Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Gender Issues

Insidious gender norms

Gender is a hot topic right now and it’s something that I’ve reached an uneasy alliance on. I’ve settled on genderqueer, which, while it’s not exactly what I want, is the closest. That’s my M.O. for many issues, by the way. Close enough for government work.

But, there is much food for thought in the subject, obviously, and it’s having a moment right now. Especially with all the terrifying legislation being crafted such as the Don’t Say Gay bill in Florida. Which, is totally not about being queer, claims the Republicans, which is obvious bullshit.

The thing, though, is that as frustrating and infuriating as those bills are, there is another level of gender bullshit that is more insidious–gender norms on the level of ‘women must wear makeup’. Ask A Manager’s readership is overwhelmingly female. Something like 70-80%. They are also progressive, white, high-paying, and white collar. They are very much feminists, but for whatever reason, there are a few pockets of ignorance or refusing-to-see that just annoy the fuck out of me.

The number one is that anytime a woman or female-presenting person writes about not wanting to wear makeup at work, but worrying that they may be penalized for it, without fail, commenters offer ways to wear a little bit of makeup, but, honestly, it’s not really wearing makeup. Like only foundation. Or only mascara. Which, it’s still fucking makeup! I don’t understand how ‘I don’t want to wear any makeup’ keeps getting read as ‘Maybe you could wear a little makeup?’. I say that, but it’s rhetorical. I know why it’s happening. Patriarchy. The idea that it’s not possible for a woman to have her face be all naked and shit! Horror!

In this case, it was a letter by someone who identified their pronouns as they/them. They work in the luxury beauty industry, mid-level, and have gotten comments about their skin that they find intrusive (including suggestions for hiding bags under the eyes and acne) whenever they go into the office. They are female-presenting and uncomfortable with the idea that they may need to conform to gender beauty norms and asked if not wearing concealer may harm their opportunities at their workplace. They also noted that they don’t like wearing makeup now for many reasons. They just wanted to know if they had to wear concealer when they went into the office.

The very first comment asks why they took that job in the first place whereas the second one uses the wrong pronoun for them. Then there are several comments suggesting tinted moisturizer (!), sunscreen (!!), and other makeup-adjacent solutions. Which…I mean…just, no. They clearly state that they don’t want to wear makeup and just wants to know if it’ll negatively impact their career.

There were a few people pointing out that this was sexist in that men would not be asked any of these questions, even in a luxe beauty industry. Also, that that doesn’t mean makeup and that the OP might not have a client-facing role. Some commenters also pointed out that you can work in an industry without personally using the products.

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The refinement of me by the decade

I’ve had many big realizations throughout my life. They started when I was in my twenties and have continued throughout my fifties. Actually, they started when I was a kid, but they were more incoherent back then. And more in the vein of realizing what I didn’t want rather than what I did want–which is very much my M.O. Such as not liking dolls. I rarely played with them and I especially did not like the realistic crying, pooping, eating ones. I had a few Barbies (plus a Dorothy Hamill doll and a Oscar Goldman from The Six Million Dollar Man/The Bionic Woman). I hacked the hair of my Barbies and used black shoe polish to make their hair darker. I had them have sex with each other, which was  my extent of playing with dolls. I much preferred plushies which I could squoosh and cuddle.

I was taught many sexist beliefs by my parents throughout my childhood. One, that my main purpose was to marry and have children. Yes, I had to go to college and have a career, but that was a distant second to the whole breeding bit.

Side Note: My niece decided to not go straight to college after graduating high school. My mom wanted me to talk to her and convince her to go because we’re close. First of all, that’s my mother who saw her maybe once a year and had no day-to-day interaction with her. Second, I really resented being made to feel like I had to go to college right after high school, so, no, I wasn’t going to do that.

This was several years ago. This year, my nephew, her brother, is a senior in high school. He does not want to go to college because he thinks he’s too smart for it. Which is funny, but beside the point. My mom told me she emailed him with all the reasons why he should go to college, but he didn’t answer. Which, of course he wouldn’t. He has even less a connection with her than my niece does and what a boundary break that email is. And it shows her narcissism that she thought this was a reasonable thing to do.

