Your Pretty Is Foreign

I don’t mean to brag, but I kinda get called exotic a lot. I don’t know if it’s my unblemished creamy skin, almond green eyes or high cheekbones, but on a really good day I find myself thinking, “You look like a fucking China doll.” Now that we all know I’m only thirty pounds away from being an international racially ambiguous model, let me tell you, being called exotic is not all its cracked up to be. Before you start thinking I’m one of those girls who complains about going to the gym and getting hit on (“I just want to be left alone!”), there’s a bit more to it. I know what your intention is, you want me to know you find me attractive, but you can’t say, “You’re pretty,” you have to say, “Your pretty is foreign.” You have to qualify what kind of pretty I am, clearly it’s not “normal,” it’s surprising.

“Oh hey, it’s like you’re white…but not quite…what could you be?!”

The suspense is killing me.

At the same time I know you’re well-meaning, how could I not, looking at me with those ever so earnest white person eyes, open wide like a boy staring through the glass at an aquarium, you’re being so appreciative of my Otherness, amiright? Who am I to refuse a compliment for my unique, fascinating beauty? You’re trying to equate me to Rihanna, that’s what I assume from this tropical island girl rhetoric.

So how am I supposed to respond when you call me this controversial six-letter word?

But you’re so nice, I feel a little guilty putting you in this embarrassing situation…I have to tell you you’re executing a micro aggression. You’re not racist, necessarily, just one of the thousands of people in my life who want to pay me a compliment. Thank god we both know oriental is off limits, that could get awkward… But paying me a compliment wrapped in a micro aggression is like handing me a burrito laced with a splash of poison (if it’s free, I’ll still take it), not enough to kill me outright, but a small amount, growing after each encounter, making me uncomfortable in my body, in a crowd, on the arm of someone who might be congratulated later for this rare bounty, aware I’m not what people think I should look like. The should being based on geography, on this continued idea of non-mixed races, one colonial Caucasian, Mayflower and shit, and the rest of us obviously immigrants.

It’s irresistible, this word which comes to the lips of my admirers. You embrace me for my beauty, while simultaneously categorizing and labeling it, making sure I know, I’m not the standard, the default, I stand out from the crowd of my community, my gender, my race. It’s not easy, but I try. Or not, because I don’t need anything to augment this shit, I woke up like this! You’re reminding me of something I already know, I don’t belong…but in a good way! To my evolutionary instincts it means I can be picked off from the herd. Am identifiable, describable, a list of mix-matched characteristics, blending together to equal an Other. I know I’m supposed to be beautiful because I’m exotic, but can’t I be beautiful because I’m a beautiful human?

Clearly what I’m really trying to say is, thank you for calling me exotic, you’ve made me feel so welcome in yo-, I mean our country.

Ultra by Shannon Curtin

While waiting for weeks to find out if my unborn child would be declared a son or daughter, I scoured the internet for insider information. Pouring over potty shots on various baby websites, I learned from other genital-obsessed, with-child women that sonogram technology has advanced in recent years; identifying a fetus as female no longer rests on the absence of a penis, but now includes the detection of definitive labia. This is nothing short of a victory.

I like to point out to my I’m not a feminist, but acquaintances that until relatively recently men could legally rape their wives in the United States and that workplace sexual harassment was made unlawful in my lifetime. Earlier this year, a sexually assaulted student at one of our country’s most prestigious universities gave up her fight to have her attacker relocated out of her residence hall. After months of pleading, the university told her that she, the victim, was free to move if she wished and washed their hands of any responsibility.

Even in utero females have historically found their identity in absence, they are categorized as not male, the second half of an if/then statement, the other. They are marked as lacking before they take their first breath. We tell ourselves things have changed, that women are no longer second class. Women, we say, are out-performing men in schools. They are capable, respected, and present in every possible industry. They say we have come so far.

But in darkened rooms we still look at screens with images that tell us when there is something damaged, something suspect, something missing; the result is often girl.

Shannon J. Curtin is a displaced Yankee currently residing in Portsmouth, Virginia with her husband and dog. Her poetry has been featured in various publications including Short, Fast, and Deadly, Vox Poetica, y’all’d’ve, and The Camel Saloon. Her first chapbook, File Cabinet Heart, is forthcoming from Emerge Literary Publications. She holds an MBA, competitive shooting records, and her liquor. She would probably like you.