Michael and Julian

Sometimes I worry about how much I write about men on this blog. Omg, I think to myself, Do my negative two readers imagine me as a Gaysian who sits in their apartment, stares at the wall for hours on end, waiting for a man of color to rail them as Blackpink plays in the background? When I let myself feel this concern for a bit, I recognize that what my readers think of me matters less to me than what I think of myself: can I practice self-kindness about my attraction to men?

“If my attraction to men were a flower,” I told my therapist in our most recent session, “I feel like I’d either want it to bloom fully, or I’d want it not to exist. Like I’d either want to date a guy or just not be attracted to men at all.”

“Let’s run with this analogy,” my therapist said, her voice challenging yet warm. “I feel like you’ve been doing a really nice job of nurturing the flower.”

She may have been referring to how I have gone on four dates with three different cute Asian guys within the past month. While none of them will turn into something long-term, I learned more about what I like (e.g., guys who care about social justice, duh, and have critical thinking skills) and what I do not like (e.g., guys who feel comfortable with society’s status quo). I feel more confident than ever that I will never settle for a subpar man, because if I wanted to, I could have by now. My therapist could have also been referencing my reckoning with my attraction to men overall, my struggle to accept wanting some form of intimacy with a gender socialized into mediocrity by the patriarchy.

Okay so I already shared this on Twitter but in case some of you don’t follow me on there, one of the guys I went out literally recognized me from my Goodreads and he’s like the tenth guy who’s done so on a dating app lolol. Sweet guy, wish him the best, but let’s just say he said some uh, questionable things about whiteness and fatphobia that helped me recognize we were not a romantic or deeper friendship fit lol. Next!

Over the past few weeks, I have reflected a lot on the words of one of my favorite writers, Caroline Knapp. I admire her writing so much: its unassuming intelligence, its compassion directed inward and outward, and its relentless push toward greater self-awareness. To celebrate when I will finish teaching my upcoming course, I booked a trip to visit Boston later this summer so I could jog and walk along the Charles River, where she wrote about rowing her way out of anorexia in her memoir Appetites.

When I revisited her writing, I thought a lot about two of the men she engaged in romantic relationships with, Michael and Julian. In Drinking: A Love Story, she talks about her toxic relationship with Julian, an art dealer who she clung to even as he hurt her with his criticisms. She also references Michael, an alias for Mark Morelli, a kind photographer who cooked her many meals when her parents died and always showered her with warmth and affection. When I read about her relationships, I found myself a bit surprised, because I tend to feel a little judgmental toward amatonormative, heteronormative romantic relationships. But with her, I felt no judgment at all, only compassion.

“I wish she had had an easier life,” I told my therapist, in reference to Caroline Knapp. I felt tears in the back of my eyes. “An alcohol addiction, anorexia, death by lung cancer, and all these awful or mediocre men before Mark Morelli. I know she felt a lot of joy, but god, why did it also have to suck so much?”

My therapist nodded, letting my sadness sit in the room for a bit. She leaned forward. “She challenged things. Just like you do.”

Sometimes when I don’t know what photos to include in these posts I pull up my phone and randomly scroll through until I find something even slightly relevant: like this depiction of a meal I very spontaneously got from a nearby Wendy’s after a therapy session a couple of weeks ago! Proud of myself for eating this without shame because my middle school self would have judged me or at least tried to diet hardcore afterward. You can also see my beloved copy of Appetites toward the upper left.

After this conversation with my therapist and throughout the rest of the week, I reflected a lot about Caroline, Julian, Michael/Mark, and my own attraction to men. Caroline’s relationships with these men did not detract from my respect for her. I realized that in fact, they make me feel even closer to her: this is someone who understands what it feels like to exist as a more feminine person attracted to a gender that is socialized to be emotionally out of touch and oftentimes outright harmful. And despite her troubled relationships with certain men and her other issues, she cultivated deep friendships, helped others find their voices in her career as an editor, and wrote books that changed people’s lives, including mine.

