A gender journey

Month: March, 2016

What Are You? A Question of Mixed Race, Gender, And Asexuality

This post was written for the March 2016 Carnival of Aces, which is themed around Gender Norms and Asexuality. I was inspired to go a bit off prompt for this post, but it’s all connected to identity outside of the “norms”. 

I remember the first time I learned I was Hapa. In high school, another Hapa kid who I’d known since middle school came up to me and asked if I wanted to join the Hapa club.

I asked, “What’s that?”

He said, “You’re Hapa.”

I’d never heard the word before. But once I did it made a lot of sense. (For those who are unfamiliar with this term it refers to any person who is part Asian. I personally identify with this label because I am half Korean-half Caucasian). Sometimes it takes hearing a word and a definition to realize that it resonates with you too.

For me, trying to understand my racial identity would end up sparking the journey of questioning other parts of my identity as well.

The first time I ever heard about the concept of spectrums was in college at a Mixed-Race club on campus. I don’t even remember exactly if the word spectrums was used, but the word fluidity was.

There was a guest speaker talking about the 100 dollar question that many mixed race people are familiar with- “What are you?”

If you are not mixed race, let me fill you in on these three words. Mixed race people get this question constantly. For many, it’s a dreaded question. For some, it’s a chance to be flippant with their response. For most, it’s a question they’ve heard at least once in their lives.

The speaker went on to explain that the reason people ask this question so often is because race is the first thing you see about a person. And if you don’t understand it, or you don’t know how to fit it into the boxes in your head, this question pops out of your mouth in order to resolve the uncertainty.

The other first thing you see about a person is their gender. So if you don’t follow gender norms  in your gender expression, you stick out. He also talked a bit about how sexuality and gender are fluid. It was my first exposure to the word fluid. I wouldn’t fully understand what that word meant at the time, or even how it applied to me until at least 5 years later.

It’s interesting that this conversation had such a strong imprint on my memory. As someone who identifies as non-binary and mixed race, I can now see parallels between the What are you? question and the way transgender and non-binary people are questioned invasively about their gender. There are also parallels between the way asexuals are questioned invasively about their sex lives. It’s as if cisgendered, heterosexual, and allosexual people, and people in general feel entitled to have their “curiosity” relieved. As if they deserve to know things.

I get it. I do. Sometimes I also have the urge to ask the What are you? question to someone who I suspect might be mixed. But knowing how hurtful and annoying it can be, I do my best to hold onto my curiosity. If the person brings it up on their own, or we get close enough, then I may ask. But I do my best to avoid asking this question the first time I meet someone.

One answer to all those questions is, “It’s none of your business.” My rebuttal is, “Why do you have to know so badly in the first place?”

I think it all goes back to what that guest speaker explained about  how people desperately want to resolve the confusion they have when people don’t fit into the boxes inside their head.

I think the common thread in all these narratives is that these groups are seen as “other.” They are seen as existing outside of the boxes of what are thought to be “normal”. As a mixed race person I defy people’s understanding of the world. People might have a notion of what it looks like to be Asian and what it looks like to be white. But they get confused when I don’t fit into their predetermined boxes of the world. And they really, really, really want to know. Hence why I get that question so often.

I think gender norms are another set of boxes many people see the world in. Check this box for F and this box for M. What do you do when you don’t fit in either? When you start defying gender norms by the clothes you wear, the hair style you have, or who you date or don’t date, people start asking questions.

Questions like: Why do you have a boy’s hair cut? Why don’t you want to get married? Why don’t you have a boyfriend yet? Why don’t you want to have sex? Why don’t you want to have kids?

Why can’t people just exist without needing to explain why they aren’t following the “rules?”

Gender norms can be  hurtful to people who exist outside the heterosexual  and gender binary because it makes it so challenging to understand why they don’t fit inside of them. Gender norms enforce cisnormativity and heteronormativity.

Growing up, I had internalized these norms so much that even without people asking me invasive questions, I would end up asking myself those same questions. I would ask myself constantly why I never fit in.

Growing up, I thought as a girl I was supposed to like guys, want to date them, want to have sex with them, and eventually marry them.  I thought I was supposed to wear makeup, dresses, and have long hair. And I never understood why I never wanted any of those things. I never understood that the reason I didn’t want those things was because I didn’t identify as a girl at all, I didn’t identify as straight, and I certainly didn’t identify as sexual.

I’m learning it’s ok it took me so long to figure things out. And it’s ok I’m still figuring things out.

