a setting as small as a family has its own culture, and as you usually date outside your own family, you will come across differences and misconceptions that are hard to understand, funny, or downright ridiculous to the other party.
Chances are, to oversimplify it, that the more distance between your birth grounds, the more different your cultures are. But just because you are used to doing something a certain way, doesn’t mean there are no alternatives. Or just because you are from a country which used to be some colonial superpower, or which is an economic force nowadays, or whatever invalid argument you may have, doesn’t mean you get to call the shots. This also applies to possible language barriers, so learn to get comfortable with hearing another language. Better still, learn it.
We agree that trying to figure out a balance which respects both parties and is acceptable to everybody involved can be hard, but it is fun as well. Think of it as your own intercultural diplomacy project. Like a micro United Nations, but with sex. Everybody wins.
This commentary first appeared on No-YoLo and is republished here with permission.