I want to apply this kindness and non-judgement to myself, instead of fighting my attraction to men. Because even though I would rather exist as an aromantic gay man, my romantic attraction to men and my struggle with it make me more real and more human. They catapult me out of the land of imagined perfection (i.e., a compassionate, social justice-oriented Gaysian with no flaws) and into the murkier, more honest terrain of wanting an emotionally available man of color and not yet finding one. And even though I do write about men quite a bit on this blog, I have built such a full life outside of them: I’ve helped others help themselves as a therapist, I’ve published research in top Psychology journals and have done my best to mentor students along the way, and I’ve formed healthy, intimate, and caring relationships with my friends and myself. Amatonormativity, white supremacy, and patriarchy have without a doubt made my journey way harder than it should have been – and, I’m still fighting, just like Caroline did.

How do you try to practice self-compassion or self-kindness towards elements of your personality or personhood that you struggle to accept? Do you have any role models or people in your life, or even fictional characters or forms of spirituality or religion, that provide you with a sense of safety or security in difficult moments? General reactions to this post? Also, not like I’m criticizing myself for it, but my past two posts and this one involve men which honestly means that the previous men in my life and all the future ones should venmo/PayPal me for even alluding to their existences. I have a sense of what my next post will be about and it is not about men, or at least not primarily, though who knows, maybe I’ll surprise myself. Until next time!



Filed under Books, Personal

10 responses to “Michael and Julian

  1. I’m sad reading you feel judgemental of heteronormative relationships if you just mean cishet male-female-presenting ones, because I can’t help being female (ish)-presenting and attracted to males. But I do eschew traditional gender roles and certainly encourage (OK, force, in a grim PC Aunt way) that in the younger people around me. So maybe I get through. It’s hard to be perfect and to fight the fight all the time, but I respect people who try to do that, of course. I love your therapist, too, and I’m glad you have them.

    • Good point for clarification! I think I tend to feel judgmental about people who prioritize their romantic relationships above friendships, their relationship with themselves, and other important facets of life. I feel like you are a great example of someone who also prioritizes hobbies like your blog! I’m glad to hear you are being a positive influence for those around you and yes my therapist is great, I’m appreciative of myself for not giving up when the first two therapists I saw in the area I live in now were not helpful.

      • Ah, OK – phew! Thank you for explaining that! I prioritise book reviewing, sleep, friends and running over my husband quite often! OK, book reading and blog reading, too. He prioritises playing games with his friend, watching darker telly than I can and chilling out in his virtual headset though so all good. Although I should say he’s been a great support to me over a painful and upsetting few events over the last few weeks. And well done for persisting. I went through two bad therapists in London before I found my good one up here. One was just not intelligent enough for me and kept asking me to explain things, not in a therapeutic way, but because she didn’t understand me, the first thought because I expressed I’m not very “good” at being a woman/feminine that I was gender dysphoric and told me to cheer myself up by going to buy some clothes. Argh! And yes, jokes apart, I’m very glad I helped my best friend’s kids become the amazing social activists and pioneering people they are – they have told me how much they credit me with that and it makes me so proud!

  2. I want to send a snippet of this post to Blackpink. I’d like to see what their reaction is to you getting railed by a man of colour while their music is playing in the background. Oh wait… I just noticed something. Did you mean the music is playing in the background while you’re staring at the wall and waiting? Gosh… these details are important!

    Oh – so that’s how you select your photos. I like that you include a bit of your home. The piles of books and magazines. It’s soothing… as are the fries.

    Lately I’ve been prioritizing more self care like walking in the morning. Just seeing the bring light, moving around sort of sets my internal body clock. I sleep a bit better too. My role models are different depending on the situation. For sheer determination and courage – I use my parents. For photography, I follow a few photographers on IG and they are open about the amount of hardwork, networking, etc… to becoming a professional photographer. One guy writes openly about seeing a counselor to help with his mental anxiety issues.

