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.
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.”
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!