Androgynous Asian-American

I started cutting my hair short when I started college. It began as a short bob at first. I had really long hair, and when I chopped it all off, everyone thought the new look was cute and refreshing. I went on a trip to Vancouver that summer, and decided to get myself an even shorter haircut at an HK hair salon because I had found and watched a VCD of the Hong Kong film “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man”.

Leslie Cheung Kwok Wing , Anita Yuen Wing Yee in He’s A Woman, She’s A Man (1994)

Except for a Chinese-American with a really short buzzcut I met on PlanetOut profiles, I had no one else to model after. I just felt so much lighter, but there was anxiety every time I had to go out to get a cut. Going to a Vietnamese or Chinese hair salon was cheap, but eventually I wanted something more than just a boy’s cut.

During my sophomore year, I posted a picture of myself with a short-cropped boyish cut on a lesbian forum after being active for some time. I got so much hate for it, I never went back. I was the only Asian face on the thread. Luckily, a friend was able to console my hurt ego and reminded me that the standards don’t apply to us, and that she thought I was cute and adorable in the picture.

Later, I discovered drag kings through the Disposable Boy Toys. Among them, a Filipino-American drag king. They were entertaining, attractive and plain fun to watch.

UC Barbara’s Disposable Boy Toys

After graduating university, I moved to the East Bay. I didn’t know anyone, as some of my friends stayed in Sacramento, or were still working on graduating, so I was scouring through Craigslist for dates and activities. I found an ad for auditions with the Transformers, and recalled seeing them perform during Pride using an N’Sync song and a number that protested the war that Bush Jr. was advancing. Seeing the performance in this environment, drag kings was more than just looking good, it was pop, and it was political.

Transformers: Boy Bands Against the War

This time, there were two Asian faces. Part of me wanted to join the group just to meet these people, and I was excited to audition and somehow managed to pass the choreography.

Finally with androgynous Asian-American peers, I didn’t feel alone, and drag helped me explore gender in a playful way, but it was also impactful to be seen and for others to see this art exist. The message the group sent wasn’t toxic masculinity, but how it could be used to band people together for a cause. Instead of crooning or lamenting to a love interest, the drag boy band could get people thinking. We did numbers on sex education, the conflicted feelings of worshipping a pop idol, the media, etc.

Transformers: Newsies

I moved on after a year or so, but I was caught by the performance bug and was encouraged to start up a new boy band that I was imagining as only Asian-American. I wanted more Asian visibility, and more representation in the queer arts space of San Francisco.

(I really just wanted to recreate Hirai Ken’s “Pop Star”)

With some help, I found willing and able participants. We became the Rice Kings. We were adorkable.

Tito Pansitonmyface, Dang Kinki, and Big Daddy









The group stayed alive until all three of us had a chance to design and choreograph numbers about topics that were closest to us. Tito loved food, Dang loved Pop Star, and Big Daddy loved the country.

Drag kinging has a different meaning for everyone. On a personal level, I wanted to prove to my mother, who always wanted me to perform for others, that it was ok to entertain even as a masculine-appearing female. What I find to be entertaining is taking the seriousness away from what is seen as masculine and makes it sexy and playful. What I wanted to project into Dang Kinki was the melancholy of Tony Leung with the dorkiness of “Pop Star”. Masculinity doesn’t have to be dominating. It can be caring, friendly, and funny.

Some people might be suspicious of that.

Once, while in costume waiting to perform, a woman asked me if I had a Napolean complex. I’m still not sure if it was asked in jest, but her tone was not friendly, and I didn’t even engage her. That was when I realized that the world isn’t fair to men or women, and a bit more unfair to Asians.

And maybe that’s why I identify as androgynous, so I don’t lose perspective when people tell me their stories, and so I can be in people’s faces and silently declare with a smile, “Love me, or leave me alone”.

Amber mentions wanting to represent “her community” in the video after sharing how she’s being passed over in America. When I first saw f(x) with Amber, I could tell she was one of us. A little envy, maybe, that she was the outlier with the talent and circumstances that worked out, but it must be tough without peers around you, and I am proud she’s made it so far.

No pressure, Amber, but keep doing what you love, and bring joy!

