Staying above water

Here is a summary of my 20s:

  • Exploring how I wanted to present myself, now that I had expendable income for awesome haircuts and clothes, that would maximize my confidence and allow me to do my job in a male-dominated industry.
  • Exploring hobbies outside my job: Drag, Dragonboating, Film
  • Exploring relationships and friendships that tested my limits and had me thinking about what I need in a relationship.
  • Celebrated being me in a female body and loving women.
  • Developed an understanding of how presenting as masculine has the power to trigger people.
  • Developed an understanding of how presenting as feminine has the power to control people.
  • Representing my dad at family functions

Here’s a summary of my 30s so far:

  • Understanding what it means to live in a foreign country, and the privilege of being educated in America.
  • Growing motivation to consider more responsible actions from either masculine and feminine sides.
  • Being more masculine presenting makes me want to be more feminine, but being identified as feminine makes me want to appear more masculine.
  • Realizing that I embody characteristics of both, and constantly fighting against my mind to not blame my masculine or feminine side as being responsible for what might be considered my “quirks”.
  • Ignoring what people think, and just do what I’m good at.
  • Recharging from the efforts of ignoring what people think.
  • Trying to know myself as more than an extension of my family.
  • Continuing to fight imposter syndrome with more humor and acceptance.
  • Realizing that connecting different cultures is very important to me.

What triggered this was looking at Instagrams of young trans men who seem very successful, accomplished, full of potential for life, and happy. And in my current headspace, I wonder why I don’t have the desire to do a similar transition so that I would feel less undeserving of partners who are looking for stability and safety in this patriarchal society. I needed to reflect what I’ve considered as a source of my power as someone battling being of a minority ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. I think that’s enough to deal with in one lifetime!

I have had deep conversations with women who felt they were trans because they didn’t feel like they didn’t fit in the gender they are known as. These are beautiful women with ambition and desire for power. Unfortunately, they come from modest families and don’t have the connections to help get them started, so they have to hustle more. It’s energy-draining, and they work incredibly hard and sacrifice emotional and physical health to achieve their goals. Finding mentors would be easier as they wouldn’t be objectified by male bosses, people like Mike Pence.

Benched

Reading Skylar Lee’s suicide post, I can’t help but feel like it could have been me, or my FTX trans-identified cousin. Every single day, as masculine-of-center women of color,  we choose to be ourselves and legitimize our space by co-existing with a system that offers us the privilege to sit on the sidelines and watch as everyone else plays the game and wins or loses. For a long time, we watch. We have few chances to make the shot, but when we do, we give it our all. Sometimes we do well because we’ve run it again and again in our heads, and we know just how to handle it. Sometimes it feels like beginner’s luck. Other times, we miss because that’s just what happens when you don’t know how to deal with the situation.

I find myself running all over the court trying to find an opening so I can get the ball.

Lee was a leader in the fight against the mainstream, as well as the radical white, thought on gender and race , and I am beginning to consider whether such early encounters are helpful or harmful to queer youth of color.

This radical stuff wasn’t taught to me when I was in high school, and it helped me focus on what I wanted to do. Like the Japanese students I teach, I felt that college was going to get me to where I wanted my future to be, the video games industry. But being who I am, I had no role models or any mentor that I felt safe enough to approach. It didn’t matter so much to me at the time because I felt that it was just part of the learning process. I watched, learned, and created at my own pace, and I found my strengths to be listening and understanding the project and getting the team to function together. I didn’t have time to worry that my identity was holding me back or the privileges that came with it. I was open with what I liked and what I was studying, someone caught wind, and I was lucky to have been offered a chance to work at a video game company through a connection outside of school. I figured I didn’t need the professors at the school so much. I had experience and thought I  was set on my way.

Once I got comfortable, I had time to participate in identity politics and contribute as a supporter, an extra body for a protest, a march, a parade, a flashmob. I had more than an identity; I had a job and I was financially independent.

When my cousin came out as queer, and then later as trans, I was happy for them that they discovered what would make them a whole person. But I also told them that family may not always be there when you want them to be, nor can they provide you the support that you might need. Focus on school, be financially independent, and have a chosen family.  My cousin, though a small, even for an Asian-American, and not the typical white hyper-masculine transman, seems to be doing well these days as a nurse and living close to their family with their beautiful partner in hipster town Portland.

