I’ve struggled with identity all my life. Growing up as a fat, brainy, weirdo Asian chick in a very white Minnesota suburb was all but guaranteed to make me feel like a freak. I got picked on almost every day, and the days I didn’t, it pretty much was me wandering around lost in my own thoughts and never quite understanding what was expected of me. I like to joke that I was raised by wolves, but it’s pretty true. I have an apocryphal story about how the first pop song I heard was Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant when I was in sixth grade. The first movie I remembered seeing was Star Wars (the original, whatever the fuck it’s called) when I was seven or eight, and I hated it. I also saw Superman at the time with my youth group roughly around the same time and had nightmares for a month.
I’m just going to say it. I don’t like movies and TV for the most part. I once told a professor I had in grad school that I didn’t like movies, and she looked at me as if I said I ate puppies for fun. She said it was like saying I didn’t like sandwiches, which was a bad analogy for me because sandwiches are delicious. I realized then that my opinion was objectively Bad, and I should keep it to myself.
Side note: I wasn’t going to get into why I don’t like movies and television shows for the most part, but it’s actually an integral part of this post, so here we go, the Cliff Notes version. I have a vast imagination, and I like to let it run wild. It’s one reason I can write fiction almost endlessly, and I’ve only had one serious writer’s block in my life. Tandem to that is that my brain never. stops. thinking. Worrying, ruminating, chewing over every goddamn thing. It’s exhausting, but it’s something I’ve dealt with most of my life as well.
Put these two things together, and you might be able to see why I don’t really care for movies or television. The whole time I’m watching a movie, the criticizing part of my brain is chattering on and on about what is wrong whatever I’m watching while the other side of my brain, the creative side, is thinking of a dozen ways it would have done the scene differently–and better. I can never forget that I’m watching a movie or television, and I never really get into it.
To that end, most of the shows/movies I like either are based on the premise that the theatricality is part and parcel of the show (one reason I love musicals), or the writing is good enough to pull me in and allow me to override the chattering in my brain.
Side note to the side note: I never get into arguments/discussions about the best of anything in pop art because I think it’s hard to find objective criteria for the best of since much of it is personal taste. I focus on my favorite rather than what is the objective best. For example, I love the movie, Once. Do I think it’s the best movie of all time? No. Is it my favorite movie? Yes. It was made on a shoestring budget in something like two weeks, and it shows, but the heart is enormous. Plus, the music is killer, and the two leads are just so goddamn real. The movie is rough around the edges, and, yeah, it sometimes looks as if it’s been shot by a hand-held camera, but I don’t care about any of that. I will take rough in terms of production value with a ton of heart over slick and posh with an emptiness at the core any day. In fact, I like the roughness because life is messy.
Doing a hairpin turn from pop culture to personal identity, I have never been comfortable trying to explain who I am to anyone who doesn’t already know me. It’s funny because I’m a words person, I’ve written hundreds of post on identity shit, and, yet, I still feel as I haven’t gotten it quite right. Let’s take race. My heritage is Taiwanese, but I am American. But I’m also not. I’m probably about 85% American, 10% Taiwanese, and 5% other. Hm. Thinking about that, I’d change that to 75% American, 10% Taiwanese, and 15% other. And yet, the American part of me is still at odds with other Americans because while I buy into some of the American ideals (living an authentic life, boundaries, etc.), I don’t buy into the excess. I also don’t buy into a lot of the popular beliefs, which is where it gets tricky.
When I first realized I was bisexual, I became part of the local APLB group. We played the fun game of placing each other on the butch-femme spectrum (remember, this was twenty-plus years ago when butch/femme was still a thing), and when one woman got to me, she paused and said she couldn’t place me on the spectrum. I was inordinately proud of that compliment. Years later, I was hanging out with this self-proclaimed butch dyke, and somehow, the topic turned to sports. I participated enthusiastically since I was an avid sports fan at the time, and she was flummoxed because I had long hair and didn’t *look* butch.
This actually crosses into the gender issue as well. When I was a kid, I prayed to a god I didn’t really believe in to make me a boy. Not because I felt like a boy, but because boys got to do the cool things like climb trees and not wear goddamn fucking dresses. I also prayed to god to change my hair to blond, but to my utter disappointment, god did neither of these things.
I want to say that I have never felt like I was a boy/man. All my discomfort was because of how I perceived girls and boys to be treated differently with boys undoubtedly getting the better end of that particular deal. I hated when my breasts grew so big, and I even complained about it to my mother. We’re Taiwanese, for fuck’s sake. Why do I have to have these melons hanging from the front of my chest? She told me that her grandmother had the equivalent of Double Ds, so it wasn’t unheard of in our family to have big boobs.