    Even though I haven’t been to church in decades, I still pray – mostly for others and for guidance. I’m actually Roman Catholic although since meeting my bf, I spend more time in Buddhist temples as he is Buddhist.

    Have a great week!

    • Lolol I’m glad you noticed how I was a bit unspecific in what I meant about BlackPink playing in the background, great attention to detail! Honestly I could mean either, though I was originally thinking of myself staring at the wall while the music played. I appreciate your kind words about the details of my home being soothing. (: It’s great too that you have different role models for different things, that sounds adaptive and it jives with my notion that no one person will be everything for anyone! It’s interesting to hear about your use of spirituality/religion and I hope prayer offers the solace/support that you want. Hope your weekend is going well.

  3. Kartavya Ratate

    You already know how much I admire her and her work, so I am glad to know you are finding comfort/ validation from Caroline’s story and that you feel compassion for her. However, as for me, these past two weeks have been really tough: the other day I was reading this book which described an abuse scene, and that triggered a lot of memories and emotions within me, which have taken the form of self-destructive thoughts. I am finding it hard to manage them. And while I feel compassion and love for myself, these thoughts have been recurrent and disturbing; I am taking time to process this situation, read about people who have gone through a similar situation, engage in fulfilling activities, practise spiritual healing, journal down my feelings. And these things have helped, yet at times I feel very scared and lost and alone. If there’s anything you’d like to suggest, or if there’s any advice, I’d be incredibly grateful. Also, thanks for sharing those links in this post; it’s a comfort reading about people who have helped themselves live a better life and cope with their problems. And I hope you are doing well:)

  4. buriedinprint

    Wow, it’s amazing that you’re so recognizable through GoodReads. If Amaz*n catches wind of that, they’ll be broadening their app’s usage! LOL You ask tough questions of yourself and invite them of us, too. And because you’re generous with your vulnerability it creates a small space that feels safe, in a grey-bordered white box on the screen. I have felt really torn, at different times in my life, about whether I actually do prioritize friendship over romance because in theory I value the friendship most but I haven’t always been sure that my actions reflected that. Especially once in a committed relationship where one shares so much time and space in the same home (even more so since March 2020) and, then, with step-kids, it was complicated further (i’d planned to not have kids myself). In short, I guess I’m always trying to balance, which it sounds like you’re always working at too? Is it work, or is it that creating a life takes work? Always making small shifts and alterations to re-centre, always working to imagine the other side of the fold to see if I’m falling into a habit of seeing or looking as freshly as I can. Stories and words and writers are my wells of everything, but I don’t think I have individual writers who resonate so wholly and thoroughly as Knapp seems to, for you. It feels more like a chorus for me? We do have Audre Lorde in common though. At different times, Maxine Hong Kingston and Timothy Findley, Thomas King (for his thoughts on stories that save us) and Octavia Butler have really touched me. And I know, as soon as I click the Post Comment bubble, I’ll think of a dozen other writers I should have named instead or in addition. Take care and I hope you are having a lovely evening, Thomas. With snacks you’re compelled to photograph 🙂

    • First thank you for this thoughtful comment and for once again taking the time to both read and comment! First omgggg ugh I disdain that Amazon owns Goodreads :/// I will do my best to abstain from Amazon in other areas of my life. I also really appreciate you naming the shared vulnerability hopefully created by my blog – I do want people to feel comfortable self-reflecting and asking difficult questions of themselves in a self-compassionate way. Thanks for sharing about your thought process re: valuing and prioritizing friendship, I think it would be more egalitarian to try to self-reflect about whether one is valuing friendships or not and then take action to do so, over not thinking about it at all. It’s cool to hear about you’re chorus of writers and happy to see multiple women of color in that list. I’m grateful to Caroline Knapp because her memoir led me to other feminist works and authors, like bell hooks and Audre Lorde. I hope you take care too and sending warmth your way!

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