Jayda Shuavarnnasri is a Thai-American cis woman. I am a Vietnamese-American trans woman. Certainly, our history and experiences are, in some ways, vastly different. But we both grew up in a country hellbent on telling us who we are. The sexual narratives surrounding Asian women end up introducing violence into our lives.
We are just two of many Asian women. We represent particular lineages. And this is a conversation that didn’t begin with us. This is us adding to the chorus of many Asian women’s voices who’ve demanded that we have ownership over our bodies and our stories.
As a sexuality and relationships educator, Jayda’s work offers a different vision for how we can relate to ourselves and other people, counter to what she calls the “scam” of who we’re told to be.
Jayda Shuavarnnasri: I’m the auntie that has like wild sex stories, but at the same time, like it’s just like chilling in her, you know, like, what is it? What’s the, like, people wore like mumus or whatever, and like shower cap on and just like, yeah, let me tell you about the Dick that I’ve had. You know, like that’s like the auntie energy that I would have loved growing up, like the, like the auntie that I would feel safe enough to ask questions, too.
Xoai Pham: You’re, you’re trying to be the auntie that we all needed, that you needed.
Hi everybody. Ladies and gentlemen, theydies and gentlethems, and all people of the human species, and all the ancestors watching. I’m super excited to be speaking with Jayda Shuavarnnasri today. Jayda is a sex, love, and relationships educator. Jayda goes by #SexPositiveAsianAuntie and hosts a podcast called “Don’t Say Sorry.” Her work revolves around unpacking and redefining cultural norms around what we consider sex, relationships, love and how they impact our lives on many levels. Jayda, do you want to introduce yourself?
That was a great introduction. Yeah. I am a sexuality and relationship educator. I am Thai American. That experience informs kind of why I’m here. Why sex positive Asian Aunty? So most of my work centers around just creating spaces for people to explore sexuality. The people that I work with the most are really trying to navigate sexual shame. A lot of it that we’ve grown up with as in the Asian community. Um, and then also learning how to have relationships that feel liberating and relationships that actually feel good for us. So, yeah.
I love your work because I think that there’s so few Asian people in this space and I feel like as a self-proclaimed hoe myself, I find it really refreshing to see another Southeast Asian woman in this space. I also think I said your name wrong, even though I asked you before this interview, if you could say it for me. It’s So-Wanna-See, and I think I said So-Wa-Sa-Nee before.
It’s like, “So you wanna see?”
Okay. That’s good. Um, I’ve gotten, I’ve gotten a Zoey at Starbucks before when I spell out my name and that’s always, to me, it’s giving me like Zoey 101, but it’s just so much of a stretch that I think is really funny. I feel like one thing I’m really craving is a space for Southeast Asian women within the context of Asian women in general, right? Asian women being impacted by this moment, who can speak to some of the ways that we’re different and some of the ways we’re similar as cis women and trans women. And it got me thinking about all the, all the layers that exist that so few people get to see, except for those of us that experience it, right? Those of us who were actually Asian women who are, who are experiencing these types of things to different degrees on a daily basis. I’m thinking about how, when people talk about Asian hate, within Asian hate, there’s so many layers of East Asians having colorism towards Southeast Asians and South Asians. And then West Asians hardly being in the conversation at all. And then the ways that patriarchy or Asian men hurt Asian women. I mean, among Southeast Asians, we have some of the highest domestic abuse rates. We have some of the lowest mental health wellness rates because of most of us experiencing war across generations with the war in Southeast Asia and American imperialism. And then for me, I feel like I constantly feel this pressure on myself as an Asian trans woman, as a Vietnamese trans woman, to be repping this little bubble in my community within this, these larger structures and feeling like cis Asian women are over there. And then it’s cis Asian men over there, you know? And I just feel like I really craved the bridge. Like I want, I want to cross the bridge and I’m ready to cross the bridge. And I feel like your side of the bridge is really fun, you’re talking sex and relationships and yeah, and I want to cross it. I want to eat with you over there. That’s how I view our conversation. But I wanna know more about, I want to dive into how you came to be the sex-positive Asian auntie, I’m sure that there was a journey to that. I want to hear the story from the beginning.
