Queer Asian Confidence

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.

I already have like 23 pictures of this book on here but it’s my blog so I can do what I want lol. Kudos to Caroline Knapp for introducing me to feminism which paved the way for my further social justice development!

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.

Okay so I was listening to this mashup on YouTube and I honestly want to be the queer Asian male blogger version of Rosé lying in a bed of flowers while singing confidently? Purple haired queen!

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!

13 Comments

Filed under Personal, Society

13 responses to “Queer Asian Confidence

  1. You know, I’ve never been comfortable talking about myself and my accomplishments. But it’s an essential skill for networking and interviewing. Keep those positive feedback, compliments and any other formal / informal recognition or awards.

    When I started working, my parents cautioned me to never brag about myself and always twice as hard as others because I was Chinese Canadian. It’s just the way things are.

    Even now, I always have to remind myself about my skills and accomplishments. If I don’t believe in myself, no one will.

    A couple of other things. I went through a few videos looking for that backup dancer. I think you write these tidbits so that people like me with a short attention span will get distracted.

    And finally, you are good at disclosing things here. I wish you do it more. 😉

    Have a great weekend!

    • Thank you for sharing your experience Matt! Yeah, I feel like my Vietnamese parents encouraged something similar, such that they themselves never really bragged about their accomplishments and valued modestly working hard. I’m glad that you are taking the time to remind yourself about your skills and accomplishments because I feel like you are great, and kind. I hope your most recent weekend went well and that the start of your week is going well too.

      Also appreciate your comment about the tidbits – I like to throw random stuff in. (:

      • You’re welcome and thank you for the kind words. I really appreciate them. btw – you might have missed a couple of my recent entries but I also know you’ve been busy w/ school & work. Take care.

  2. You ARE the whole damn cake and the cherry on top!

    What a wonderful evaluation – you should print that out and keep it in view. How wonderful! I managed to write a whole book on Iris Murdoch where the main message was I am not good enough to write this book, so I can’t really offer a message of self-confidence role-modelling there, although I know I’m damn good at my job and the go-to transcriber for music journalists.

    I had a think about people in public life I could identify who fit your requirements for a role model and I can’t find one with all the aspects you need – that’s really crappy, and I’m sorry. I have a lovely Chinese-heritage friend who cares for his child equally with his wife and is incredibly supportive of friends and other runners, but he’s not queer, and can think of a few comedians but not queer or not of Asian heritage. I will keep looking out for some for you, though. Have you read Amrou Al-Kadhi’s Unicorn, which I think I’ve recommended before? Wrong heritage but my goodness confidence and he also talks about femme stuff, too.

    • And I thought of one,well, via my husband – Gok Wan, although British Chinese (we don’t have masses of people of Vietnamese heritage here as far as I know) is a queer man of Asian heritage who is compassionate and caring and very confident. I’ve seen him for a few moments hosting the reveal part of his show helping women feel better about themselves and he was extremely charismatic.

      • Omg Liz thank you so much for your warmth and thoughtfulness! Regardless of finding the iconic queer Asian men or not, it makes me feel cared for to know that you put in the effort and also talked with your husband about it. (: I definitely should bump up Unicorn on my to-read list and Gok Wan looks very promising too! It does help me feel less alone that there are other queer Asian men who love themselves, as well as queer Asian femmes. I’m excited that there’s content for me to look into.

  3. I love this post!! And your confidence inspires me so much. I admittedly am super bad at recognizing my own worth and strength, but I’ve been trying to sit with the idea of passiveness a little bit more – it’s okay to just be, and you don’t need to be a certain amount of anything to be worthy of being. Also trying to listen to other people’s words about me rather than my own.

    I mainly follow artists or people I know IRL on social media, but here are some queer Asian men that I can think of off the top of my head that I really enjoy hearing from (either from their work of their tweets): @trungles @puppypetter2000 @EugeneLeeYang @alexanderchee

    • Thank you so much for your warmth and support as always. (: I like that idea of sitting with passiveness, it reminds me of How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. Like, how in a capitalist society we’re so focused on doing and achieving and it’s okay and also worthwhile to sit and be with oneself. I hope listening to other people’s words about you goes as well as possible.

      Thanks for those recommendations! I will look into them.

  4. “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.”

    well. first things first- you have already broken down the walls of toxic masculinity by celebrating a quality in yourself that does not beg for aggression or ego. so while i feel like i am super enchanted by the part of you that is self-aware, curious, modest, gentle, etc. i agree with those who wrote before and and where your piece goes that it is time to let the other part of you s h i n e. in just one blog post you have pulled me in and proven that you are worthy of celebration, of pride, of space. i am a white jewish afab non-binary individual so there are certainly elements of our identities that are different and that i would not begin to try and relate to you on. however i would say as a fellow therapist that you deserve to find success in every session that you show up for. in every conversation where you are listening! in every moment with each client because they want to be there, being vulnerable with you!! so hell yeah! 🙂

    • awwwww Lee I so appreciate this warm and enthusiastic comment, thank you so much! great to meet another therapist with some marginalized identities and I’m grateful to you for highlighting qualities that I appreciate about myself (e.g., self-awareness, gentleness). I feel like I want to celebrate those qualities while also recognizing that I think a lot of cishet white men – and people who adhere to patriarchy/white supremacy – often times have an inflated sense of self that stems from celebrating themselves/their privileges to the point of not checking themselves. sooo I feel like if I both celebrate myself and continually check myself I can avoid that. it’s nice to e-meet you!

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