halfthoughts

A gender journey

Tag: cisnormativity

Be Yourself (But Stretch): Why I Tell People I’m Not Getting Married

This post was written for the April 2016 Carnival of Aces, which is themed around the topic “Be yourself (but stretch).”

Since I’m not originally from Korea, I want to preface that all the observations of Korean society commented on in this post are seen through the outsider’s lens of a hapa, Korean-American.


Living in Korea for the last several years has made me super aware of the graduate-get-a-job-get-a-partner-get-married-have-kids-track that many people live.

A handful of friends back in the states are getting married too, but their path is a bit more meandering, so it doesn’t feel quite so in my face as it does in Korea.

Perhaps, it is just my particular friend group, coupled with the fact that when working in a company, I’m surrounded mostly by people who are more likely than me or my friends to be at the age for getting married. Although, that assumes the existence of an ideal “target age” for marriage, in the first place.

Or perhaps, in a company, I’m just surrounded by people who are in a stable place in their lives who feel ready to settle down, and have the desire to do so. I currently lack both the stability and the desire to get married. Although those aren’t necessarily correlated feelings. I also have friends who do have a high desire for marriage, even if they currently lack the stability for it.

Regardless, observing this track to marriage and kids feels like watching a conveyer belt in a factory, kind of like the scene with the chocolates in I Love Lucy. The chocolates are just going by so fast I can’t keep up anymore. Plus, the problem is- I don’t even want to eat the chocolate in the first place. I wish I could just opt out of participating in the assembly line entirely.

I haven’t come out to many people about my asexuality. Some close friends and family know, but it’s not something I’ve announced to the world, especially not strangers or my former Korean co-workers.

There are several reasons for this. One being- it’s still new to me, so I’m not yet ready to share. Another being- it’s not necessarily a commonly known term even among native English speakers, so explaining it to someone whose first language is not English would require lots of effort that just feels daunting.

For me, telling people that I’m not planning to get married is my way of coming out publicly as asexual without actually coming out. It’s my way of owning my asexual and wtfromantic orientation by taking control of the narrative I live by.

For women in Korea, even if they don’t join the marriage fast track, they are constantly bombarded with the expectation to get married eventually. Family members pester them with questionnaires to fill out for prospective blind dates. As they get older, all their siblings, cousins, and friends start falling off the singlehood-wagon around them. Aunts, grandparents, and parents then focus all their attention on the singletons in the family, doubling their efforts at matchmaking, and increasing the frequency of inquires into not-yet-married statuses.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” and  “When are  you going to get married?” are very common small talk questions in Korea.

I have just begun saying, “I’m not.”

And the next response is usually, “Oh, don’t worry you’ll meet someone some day” or “You’ll change your mind when you meet the right person.”

I get this same response even from fellow single women who haven’t yet been matched up.  I just smile politely because they don’t realize I’m not even looking for the right person. And besides, their version of the right person definitely does not match mine.

When I was first coming to terms with my own asexuality, I began to question everything. I was confused about how to understand my romantic orientation, attractions, and gender identity and how those experiences all intersected with my asexuality.

I decided the first step in taking ownership over my own story, was to start actively rejecting the cisnormative/ heteronormative narrative that I’ve been mindlessly digesting all my life.

The one that says someday my prince charming will come, sweep me off my feet, and we will live happily ever after. The one that says my prince is of course going to be male, and that the living-happily-ever-after will include a romantic/sexual relationship, marriage, and kids.

What if I want my prince to be a princess? What if I don’t want to be saved but I want to save myself? What if I want my happily-ever-after to be a friendship or a QPR or two separate castle condos side by side so we can be neighbors rather than have a bed that we share?

I don’t know yet what my happily-ever-after is going to be. I am aware that I can’t predict the future, so it could be that I change my mind and decide to get married someday. Or even if I don’t get married, I might chose to enter a committed relationship of some other form. (Although, if I do follow through with either of those things, it will likely be with someone female or non-binary).

“I’m not going to get married” is simply my subversive way to say- I’m certainly not going to get married to who you think, and on top of that, I have no interest in what marriage traditionally represents.

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How Changing My Name Is Like Changing My Gender

I was born S and assigned R at birth. But the name I was assigned at birth never fit right. No one ever called me by my birth name except doctors and my grandmother. 

On the first day of school I’d always explain to the teacher, “I go by S.” That’s what everyone knew me as. That’s what I knew me as. That’s what felt right.

 I always intended to change my name legally, someday. But I was finally forced to in High School when I couldn’t deposit a check because my birth assigned name and the name on the check didn’t match. When I went through the process of changing my name, there was a lot of paperwork, but it wasn’t actually a big deal in real life. 

Everyone already knew me as me, so it wasn’t a shock. I was completely comfortable in my true name and proud of it. So I was relieved to finally have it match my legal records. 

Sometimes, when I hear the name R, I remember vaguely that I was once an R, too. But I never really considered myself to be an R, so I have a slight aversion to the name, now. 

It’s like a pair of hand me down pants that don’t fit quite right. Someone else gave them to you, so you wear them for a bit, but you are more than happy to discard them when you find a pair that do fit you exactly as they should.

I’ve already changed my identity once. How hard can it be to change it again? Who knows how many times I’ll have to change before I feel like I’m wearing the skin that was tailor made for me.

But I’m wiling to keep making adjustments until I figure out the perfect fit. Because who wants to go through their whole life wearing the wrong size hand me downs?

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.

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.