Oh, everything you just said. I appreciate you so much. And I’m so glad that we’re here having this conversation, um, how I became sex-positive Asian auntie. I think a lot of it has to do with several things, but one is titles. I don’t feel good or great about any of these like “sex educator, sex coach, sex therapists” kind of titles, because so much of me coming into this work is from personal experience, right? I’m a child, I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse. And that in itself, I think positioned me as a person who was always thinking about my body in relationship to the world. So some of the things that we talked about right, of like the violence that Asian women face, um, violence that Asian children, young, Asian girls face living in this world like that, that was always a question I had without really having the vocabulary for it. And so I think that experience in itself has really shaped, like all the questions I had about the world. Like why was I being treated in this way? Why are the things that I’m seeing in the media also like telling me that this is what it means to be an Asian woman, that our bodies are exploited, that our bodies are fetishized, you know, that our bodies are used and devalued in this world. And then interacting with different types of men. White, non-white. And so that in itself is like, Oh, okay, well, this is just all around. And so that’s one layer of just like personal experiences that I’ve had growing up.
And the other layer is like, when I was doing my own healing work around my trauma, I didn’t have anyone to really talk to about it. Like I didn’t have other Asian sex educators that I could learn from. The few sex educators I did follow, like on YouTube and stuff, it was like Lacey Green and like Shannon Boodram. And they were amazing. But they, you know, definitely different experiences than my own. I think at some point I just said like, all right, I should just do it myself. Like I should just, you know, and it really just started out with like, I talk really openly with my girlfriends and we have thankfully cultivated a relationship where we can tell each other hoe stories, there’s zero shame in us sharing our experiences and what that came with us. Also asking questions of whether or not our experiences were normal. And that I think was the light bulb for me. We just need this, we just need to talk about what is going on in the world. We need to talk about what we’re confused about. We need to be talking about what has harmed us. Right. And make that normal, just make that an everyday thing that we do, particularly as Asian women. So I just started doing like workshops here and there talking about sex and it resonated with people. And, you know, I think a lot of people now are realizing how important it is to have conversations around sexuality that also center like the Asian experience. And for me, the like, I’m, you know, a lot of other sex educators that I also see in the world or saw in the world as I was kind of entering this space were very sexual themselves, you know, like beautiful boudoir photos, which I find stunning, but it wasn’t like my style. Like that’s not the energy that I feel like I carry in general.
Um, and so I think my energy is very like humorous, I want to sit in the awkwardness and then laugh about it, and I want to be able to talk about sex in a way that it feels like you’re sitting with your auntie, you know, at the table or in the kitchen and you’re cooking together and just kind of have it be fun. Very informal without this super sexy image. So yeah, so the auntie energy is like, that’s what I try and bring. I’m the auntie that has wild sex stories, but at the same time, it’s just like chilling in her, you know, what is it? What’s the, like, people wore like moomoos or whatever, and shower cap on and just like, “Let me tell you about the dick that I’ve had.” You know, like that’s like the auntie energy that I would have loved growing up, the auntie that I would feel safe enough to ask questions too. So, yeah.
You’re, you’re trying to be the auntie that we all needed, that you needed. I love that. I love that because I think that when it comes to families, families are so often the site of so much violence and suffering in our lives. And it’s so often the greatest source of joy and safety and, you know, the phrase “the revolution starts at home” comes up for me, just the idea that in these spaces where we’re really intimate with people, either by choice or by design, in some ways it ends up being either weaponized against us, or it becomes a really great opportunity for transformation. And that’s kind of how I see what you’re describing as utilizing that space, a family via the auntie figure as a space for transformation. I’m really curious though, in terms of the Asian part, right? It’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. And I think that I’m really curious what, what it is to you, how the Asian experience factors into your work, like what makes Asianness different in your experience when it comes to the sex and relationship world?
Yeah, that was a big one too, because I think I thought about like, am I not just sex-positive auntie, you know, to all folks, because I don’t actually work exclusively with Asian folks. I think it’s for me to name my positionality as an Asian person living in this world, right? As we mentioned, like for me, the Asianness is that we are sexualized differently. We are viewed differently as Asian people navigating sexuality and gender, you know, and also bringing the kind of historical context of Asian sexuality and gender in our histories is different than it is from like Western or European countries. Particularly as a Thai person, like sexuality and queerness there looks different than it looks like here. And so for me, I think it’s important to kind name that as a distinction. And just when I first was thinking about that question of what the Asian means in my work was just the fact that when I saw others, just to be perfectly candid, the sexuality space was very white and usually white women and the way that they were, uh, providing advice around like navigating sexuality just looked so distant from what it felt like my experience was.