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.

Chasing dreams

My dad tells me to always have a dream. I think what he’s trying to say is to always find a way to stay alive. For a guy who escaped death, and probably living with survivor’s guilt, I trust this advice.

I’m living a dream. Maybe not THE dream, but definitely one of my dreams. It’s taken me half my life to achieve, some pretty lucky opportunities, and lots of lowered expectations.

The thing is I have too many dreams, so I end up having issues with FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, or a sort of grass-is-greener syndrome.

In the game industry, what I appreciate the most is working with the team. But the audience that we are creating products for could learn a thing or two about how to treat women as equals. Coming to Japan, and hanging out at BitSummit for the first time this weekend, it’s great to see girls attending and enjoying the games for themselves. But then I heard a guy having a one-sided discussion with a girl who only giggled, and I mentally rolled my eyes.

I am finding that my passion in making games has changed to provide an alternative way for people to learn. It’s a medium that I enjoy learning how to figure out things, and I want to share that.

But I gotta work on communication first.


I just watched ビリギャル, a movie set in Nagoya about an introverted girl who had trouble making friends, fell into the wrong crowd, and during her senior year, changed from having no chance of entering college to getting into Keio University’s schools. It’s a feel-good movie, very down-to-earth, and with a touch of realism, such that the girl fails getting into the main school, but still gets into the comprehensive school.

She attends a cram school run by an instructor who treats every student as individuals by using incentives that work for them. The instructor is passionate and gets along well with the kids and speak their language. At the end, he’s jumping and waving to his favorite student from afar as she rides the bullet train to Tokyo.

Before coming to Japan, I would think the timing of the scene was movie magic. But after arriving, I met a part-time social studies teacher, who was also the girl’s softball club advisor. He had learned the flight patterns of airplanes that passed over Aizu-Wakamatsu, and at times when an airplane would fly overhead, he would tell me where it was headed.

People really keep time here.


Refugees have been in the news a lot lately. Many of the stories I read about sound similar to what I grew up overhearing the adults tell when their friends came to visit, or when we visited. Lives lost on the seas on puttering fishing boats, pirates stealing, killing, taking girls for sexual slavery, bullets being shot at you as you’re running away from being captured by new regime officials. People whose lives were promising and optimistic suddenly interrupted in order to escape the political unrest that induced a stifling atmosphere that rewarded neighbors to gestapo on each other, knowing well that doing so would send their neighbor to be brainwashed in re-education camps.

It’s been more than 40 years since the Vietnam War, the last time the world saw a big surge of refugees, and thanks to the Internet, people are more informed of the cruelty that takes place and more connected to help in today’s Syrian refugee crisis.

The fact that many Vietnamese-Americans have been successful and have contributed to the success of America should be a testament to the rest of the world that wants to emulate it, but potential host countries seem too afraid of the small percentage of the bad that comes with the good.

And self-proclaimed homogenous countries give the excuse that they have to take care of themselves first before they can help others. In some ways, I agree with this, but corruption is rampant in places where there are no outsiders to blow the whistle. The worst crimes, the deepest pain, are committed by your own.

Being around people different from myself has allowed me to be more compassionate with myself and the people I hold close to me. I found myself being very tough on people whom I expect to understand me, to have gone through what I went through. This probably says more about how I treat myself,  while being very congenial and trying to impress those outside my closest circles. By leaving my comfort zone, I learn to judge less and let things be because I know how it feels to be judged and have expectations be put upon me.


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.

Aizu-Wakamatsu Hipsters

9NINE and Straight Arrow Motors are owned by a couple of middle-aged businessmen, who used to run men’s fashion shops together in Tokyo, selling clothes that they bought on their trips from Southern California. When the Japanese economy was booming, they could sell pieces for quite a profit margin. I’m pretty sure they had a great time, as they are incredibly into American culture. One tells me he loves Coronado, and the Spanish ladies, and I wanted to tell him, they’ll eat you alive!

