I’ve been thinking about you a fair amount since I came back from LA. I reread our texts from that weekend. Each time I hope I might somehow notice something new.
That first line always gets me.
“I don’t think you can ever look past our history to give us a future.”
I have no clue what possessed you to start a reply with something like that. What were you expecting when you wrote it? From experience I know not to attempt the impossible and speculate on what thoughts are swirling around in your head.
Though your motives remain a mystery, I am certain you haven’t forgotten the past. I know you remember how you treated me. You remember how you handled, or rather mishandled, our relationship. You know that I’m justified in the feelings I still harbor towards you.
The funny thing is every time I read that line I feel so frustrated. You have no idea how badly I want to give us a future. I look back at the beginning of our relationship, before this whole mess. All I can think about is how we were so fucking good for each other. You liked the same weird things I did. We understood each other’s obscure pop culture references. You got my odd sense of humor. For the first time, you made me feel like one person could be enough.
My head keeps trying to remind me this is how you work. You are a thief. You sneak in under the cover of darkness, past one’s defenses. You wield your tools of verbal smoke and mirrors to distract your mark. And then once you’ve stolen your prize, you fade back into the shadows as if you were never there.
Like I told myself nearly 3 years ago, “I can’t allow myself to fall for him ever again. I know that if I do, I’ll just get hurt in the end. “ I just hope it’s not too late.
Memories are curious.
Some you remember, some you don’t, and some—after years of slumber—reawaken. I don’t reminiscence on childhood often, only indulging the rare moments when past youth resurfaces when prompted by my immediate situation or in an instance of quiet reflection during a long night.
I was an optimistic child, quite oblivious, but probably to my benefit. I knew what need and desire felt like but not what they meant. I first learned that I was poor when I realized that not everybody ate from the church pantry or made weekly runs to the Salvation Army’s soup kitchen with their mom.
Poverty was a situation I was ashamed of and tried to hide—dirt on my skin that needed to be cleansed. An ever crushing burden that I fought to cast away; to deny. What I later learned as I grew older is that poverty robs not only the body but also pillages the mind and soul.
I was happy and couldn’t contain my excitement. I wanted to show my parents the new clothes my elementary school’s principal had bought me.
Earlier in the day, in celebration of our placement on the Honor Roll, the school’s principal had selected another student and I to go shopping for the evening’s ceremony.
When I arrived home and showed my father the purchases he discarded the clothes and told me I was not allowed to go to the ceremony.
He yelled and I cried.
Eventually, after my mother’s intervention and consolation we attended the ceremony. I remember when they called my name and it was my turn to walk across the stage in front of everyone. I couldn’t stop smiling because in that moment I was completely happy.
I don’t know why this memory decided to visit me this evening. I’m glad that it did but I’m also ready to let it take its departure. It has reminded me that I have taken a long journey to this place where I am now in life.
I still have needs and desires but now I can fulfill them at my pleasure. I have been living a very full life and for this I am grateful. But perhaps, I am most grateful that the feet of a child took the first steps to take me here. Thank you.
Memories of childhood—like a dream.
Lying in bed, scrolling Instagram and once again seeing all my friend’s amazing travel photos I got an itch. And it dawned on me. I have been single for 7 months now and there’s no one that I like at the moment. I have 7 days until I’m back to work. What the hell, I’m going somewhere.
By the afternoon I had booked return flights to Hong Kong, leaving the next morning, and four nights in a hostel, in a neighbourhood I had never been before.
Over the week I learned so much about myself.
While in Asian culture it’s said that everyone respects their elders, the reality for me couldn’t be further from the truth.
In my family at least, over the years when I’ve visited HK, the country of my parent’s birth, I’ve observed countless dinners where the aunties and uncles talk, whilst my grandma sits quietly amidst the throng. Her hearing issues make it hard for her to engage and the volume of her voice is not strong enough to command attention. When she asks a question the aunties and uncles look exasperated and then try and explain the conversation topic in the most simplistic, elementary words. With her hearing loss they also shout at her, speaking down to her like a child.
I wasn’t much better. Whenever I tried to talk to her in my broken Cantonese, she would always assume the role of a caring grandma and remind me to study hard, eat more, take care of myself. Our conversations would last no longer than two or three minutes and it would end with her giving me a red pocket. It was always a dehumanising experience. I was the kid that showed up once a year and collected money from her.
This time was different though. I was determined to show her I had grown. I was a working adult now, I was the Australian grandson with western values, and that also meant I was ready to make conversation with her on the same level.
I took my ninety year old grandma out for yum cha at 9am on Wednesday morning. Just the two of us hanging out, for the very first time in my 25 years of existence. Prior to this, I was lamenting to my cousin that I was worried it would be awkward because she doesn’t speak a shred of English and my Cantonese is so butchered.
But, in spite of the language barrier, we had a really authentic conversation about buying a house, financial stability, death, her marriage to my grandpa and the luxury of dating while young. It was bittersweet, we were learning so much about each others lives, but it had taken 25 years to get to this point.