I also think that there’s, there’s these elements in Western culture that talk about being direct and this direct communication in your relationships and your sexual experiences. And that is normal in maybe a Western context, but that’s not as accessible in a lot of Asian cultures. This direct communication, even when we talk about something like consent, not valuing something like non-verbal consent or kind of like learning each other’s cues. To me is still as valuable. And that’s such a big part of like moving about in Asian families and Asian communities. We’re not as direct communicators, but we still communicate with one another in these more subtle ways. I guess that to me is really ingrained in our culture. I don’t know if that makes sense, but yeah, just the style of the way these white women were teaching and were listening, not like, didn’t resonate with me a lot of times. Um, and to be honest, I’m still figuring out what that Asianess means for me as well, too, as I kind of dig back into my own roots.
What does it mean to you? I’m really curious, because for me, whenever I get asked, I say, “I’m Vietnamese,” If I am asked to broaden it, I say, “I’m Southeast Asian.” Because I just think it makes, I understand Asian-ness as an attempt to have this sort of cohesive identity that we organize around. But I think when people start to see it as a fixed identity with umbrella experiences, it’s not very helpful when we use it to describe ourselves with. I’m curious for you, how do you relate to the word Asian?
I’m glad you said that particularly around Southeast Asian. Cause I think I’ve had to figure out my feelings around being Southeast Asian, because most of the people around me that identify as Southeast Asian or at least that I grew up with learning about the war and conflict that happened within Southeast Asia, but then being Thai is so different from those experiences. So I really had to figure out as a Thai person. What does it mean to be Southeast Asian in the context of Thailand in the middle, as a “neutral” entity, you know. Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and everyone else around us experiencing so much war and genocide. Like what does it mean to be a Thai person amongst all of that? And so I feel like I’ve had to figure out, what does it mean to be Southeast Asian?
And to me it’s, we’re all of the same land, have such intricate histories with one another. And that’s, the important part about being Southeast Asian. Then being Asian to me is like, yeah, I use that here because I’m definitely not white. You know, if you were to ask, I don’t know what else to be associated with at this point. Um, and so yeah, when I say Thai-American, I definitely say American as a default, not like a “I’m American too,” nothing about that, that I’m proud of. It’s more like I’m American. I have these privileges of being an American, you know, because I was born here, but it’s not something that I’m going to, I’m not waving any flag by any means about the American part. And so the Thai part is really more honoring my family more than me. It’s just my parents and my grandparents.
Yeah. There’s definitely privilege when it comes to being American, but sometimes I definitely grumble the American part. I think that it’s really interesting because you mentioned imperialism earlier and you know, this work with sex and relationships can feel so interpersonal, feel so small in some ways, in terms of it being about individual relationships, one person dealing with another person, or maybe more people, if it’s a polyamorous situation or something like that. But there’s so many things that we carry with us as individuals from intergenerational trauma to just the lineage that we carry, whether it be good or bad, and studies have shown that it makes an imprint on our DNA through epigenetics and how we operate in our lives and it lives in the body.
And I want to turn to some research for a little bit, just get a little nerdy because I’m definitely a nerd at heart. I know that you’re aware of this as well, because I know that you’ve used it in some of your workshops, but the research of Dr.Sunny Woan has been so vital in this time in terms of detailing the sexualization of Asian women, as it relates to us imperialism. Dr. Sonny Woan is an attorney and wrote this pivotal piece in the Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice about the role of Thailand in the war in Southeast Asia. And when I say the war in Southeast Asia, I’m referring to what people call the “Vietnam War” that actually took place across many countries, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and including many ethnic groups that are still persecuted in these nation-states, that are often forgotten. I mention this because there there’s little known about the fact that Thailand had “rest and recreation facilities,” facilities where over 70,000 men visited between 1966 and 1969 during the course of the war.
