This is what I wrote for this past Saturday’s workshop session on power, privilege, and oppression:
I always thought of my existence as a paradox, simultaneously existing and not existing in this world.
I knew I existed—I am living and breathing, interacting with other living and breathing bodies. And yet, my bodily experience was not quite enough to fill the void of loneliness that I felt on another front.
I. (Gay vs. Straight)
When I was in 10th grade, I liked my first boy. He was two years older, an athlete with a nicely toned body, and best of all, an intelligent individual with a warm, sweet personality. In private, we would hold hands, kiss, share stories as we snuggled up against each other—everything two boys who liked each other would do. But in public, in front of the other boys, he would ogle over the Victoria’s Secret models just the same and talk about the girls he’s hooked up with at sloppy high school parties.
And every time he would reestablish his heterosexuality, I felt betrayed, hurt, and pissed off. I couldn’t figure it out at the time, but in retrospect, I’ve started to piece it together.
It was all about doing borderwork, drawing the distinctions between the “normal” and the “deviant,” “masculine” and “feminine,” “straight” and “gay.” I felt these borders at age 14 when those 2 slightly older teenagers screamed “Faggot!” at me, giggled and ran off the train. I felt them when my friends would ask, “Why are you so gay?” to which I would respond with silence from the pent-up heat of embarrassment—an ardent refusal to entertain the topic any further, as if my silence would make them realize that I was trying… trying so hard to stop whatever “gay” action I was doing. (What the hell does acting gay even look like anyway?) I would straighten up, deepen my voice, and put in all my energy to engage in these heterosexual talks that never failed to bore me (because apparently, the straight boys I knew couldn’t go beyond making misogynist comments). I feel these borders manifested in an awkward discomfort that gradually turns into a feeling of powerlessness when I am in a room full of the valuative eyes of masculine, heterosexual men.
This borderwork was why I would get into fights with the boy and get irrationally angry for no particular reason that I could pinpoint at the time. I know now it was because he was just another person who showed me that the norm was “straight,” and I could take no part in it no matter how much I tried (and believe me, I tried). So, every single time people questioned my sexuality, constantly pestering me with that dreadfully disrespectful question—“Are you gay?”—as if they needed to know in order for our friendship/acquaintanceship to continue, I would deny and deny and deny to both everyone asking and myself. I did everything in my power to dissociate from that identity that I thought to be synonymous with
II. (Asian Gay vs. White Gay)
Gradually, I accepted that my liking boys was not just a phase that I could pray away.
But did you know that there is even a “normal” in queerness?
When I turned on the TV and managed to find the few representations of gay men, who did I see? When I read some article on marriage equality accompanied by a picture of two men kissing each other out of their much deserved happiness, who did I see? When I venture into a space marked for gays (whether it be a gay-straight alliance club or a club-club), who did I see?
Chiseled white man.
Change the channel. Flip the page. Walk around some more.
Chiseled white man number two.
Change the channel. Flip the page. Walk around even more.
Chiseled white man number sixty-four with hairy white man number forty-two.
Finding my existence within a larger gay community provided no comfort to me. My yellow skin made me feel invisible and isolated from everyone else. I did not belong to any community—gays or Asians.
I found this entry dated June 23rd, 2011: “I’ve said this before, but sometimes I feel isolated. I’ve felt this for a while, and I don’t know when it will go away, or if it’ll go away at all. That feeling of not being like everyone else. There’s no good way to describe this but I get queasy and really uneasy. It’s automatic, really. After that uneasiness settled in my stomach, I think about how different I am, and I just…don’t feel normal. I’m sure there’s more reason than just because they’re straight and I’m not, but there’s nothing else I can think of or properly phrase. I want to look at other guys and not create this separation between me and everyone else.”
And today, on July 12th, 2014, I can say that I was right. There is certainly more reason to this uneasiness than just “straight” vs. “gay.”
It is about that feeling of unbelonging, being a person without a people. Because in this society, if you are straight, you have the inherent privilege of not feeling that you are living a paradoxical existence and you don’t see or feel the borderwork being done and may very well partake in it because no one questions you and your human worth based on who you love. The process of self-making, of identity formation is many times a public enactment, and more often than not, it is performed in front of the very people who do not have to worry about their own public enactment because they know they belong to a larger community that we all have been taught to be the norm. That is part of the very foundation of our society, and very much the foundation of my isolation.
This is not a story about finding peace with these different parts of me, not yet at least. It is about the silence that surrounds being queer, and more so, queer and Asian-American.
I have navigated my way through the borderwork, finding other queer Asian-Americans and with them, a sense of belonging, of validating my experience of simply being. But that paradoxical living does not just end.
For it to end, it requires being loud. Making your presence known so others feel that their presence can be known as well. It requires a hell of a lot of dismantling and unlearning and relearning and that starts at god-knows-where.
And that end may never be here. We may never touch it, and at most, we can feel it as “the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality.”
But I’ll be damned if I don’t try to bring us closer to that horizon.
An eloquent and heartfelt reflection from @meliorating on his identity as both gay and Asian. I think the feeling of living in a paradoxical existence is shared by many of us (definitely me). As I mentioned before, the identity of a gaysian is not simply gay + Asian but much more nuanced. I applaud @meliorating‘s thoughts on making our presence known to the greater society, and I sincerely hope gaysianthirdspace will help us take a tangible step toward that horizon.
P.S. Really thanks to @meliorating for capturing this concept so artfully and eloquently.