When the food arrived and I pulled out my insulin pen, she asked me what it was. I told her I had type 1 diabetes. Some of the aunties and uncles and even friends, I had told previously, who had no medical background, had instantly made assumptions and made ignorant comments like “stop drinking so many soft drinks” etc..I was bracing myself for a lecture about sugar.
But my grandma, in all her 90+ years of wisdom said very pragmatically, “Your grandpa had type 2 diabetes. You must watch out for the rice and noodles, and you must exercise.”
I knew all this, but to hear it from my grandma who was never educated, can’t read or write, reaffirmed my observations that she’s given much less credit than due from my relatives.
After yum cha, she insisted walking me to the bus stop and waiting with me until the bus arrived. I gave her a classic Australian hug farewell and left her on the side of the road, a fully capable woman, mother and grandmother, bursting at the seams with a lifetime of wisdom and experiences. I hope to see my aunties and uncles start treating her as more than an inconvenience.
Looking back, I am grateful that my life has been relatively peaceful, and there has not been much I can complain about, which is also how other people perceive me as: carefree and fearless. I had a great childhood with two loving parents in China; I was doing well in middle school and high school, academically and socially; my parents were able to support me to come to the U.S. to go to college. However, what I don’t share with a lot of people is that there are currents under the seemingly peaceful sea that is my life, and the strongest one out there has always been social anxiety.
In 2011, I moved from China to Ohio for college at Ohio State, and I was excited to start this new chapter of my life. Even though I knew that I had to step out of my comfort zone in order to get the full American college experience, I was confident in my adaptability because I had always been eager to learn new things and to meet new people. What I did not know was how hard the social anxiety would strike me for the first time.
Are you familiar with that feeling when you show up to a bar alone without knowing anyone and you feel so out of place and it feels like everyone is watching you and laughing at you for being alone? Yeah, that was how I felt a lot of the times during my first week in the U.S. I didn’t know anyone in my dorm, and I didn’t know anyone in my classes, and my three roommates went to the same high school and all they did every day was play video games together. For that whole week, all I did was FaceTime my parents and talk to one of my best friends from high school, and I felt incredibly homesick. It also hurt my pride because I thought I could do better, and I did not feel like l was taking in charge of my life the way I wanted to.
I have always been an ambitious person, so after the week, I wanted to do something different about the situation. One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Benjamin Mee: “Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come out of it.”
In coincidence, I saw one of the welcome week brochures in my dorm that outlined all the welcome week events that my school planned out for students, and I noticed there was this cookout for Phi Gamma Delta. I was like: ”What is Phi Gamma Delta?” So I looked it up and found out it was a fraternity. Because I was always curious about Greek life since we don’t have that in China, I decided to go to that cookout by myself. I never felt more anxious in my life than how I felt on my way to the fraternity house because I did not know what to expect. “Are they going to laugh at me because I just show up to the fraternity house without anyone and without knowing anyone from the fraternity? Are they going to laugh at my English? What should I talk about? I don’t know anything about football, politics, or whatever college students talk about nowadays.”
So many thoughts went through my mind, and suddenly I arrived at the fraternity house. There were so many people chatting and mingling at the front door, but I found those 20 seconds of insane courage, and I took a deep breath and walked in.
Thank god there was someone greeting at the door, so I started talking to this guy Shawn, who was a senior at the time. I still can’t believe it even now, but after Shawn found out I was from China, he told me that he just came back to the U.S. from studying abroad in China, and we talked about his experience in China and we compared China to the U.S. in many ways, and we chatted for an hour without talking a little bit about things I wasn’t familiar with.
After that, he introduced me to more people in the fraternity, and I already felt a lot more comfortable with socializing after talking to Shawn, so I was able to truly get to know more people and know more about what a fraternity was. I ended up joining that fraternity, and I tasted the joy of tackling social anxiety for the first time.
Now looking back, I can’t thank those 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery enough, not only because they liberated me from the social anxiety that seemed to be daunting me as a shy and overwhelmed freshman but also because they opened my mind and made me realized that I could succeed if I tried.
After I joined the fraternity, I realized that I was the first Asian pledge they ever recruited. Lol. My fraternity was rechartered in 1995, so there hadn’t been that many pledge classes yet, and it was Ohio State where students were mainly Caucasian, so it was not that big of a shock to me, but it may still seem crazy for some of my friends who are from the east coast or the west coast.
Shortly, my fight against social anxiety started again when I realized that there was so much in the U.S. college culture that I had yet to learn, which made me overwhelmed and anxious all the time. I learned about all different kinds of liquor and what different mixed drinks were made of because I definitely started my messy drinking career from joining a fraternity; Ohio State was a big public school with outstanding athletic programs, and my fraternity was known on campus for being involved in extracurricular activities, so I learned about how to bond with other brothers over sports and other organizations that we were involved in.