Just like any relationship, being co-dependent on a family is like holding them hostage against expectations that they may take a long time to, or may never meet at all. I think teenagers at Skylar’s age are still dependent on their families, even though they are living their own lives, and may be leaders in their communities. As leaders, one feels like their community expects more from them or wishes they could do more. But teenage leaders are just like any other teenager, just maturing too fast because their families aren’t ready or not sure how to support the cause they are fighting for. It’s a very lonesome experience to have to navigate the world with a radical mindset that’s so different from what you grew up with, and it takes time to endure and find the methods to cope and discover how every part of your identity intersects.

In the meantime, you have to worry about how to pay those bills, or how to take care of your parents when they can’t take care of themselves anymore.

Leaders need a break, and it’s difficult to find the right person to continue a legacy. I wish Skylar could have let go had a place they could have gone to for love and solace and rebuilding themselves.

Marriage

Congratulations to everyone who supported and advocated for same-sex marriage! This event certainly brings a sense of normalcy for many in the queer community, especially those who have found their partners, and those with dreams of finding theirs.

Not only does it provide legal protections (whether it’s 100% is questionable), but it also adds a level of legal commitment. Not many people think about this, and perhaps it comes from the vestiges of the time before all this was ever possible, that anyone looking to marry a same-sex partner had to be financially stable and intellectual enough to navigate the legal system to make legal protections work for them and their partner. This took a lot of work, effort, and money, and it became people’s whole lives. There were enough of these couples who made it their lives to get this movement going.

So when it comes to same-sex marriage, I’m happy for these people.

As for me, I have never been really into marriage, firstly because I was expected to marry a guy, but when I came out and started dating, I realized that I didn’t want to hold someone down. This feeling was especially strong when I dated people I highly respected. I didn’t know whether I could have a place in their lives in the long-term. I wasn’t sure if they’d stay interested. I didn’t know how we could make it work. I had my parents and sister to think about, and I had my own lofty dreams for a kid from a refugee immigrant family who gave up their middle class lives about to come crashing down by a new regime to start over in a foreign country.

They say that you should be with someone who can deal with you at your best and at your worst. The world is a moving so much these days that we don’t give each other a chance.

 

Beating around the bush, and hoping that the other person is beating the same one.

Japan has a thing for telepathy, emotional intelligence, what have you, and they call it reading the air, the 空気. I had two very blatant gaijin-esque experiences with it today that I hope to tone at some point while I’m here.

The first was with a student. I had seen her at the local summer firefly festival, but didn’t bother to greet her, as I’ve found that kids, especially the not-so-extroverted ones, tend to keep to themselves, or avoid attention, and they do this by looking away. I don’t want to inadvertently embarrass a kid in front of their friends, so I tend to just give them a hard look, as if I’m trying to recognize them, and when I catch their eye, respond accordingly to how they respond. An advice columnist on NYT calls this the “candy bar rule“: One person breaks the candy bar, and the other gets to choose. This (hopefully) guarantees fairness, although I usually choose the smaller piece because I only want a taste. Anyway, I’m sure she saw me at the festival, so in class today, I looked at her, smiled, made this knowing face, nodded, pointed somewhere random, just stupid body language that she responded positively to with a broad smile, a nod, a giggle. Her friend, in the meanwhile, is like, “huh?” and I complimented her on her braids.

The second time today was with the school nurse. A couple days ago, I’d brought up a picture of a poster that’s been put up next to the nurse’s office at some schools in Japan, and it explained how a person can like boys, girls, either, or no one at all, regardless of their gender. Basically, it made LGBs on par with heterosexuals. I told the nurse I thought this was really progressive of Japan, although it’s no surprise for me in America. I followed up with her again today during a free period, just had a conversation about a bunch of things before talking about the poster again, about some students going through some gender stuff, some hiding it moreso than others, and then finally about me because she asked if I was bothered by anything. I told her I don’t have any hang ups and life is pretty normal. I didn’t directly come out, but I did say, “you probably know that I am,” and that “I hid it from my parents for a long time.” The school nurse was great, and said that these things have  recently been talked about, so people definitely know about it. I’m glad she didn’t say something like, “Well, please don’t talk about this with anyone else,” or “This is something you shouldn’t tell anyone.”