What I like about hanging out with these guys is their authenticity. They’ve embraced this do-whatever-it-takes culture, which makes them street-smart and people-smart, but they also have personal pride that allows them to have long-term relationships with their customers. Their customers are a community of rag-tag townies who enjoy their fixie bikes and imported cars. Most of them are also middle-aged guys, some with families, and some who’ve been through divorces and separation from their kids, so sometimes it’s like a group of Lost Boys, who share an interest in their bikes and cars. Several of them also enjoy indoor/outdoor bouldering as well, and a few of them actually opened a bouldering cafe to introduce beginners.

Every year, they throw BBQs, drinking parties, and rides around the lake, and they invite anyone and everyone. It’s probably good business sense to have a large network, but it’s their personal policy that they stick by the products they sell you and keep their relationship with you for as long as you’re around. Many people living here in Aizu-Wakamatsu had probably come from a small town or village in the depths of the mountains. Their hometowns are pretty spread out, so it’s definitely a family affair.

As for their shop names, 9NINE, which sells stylized track bikes, comes from the number of cyclists on a track in the sport of keirin, or track bike racing.

Straight Arrow, which sells imported cars… comes from doing things in a stupid way, like how idiots go about living their lives. So it was explained to me. I have a feeling it was lost in a translation because these guys don’t seem like straight arrows to me!

Hagi: Revolution

For the Ocean Day 3-day holiday, I traveled to Hagi with another ALT from Aizu-Wakamatsu who casually enjoys history, much like I do. Being from such a historic place, we wanted to see the other side of the civil war.

I admit that I  felt a bit like a traitor going to Hagi, but what good is it being one-sided?

At first glance, Hagi is just another castle town, very much like Aizu-Wakamatsu. The tourist attractions featured a castle town, a museum, and a shrine property that housed a small school that educated the revolutionaries of Japan. Their teacher was Yoshida Shouin from the samurai class who wanted to go abroad on the American black ships and learn about the west because he was so impressed by the ship technology. Unfortunately, he was denied passage, was captured upon his return, placed under house arrest.

While under house arrest and imprisonment, Shouin taught the local inmates and samurai, and inspired them to look abroad in order to catch up with the rest of the world, for the sake of the country. He saw the need to teach any willing people, regardless of their social standing or income, as long as they were determined to use their education for change.

I think that was the biggest impact I got out of Hagi. An entire shogunate government was overthrown by an educated and determined group (and using the name of the Emperor) who started a revolution, marking the end of feudalism. But it started a war, and it hurt a lot of people. They probably were considered terrorists by the previous government, but since they won, they got to write history, so they are heroes and revolutionaries.

It really makes me think about the Vietnam War. In a sense, Aizu is a much more fitting place for me to be than Hagi, as all those who left Vietnam didn’t believe the country should be governed by Communism, which was led by China and Russia at the time. But even Communism was a revolution that wanted to educate everyone, regardless of class or income.

And then it made me think how the world seems like it’s about to have a revolution. Or maybe we’re in the middle of one now. With the Internet, everyone seems to be making their own revolutions.

Probably best that I should just focus on mine!

My dad was pretty political prior to coming to America. After he was forced to escape to save his own life, the immigrant experience humbled him and frustrated him. Once he got to a place where he felt stable, he wanted to keep it that way. So when I got involved with queer issues, I’m sure that not only did it go against his beliefs, he was also afraid I was being used by those who wanted political gain. He didn’t want me being played a fool for someone else’s agenda because even though they may win, there will always be changes in power.

Makes you want to be a recluse, doesn’t it!


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.



So as most people know, living in a new place, much less a country, is not all roses. I remember when I first moved to Oakland after 3 months of living at home with my parents in Arizona post-graduating and job searching, desperate to get myself back to the Bay Area and get my career started. I finally found myself a job as a junior programmer at a start-up company, which survived the first dot-com bust, that developed Lawport, knowledge management software  for law firms by wooing them with my name in the credits of a Game Boy Advanced game from my summer internships in Seattle, even though all I did was get Japanese font to appear on the screen.