Anyway, I realized when I was in my early twenties that I was Asian and that racism existed. That was followed quickly by the discovery that sexism was a thing. Then, that I did not want to have kids. Which is still the best decision of my life. Then, I realized I was bi, but put that on the shelf because, frankly, I could not deal with biphobia as well as sexism and racism.

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What is normal?

I’m weird. I have always been weird, and I most likely will always be weird. I’m an arty type ho is considered a freak by the normies. However, I am not weird enough to be accepted by the arty types. Or rather, I’m too straight-edged for them. I don’t drink or do drugs, and I prefer being around people who don’t do either as well. That cuts out vast swathes of artists, which is understandable. Here’s the thing, though. Most people are not fun to be around when they’re smashed out of their faces if you’re not also  smashed out of your face. The long rambling incoherent messages. The declarations of love. The breaks from reality. None of it is fun or interesting if you’re not right there. And everyone I’ve dated has had an issue with alcohol–whether it was liking it a bit too much or being an alcoholic. I grew up with a father who acted like a dry drunk in many ways and it was not something I wanted to do on the regular. At some point, I realized that I did not want to date someone who drank or did drugs. At all. Which is difficult because I DO want to date someone who is an artist type.

I adore creative people. We are the freaks and the geeks, on the fringe of normal society. I am more comfortable in the dark of the night with the weirdos than I am in broad daylight with the normies.

But, this post isn’t about alcohol or freaks, well, not exactly. I was reading my stories and re-read a Dear Prudence about a woman whose husband was dragging his feet on having children. And it reminded me once again why I don’t like this Prudie at all. Her viewpoint is so….myopic and more traditional than I am comfortable with. She did a follow-up with the Uncensored (in which she asked a guest to help her out), and I was even more uncomfortable with her answer. I admit that some of my unease comes from being someone who does not want children at all, but the fact that she doesn’t try to look deeper on the regular bothers me. For example, there was one question from a woman who didn’t want ta wear heavy makeup in a specific TikTok pattern  as a bridesmaid. Prudie essentially told her to suck it up and that when she agreed to be a bridesmaid, she basically had to let the bride have her way unless it was a matter of life or death (the friend hadn’t known about the makeup before agreeing).

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Maybe no baby yes?

The pandemic has been hell for many reasons. One of them is because parents have had such a hard time juggling work and caring for their children, especially when schools and daycare centers were shut down as well. Some companies have responded by giving more flexibility to parents, which is a good thing. But, some of that flexibility comes from demanding more of people without children. Which, in case you can’t guess, is bad. There was a letter at Ask A Manager related to this and one of the letter writer’s points was her frustration that people judged her negatively for her lack-of-child state. That elicited commiseration from several commenters, including me.

And it made me sad because I had recently read that there is still pressure on women and female-presenting people to have children. Most of the commenters commenting on the post (if not all) were younger than I am, which means this attitude hasn’t changed much or at all from my heyday. That’s depressing. I would have hoped that 30 years after my birthing years, we would have progressed beyond pressuring women to have children.

It’s so difficult to talk about this without seeming like an asshole, so I’m just going to embrace it. I don’t like kids. I don’t dislike them, mind, but I have never gotten the whole ‘kids are the light of the world’ thing that many women proclaim they feel.

I never got gushy and squealy over kids. Actually, I’ve never gotten that way over anything. I honestly thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t have that proverbial ticking biological clock. It wasn’t that I had one and was stifling it or burying it in the back of my closet. I never had one and I still don’t.

When I talk to children, I don’t use a different tone of voice or dumb down what I’m saying. i mean, I’m not going to talk about quantum physics to them (not that I do to adults, either, come to think of it), but I refuse to say shit like, “Who’s a widdle-bitty baby? You are!” It’s just not me and would sound disingenuous coming from my mouth. I kept the discussions age-appropriate, of course, but otherwise, I didn’t change anything else.