I feel like the telenovella man in the bee suit in The Simpsons.

Cowboys

I went to pick up an áo dài from the owner of the Vietnamese restaurant in town to show some kids at an International Association event tomorrow. She noticed and remarked that my hair was getting longer/higher, and that I should trim it before I’m “cowboy”. I laughed and said, “My parents call me that, too! They even call me ngầu!” She said “Ngầu is like cao bòi, but they’re meaner!” I asked, “Am I mean?” She said, “You’re pretty nice”.

Cat ghé nhà hàng Vietnam để mượn áo dài của bà chủ để khoe cho mấy đứa nhỏ trong buổi họp của hiệp họi quốc tế ngày mai. Bà chủ để ý tóc ra giài ra cao, nói nên cắt chứ không nhìn thấy cao bòi. Cat nói “Ô! Bố mẹ em cũng gọi em là cao bòi, còn gọi em là ngầu đó cô!” Bà chủ nói, “À, ngầu cũng gióng như cao bòi, nhưng dữ hơn!” Cat nói, “Em có dữ không cô?” Bà chủ trã lời, “À, em hiền.”

Thoughts on Blue is the Warmest Color

I thought this was a boring movie. There are better coming-of-age foreign movies that have been made in the last 20 years. Oh my god, did I just say that? I suppose lesbian coming-of-age movies are in need of an update.

Full disclaimer, I read the graphic novel before watching the movie. So I’m already biased. I also read the reviews and lesbian reaction videos on Youtube. Still, I usually still watch the movie with an open mind, not really knowing what to expect.

So after watching the movie, I decided that the graphic novel was trying to tell a story of love between two people that was so overwhelming, *spoiler alert* one could die over it. Whereas with the movie, I felt that Adele had found her sexual soulmate who could fulfill her sexual desire and lust. The scene where she meets Emma again after she’s moved on, while it’s clear that Adele hasn’t, seemed desperate and very… helpless. However, in the book, Adele is also very desperate and helpless, but in a recluse drug abusing sort of way. But Emma comes out for her in the end, even though it’s too late. Also, 11 minutes of sex pretty much makes it hard to concentrate on anything else, so a romantic story of lesbians falling in love kind of goes out the window. It is the fantasy lesbian movie for gazers (I was going to put “male gaze”, but realized that even women can be creepy and gaze as well).

I think in both versions, Adele is a character that I hope never to be, naive and co-dependent, someone without a life of my own, someone who can’t grow within herself in a relationship. When you have a passionate and fiery relationship, you mostly think about never wanting to lose that person rather than how you can be a better person with them. If I ever do get with anyone again, that’ll be my priority.

Biphobia

I’m going to admit it, I have a bit of biphobia. Which is not entirely true because I’m not particularly scared of them, but I do get irritated by them. I never felt this strongly about it in America, but here in a small city in Japan, it’s as if I’d taken a vow of celibacy. This is not a bad thing, although I do get my moments of frustration. I am pretty sure the straight guys who have a thing for lesbians are waiting for me to crack and fuck them out of carnal frustration.

Sometimes I like to exaggerate.

So far, my hunt for queer women with chemistry has been fruitless. Don’t get me wrong, I have found queer women. Enthusiastic queer women! It’s just that the moment when I find that they are in a committed relationship, usually with a guy, I get so irritated and think to myself, “Why the fuck are you even flirting with me?”

Actually, I don’t think I have biphobia. I’m just astounded that these people have the nerve to flirt when their significant other is right there. It angers me even more because they are having fun getting a rise, knowing that they’ll have someone to go home to, whereas I’m stuck in this limbo where I feel flattered by the attention, then angered by the fact that they live the privileged heteronormative life, and now, with more and more acceptance of queer affection, they can have fun in both worlds with no repurcussions. And then I feel sorry for the partner who puts up with this. This feels unfair to me. I guess what I’m more pissed about is that this polyamorous nature goes against my personal ethic.

