Sometimes I struggle to honor my strengths. I have pretty high self-compassion and self-esteem, I just don’t like acknowledging what I’m good at. For example, I’m starting my fourth year of training as a psychologist. In my most recent therapy evaluation, my supervisor commended my “ability to connect with clients and make them feel safe with [me].” She also wrote that I have “an intuitive approach that is bolstered by [a] strong theoretical orientation… influenced by a multicultural lens, feminist therapy, ACT and CBT, and interpersonal process,” as well as an openness and genuineness that helps clients feel connected to me. Though I recognize my clients’ growth, I still think: am I actually good at this?
Even though I can grow in honoring my strengths, I like my modesty a lot. I think it stems from Asian values of humility, as well as not wanting to be like other men who have an inflated sense of their abilities. Instead of searching for the spotlight, I can spend more time honing my empathy, social justice advocacy, and mentoring. Still, internalizing modesty to an extreme may have its downsides. My supervisor also wrote in her evaluation, “I think Thomas is always a bit surprised at the progress of his clients, as he sometimes doubts that he is a good, actually excellent, therapist. I encourage his humility, but also think he would benefit from receiving the fact that he is very skilled and capable.”
Upon reflecting about my supervisor’s comments for the past several weeks, I feel like a lot of my hesitancy to own my strengths stems from my queer Asian male identity. I’ve read a lot about how queer Asian men are forced into submissive roles, how we’re obsessed with dating white guys, and how we’re rejected in romantic settings because of the whole “no fats, femmes, or Asians” thing. I’ve honestly never really cared much about any of that; feminism introduced me to social justice so I learned to reject the male gaze early thanks to Caroline Knapp, bell hooks, and Audre Lorde. However, over the past couple weeks I’ve realized that I literally cannot name one confident, assertive, empowered queer Asian man, especially one who fully loves himself without a romantic partner. Perhaps they’re out there if I look harder
like I watched this amazing dance cover of BlackPink’s “How You Like That” and one of the male dancers looked so confident but I’m not sure if he’s queer, alas, and at the same time it kinda sucks not to have that representation.
The other night I got upset about this lack of queer Asian male role models while playing tennis and getting crushed by a white man. For some reason during this match I reflected on my one ex-friend who moved to Rhode Island*, who felt lonely so she dated an alright guy and then spent literally almost all her time with him. While this white guy wrecked me on the court, I kept flashing back to when I FaceTimed with this ex-friend and she said: “what if [insert name of alright guy] breaks up with me, and I’m all alone in Rhode Island?” While I still think this ex-friend is an amazing, compassionate, wonderful person, this statement she made activated so many of my worst fears: the idea of being dependent on a man for one’s happiness and connection, as well as the idea of feeling alone without the presence of a man.
After the tennis match, I drove home in the dark while listening to “Boss Bitch” by Doja Cat. The combination of my own internal processing and hearing iconic lyrics like “I’m the whole damn cake and the cherry on top” helped me realize: I am not like my ex-friend, and I never will be, and if I ever rely too much on one person to fulfill my social needs, I’ll catch myself and redirect. With the windows down and the cool almost fall air filling my car, I thought to myself: I am excellent at empathy and compassion. I am a strong writer and a skilled researcher. I am a loving friend, caring mentor, and a self-possessed queer Asian man, who knows himself without awards or a male romantic partner.
It still feels a little odd to own my strengths. But, I’m reminding myself that by naming what I’m good at, I can develop a realistic assessment of areas for further growth. I’m also aware of many things I’m bad at or have no skill in at all, like cooking, even contemplating the idea of assembling furniture, or not disclosing about my life on the internet. At the core of this acknowledgement of my strengths lies a resistance to white supremacist and heterosexist notions that queer Asian men aren’t good enough, or that we want or need a white man to fulfill us. Like, fuck that shit, I’m a queer Asian man and I’m great just the way I am.
I’m aware that promoting individualistic self-confidence won’t end systemic oppression. At the same time, feeling confident enables me to make decisions based on my values (e.g., kindness, equity and justice) instead of fear. Perhaps developing self-confidence can drive us to empower fellow marginalized people and tear down the systems that made us doubt ourselves in the first place. I’m learning to make space for both, the ways I want to grow in my advocacy and activism, as well as the ways in which I’m already, quite frankly, superb.
Reactions or feelings about this post? How do you honor your own strengths, especially if you have a marginalized identity? Also, the * indicates that this is not the state my friend actually moved to for a little bit, I didn’t want to put the real state to protect confidentiality. Until next post!