Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: feminine

Hard truths about ‘but faaaaaaamily!’

In my last post, I talked some more about the dysfunction within my family. I mentioned at the end of the post that I wanted to talk about how being constantly abused changes you as a person–and not in a good way. I have been reading several posts on Ask A Manager about abusive behavior (in a relationship that spills over into work life) and a few on Captain Awkward as well. In one of them, someone said they hated their mother for not leaving their abusive father (the commenter’s  father). I think it was Captain Awkward because that is more the ethos of that site than of Ask A Manager, but other people quickly chimed in to agree. Each of them recounted the damage they had suffered in their childhood because their mothers rationalized staying by saying it was for the children.

To give my mother credit, she never used that as an excuse. In her case, it was religion (fundie Christianity) and culture (Taiwanese) that made divorce verboten for her. I started begging her to divorce my father when I was eleven (when she forced me into a confidante role), but that was just unthinkable. I gave up at some point, but it was still what I truly believed in my heart.

I learned how to tiptoe around my father when he was home and in a mood. Meaning, when he was angry at someone (usually my mother, but not always) and refused to talk to anyone. It wasn’t just that he would sit quietly. Oh, no. He made it VERY clear that he was UPSET by pointedly being silent AT everyone around him. You know how when a cat is mad at you, it will sit a few feet away from you with its back to you? An if its really mad at you, it will deliberately point its ear back towards you? At least, my cat does that to clearly express his displeasure. That’s my father when he’s mad. He’s scrupulously silent AT you. If you try to talk to him, he will pointedly ignore you and not say anything.

Here’s the thing. I’ve done it myself. The silent treatment, I mean. When I’m furious enough, I can’t say anything nice so I keep my mouth shut. And I go as still as a stone. I know I look like a statue. It’s not something I’m proud of; it’s what
I do, though.  I learned it from my father and I still do it, but only around them. Because abuse is a gift that keeps on giving.

While they were here, there were a few really bad fights that started with my father being angry at my mother for some reason or another. He is a narcissist who is edging into dementia and is exhibiting paranoid behavior (he thinks my mother, my brother, and I are trying to steal all his money). He has called me by my niece’s name and has forgotten who I am. Same with my brother (thinking he was my mother’s brother). It doesn’t help that my mother indulges his paranoia and tries to rope me in as well. Such as trying to find a document he swears he put in a certain place, but it wasn’t there. My mother spent hours looking for it because he would be unpleasant to her if she didn’t. But, I contended that he was equally unpleasant when she gave in and it only fed his delusions.


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Gender-blending

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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Gender apathy or how I embrace my indecision

I was reading my stories (advice columns) and one question came up about going to a Finnish spa (in Finland) with your coworkers (if you’re American). One thing that struck me was that it was divided by gender. We can see the problems with that, yes? Especially now that we are more aware of the genders other than strict cismasc and cisfem. There were other issues with the whole sauna with your coworkers thing (including, for me, my hatred of anything over 80 degrees and the fact that there is often alcohol involved), but the gender issue is what stuck with me.

It’s been a rollercoaster when it comes to gender. I’ve never felt female all my life ,but it’s never been because of me. What I mean is that so many people have questioned my femininity since I was a small child, I rejected womanhood until–but I don’t  want to get ahead of myself.

It started when I was six or seven. I was what was called a tomboy back then and scolded for not sitting quietly and demurely, with my ankles neatly crossed. I liked to climb trees and run around, but that was quickly (metaphorically) beaten out of me. My family belonged to a fundie Taiwanese church that had very strict gender expectations and girls were not to run and laugh and shout.

My mom embodied these stereotypes in many ways. She worked because she had to, but she claimed that being a mother was the most important thing in her life–it was all she ever wanted to be. In addition to working, she also did all the housework and the cooking. And the caring of the children (my brother and me) as it were. My father didn’t do any of that for many reasons, none of them good, which meant my mother was essentially a single mother.


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Just Call Me Mulan

When I was younger, I used to go to bed praying I’d wake up a boy,* and I would be severely disappointed when I woke up still a girl. Even as I grew older and stopped believing in God, I thought I would have been better off as a man. Let me be clear: I never felt as if I were trapped in the wrong body. It’s all about the rigidity of patriarchy and how punishing it is to people who don’t fit in. I played with dolls, but I preferred stuffed animals when I wasn’t running around playing softball and other sports. I was what was called a tomboy back then, hating dresses and anything feminine not because they were feminine, but just because they didn’t interest me.

As a teen, I didn’t care about makeup and clothes, though I tried desperately to fit in. I had a Farrah Fawcett flip, and I’m wearing a powder blue sweater and pink eye shadow in my senior photo. I look like a freak and not at all like myself. I curled my hair, used hair products, and applied makeup like it was spackle. Also, I’m allergic to everything, and most makeup was rough back then. Literally and figuratively. I was allergic to whatever was in it, which was not a pretty scene. In addition, I hadn’t perfected the skill of eating without eating off my lipstick, which made me constantly worried about walking around with my lips outlined in lipstick and nothing else. I also was allergic to whatever’s in shaving cream, so I would get bumps any time I shaved. Imagine how fun that was the one time I shaved my pussy.

I gave it all up at some point–makeup, shaving, and trying to keep up with fashion. The shaving thing happened when I was on my semester abroad in Asia and a shower was a hand-held sprayer. Plus, I’m Asian. I don’t need to shave as my body hair is pretty sparse. I haven’t tried makeup in decades, but I know it’s better now than it was when I attempted to wear it. I wore lipstick for longer than I did any other makeup, but I gave it up when, OK, backstory. Wand lip glosses were in for a hot second, and I thought, “I can handle that. It should be pretty easy to apply.” I bought a rich plum-colored lip gloss (I prefer dark shades) and tried it on in the parking lot of the glasses shop. I looked in the rear view mirror, and it looked like someone had punched me in the mouth. I blotted and reapplied, but it didn’t look any better. I concluded I was shit at makeup*** and gave it up that day.


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