The other thing I’ve learned about being mixed race is that there is no such thing as one mixed race story. There are infinite combinations of being multiracial. There are multiple ways we look, or what color hair we end up with, or what part of us we identify with “most,” or how we come to terms with the different aspects of ourselves. There is no one way to “look” Hapa or mixed race because skin color is fluid and there are infinite possible combinations of skin tones.

I can see that the same is probably true for asexual and gender queer people. There is no one experience of asexuality.  There are commonalities, sure, but it’s a spectrum. Just like skin tone, except it’s invisible to anyone else except yourself. There is no one experience of being gender queer either.

Pretending there is or trying to police or gate keep these identities would be heading down a slippery slope of creating new “norms.” Saying there is a certain way to be asexual or a certain way to be gender queer could be analogous to saying there is a certain way to be a boy or a girl- which is what caused the whole questioning of identity in the first place.

It’s taken me ages to fully understand and be proud of my mixed race identity. After many years of identity crisis, I can finally fully embrace both sides of myself. I can see that a similar journey will have to take place for my sexuality and my gender.

I recognize that my story is unique and may not look like others. My experience is similar, but not exactly the same as anyone else’s. And that is totally ok. Every one who identifies as asexual has a different experience. Every one who identifies as gender queer has a different experience. And it is ok to validate every other individual experience as real and true.

And most importantly it is ok to not want to answer any invasive questions about that experience, whatever it may look like.


Shame Triggers

I walk into class late. I get reprimanded for it. I immediately start to have a shame attack.

Being late triggers shame for me. I have been late all my life. To school. To work. To hangouts with friends. I have trouble waking up to my alarm. I have trouble waking up early. I have trouble falling asleep early enough so I can wake up early enough without feeling tired.

And all my life I have been shamed by my family for being late. For getting up late. For going to bed late. So I have learned to shame myself when I am late. No one even needs to tell me anything, but if I am running late I feel so much shame.

This shame has been amplified ever since I’ve started to discover my gender identity.  I am mourning myself. I’m morning my gender. And when you mourn you go through the stages of grief. And each stage might last however long it lasts. For the last few months I have been stuck in the depression/ anger cycle of grief.

How this depression manifests is that I get insomnia. I end up staying up until 3 or 4am every night, which leads me to wake up at noon. It causes me to have trouble waking up early, even when I set an alarm. And of course because of my shame, when I do wake up “late” I immediately feel bad about it. I think about how I should have gone to bed earlier. I should have stopped binge watching youtube videos. I should have stopped reading all those tumblr posts. I should have set more alarms. I should have done more yoga or more exercise so I’d be more balanced.

I have a whole list of shoulds. And what I have learned is that shoulds are never compassionate. It is impossible for me to change my behavior when I continue to shame myself with shoulds. I’ve been reading a lot of Bene Brown’s work on vulnerability and shame. And I agree with her conclusion that shame NEVER changes behaviors. In fact it almost has the opposite effect.

And so when I am late, if I am reprimanded this triggers even more shame. What’s worse is the shame spreads beyond just the incident of being late, to my entire being. When I am shamed for being late, I feel shame for getting up late. Since I know I get up late because I am depressed. I feel shame for being depressed. Since I know I get up late  because of my insomnia, I feel shame for my insomnia. Since I know my habit of staying up late is partly a result of researching coming out stories and experiences of gay and transgender people in an effort to understand myself. I feel shame for being gay and for being transgender. Since I know I can’t change either of these parts of myself. I feel shame for who I am as a person.

And how do you explain this to people? How do you walk into a room and say: I’m sorry I’m late. It’s because I am trans and I am ashamed of who I am. Please don’t yell at me because that’s gonna trigger me. That’s not something you can just slip into conversation. And then I’m afraid that even if I explain myself I won’t be listened to. I won’t be heard. And I won’t be understood. And all I want is to be understood.

Fuck You World

I’m at this meetup wearing my new outfit. Collared shirt, tie, fedora hat, men’s style pea coat. I receive a few compliments on my style which feels super affirming.

After the meetup we all head out to dinner and I’m conversing with a guy. We’ll call him D.

D asks,  “So what’s the reason behind your style of clothing?”

I immediately freak out. I turn my head away, look down furtively as a million thoughts race through my head. Oh my god he knows. I have to come out. Should I tell him my new pronouns? Wait get a hold of yourself. I don’t have to come out if I’m not ready. I don’t have to out myself to a stranger if I don’t want to.

I settle on, “It’s a new style I’ve started experimenting with recently.”