We have nothing in common. I don’t want to be your friend. You are not being a friend by flirting with me. Stop playing around with people’s feelings. I know you want this jelly. Go fuck yourself.

Man, I need to make some single friends my age…

Cold cold heart

I’ve turned on my automatic hot bath. I plan to soak in it for 15 minutes and process through my issues and determine how to resolve them. In the meantime, some quick notes.

I was in Fukushima city the last two days for the mid-year conference (研修) given to all JETs in Fukushima Prefecture. It gives us a chance to meet with one another, see what activities JETs from all over the prefecture have been utilizing, and listen to lecturers from nearby universities on their research on what  might be useful to English instructors. We had 3 lectures: the first on cross-culturalism, the second on the roles and duties of ALTs, and the third on The Collaborative Classroom.

The lecture on cross-culturalism was accessible in terms of understanding. The most frustrating thing about it was when the lecturer showed research on gendered speech that displayed a scale with masculine and feminine extremes labeled “You da man!” and “You’re a lady”. Okay, yes, there are people that may speak at both extremes. The sample size of the research showed a significant gender difference between Western women and men, whereas there was little difference between Japanese women and men. Okay, I understand the generalization. But then the lecturer continues to summarize, or rhetorically questions, the results saying that “Japanese men speak more feminine…? and Japanese women speak more masculine…?” Stop right there. Consider this: An English-speaking white man who is married to a Japanese woman is engendering speech patterns of the men and women of his spouse’s ethnicity. Did he just emasculate Japanese men, and make Japanese women into dragon ladies?? It sounds pretty imperialistic. I would love to know how he describes his own speech patterns.

If making himself feel like a white savior was not the intention in his subconscious thought, may I suggest a better way at phrasing the conclusion of these results?

Why not just say that Japan has more gender-neutral speech patterns between men and women? This satisfies my frustration with cultural and gender appropriation. I don’t like it when people see Asians as a passive, effeminate race, and I don’t like it that masculinity and femininity are on two extremes that can only exist interdependently.

This is not the lecturer’s research, btw. When asked where he got his results, he cited a Japanese researcher’s name.

The second lecture touched on second language acquisition, and I was very happy to hear the Japanese lecturer drop names such as Krashen and Larsen-Freeman.

The third lecture was 90 minutes of encouraging teachers to build a rapport with students, and introduced ways to let the students be comfortable with you as a teacher, such as activities that lets them be their own rivals, rather than comparing them against their peers. Good content…  very boring presentation.

Overall, an okay conference. The best part was venturing out in the after hours and finding a gay bar. I found one on a gay site (because lesbian sites are nonexistent), and figured I would visit it and try to get some info out of the bartender. Our meeting was very funny. I walked into a slightly dim, green-lit bar that could probably seat 10 people, decorated with kitschy props. Very camp. No one was there, not even a bartender. Eventually, someone came through a door. He froze when he saw me.

“Good evening. Is this a gay bar?”

“Hai”

“Is it all right for girls to be here?”

“Hai” (still frozen)

“I’m from America and I wanted I come to a gay bar.”

“Ah, hai, have a seat. I’ll be right back.”

I picked a seat at the bar, and waited, and he came back with some senbei mixed with peanuts. I ordered a screwdriver, and he gave me Orangina mixed with Vodka. We proceeded to have a conversation about his coming out, his partner, their separate living situation, and his bar patrons. We talked about lesbians, FTMs, my sex habits, how my name means ネコ (cat, or bottom), but that I’m actually a タチ(top)、no, リバ (reverse, or either), and how sorry he felt for me in Aizu Wakamatsu, even as he kept encouraging me that gays are there, and lesbians are just closeted. He did mention that Aizu women are cold, but very warm-hearted. My type, perhaps! He tried calling a friend to come by the bar, but the friend wasn’t picking up. My tall, white, professor-and/or-chub-chaser friend stopped by later, and I helped translate a super gay conversation between the both of them. My interpreting went so well that they almost took off their pants to compare dicks. Almost.

Anyway, he gave us a tip on a local cafe owned by a gay couple that’s popular with women because the owner has a “pretty face”. Not sure if it’s still around since the last time he’s seen them was 3 years ago!

So much for quick notes.