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Why I would have been a terrible parent

When I was in my twenties, I realized I didn’t want to have children. More to the point, I realized I didn’t have to have them–if I was willing to push back  on the societal message that a woman is nothing if she doesn’t breed. I got a lot of shit for it, only from women, I’d like to point out*. Men were harmful to me in other gendered ways, but the expectation to uphold gender stereotypes was mostly foisted on me by women. I should squish down my boobs because they were too big. I should wear makeup because–well, just because. Heels, skirts, and acting more ‘feminine’ was explicitly voiced by women. We like to talk about solidarity, but the underbelly is that women can be just as zealous about upholding the patriarchy as men–if not more so.

I have been frank about my decision not to have children (I started typing ‘make babies’, which, accurate). I never brought it up unbidden, but I made it clear that I did not want them. I did not say that it was bad to want children or that no one should have them. I only said in answer to being asked that I, myself, did not want them. That’s it. I was so naïve in thinking that this was a decision that only mattered to me. That I could tell other  women and they would be like, “Oh, that’s nice. How about sharing some nachos?”

Nope! The more benign responses consisted of them just questioning why I didn’t want them or laughingly assuming I’d change my mind. Even if I did change my mind at some point, why not just accept that was my decision at the time? I know why. Patriarchy. It was unthinkable that a woman-shaped person in her early-to-mid twenties could possibly not want children. The worse responses were the women who got angry at me. I really did not anticipate this. They weren’t just angry at my decision not to have kids; they thought it  carried some referendum on them. They actually said to me that if I didn’t want kids, what must I think of them for having them/wanting to have them?

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Living the cultural divide

I’m Taiwanese American, but way more American than Taiwanese. I was born and raised in Minnesota, which is about as middle America as you can get. I grew up in an extremely white suburb at a time when the motto for immigrants was the dreaded melting pot–as in, you damn well better melt into the bigger culture if you know what’s good for you. It wasn’t about mutual melting or blending or anything as warm-hearted as that. No, it was about not sticking out or seeming weird.

I didn’t love it when it moved from a melting pot to a tossed salad, though the latter was better than the former. At least the immigrants were allowed to bring something about themselves and their heritage into the equation. Still, with the tossed salad metaphor, there was the feeling that the immigrant was still the other and didn’t fit into society.

Honestly, I don’t think there’s a nice metaphor to explain the immigrant experience or to explain how they should exist in American society. I’m against labels in general, and not in a ‘no labels’ way (because that’s just pretentious twaddle), but in a ‘life is too complicated for pithy sayings’ way. Still.

Being a second-generation Taiwanese American (my parents immigrated over fifty years ago) is an interesting experience. For the most part, I don’t think about it. It’s just a part of me, but it’s not at the surface. I am much more American than Taiwanese. I value the individual more than the family (but that’s because of my very dysfunctional family. I’ll get to that in a minute); I reject that boys are more important than girls.

My whole life I was treated like I was lesser than my brother simply because of my outward gender. Several months ago, my brother said that our parents treated us differently based on our gender, and it was oddly gratifying to me. My parents would deny it until they were blue in the face in part because they both stridently uphold the patriarchy, so hearing my brother say it bluntly nearly made me cry.

My brother asked me a month ago or so if our family was dysfunctional or just Taiwanese. I told him that we were definitely Taiwanese, but also dysfunctional. The two were not mutually-exclusive, just like someone could be a minority AND an asshole.

I talk about my recent medical trauma often and I’ll mention it once again. People are amazed that I didn’t have to do rehab. I was exhausted once I left the hospital, yes, but I didn’t have much physical damage at all. The worst part of my medical trauma? Being smacked in the face with the family dysfunction. My parents moved back to Taiwan decades ago. We had an uneasy alliance in which we talked once a month or so for half an hour (my mom and I. My father and I talked for five minutes, maybe). We emailed sometimes if my mother needed something or wanted to share out-of-focus pictures.

