Stop fetishizing queer women of color like me

the voice and vision of a new generation
Image credit: Olivia Zayas Ryan

Stop fetishizing queer women of color like me

March 30, 2018

When my college friends first called me a “hot Puerto Rican piece of ass,” I laughed and went along with it because, as an insecure freshman, being called “hot” felt good, so I ignored the discomfort of being so overtly sexualized. I was shown rather quickly that the slightly golden hue in my skin stood in contrast to the whiteness pervading my university. So, when my friends started calling me their “hot Latina friend,” making references to spicy food and heat and speaking to me in broken Spanish I couldn’t understand, I simply nodded and laughed. That was always easiest.

When I first started slowly telling people I was queer, some people didn’t believe me because I was always too afraid to be with girls in public spaces for fear of being sexualized by others. I remember being in middle school and hearing people say that bisexual girls were just looking for attention, that they were lying about their feelings. I kissed my best friend behind closed doors that year, hoping to figure out what I was feeling without anyone ever seeing me. It would be another eight years before I had the courage to kiss a girl in public.

I had always made a point to keep my sexuality hidden from any straight male partners because, on the few occasions I have disclosed it, I have been met with assumptive propositions for, and questions about, threesomes that I had no interest in. Again, in these situations, I’ve tried to nod and laugh because it is easier.

These seemingly harmless and normalized forms of sexual harassment don’t stand alone; they reflect the larger issue of sexual violence, harassment, and interpersonal violence against queer women and women of color.

The rates of sexual violence and interpersonal violence are highest among bisexual+ (bi, pansexual, fluid, etc.) women compared to other groups. 46% of bisexual women have been sexually assaulted as compared to 13% of lesbian women and 17% of straight women. In addition, 61% of bisexual women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 44% of lesbian women and 33% of straight women. LGBTQ+ students in general are more likely to be sexually harassed or assaulted on campus than their straight peers.

The prevalence of sexual violence varies among different ethnic and racial groups, too. About 32.3% of multiracial women, 27.5% of American Indian/Alaska Native women, 21.2% of non-Hispanic Black women, 20.5% of non-Hispanic white women and 13.6% of Hispanic women were raped during their lifetime. There is not yet any truly reliable data about how rates of sexual violence vary within the LGBTQ+ community when accounting for race and ethnicity.

I can only speak to my experience, and in my life, being multiracial, I appear to be white-passing in certain situations and environments depending on how I dress: an experience that not all LGBTQ+ identifying women and femmes have. The sexualization and fetishation of one’s identities — and the risk of violence and harassment that comes with that — can be more detrimental and dangerous for people with intersecting vulnerable identities. Though these comments may seem funny and harmless, they speak and contribute to a larger issue of sexual violence against LGBTQ+ people and people of color. They need to stop.

To take action in your community, please continue to check out our student-activist-led campaign, revamp, as GLAAD’s Campus Ambassadors share insights on how to make your activism more inclusive and effective.

Olivia Zayas Ryan is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and a senior at Elon University studying policy and communications. She is the former Opinions Editor of Elon University’s student newspaper and former Programs Intern at GLAAD.

the voice and vision of a new generation