You Wouldn’t Be You

I have seen my current therapist, a white lesbian woman, since June of 2018. When we met on Wednesday a week ago, I brought up an exchange we had during a pre-COVID session. Back then, I had told her once about how when one of the straight guys I played tennis with drove me home, I felt a strong physical attraction to him to the point where I would have wanted to make out with him if he had identified as queer and provided consent.

“I’m so jealous of you because when I told you about that, you literally said that you would have wanted to vomit if you had been sitting next to him,” I said, smiling. “I don’t know if there’s anything I wouldn’t give to be physically repulsed by men, honestly.”

“I get your frustration,” she said, laughing. The session contained a lot of positive energy. “But if you weren’t attracted to men, you wouldn’t be you.”

I have felt annoyed when my therapist has made similar comments in the past. You wouldn’t be you? Sure whatever, but that misses the point: being attracted to men, a gender socialized within our current white supremacist patriarchy, has caused me so much pain throughout my life. If I had not been attracted to men, I would not have engaged with harmful men who state that they have social justice-oriented values and then fail to live out those values in their personal relationships. I could have avoided many hours of pointless and boring interactions with men in which I would have rather played with one of my best friend’s cats, eaten Asian takeout while reading a novel on my couch, or stared at pink paint dry on my apartment’s walls while humming “Feel Special” by Twice.

However, over the past several months I have grown more accepting of my attraction to men. I thus had the mental bandwidth to entertain my therapist’s statement last week for longer than two seconds. I love being Asian, love being gay, and dislike being attracted to men, though I recognize that my gayness and attraction to men occur concurrently. Without a doubt, my gayness has improved the quality of my life: it has helped me question amatonormativity and other societal norms, encouraged my expressiveness and emotionality and artistry, and connected me to amazing queer books and a warm community on Goodreads. I feel lucky that I came into my sexual orientation in the early 2010’s, when the blossoming of queer media and the efforts of queer activists in decades past made my gayness pretty much a nonissue.

I have more reservations about whether my attraction to men has improved the quality of my life. I will admit, though, that my attraction to men did contribute to how I developed a connection with both of my current best friends. With one friend, I remember laughing in the library of my undergraduate university about men’s inability to do anything other than [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] as well as bonding over Ariana Grande’s feminist refusal of mediocre men in her song “Love Me Harder.” With my other bff, our bond intensified in 2019 when we supported each other through one of my crushes and one of her male ex-friend’s treating us like garbage. We sent each other flurries of text messages, many of which still make laugh when I reread them, our roasts of men and support of one another. Of course, these friends and I criticize amatonormativity and always dedicate ample time to process and discuss non-man topics such as art, our families, social justice issues, our internal worlds, random people in our lives, and more. At the same time, my attraction to men did play a role in the development of these bonds.

Speaking of my attraction to men, I went on a date recently that was pleasant though boring af. At least the food, pictured above, was wonderful. Would def rather have General Tso’s chicken in my mouth over an unsatisfying or mediocre man!

In another universe, not being attracted to men may have made my life better, or it may have made my life worse. Maybe I would have somehow still managed to resist toxic masculinity and embrace more traditionally feminine qualities as a *shivers* straight man. In this alternate universe, maybe I would have avoided some of the homophobic prejudice or discrimination I’ve encountered, married an amazing woman (though as we know the wedding industrial complex is patriarchal garbage), and spent time learning how to cook or put together furniture lol even straight me wouldn’t touch either of those things, we know that instead of interacting with bleh men. Sometimes I feel pressured to say something like, oh of course I wouldn’t do my life over again without being attracted to men, of course I’d still choose this existence – honestly, I don’t feel that way, at least not all the time. Even if I continue to love my life without a male romantic partner or later meet a man who I’d want to date long-term, my attraction to men still generated enough suffering that I’d potentially rather just scrap it to begin with.

Or maybe my life would have been even more difficult without my attraction to men. Maybe I wouldn’t have always had a close few female friends, or I wouldn’t have stumbled upon Appetites by Caroline Knapp which launched my foray into feminism and social justice generally, or I wouldn’t have the same vibrancy and high energy that I emanate in my everyday life. I don’t know, and I’m radically accepting that I probably never will.