And they were offered sex with local women. And that was that’s just one example. I mean, the same thing happened in the Philippines where there was a sex industry that sprang up because the U.S. occupation and the soldiers there were offered access to women’s bodies as if we were materials, as if we’re like natural resources that they needed to survive. Dr. Woan wrote that “rest and recreation facilities are a vital component of the U.S. military policy with pervasive disregard for human rights. The military accepts access to indigenous women’s bodies as a necessity for GIs stationed overseas.” And I mentioned this because I think that in our lives, our sex lives are often the subject of so much aloneness, especially when the sex, especially when the sexualized things in our lives involve trauma. And they feel so insular.
And yet there’s this, there are so many events that happened in the world in terms of international politics and imperialist wars that actually shape our individual lives to this day. Right? I’m thinking about how you and I sitting here today are shaped in terms of who we are,, what we’ve experienced in our lives, because of the decisions of men who preceded our births, and made decisions that harm many people. And how to this day, as people in the U.S., as Asian women in the U.S., we face all of these violences and the legacies of this violence that happened so many years ago.
Yeah. We say all the time that gender and sexuality is socially constructed. But we think of that as if it’s just like socially constructed onto the individual. But as you just said, right now, it expands across centuries, this construction of what humans, how certain human life is valued or devalued, how certain human life is exploited, is socially constructed. And we continue that pattern if we’re not able to see that those connections, if we’re not able to see those legacies and how they should continue to show up in the way we interact with one another, people talk about fetishization all the time, but they don’t go as often into the imperialism. And that factor, and then Asian, like Asian women who will talk about fetishization all the time, but then don’t look at the fetishization of trans women. These different layers, like people who aren’t able to kind of connect those dots. I think one of the reasons why we fail so often to move forward, because we’re not able to kind of see those throughlines between, between these identities. I don’t even know if they’re identities, but these experiences really. Between these experiences.
Don’t even get me started. So I was in Thailand for three months in 2016, and I was in Bangkok specifically for a job. And I was working for this organization that worked on sexual health. It was really interesting because I was able to observe firsthand the sex tourism that was happening in front of me. And sometimes I was asked to be a part of it, of course, because people just assumed I was Thai, because that’s how the world is, but I just thought it was shocking at first, I think I became a little numb to it, but I was just in all these spaces where I was, I was craving connection with other Southeast Asian trans women. But in those same spaces where we gathered, where in this case, Thai women gathered, there were always male suitors.
And usually they were white male suitors who had come from other countries to experience Southeast Asian trans women. And I know that that occurs like all across Southeast Asia. And there’s a really specific trope of Southeast Asian trans women being a specific type of experience. There’s the term ladyboys. And there’s all this history and these layers. I feel like there hasn’t been enough discussion about it. And I think that in order for Asian women’s experiences to be fully represented and meaningfully discussed towards some end, towards some road towards justice or liberation, we have to consider the vastness of what we experience. And that includes what trans women experience. So I’m happy that you mentioned that. I also know that you’re queer, and I feel like most of the sex educators that have become famous and have become really successful in recent times, you mentioned Shan Boodram. A lot of folks are straight and I just feel like, I feel like maybe I’m biased, but I think that straightness limits the scope of what people get to see about the human experience. So I’m really curious, you talked about the Asianness, how do you think that your queer experiences factor into your work, but also your life?
Yeah, that’s a good one, you know, to go back on like what other sex educators that are exist out there, to be honest, like even us having this conversation around the politics of sex, one of the things I was frustrated with with a lot of other sex educators is that it felt very apolitical. It felt like it didn’t have that layer of understanding that the way we move about in the world, in our sexuality and in our gender is absolutely political. And that the relationships that we have to other people are political as well. And that to me, was a piece that was like missing for a very, very long time. I definitely don’t think that’s as prevalent now, at least with other sex educators that I’m connected to, but I think that’s, that was part of my frustration and then queerness, right.
You can’t remove the politics around queerness when you’re moving about in this world. To me like how my queerness informs, my work or being sex-positive Asian auntie that like, yeah. The outlook and the frameworks that I have are it, it wouldn’t be exist without that queerness. I came into my queerness, like later, whatever that means where I’ve had to learn that my heterosexuality before was completely compulsory and that I just live in a society that assumed that’s the norm for everybody. And I was like, yeah, cool. There was never anything in me that like, you’re gay.
