To take a break from engaging with the anti-Asian hate going on in the United States, I wanted to write a blog post about my gender identity and men’s irrelevance. Over the past several months, I have started to go by any and all pronouns. This change does not feel major to me because while I have always felt comfortable in my male body, I have also always had a femme side which I cherish a lot. However, I have caught myself thinking at times: will men feel less attracted to me if I go by any/all pronouns instead of only he/him pronouns?
Whenever I notice this thought, I remind myself: I literally do not care what any man thinks of me and never will. As I tell my close friends, therapist, and more casual friends all the time, literally every man on this planet could think of me as the ugliest, most undesirable person who ever existed and I would not care at all. This lack of care about men’s opinions of me saves me from the insecurities many other queer men face, especially queer men of color and femme queer men. I wanted to use this blog post to reflect on how this strength came into existence so I can continue to cultivate it for years to come.
I grew up in an abusive household. Because of my mother’s constant emotional abuse and my father’s absence, I dedicated most of my mental energy to studying hard so I could get into college and escape my home. I also tried to figure out how to create a meaningful life in the face of what felt like complete meaninglessness: if people could be born into households like mine what was the point of life at all? I remember feeling so distant from my middle school and high school peers who cared about popularity, dating, and getting good grades as a way to measure their self-worth. While I enjoyed queer books like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz and What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson, I had my eyes set on getting out of my home and making a difference in the lives of others. Boys did not matter.
I started getting crushes in college soon after getting into therapy for the first time. These crushes felt pretty intense, less so because of the men’s quality – they were not that high quality, looking at you Harvard boy #1 whose lack of emotional availability should have warned me about Harvard boy #2’s similar emotional unavailability several years later – and more so because I have always felt emotions in a deep way. While I still focused on my community service, close friendships with fellow femmes, and academics, the idea of dating men flitted into my mind a little more often.
During that period of my life, I also began my dive into feminist texts, which saved me from obsessing over men. For example, I read Appetites by Caroline Knapp which taught me about how society conditions women and femmes to search for external validation from men, thinness, and jobs instead of uncovering our inner self-worth and self-compassion. I then read The Will to Change by bell hooks which explained to me why the men I encountered were so unexciting, non-self-aware, and lacking in any ability to practice thorough active listening or even active self-awareness. These feminist texts taught me that my love for myself and my close friends will always come before love from any man, especially because of how patriarchy socializes men to reek of mediocrity, unanswered text and email messages, and fancy LinkedIn profiles and job titles with no interpersonal follow through.
The past few years have followed that same route. Since moving back to the Washington D.C. area in 2017, I have gone on a few dates with some nice guys who did not excite me much. And I met at least one guy who did excite me and then turned out not to have his life together. These men all remain in the background though, because so many more beautiful and meaningful things occupy the foreground of my life: hundreds of hours talking, laughing, and processing with close friends, my growth as a clinician and researcher and mentor, many miles spent jogging to BlackPink, dozens of dramatic and vulnerable blog posts, and a ton of books both read and reviewed.
I do not consider myself against romance as much as I am against how systems of patriarchy and capitalism construct romance. I dislike how I know folks who feel incomplete without their romantic partner or consider them “their other half,” how the wedding industrial complex profits from romance when those funds could serve more social justice-oriented purposes, and how I have seen women and femmes settle for pretty subpar men so they could have a romantic partner over not having one at all. But, I have seen a few folks do romance differently. In part because of these rare models of romance, I could envision myself in a romantic relationship with a man of color where we both know and love ourselves, are engaged in therapy or are willing to engage in therapy or a related form of help-seeking, and have deep and rich lives outside of our relationship with one another. Otherwise I view men as a distraction. Though I feel sad very occasionally about not having had a romantic partner, most of the time I feel proud of myself for getting this far in life without settling for someone below my standards. I feel great about identifying as a gender flexible man and in honoring my femininity. Though heteronormativity and patriarchy promote the monogamous romantic couple and the nuclear family as the most desirable path, I’m stomping my own way forward, a romantic partner be damned.
How do you view the relevancy of men and/or romance in your own life, especially in the context of systems like patriarchy and capitalism? How do you cultivate your own self-worth and self-compassion regardless of what others think of you, or not? General reactions to this post? Also, in light of the recent horrendous hate crime against Asian American women, please consider supporting Red Canary Song or Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Atlanta, if you are able. Until next post.