To cope and to thrive, I lean into the present. The laughter I share with my best friends, the self-efficacy that courses through me as I jog along to pop music, the interdependence I feel when I help someone work through a mental health issue – whether these sensations would have happened without an attraction to men or not doesn’t matter when I let myself experience them in the moment. As I learned through reading Knapp’s Appetites, my connection to myself matters way more than any external source of self-worth: my ability to to know who I am and what I want and how to feed my own soul. In this life, I feel proud that I have developed the ability to nourish myself, despite the obstacles I have faced.

Yesterday I got dinner with a friend at Nando’s and it was fabulous, both the company and the food! Yay for satisfying interactions and nourishing food and having like 10,00 things aside from men that bring me joy and pleasure in life.

How have you come to terms with things in your life you wish had been different? General reactions to this post? Today I submitted my apps for my internship/residency yayyy. Until next post!

10 Comments

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10 responses to “You Wouldn’t Be You

  1. Congratulations on submitting your applications! I hope it goes well for you and that you’re happy wherever you go.

    I love how you talk about radical acceptance and the joy you feel in your day-to-day life, with what you already have (and not in search or needing a man). It’s a little selfish of me, but your open and analytic writing has helped me to reconsider joy and happiness in my own life, and I’m very grateful for it. It’s so mind-opening to know that it’s possible to grow, to thrive, and to be in the present, especially when it’s all too easy to get caught up in my thoughts.

    It’s interesting that you talk about another universe with another (perhaps straight! perish the thought) – I think about the same thing, too, where I wonder how much different my life would be if I had made x decision, or if I ended up at y instead of z. I remember reading an interview by Viet Thanh Nguyen where he talked about how the idea of parallel/different lives is something that he thinks is inherent to immigrants and refugees, and the generations following. It makes me wonder a little bit about the different lives that my parents might have imagined, or my grandparents. I’ve never thought of them as having dreams before, but as I sit with my own thoughts, I realize there must have been for them, too.

    • Awww thank you, I’ll def post on Facebook as well as here (though potentially with some anonymized details here) about where I end up going! Match day is February 18 2022 so all warm thoughts are appreciated until then. (:

      Appreciate you naming the role of joy in my life and in this blog! I don’t think it’s selfish of you, and even if it is, that is why I’m sharing and I hope folks can take away things that are relevant and helpful to their own lives. Yes, I feel like getting caught up in our thoughts and emotions can happen. When I went to therapy for my PTSD several years ago I remember how in the moment present awareness really helped me alleviate my intense symptoms and I’ve been using it ever since, much to my benefit.

      Ooooooh yes I feel like your comments about the parallel lives is so fascinating. I wonder if this parallel lives things feels especially pertinent to immigrants/refugees given how their narratives are often displaced, erased, minimized, etc. Glad you are reflective and aware of this dynamic and hope you are as well as possible today!

  2. Ooh well done on getting the applications in!

    I’ve definitely wished I’d not been attracted to men, for similar reasons. Fortunately in the end I got a not-horribly-macho one who does work on identifying his cis white male privilege etc. And he’s crap at DIY, too (we make furniture together but at least half of our female friends could make a shed quicker than he can.

    I really really wish I hadn’t been infertile, but that’s part of me, too, I have to accept that and try to be a force of good in the world for the younger people in my life (OK a force of enforced multicultural books on why you should vote and non-gender-stereotyped toys!).

    You’re good at doing you and you’re great as you are.

    • Thank you so much Liz! Appreciate your solidarity about the attraction to men and glad it’s worked out for you. I also am grateful for your vulnerability in sharing about infertility and role modeling acceptance. You def are a force of good in the world for younger people including myself! Hope your weekend is going well. (:

  3. I want to give you a big high five for getting your applications in. How long before you hear back?

    It’s taken me many years to accept my sexuality. I just wanted to do well at work, make a ton of money, marry and have kids. The perfect immigrant dream I thought. Of course life doesn’t work that way. I wish I had the maturity and knowledge to reach out for help and support. I wish your blog existed way back then. 🙂

    The food pics look so good. It’s almost bedtime and I’m getting hungry. I appreciate your friendship and support here. Thank you.