I think the one thing that gave me the most anxiety was the expectation that as a fraternity guy, I had to develop relationships with different sororities and represented our fraternity to be “cool.” I was “straight” at the time, so I had to learn about how to initiate conversations with sorority girls at different social events or in the classrooms. I still remember the first ever social event I went to where I was so shy that I just talked to my pledge brothers all night without talking to any girls. I was worried because I was the only Asian guy at the party, and I felt like American girls always would prefer the jocky Caucasian guys, and I was afraid of rejection.
Again, after the anxiety from the first social event slowly died down, the ambitious Neil at the time started thinking about how to change the situation. Then we had another social event the week after, and those 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery came to rescue me again at the party when I took a deep breath and approached a group of 2 girls standing by themselves at the venue and asked them if they were having fun and if they wanted to take a shot together. Surprisingly, they were very happy to go take a shot with me, and then they asked if I wanted to play beer pong, and I was like yeah of course, but in my head I was screaming: “What is happening? I am actually doing this wow.”
After that one social event, I started to become more and more comfortable with initiating conversations with strangers where I could try to find something in common and then turn strangers into friends. Some of my best friendships nowadays started from a shot of fireball or tequila, and of course, from my 20 seconds of insane bravery that one time.
Then, time flew by, and suddenly I finished my junior year and moved to NYC during the summer of 2014 for an internship. That was a summer to remember because I explored with my sexuality for the first time in a city where I did not know anyone. After I moved to the U.S. and started college, I met all sorts of people, including some of my best friends who were already gay when I met them who made me think about my sexuality more and more, in a way that I never did when I was in China.
When I was in NYC, I downloaded Tinder, and started going on dates with people. Mainly I just wanted to meet different people and hear about their experiences, but I also did some experiments as well, which helped me confirm that girls might not be my thing (Sorry to all the girls whose hearts I broke after that. Lol jk).
After I finished my internship, I went back to Ohio, and I thought it was the right time for me to come out to my friends. I made a list of my best friends that I wanted to come out to in person, but as the list went longer and longer, more and more anxiety started to accumulate again in my heart because I was nervous that my friends would look at me differently and our friendships would change.
I still remember the first person I came out to was one of my best friends in my fraternity. It was a Thursday night of my senior year, so I went out with some of my friends to the bars. What are classes on Fridays anyways? I got pretty drunk at the end of the night, and as I was walking home from the bars, I suddenly had the urge to come out to my friend and I couldn’t resist it. So I called my friend at 1:30am at night, and he was studying for a final he was going to have the next day. With my 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery and a little help of alcohol, I told my friend about everything: about my summer in NYC, about Tinder, about all these guys I met and about my sexuality. I could tell he was shocked initially because there was a 5-second uncomfortable silence, but then I would never forget how happy he sounded on the phone after the silence and how supportive all the words were that came out of his mouth. I was reassured that my friends would always love me for being me, and sexuality is just one small part of Neil Wang, and true friends would never judge me for that.
The next day, I was hungover of course, but I felt like a new person because I didn’t have all that pressure on my shoulder, and I was actually more motivated to come out to my other friends on my list. Because I was living authentically, there was not a single regret in my senior year, and that was exactly how I wanted it to be.
I graduated from college in 2015, and then I moved to NYC for work. Just recently, I celebrated my first anniversary in the best city. The year of 2016 was full of challenges, which brought out a great deal of anxiety. Mostly, I am a proud gaysian, which means that now I have two sources of anxiety that I have to manage on a daily basis, at work and in my personal life. Luckily, I joined GAPIMNY (Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York), and I realized that I was not alone, and so many people struggle with the same things that I do. I have met so many people that have provided me with tips/advice/guidance to help me navigate my way out of my anxiety, and I wanted to do the same and write this little entry for The Gaysian Diaries so that more people can know that they are not alone. If I have not said enough above, I will say the following things again here:
1. Sometimes all you need is just 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and you will be amazed by what things are in store for you in the future.
2. Love yourself, but don’t take yourself too seriously.
3. Life is too short, so do whatever makes you happy.
Thanks for reading my diary. Let me know if you would like to talk more about any of the things I talked about above and I can be your guy.
Neil Wang is the Social Chair of GAPIMNY. You can find him co-hosting Elixir, our signature happy hour for gay Asians in NYC, every 2nd and 4th Friday at Boxers HK from 7pm – 9pm.
It’s @ro-mantik reporting for moderation duty. This week, we’ll be returning to our roots of narratives, stories, and shared experiences that span the spectrum of life. Please feel free to share with your peers, discuss your reflections, and reach out to us with your own writings. We are always looking to hear from our community members.
I told myself stories of what I was ‘allowed’ or ‘not allowed’ to do but I also decided not to listen to those stories and to try something different. The something different in this case also included being accountable to my friends for what I said I would do, and I also knew that I could commiserate with my friends if I were rejected. This experience became one of many that started to re-write the script in my head. I also started to leave behind those early labels for others in the community as I started to meet and date more people who did not conform to those labels.