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By: Dorjee Lhamo Gerhard

I started dating and felt consciously discriminated against for the first time
Coming out of a long term relationship, moving to a bigger city and really putting myself out there,
made me realize that I look different and I do not like it.
I grew up in a privileged, predominantly white country and never had to deal with blunt discrimination to
the degree that it would actually affect me. Being mixed and looking ‘exotic’, as they say, has always
been something that I wasn’t fond of but I didn’t hate it either. Sometimes you would rather just fit in
than always stand out but I came to terms with the fact that I couldn‘t change it.

I have had lots of people tell me they admire the way I look, calling me ‘special’, so I never
complained. I felt bad complaining about not liking to look that ‘special’ because they perceived it as

Fast forward to adulthood. I have been in a relationship for a long time, so I had no idea of the modern
ways of dating, but being a millennial I got to learn it fairly quickly. And wow it has been an experience.
Okay now I know the dating field is brutal and the online world can be superficial but that is not always
the case and I do have hope in these modern ways. I have hope that everybody finds what they are
looking for, as long as you communicate it. So I did exactly that.

I was very cautious about trying to really show some personality, even online. I maxed out the picture
section with me doing various activities I thoroughly enjoy, then I wrote about my interests and even
put a question in the description you could answer me in order to get in touch more easily. So here I
go, reading the first direct messages from my matches…
“Hey there, where are you from?”

Out of 10 guys I met online, 8 asked this question either in the first or second phrase, the others didn’t
beat around the bush much longer after that.

Now, usually one would think that telling them where I’m from, to me that is where I grew up, would
suffice, but unfortunately, that is never the case. Here are some examples I came across on how one
should not top off the previous question:

“No no, I mean where are you really from?”
“Oh cool. And where are your parents from?”
“Nice. You’ve got a cool name, is it your real name?“”
“I’ve been to the Philippines a month ago, are you from there?”

Now these are not all answers by far, and even not the most outrageous ones, but I really want to
emphasize the last question. I’ve had so many guys assuming where I’m from as if to satisfy some
form of desire for that exotic memory they had from this place, as if me just being from that specific
country would help with anything.

I have tried everything. Ignoring the question. Ignoring the person. Educating the person. Not give a
damn, or actually answering the follow up question. But here comes the funny part: to be frank, I am very
proud of my heritage, and I do not mind telling others where I am “actually from” but when I tell
someone, they should not just move on. I expect some degree of interest to my background since I
couldn’t decide myself about the right timing of disclosing my origin. I think that this is quite a personal
matter and if someone already pushes me to tell them earlier without getting there through a natural
flow of conversation, I expect this person to ask me more. If they do not show at least some interest, I
can not help to think that the only thing important to them was confirming me being from Asia so that I
can meet their fetish’s standard? And the worst possible thing one could do is start talking about some
other Asian country one visited and really liked because “omg that’s so great, I’ve eaten potatoes
yesterday” is as much relevant to this as their ‘Asia experience’ they are projecting on me.
And yes I know, I know okay… I am on Tinder what do I expect? But I do expect something. I have
given a decent description of myself, I read other peoples description, I have asked them about
themselves. And I really do not mind them asking where I am from, I know they are curious, I am as
well if I find others interesting. But I always get that weird feeling in my gut of how can it be that
important where I am from? How can I not be asked about the hobby I mentioned or if the political
activism I pursue helps others or if I would kick a pigeon for stealing some kids sandwich. And then, if
one has to, just drop a quick “may I ask about your cultural background?”. I don’t mind men telling me

I’m beautiful because I look special, I like the way they look too, obviously. But we should all agree
that “you’re beautiful, you’re Asian right?” is really not an educated or acceptable approach.

“Don’t take it to heart, they don’t know better. You’re just beautiful, being interested in you is a
compliment” Is what friends, family and society tell me. But it sure does not feel like it. I hate standing out, I hate men just reducing me to not only my appearance, but to me having to be Asian. I hate them
(un)consciously projecting stereotypes on me. Now please do not get me wrong. I know people have
preferences, I do too, it is natural. But there is no need to make it just about that.
So what is my point? Let me give an example, to make it clear. When John asks me to cook dinner for
him and is surprised he does not get some dish with rice because that is what he expect from an
Asian woman – he is fetishizing me. When Adam does not give a hoot if I like or not like anime and
school skirts – he just likes the way I look and does not expect me to act a certain way because of it.
I have dated different men, some of them preferred Asian looking women, some just liked women and
didn’t have a preference. What all of them had in common is that they first of all liked me, my
personality – to them, me being Asian was just a “bonus”. And most importantly none of them, not
even those with a preference in “exotic” women, expected me to behave stereotypically Asian. Men
choosing me because of my features, thinking it is surprising how well I speak our language, assuming
I only cook Asian food, feeling like I should act more cute and girly, is fetishizing me and not just
having a preference but a mission to fulfill their idea of having an Asian girlfriend. So as soon as I get
to just be a preference based on looks, it is discriminating. Me being part Asian should be a plus to
someone liking me as a person. And that counts for every woman, every person, out there.
I have never felt so isolated by the way I Iook until men online made me. I am from here, we have the
same culture but somehow it is so hard for them to believe it because of my name and looks… In
times like these I liked to think about everybody I had decent times with, without it mattering “where
I’m from”. But through this I had to confront myself and started to love me for looking so badass.
I did feel excitement for the first time I started dipping into online dating, but I would have never
guessed that it impacted me to a degree where at some point I got almost paranoid, constantly fearing
my partner would expect some “Asianness” of me I do not posses, just because I felt that this is what
the online world expected from me. Luckily though, this experience also helped me to get over that. By
now, I feel stronger and also a lot more educated about myself, my body, my looks, my values. I am
no longer afraid of not being enough Asian or too much, I am just me and all the things I combine,
make me the woman I love to be.
In conclusion dating is hard and the world is cruel, sometimes even more so online, but people
don’t care at all and still wonder what they are doing wrong.

Dorjee Lhamo, or Dorlha for short, likes nerdy things and animals. Besides studying media and communication management, she’s building a platform in Hamburg for people of color together with her friends. She believes that sharing experiences makes us stronger in a sense that we feel less alone, seeing that we all have common ground.

Find Dorjee Lhamo here:

Instagram: @lonawest

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