Exotic beauty, faux-rientalism, and racism, in work and out

For a while when I first started dancing the meanest thing I ever heard was “You look Jewish.”  Worse, “You look like Barbra Streisand.” It sounds innocuous but what they’re really saying (and you’ll know this if you grew up hearing antisemitic slurs, or maybe you twigged after the “Barbra Streisand” comment) is “You have a big nose”.  It’s true, I do.

A lesbian customer at the Russian club broke that record told me (in response to, “Hey, how’s it going?”) that she didn’t like me, or my music, or the way I danced, or what I was wearing, which had the triple result of A) knocking weird Barbra Streisand comparisons out of the running for meanest comments, B) quickly enlightening me about how awful most women customers are, and most immediately, C) getting her ass kicked out because I had an overly indulgent Russian boss.

Then I dyed my hair black and the constant commentary was on how exotic I looked.  “Are you Persian?” men would ask me.

Russian?

Ukrainian?

Persian?

Iranian?

This culminated–after I’d grown out the black, by the way–in my penultimate strip club compliment (just under, “you’re like one of those old fashioned whores, a hooker with a heart of gold! that’s what you are!” which wins for playing to all my favourite tropes and also because it was offered in the spirit of Matthew Salinger, age one, urging a luncheon companion to accept a cool lima bean. ie, sweetly.)

“You have the dusky beauty of a Turkish harem girl.”

If I was any less dusky I’d be clear, but somehow my nose and my cheekbones have this bonus(?) side effect of serving as a blank screen for customers to project weird orientalist fetishes on to. Which I then divert/indulge by reciting Russian poetry.

I was going to write the bulk of this anyway but then this girl in my American Jews class going off the other day.

This girl–who, I’ll be candid, I already feel mildly tormented by her because of her inability to stop treating class like it’s WS 101 and sharing her personal growth and pains with the class[1]–she’s talking and The Beautiful Professor is late to class, and she’s continuing a conversation, about being racist. I guess they call this the Jew class, which is like, maybe whatever?  I have my shtetl Jew class, my jewish history class, my Israel/Palestine class, sometimes syllables are hard.  I get it.  But just to make sure she’s crossed the line from questionably-Ironic-Racism into Shut-the-fuck-up-asshole, she continues,

“I was watching this woman park in front of my work, and she kept turning the wheel, pulling forward, back, forward, back, and I was like–” face of eye-rolling comic disgust, “–and then she opened the door and not to be a big racist,but.”

Don’t you want to be like A) TOO LATE and B) BUT WHAT?  I mean really.

I am a coward and did not say either of those things, except in my head.

PS, I’m back.  I missed you.

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