My coworkers were in their early 30s, and the other junior programmer was an East Coaster. The only Asian people were San Francisco natives and they worked in the office in reception and HR. I got along with the sassy short blond girl who gave presentations to law firms, the big dyke with curly shoulder-length hair who did client support and trouble-shooting (who I always think of whenever I see Boo from OITNB), the gay Latino programmer who made most of the Javascript apps, the Jersey Boy Colombian programmer from Princeton who acted on the side, the quiet giant Irish guy with awesome mutton chops who rode his bike to work from Alameda by ferry, and the lanky bearded and long-haired hippy, who looked the most like one of those self-taught programmers who are shy geniuses. They were a really nice group of people, often dirty-mouthed, and patient with the newcomers. I especially remember the lesbian making comments about my shoes, which was my first critique in fashion and I was so proud of myself when she approved a pair of Maddens that I bought at Bay Street Emeryville. I could finally say I worked in the city, but I never really cared to live there because I didn’t want housemates and couldn’t afford the rent on my own, nor did I want to give up my car.

With the salary they offered me, I found myself an affordable apartment with parking in Oakland in between two BART stops on different lines, so that I could always get home on the next train from the city. I didn’t know anyone, so I found myself scouring Craigslist in the W/W section and PlanetOut’s profiles, trying to find a companion. I spent a lot of weekends visiting my relatives in the south bay, none of whom were my age, and I wasn’t interested in the heteronormative world of my high school friends.  Facebook was still working out its kinks, and MySpace was boring. My only regular friend was a gay college buddy, and we would go out for drinks every now and then. Sometimes I would hang out with my coworkers after work. But I found the people around me were so different that it was hard to connect. All that changed when I found a Craigslist ad that really spoke to me, a woman who just wanted to find friends in the area as well, but also politically conscious and wanted to find her people of color community. I sort of knew where they were, but my friends were still in college, so I had no one to go with, and this person seemed like the best there was in a while. When we met, she was smart, pretty, and fun to be around. I was a nerd still hiding behind outerwear sized too big for me and money-pinching. From then on, I grew and developed my identity as an Asian-American soft butch who worked in tech, found hair stylists that did my hair in ways I didn’t know I would look good in, paid attention to the shoes I wore, and went out to the bars and clubs in the City. I also found a dragonboat team to train with, where I met more lesbians, though older, and as I gained more confidence and went out more, I eventually found a community and partners where I could be myself, and at times, discover more of myself. But I still felt I was searching for something.

I always found myself really excited to be doing something related to Japan, from the Japanese to English localization project I did with Ubisoft on their Dogz product from their flagship Petz line, to translating bug reports from the testers in Japan that Hudson had hired to QA Diner Dash for XBLA. When I worked on Marvel vs. Capcom HD, I was hoping for a lot more correspondence with Capcom Japan, but was disappointed to hear how this was a Capcom America project that HQ didn’t really give a shit about. Nevertheless, we did the best we could, even with a misanthropic programmer whose genius was insurmountable, but whose attendance was unpredictable. With the most unintrusive attitude I could muster to keep him on task and track his updates on days when he was present, I was able to get him to finish the upres algorithms before he completely went AWOL. The rest of the team worked really well together, and I have fond memories of their personalities and quirks (as well discovering my aversion to some of those quirks…)

These anecdotes aren’t so comparable to many others, but they are mine. In this new chapter in Japan, I’m bringing a lot of the confidence gained from these small accomplishments, which certainly help in times when I don’t feel so useful at the school because

1) the students’ level of English are said to be not ready for ALT classes
2) the students are busy studying for tests
3) classes are cut because of sports events
4) teachers are so busy they forget to include the ALT in team-teaching

It’s been a little rough recently, as I’ve been pretty vocal about how available I am since the beginning. Sometimes I wonder if my approach is too aggressive or forceful, or if my approach is so improvised that my teaching style becomes unpredictable and can’t be taken seriously, so I’ve taken a step back for the teachers to decide.  With all this idle time, it’s easy to shift from thinking, “I don’t have time for this, it’s not my fault,” to “What if it’s my fault?”

At least I’m not being used as tape recorder.

These are the same questions I ask myself when I’m not participating with the groups that I’ve put myself in: kyudo, fixie bikes, adult English conversation, the International Association, the lesbians in Sendai and Fukushima, except the question that I’m asking myself these days is, “Do they understand what I’m saying? Did I just ask something offensively?”

How do I stop feeling like I’m losing a little bit of confidence every day?!