My yellow fever wasn’t a choice. I was born this way.
But I didn’t start out this way. I used to date white women, be attracted to white women. So far as I knew, I didn’t have any real racial sexual preference. But 5 years ago I started dating an Asian-American woman, then I moved to Hong Kong. By the end of the first year here, I found myself very rarely attracted to non-East Asian women. So how did this happen? And why do I say I was born this way when I didn’t manifest any yellow fever symptoms until my 30s?
My sexual orientation hasn’t changed since moving to Hong Kong. What has changed is my environment. As a straight man, I’ve always been attracted to neoteny. East Asians have more of it than anyone else, and now I’m surrounded by East Asians.
Neoteny is “the retention by adults of traits previously seen only in the young.” Neoteny has been a major driving force in human evolution, so much so that it’s fair to say that humans are basically neotenized chimps. The list of neotenic traits in humans includes, “flattened face, broadened face,large brain, hairless body, hairless face, small nose, reduction of brow ridge, small teeth, small upper jaw, small lower jaw, thinness of skull bones, limbs proportionately short compared to torso length, longer leg than arm length, larger eyes, and upright stance.” This list can describe the difference between humans and chimps, the difference between women and men, or the difference between East Asians and other humans. East Asians are hyper-human, East Asian women (and Betty Boop) are hyper-feminine, and it’s all about neoteny.
Who we find attractive is conditioned by who (and what images) we are surrounded by; this is known as the contrast effect. The contrast effect is likely responsible for the high divorce rate among secondary school teachers and college professors. Kanazawa and Still hypothesize that male college professors have a high divorce rate (and tend to stay unmarried) because they are subconsciously affected by being surrounded by women at the peak of their fertility. Heterosexual men are programmed to choose the most fertile and otherwise high-quality mate they can find, and when their environment consists of a disproportionate number of young women, they will subconsciously downgrade the attractiveness of older women. (This is why it’s probably a good idea for men to reduce their exposure to media images of impossibly attractive women.) I think a similar phenomenon occurs with white men in Asia, which explains why so many of us become less attracted to white women when we move here. It’s not that living in Asia has caused me to be unattracted to all white women, but there is something about being surrounded by women with that neotenous East Asian bone structure that makes the average white woman’s face appear more masculine to me than it did when I lived in the US. What this means is that for the most part, the white women I’m attracted to are out of my league, but the Asian women I’m attracted to are closer to the mean, and therefore more likely to like me back.
So far as I can tell, my yellow fever primarily affects my limbic system (the more primitive, or “reptilian brain”), leaving my neocortex relatively unscathed. In other words, it strongly influences who I find sexually attractive, but not who I find intellectually, culturally or emotionally appealing (when we say men are thinking with their penises, we really mean they are thinking with their limbic systems, rather than their cortexes). The limbic system has a powerful impact on motivation, but it’s not subject to a great deal of conscious introspection.
This is all terribly unfortunate for me, and that’s the illogical part. My genes programmed me to maximize my inclusive fitness, not to maximize my happiness. I’d almost surely be happier with a partner who is more similar to me, something a gay friend of mine finds hilariously ironic. But alas, I was never attracted to men, and now I’m not attracted to white women unless they’re way too hot for me. Though I find neoteny physically attractive, I’m not a big fan of it as a cultural phenomenon, and cultural neoteny is much more prevalent in East Asia than elsewhere. I don’t know if biological neoteny plays a role in Japan’s Kawaii culture, or East Asian adult’s disproportionate love of Disney and Hello Kitty, but it’s possible there may be some gene/culture coevolution going on here. I guess I should learn to embrace the cultural cuteness of East Asia. In China, even the bears are cute. Maybe that’s why Hong Kong is so safe?
The Korean says that those of us who suffer from yellow fever are just racist, and he says the same thing about Asian women who are predominantly/exclusively attracted to white men. It’s arguments like his that made me hesitant to post this; I certainly don’t want to be labelled a racist, or worse, a pedophile. So let me be clear, I’m not into the infantilized China doll look. I’m not into girls. I’m into women. I just prefer certain facial features that are indicators of youth (which is a proxy for fertility). What it feels like is an infatuation with a particular facial bone structure.
If I could choose who I was attracted to, I might make a different choice, or at least a more inclusive one. But this is the curse of the 21st century 30-something straight male (it’s just particularly acute for culturally Western men in Asia with yellow fever). We’re surrounded by media images that make us less happy, if only slightly and subconsciously, with the women we’re with. I guess we should just grow up, and stay away from the likes of Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, or Zhang Ziyi.
The one saving grace of yellow fever is that many Asian women who I think are beautiful do seem to like me back, and some of them are culturally and intellectually appealing to me as well. Since I’m not an Asian woman, I’m not going to try to explain why some Asian women prefer white men, but my fellow blogger here is quite qualified to comment on that phenomenon, since she’s one of the data points in it, just as I am in the yellow fever dataset. I’ll leave that to her.