I hated them. They just got in the way of everything, and they made guys stupid. I didn’t mind getting free drinks out of them, but I hated the fact that if a flat-chested woman wore a tank top with no bra, she was fine, but if I did it, I was a slut. I have a tattoo of a lotus blossom on fire over my left tit in part because I decided if guys were going to look, I’d give them something to look at. Well, the lotus blossom/fire tattoo is a cover up, but it’s the reason I got my first tattoo there.
I eschew makeup and fashion, and that in and of itself is complicated. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I was sixteen, and by that point, I just didn’t really care about it. As for fashion, I was a chunky teen with thick thighs and big boobs. Plus, I had no girlfriends who were into fashion, so I had no idea. Oh, and I’m allergic to just about everything under the sun, so makeup was not great at that time, and I hated wearing clothing. Still do, actually.
I don’t care about shopping or rom-coms, cooking, sewing, or anything else considered stereotypically feminine. I don’t disdain them (except rom-coms for the harmful messages), but I have no interest in them. Someone once asked me if I disdained pop culture BECAUSE they were popular, and I have to admit, that’s partly it. With the female shit, though, I’ve always been that way. I never wanted to play with dolls except to make them have sex, and I never dreamed of getting married and having children. I thought I’d do that eventually because that’s just what you did when you grew up, but I never thought it was something I wanted to do.
I don’t know how to talk about all this because for me it’s not a question of being in the wrong body or thinking I’m a different gender than the one I am. It’s more that I reject the limiting definition of ‘woman’, and I wonder why it can’t be expanded to include me. I have thought about non-binary/gender fluid, and I don’t think those really fit for me, either. It’s really hard to explain in part because it’s still a jumble in my head. As with many things, I go by a process of elimination (I’m better at knowing what I don’t like/am not than what I do like/am). I am not a guy. I am not non-binary. I may be genderfluid, but with a big asterisk after it.
What I mean by that is that genderfluid is the one I feel most comfortable with (of the alternatives to woman), but as I understand it, it doesn’t really fit me. I read as female, especially with my body and my long hair. I don’t hide either, and my hair is the one part of me I really like. I don’t wear makeup, and I don’t wear dresses or heels. I don’t shave anything (thanks, Taiwanese genes!), and I’m most comfortable in boxers and a tank top. I don’t like rom-coms or chick flicks for the most part, but I also don’t like action movies or bro humor. I’m happy that there are more movies starring Asians, but for the love of god, can the next one not be a rom-com?
My voice is contralto, and I get called sir on the phone all the time, which tickles me. I like video games*, especially ones that generally skew male. I don’t want to be in a monogamous romantic relationship, and I really, really, REALLY like sex (which I have not had for far too long). I would rather go to a ball game than go shopping (though I’m not into sports these days), and when it comes to taiji, I’m all about the weapons.
Back to bisexuality for a minute. I don’t like to say I’m bisexual, but I also don’t like pansexual or omnisexual, either. I also don’t like all the other newer labels such as sapiosexual, demisexual, etc. I would prefer just to say I’m sexual, but I know that sounds fucking precious. I would roll my eyes if someone told me their sexual orientation was sexual, but I feel like putting a label on it makes it too easy to consider it a set thing without ever updating to include new information.
I think labels are useful as a heuristic, but I get stuck in the details. In addition, there are always people who want to gatekeep who can and can’t be in the group, and I felt this a lot when I first came out as bi. I got the condescending, “All lesbians are bi at one point” from lesbians, and even in the APLB group, there was way more emphasis on the L than the B. It’s human nature to want an in group, but the cost of that is having many people drop out because they feel too restricted. Then, you have an echo chamber, and the group doesn’t grow. It’s one reason I never stick to one group, especially online, for an appreciable amount of time.
Back to genderfluid. To me, it seems that a lot of it is predicated on fucking with expectations as to what a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ look like. Although, technically, I guess that would fall under genderfuck. That’s not my jam at all. Body-wise, I look like a stereotypical woman, albeit a fat and sturdy one. I have a very utilitarian style of dressing, and I have no desire to do anything with that. I don’t want to learn makeup or hair or fashion.
This is my long-winded way of saying I use woman by default because it’s the one I feel most comfortable with, but I’m not wedded to it. It’s the same with Taiwanese American and bisexual. These are defaults. They give you a thumbnail sketch of who I am, but nothing more than that.
*I’ve been musing lately over whether I actually like video games or not, but that’s another post for another day.