And I don’t think I came into my queerness until I started exploring non-monogamy actually, they kind of both happen at the same time for me, where I just had these moments of realizing that everything is a scam. All of it is a lie. I’ve been told to live life in this way, because this is what good Asian daughters do. This is the mold that you live by to survive. This is the mold of thriving or what it looks like. And so it took, it took me a minute, and it wasn’t until I was really exploring non-monogamy and starting to dismantle all the risks, like stories I had about relationships in general, that was also coming into my queerness and also just like completely unlearning everything that I was told around love, relationships, care. So that’s kind of how I came into that and that absolutely informs all of my work.
You mentioned non-monogamy and I think that is, I’m sure you have a pulse on it, but there’s a growing conversation about it. There are so many myths surrounding polyamory. I’m curious in your work, what are some of the biggest myths that you tackle with the folks that you work with?
Yeah. I talk about this one. Often I talk about this with my partner often, one of the biggest misses people think that polyamory or non-monogamy is about the sex. And it’s really ironic that how people automatically sexualize monogamy or non-monogamy and polyamory when it’s so far from it. And it makes it feel like, I think just the culture that we live in is so obsessed with sex as part of relationships. And I’m like, so when people kind of argue, “Oh, you just want to all these people. You want to cheat on your partner. Blah blah blah.” Like can’t “commit.” And it’s like, actually it’s about having multiple commitments and sex is not really on the table for all of them. There are asexual people who practice non-monogamy right. And it’s actually the world that we live in that cannot separate sex and relationships. And so that’s one thing that I find really, really fascinating when I talk to monogamous people about non-monogamy.
What came up for me when you were speaking about it is how much of it has to do with fear in terms of how people respond to non-monogamy. Because I think in relationships in general, when you’re in a vulnerable state, fear naturally comes up and we’re either going to make friends with fear, or it leads us to reactions that end up hurting us and our partners. And I think what happens is in these situations, the responses I often hear are, basically under the surface, someone is saying, “I’m afraid that I can’t handle this much intimacy or this much vulnerability,” or they’re afraid that the other person who desires non-monogamy, isn’t actually in love with them or they aren’t enough for people. There’s always this sense, this doubt about enoughness. Which is why I think this work around sexuality is also very much so spiritual work, around the soul and how we feel in their hearts and minds.
I’m curious for you, so Autostraddle‘s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month theme is taking up space and refusing to compromise different parts of ourselves. Because so much of what we hear about Asian-Americans, as people often say, they don’t feel Asian enough and they don’t feel American enough, or they feel like they are too queer to be in an Asian-American experience, or they have to choose different parts of themselves and what we’re trying to get at within our team. And what we’re trying to put out into the world is what happens when we stop compromising and we start reconciling and we take up space as our whole selves. What have you refused to compromise on recently and how are you taking up space in your life?
Oh, that’s a good one. Well, I mean, so our podcasts that I cohost is called, “Don’t Say Sorry.” That in itself is, we are here exactly the way we are, often confused, often very opinionated, definitely anti-capitalist in our episodes. We’re really unapologetic about the opinions that we have. And I think that in itself, for me, it’s I don’t always know what I’m doing and I’m still going to move through it. And I’m not really apologizing for the fact that I’m still learning and I’m still growing and I’m still being in the world. And I think before it would have been, I’m not apologizing for being vocal or I’m not apologizing for being opinionated. And I think because I was resisting so much of that Asian identity of being quiet and not taking up space, now for me, it’s like, I actually, I feel so good in my knowing now.
Like I feel so good in my, so grounded in who I am, that I don’t even feel the need to yell as often as I used to. You know? And now I’m like, actually I’m still learning and if I’m learning, I don’t actually have to be loud about it if I don’t want to. And I’m still growing. And so I think that’s where right now I’m taking up that kind of space. I’m okay not having all the answers. I’m okay still blooming. And I’m still I’m okay still cocooning sometimes when I need to. And I think more of us need that. I think we also live in a, because of everything that’s happening, we’re encouraged to have such instant formulated opinions. Like we’re expected to react to all of this trauma and news and that’s coming out. And what I feel from the collective right now is we actually need to take this break of not feeling the need to share opinion instantly and not feeling the need to be reactive to, to what we’re experiencing and just giving ourselves the space to not know, and giving ourselves a space to just sit and be with it.