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Dating and sex in my fifties

I’ve been writing about dating a lot lately because it’s on my mind. Before the pandemic hit (two years ago!), I had decided that I wanted to start dating again. Or at least tapping that ass on the regular. What can I say? I have terrible timing. When the pandemic hit, I obviously set aside thoughts of dating. The idea of mashing bits with someone I didn’t know was unthinkable.

Fast-forward a year-and-a-half. Vaxes were a thing, and I got both of my jabs as soon as I could. The first one was on my birthday, which made me inordinately happy. Once I got my second jab, I was jubilant that there was a ray of sunshine in a previously grim outlook. I started to cautiously open my world, just the slightest bit, when disaster hit. I had my medical crisis and ended up unconscious in the hospital.

Once I got out, I wasn’t thinking about dating, understandably. I was just grateful to be alive. I concentrated on getting my strength back so I could resume my life. Now, nearly seven months later, I’m there. I have a few lingering issues from my medical trauma–slight problems with my short-term memory, for example. In general, however, I’m back to where I was, if not better.

What has changed is my outlook on many things. I have had body issues my entire life–ever since my mom put me on a diet when I was seven. She said I would be so pretty if I lost weight, and that started a decades-long antipathy towards my body. The summer before I went to college, I decided to lose weight because I had come to believe that I was just too disgusting for words. I exercised seven hours a day and restricted my eating severely. I lost forty pounds in two months and developed anorexia at the same time. Because I couldn’t keep up my exercise schedule in college, I added bulimia to the mix.

My mom was no help. When my junior counselors notified her about my eating disorders, she did not handle it well at all. She clearly didn’t see it as a problem and privately, she only expressed jealousy that my waist was smaller than hers.  (I’m taller than she is by 4 inches.) What I’m trying to say is that she has her own body issues.

I gained a bunch of weight after that. I swung the other way and started overeating. You can bet my mother had something to say about THAT. It got so bad, I had to tell her that any mention of my weight was verboten. She tried to say that she was only worried about my health, which was bullshit. As I said,  the only comment she had when I was suffering from anorexia/bulimia was that my waist was smaller than hers in a very unhappy tone.

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I am a woman. Or am I? I’m not a man. That’s for sure. Am I nonbinary? Maybe, but that doesn’t really feel like me, either. As always, I just want to sigh and walk away when I think of gender. Introspection is great, but there is a limit to it. Or at least there is when you do it all the time as I do. Introspection is my default and I need to remind myself that I don’t have to do it all the time.

It’s funny to me to read articles about how to get in touch with your feelings and such because it’s automatic for me. I’m a little fuzzy on my positive feelings sometimes, but everything else? I’m on top of it. There’s a thing in Jungian psychology that you need to examine your shadow side in order to be whole. For most people, that means looking at the not-so-nice side of yourself. Your flaws, your shortcomings, etc. As for me, I’ve always been comfortable with my negatives because I was smacked down if I ever showed anything approaching confidence. I actually thought I was good at something? How dare I! I was a piece of shit, and I should never forget it. It wasn’t explicitly stated when I was a kid, but the undercurrent was clear. Only my father was allowed to shine.

Oh, but at that time, I also wasn’t allowed to show any anger, depression, or anything negative, either, because, again, only my father was allowed to feel bad. See the theme? Only my father was allowed to feel anything. As a child with big feelings, it was hard to always have to stuff them down. I was a weirdo from the start and I never had any friends at school. For some of the reasons I was shunned, I can’t blame them. I knew nothing about pop culture and I was Asian. I ate ‘weird’ foods and my mother dressed me in handmade clothing that definitely didn’t reflect the fashion of the time.

I realized that I was going to die when I was seven. Other horrible things happened at that time and I fell into a deep depression. By the time I turned eleven, two things happened–my mother had designated me her confidante and poured all her marital woes into my ear (which she still does) and I became suicidal. These two things were not directly related, but the former certainly did not help the latter.

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Not even a maybe baby

So. I have written many times about my confusion over my gender identity. It’s never been that I feel like a man, though I have wished to be male many times in my childhood. It wasn’t because I felt like a boy, but because I hated being a girl so much. It was so limiting and frustrating. I had to wear dresses. I couldn’t run, scream, or climb trees. I had to sit with my legs crossed and giggle demurely rather than throw my head back and guffaw boisterously. I mean, I did all those things, anyway, but I got so much shit for it from the aunties in the Taiwanese church.