    • Thanks so much Matt! Interview invites come out in lateish November and December, I interview (if I get interviews, fingers crossed) in December and January, and then match day is February 18 2022! We’ll see how it gooooeeees.

      Ooooh I appreciate you sharing about how it took time for you to accept your sexuality and reconcile with the perfect immigrant dream. I would be curious to read more about your journey to let go of or reconfigure that imagined life path!

      Appreciate your friendship and support too and sending a lot of strength and warmth with your caretaking responsibilities and all else you may have going on in life right now. (:

  4. priya

    “But if you weren’t attracted to men, you wouldn’t be you.” i say this to myself a lot about my queerness. being gay is such an integral part of my identity and, since about two years ago, i really can’t imagine being cishet. i think i understand why you don’t particularly like identifying as someone who is attracted to men. there’s a (perceived?) difference between being gay and being attracted to men, with the gayness obviously being superior.

    aside from all this, there’s obviously the homophobia and femphobia that you have faced for being gay and understandably, like a lot of queer people at some point, it naturally makes you wish you weren’t gay.

    “oh of course I wouldn’t do my life over again without being attracted to men, of course I’d still choose this existence – honestly, I don’t feel that way, at least not all the time.” ahhh this is totally valid thomas!! it’s better to be honest about your feelings on being attracted to men than to keep up the notion that queerness means total freedom. most of us struggle with our queerness and it really doesn’t mean we have to fully accept our queerness.

    good luck with your residency apps!!!

    • thanks so much for this validating response Priya! I hope that being gay being an integral part of your identity feels positive to you, or at least you are exploring and existing within that identity in a way that feels healthful and manageable. yes totally here for you acknowledging the nuances of this post, and yeah I feel like it’s very much patriarchy at fault here because if not for patriarchy men wouldn’t be as emotionally stunted, constipated, etc. sending much warmth and strength your way with whatever you may be contending with in life right now!

  5. Kartavya Ratate

    wow, after reading this post, I went back and reread your previous post titled “Dynamic”, on valuing friendships with the same commitment and intensity with which the patriarchal culture encourages people to value romantic relationships. I feel like for me, the most painful part so far has been accepting how my identity as a male, within the toxically patriarchal society that I currently live in, can determine the relationships I have. To be clear: I particularly love it when you write about the female company you have, how you and your female friends practice compassion, nurturance and interdependence while putting in efforts and time to grow and thrive individually. oftentimes, I find myself longing for similar female friendships (I’ve always avoided male company because of how I’ve been mistreated in the past, and men are dumb anyway), but because I live in a patriarchal society in which such friendships (between people who don’t follow the gender binary roles, and wish to form non-romantic relationships) are
    never encouraged, often heavily criticized, I’ve been desperately lonely. This societal rigidity is so suffocating. You know, I often imagine myself basking in the glory of my female friendships, I imagine how we would practice kindness and fight against the shit world inflicts upon us. But that is just what it is for now: imagination. Although I understand that it is the patriarchal systems of power that need to change, so that people can have the freedom to choose who they want to be with and what kind of relationships they wish to have, I cannot help but feel sad that only if I hadn’t been born at this place and in this era, maybe my life would have been simpler. Maybe I would have felt more confident in my identity and in how my identity would have helped me be with people who share similar values and interests.

    This topic is really complicated because I feel like both identity and societal forces are interlinked, making it tougher to speak about either of them without referring to/acknowledging how the other is influenced by it at the same time. So I can understand how frustrated you may be feeling because of your attraction to men and how patriarchy influences these relationships.

    This whole dynamic is messy!

    I’ve already written too much here, but I felt so good being vulnerable with you. Thanks for this space where we can encourage mutual growth. Hope you are taking care, and best of luck with the applications. Sending you my warmest wishes!

    • awwww I appreciate your vulnerability in this comment and your self-reflection, especially with how societal forces affect what types of relationships are available to us. I hope you are able to make sense to grieve and long for the types of relationships that would satisfy you, while honoring what efforts you put and can put into your relationship with yourself as well as what agency you can practice either at this point in your life or at a later point. yes, the dynamic is messy and making space for that messiness and trying to understand and grow from it is so important. sending warmth and strength your way!

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