Sometimes I conflate passion for social justice and actual emotional intelligence. Take for example, a crush I had about three years ago on this attractive Asian man who went to an Ivy League school. He worked or volunteered supporting survivors of interpersonal violence, he could articulate the costs of racism and colonialism on people of color, and he said he valued empathy and compassion on his LinkedIn profile, which I may have read a dozen times. “Oh, my goodness,” I thought to myself while listening to Ariana Grande’s “Into You” in 2016, “this guy is like, the one. This is a hyperbolic re-rendering of my thought process at the time for dramatic effect but like, we’re totally going to date, get married, have two kids, and conform to heteronormativity in at least one other way, like buying a house with a white picket fence.”
But it turned out that this guy had not come out to his conservative Asian family yet, which bled into his inability to form a connection with me. I should have realized this earlier when I stalked his Goodreads wow ok, I am kind of a creep on the internet, at least I’m self-aware about it idk?? and noticed an odd lack of queer books. I thought that because this man amazed me with his activism and passion for social justice in some areas, that he would have basically every area of his life figured out, including his sexuality and his capacity for consistent communication. But he really had not dealt with his sexuality and perhaps his internalized homonegativity, nor was he able to communicate with me in any healthy or fulfilling way. So, I sent him a somewhat over the top message detailing the ways he hurt me, blocked him, and ranted to my therapist L about it, who laughed and congratulated me on finally breaking free from this man’s influence.
As I get older, I try to acknowledge that most people are not just good or bad but an amalgamation of qualities that lie somewhere in the middle. Someone can articulate the ways in which labor exploitation and capitalism harms people and not be able to articulate the ways in which their upbringing and trauma have influenced their interpersonal relationships. Someone can speak at length on the importance of considering intersectionality in social justice work and not treat their own graduate students or other students well. Some of my friends and I talk about people – especially cisgender men – who go into social justice work to actually avoid doing important internal work on themselves, reminiscent of the novel Guapa which I recently read and enjoyed. I’m trying to remind myself: if someone is good at having difficult conversations in a compassionate and assertive way, that someone is good at having difficult conversations in a compassionate and assertive way. If someone is able to form a healthy and consistent attachment to others, that someone is able to form a healthy and consistent attachment to others. While we stan men and people who work to tear down the cisheteronormative white supremacist patriarchy, tearing down oppression does not necessarily equate to self-awareness or treating people well in intimate relationships.
I also want to practice compassion for people in the process too, especially the man I reference above because I feel kinda bad about exposing him even though literally no one will be able to know who I’m referring to both because I was vague in my description and also multiple Asian men from Ivy League schools have harmed me in similar ways yikes on a bike tbh. Multiple factors may have influenced his level of self-awareness and how he communicated with me. Perhaps his family spewed some really homophobic sentiments that have or had delayed his journey in accepting his sexuality. Maybe he had internalized the model minority myth for Asian Americans and because of that prioritized achievements and accomplishments over learning how to communicate with others in a healthy way. Queer people of color experience unique barriers to accessing mental health care, after all. Heck, maybe I just freaked him out with my straightforward, assertive, and kinda intense style of communicating. And who knows, maybe now, three years later, he’s thriving, with a loving relationship with himself, his friends, family, perhaps a romantic partner, and a chihuahua named Otis. If that’s the case, I’d be happy for him.
I’m no exception to what I’ve written about this post. I’m keenly aware that I have a lot of growing to do. I want to practice the emotional labor and self-awareness to be the best friend and mentor possible. Some areas of my growth may include being a little more flexible and a little less rigid with my planning, as well as being more explicit about my expectations for my relationships with myself and with others. I want to be open to other people’s feedback on how I can improve, too.
In some ways I feel like these individual growths in self-awareness may not bring about the revolution. At the same time, I feel like there is something revolutionary about learning how to have a healthy relationship with yourself and others, especially in a patriarchal, capitalist society that devalues more traditionally “feminine” things like being caring and prioritizes wealth over connection. How do you cultivate self-awareness and healthy relationships with others? Share your strategies and your reactions to this post in the comments, because I’d love to know.