I felt there was something wrong with me, for so many reasons, but not fitting my gender was a big one. When I was in college (so in my early twenties), I realized that I didn’t want kids. I don’t remember exactly how, but it just came to me while I was talking to my then-boyfriend. More to the point, I realized I didn’t have to have them. That sounds silly, but it as so ingrained in me from two societies (American and Taiwanese) that I HAD to have them, that I was merely a breeding cow (how I honestly felt) with no ability to make my own decision. It was the main purpose of my life, I was told by my mother, both overtly and covertly. So the realization that a) I didn’t want them and b) I didn’t have to have them blew my mind. The second I realized the latter, a feeling of intense relief washed over me. I can’t tell you how elated I feel. It was as if a weight was lifted from me and I could fly.

I have never felt that at peace about a decision in my life and it’s still the smartest realization I’ve had about myself up until this point. It’s funny because I’ve had people tell me that I would have been a good mother or hurry to tell me I’m wrong when I said I would have been a terrible mother. Whether I was right or wrong (I was right, by the way) isn’t really the point. The point is that I felt that way, so why try to push me to do something I thought I would be shit at and that I clearly did not want to do? But, no. People couldn’t accept that or the fact that I didn’t want to be a mother–and that it was not a judgment on their choices. Let me be painfully clear–it was women. Men didn’t ask or care, but women were all up in my repo business.

I was so fucking naive at the time. I thought I could make this decision and not have it be a big deal. After all, who did it affect except me? Wrong. I cannot tell you how much shit I got for that decision. I promise you I was not running around saying, “Thank god I’ll never whelp me any brats!” I never brought it up unless someone asked me when I was having children (not if, mind you. When). I’d just say I wasn’t having them and assume that was that.

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The pronoun predicament

One of the way allies are encouraged to be supportive of trans/nonbinary people is by putting their pronouns in their email sigs.  I’ve seen this subject come up from time to time on Ask a Manager. Almost every time, nonbinary folk and trans folk point out that it’s not helpful to people who aren’t out yet. In fact, it can be harmful. They usually get ignored or talked over, which is a shame because they’re the ones who are actually affected by this.

I have another perspective as someone who is not nonbinary or trans, but also not…binary? Is that the right? I’m questioning my gender identity, I guess is the best way to say it. For now, I’m leaning towards redefining ‘woman’ to mean what I want it to mean rather than ditching it completely because I identify most closely with it. I am not a man. I’m sure about that. I don’t feel like a woman, exactly, either, and don’t identify with ‘she’. I’ve written about that ad nauseam as well. However, I feel more affinity with women than men because of shared experiences and my history of being perceived as a woman. For now, I am provisionally neutral about being called a woman. I would prefer to not bring it up at all, but that’s not always possible.

But I get caught out when it comes to adding your pronouns to your email sig or to your Twitter bio or what not. I get that it’s meant to be supportive of trans/nonbinary people, but it just increases the invisibility I already feel. I have this issue with being Asian because we don’t exist in America, apparently, when it comes to racial issues. I’m not trans. I’m not a man. I prayed to God to make me a boy when I was a kid, but that was because I got so much shit for being me while being female, not because I actually felt like I was a boy.

I’m not a guy. Check. This is how I do everything, by the way, by crossing off what I’m NOT and seeing what’s left. It’s not a great way to figure out what I am, but I don’t really have anything that I am to relate to. Back to gender identity. I linger over nonbinary because that feels like it should be the one for me. But, for whatever, reason, it doesn’t quite feel right, either. I don’t care for they/them in describing myself. I just don’t. I don’t like any of the neopronouns, either. She/her is like…at least I recognize those pronouns. They don’t feel like me, but they’re not completely off, either. Like the dorm room I lived in for a year. It’s temporarily home, but not permanent. And I’ve outgrown it.

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