D realizes he’s caused some discomfort and quickly says, “I was just wondering.” He leaves it alone and we move on.

Later on in the dinner we are chatting some more, and he brings up the outfit again. (It was relevant to the conversation somehow, so I want to clarify he wasn’t being an asshole about it.)

“You said this was a new style you were experimenting with. Why did you decide to start?” D asks.

“I dress this way to feel badass.” I reply with confidence, happy I have a smoother response this time around, now that I know I don’t have to out myself.

I mean what I say. I’d recently watched this youtube video by Ari Fitz about dressing in an androgynous style. My favorite part of the video is when she offers this advice:

Take an extra minute every morning and remind yourself you’re a badass and you can have everything you want. Then put on your favorite pair of shoes, your favorite jacket, whatever that thing is for you- put it on and walk out the door, cause now no one- no one can take that feeling away from you.

“Do you look in the mirror every morning and say ‘Fuck You’?” D asks.

We all laugh.

“Well, I don’t say, Fuck You. That would be kind of weird since it’d be like saying Fuck You to my self. But I do look in the mirror and say ‘I’m badass'”

He tries to explain his slip up, “I meant more like a fuck-you-world.”

At first I’m a bit offended. Why can’t a girl wear a tie? Why does it have to be a statement?  I feel like he is reacting this way because of cisnormitiviy. But when I’m debriefing with a friend later, she gives me another perspective. “Maybe he just admired you for having a fuck the world attitude,” she suggests.

I like that way of looking at it. Because that’s how I feel a lot these days.

My very existence. My gender expression. My choice of clothing. Every minuscule act feels like a revolution against society. Everyday I’m fighting a war in my head against the conditioning of culture. FUCK YOU WORLD gives me a sense of empowerment.

Fuck you world, I can wear what I want. Fuck you world, I can use whatever pronouns I want. Fuck you world, I can be a gender that you’ve never even heard of. Fuck you world, I don’t have to live up to your expectations of what a girl wears, how a girl acts, or what a girl looks like. Fuck you world, I’m not even a girl in the first place. Fuck you world, do not tell me how to dress, how to cut my hair, or how to control my appearance. Fuck you world, I’m gonna do what I want and be true to who I am. Fuck you world, I will not be ashamed of my identity. Fuck you world, I reject every expectation and constraint you try to shackle me in. Fuck you world, I’m gonna be myself and no one is gonna to stop me.



The First Time I Wore A Tie

How to tie a tie.

I typed the words into google and clicked through the links that popped up. After searching through a few articles, I settled on a simple explanation with pictures and followed the directions.

It took a couple of tries to get it right. The thin end kept being too long, or the noose kept being too loose. Frustrated, I gave up looking at the directions and just made up my own way to tie a tie.

Finally, I managed a knot that seemed right. I stepped into my bathroom and glanced in the mirror to see how I looked.

I remember the moment distinctly. Suddenly, my heart opened up. It’s as if my heart had been locked in a cage my whole life, and I hadn’t even noticed. But the tie was the key that unlocked the door. And suddenly I was lighter inside.

It wasn’t until weeks later, that I discovered there was an actual name for that feeling: Euphoria. As in the opposite of disphoria. As in it felt right.

That feeling was my body telling me, “Yes”.

This tie is exactly what I needed. And I had no idea how much I had needed it until I slipped it around my neck.

The Journey Begins

I’m starting this blog to document my gender journey. I don’t know where it ends- all I know is that it has already begun.

I know that I’m transitioning, but I don’t know exactly what I’m transitioning to.

For now I identify as non-binary/ gender queer/ somewhere in the middle. I’ve started to wear different clothes, change my hair, and use some gender neutral pronouns. But I don’t know what the rest of the transition is going to look like or how far it will go.

I don’t know if this stop in the middle is just a temporary rest point before heading all the way over to the “other side” of the binary. I don’t know how much of myself I’m going to “change” or “come out as.” And since so much of where I’m headed is uncertain, I’m not quite ready to be entirely public about things as I’m figuring it all out.

Thus the birth of this blog. A place for my half thoughts, my musings about myself, and perhaps a chance to interact with an online community as well. We’ll see how things unfold.

I’m hoping that as I begin to understand myself more and more, I’ll eventually get more comfortable being open about who I am.

But I’m not there yet. And that’s ok.

This is the space for me to explore, experiment, dialogue, rant, and get out all the rough drafts before I’m ready to publish the final version of myself.

Here’s to the journey.