Finding Love and Being Fetishized as a Woman of Color in NYC

Dating isn't easy in the big city, especially for femmes of color. We talk to four femmes from New York about facing fetishization and street harassment while trying to date in the city.

Trying to date in New York is like trying to weed your way through the crowds in Times Square, or trying to figure out how to get to your destination when the subway is down. The population is diverse, but even a place like New York has examples of racism and fetishization. Interwoven marginalized identities face different prejudices, which leaves femmes of color rendered into vulnerable, powerless dispositions in dating and romance.

“Femme” is a term referring to people who are perceived as feminine but do not necessarily identify as female. The sexism that femmes of colour in the dating world face is different from what white people experience in the dating realm, as if dating isn’t tricky enough.

Growing up in a POC family can entail parental expectations related to culture and traditions which can make the environment of home toxic. Then there’s the prejudice outside of home. The act of catcalling is usually done by men typically to display power or amuse themselves, and seems to be rooted in toxic masculinity. Catcalls can range from saying, “Ni hao!” or “Hey Mexico!”; to strangers randomly touching black women/femme’s hair. Femmes get tokenized, fetishized and targeted to fulfill somebody’s racist fantasy.


Zaira by Johnny Silvercloud


I asked four powerful femmes of color on some of the encounters they’ve had in the NYC dating scene. They each told me stories that revolved around being fetishized, harassed publicly and the intersection of racism and sexism.

Shani Cohen is an African American cisgender woman born and raised in Brooklyn who works as a model and fashion stylist. Her dream is to start her own business and travel to each country at least once.

Maya Ghorpade goes by she/her/hers and was born and raised in New York City while her family is from India. She enjoys anything that has to do with visual art, and hopes to become an art teacher one day.

Cashel is a Masters-level registered dance/movement therapist, spiritualist and performance artist. She describes herself as a handpicked New York apple. She is a woman with a passion for anything creative, and her goal is to infuse the globe with her gifts of compassion, love, understanding and forgiveness.

Yasmeen Vargas identifies as female with she/her/hers pronouns. She is Dominican and was born in the Lower East Side before moving to the Bronx and then moving back to the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  Maybe one day she’ll become the governor of NYC, or president. She’s waiting to see.







A blind date I went on in high school went very wrong. The boy refused to meet me and when asked why, told a friend he didn’t date and wasn’t attracted to black girls. I’ve also encountered people who asked excessive questions about my ethnicity or focused on the fact that I look Hispanic or biracial to them.

I’d like people to understand and have compassion for the fact that women of color face a double edged sword when it comes to racism and sexism.

We experience the effects of toxic masculinity, racism and the microaggressions associated with both in the course of doing our jobs and living our lives.






Oh man, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to use dating apps. I’m convinced dating apps only work for white people. I signed up for Tinder ONCE, and over the course of four days, 90% of the messages I received were about my race.

“Are you Indian? I love Indian girls”, “What’s your ethnicity?”, “What are you?” “Does your p***y taste like curry?” It was so overwhelming. It destroyed my self-esteem. I kept thinking “wow, do people really only see me for the color of my skin? Is that all that I am? They don’t know anything about me, yet they already have preconceived notions about me…” Needless to say, I deleted the app. It sucked and I will never use it again.

Also, street harassment is (sadly) a norm in this city. I definitely remember a couple of times where men would shout things like “Hey Indian princess” or call me “Jasmine” or something like that, which I think is totally ridiculous and really weird. I remember one dude even yelled “Why do you look so mean? I thought Indian girls were nice.”






Back in the day, and I guess currently, men have always made stark remarks about my body in passing, at work, and in close spaces. Remarks are usually closely related to me being fetishized by all kinds of men and women because of the size of my behind, my full lips and my curvy physique.

Recently I was verbally assaulted by a white male who felt enraged because I asked to occupy the seat next to him on the LIRR. Upon him being rude, seemingly by birthright, it all escalated into stark anger on his part for my insistence to sit where my needs could be met. For that, asking for space in his privileged world, I became a “BLACK BITCH…A STUPID BLACK BITCH”, projected onto me with his rage and spit.

Two weeks later, an Asian woman whom incorrectly assumed that I cut her on the metrocard line shoved me in the back of my neck to express her frustration, aimed at me, and obviously boomeranged back to her once her error was made obvious. Within two weeks I was violently communicated with.

Do I believe the ability, desire, happenstance or choice to respond the way these folks chose to was either consciously or subconsciously related to my obvious brown skin? Absolutely.

My skin & the skin of others in brown bodies are too often misread as MADE TO ENDURE ANYTHING. The stereotypes derived out black face, the buck, mammy and sambo live so broadly in the collective conscious of our humanity — and instances like these remind me of that.






I guess Dominican girls are supposed to be straight respectful angels, when on contrast, I’m a bisexual say-what-I-want devil. I still can’t come out as bisexual to my parents since I know that’ll change things at home and they’ll probably think I’m fucking every friend that comes over!

Honestly I’m afraid to even try to be with a girl, I haven’t since elementary school. I’m afraid because if I fall madly in love with her I’d have to tell my parents; which I would do with honor, but just the thought of it seems crazy. Once I got my cartilage pierced and my mom was like “you look like one of those lesbian Puerto Ricans”. I’m like huh? And?

Dating in NYC is weird because for me I know a lot of people in the city, and if you know one person, their people know you, and you know their people, so dating is really tricky cause I have to chose if it’s worth it, who knows them, do they live deep in Brooklyn? Do I even have time? Everything is quick paced in the city, so relationships come and go like the trains. Dating is like the MTA to be honest. A hot mess. I can only say I’ve dated two great men in the city, who truly showed me what I deserve.

Still I feel there just isn’t time to love in the city, it takes a lot of time and effort and money, and MANY people are lost in this city and they just don’t deserve all that from you.



Street harassment is a worldwide problem and shows the power dynamics that men like to exert over femmes. A 2015 cross-cultural study done by Hollaback! and Cornell University gathered data on street harassment and found disturbing statistics. Within that same study, it was found that 82% of the transgender women who participated in the survey responded that they were harassed for their gender identity.


Black Women Are Leading this Civil Rights Movement by Johnny Silvercloud


It is important to note within POC communities how widespread and universal anti-blackness is, which contributes to colorism and toxic behaviors. In order to make basic things, like dating, safe for one another, we need to be aware of colorism within our own communities and stand in solidarity with each other.

The key to sustaining a good, healthy relationship is open communication and mutual respect. It starts with acknowledging that people are entitled to their own physical autonomy. Consent is a must. Whether it is dating for fun, a long-term commitment, or trying to find true love; we must maintain self-awareness by checking our privileges and holding ourselves accountable.

A person’s beauty standards or “type” can be an act of fetishization, cultural bias, and stereotyping. In the dating world, marginalization of identities meets at a crossfire, and so we must enter that world with the utmost respect.


Picture courtesy of Johnny Silvercloud (Flickr Creative Commons)


Dating Isn't Easy for Femmes of Color

Emily Mun is a Chinese American actor and writer best known for her film work with Refinery29. She does creative writing, scripts, and articles. She attended Marymount Manhattan College where she studied theatre arts. She is also an illustrator who was featured in BUST Magazine and the Flawless Mag.