“It’s hard to imagine you sleeping,” a casual friend of mine said to me over dinner a few months ago. She stated this in the context of how I like to move, how I like to get things done. Indeed, as a fifth year PhD student, I have published a little over a dozen peer-reviewed publications, I have read and reviewed about 80 to 90 books a year for the past decade, and most importantly I try to engage in consistent self-reflection and self-compassion to improve as a friend and a person. When anyone mentions my “accomplishments”
accomplishments in quotes because I’m literally just a Gaysian nerd who wants to sit on my couch and read novels all day lol and also “accomplishments” don’t determine people’s worth I feel a desire to crawl into a pink-colored cave and never come out, which my therapist calls “modesty.” People often ask me though: how do you do so much?
On one hand, I have a lot of privilege. I present as male, and I grew up in one of the ten wealthiest counties in the United States. Without a doubt these factors influence my achievements. I want to own their influence and take action to deconstruct the systems that create these forms of privilege in the first place.
At the same time, I do my best to minimize distractions. An example of what I mean by distractions: body image as it relates to K-Pop. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I love upbeat K-Pop girl group songs: the artistry and choreography, the athleticism, and the invigorating beats intertwined with distinct feminine energy. However, K-Pop comes with its issues as most media does, specifically related to glorifying lighter skin and promoting toxic ideals of thinness. I do not care about looking white, however as a former anorexic I have to monitor my reactions to the idealization of thinness in the K-Pop media I consume, especially because most female idols are underweight and practice restrictive diets (e.g., Wendy from Red Velvet, Jennie from BlackPink, Amber from f(x) openly naming disordered eating as an issue for women in the industry, etc.)
For the past year or so, my every day workout has consisted of either jogging two or three miles or playing tennis for one to three hours. Sometimes I work out a little more or a little less. The other day at the end of one of my jogs, I thought to myself: if I kept going with this workout, it would probably help me have a flatter stomach. However, later that day I had a call with one of my best friends and I also wanted to fit in time to finish reading a book about anti-Blackness in the United States’ healthcare system throughout history. So I made conscious decision to not exercise more and engage in other values-aligned activities instead.
I think I write this all out because I have observed how other queer men as well as more femme people have prioritized trying to change their bodies or pursue a male romantic partner over developing self-love and other sources of meaning in life. I do not say that in a judgmental way because I recognize that systems of oppression suck. Rather, I say it because I want to always live according to my own values and not what patriarchy and white supremacy try to teach me. When I look back, I remember reading Appetites by Caroline Knapp and feeling so inspired by how she wrote about how oppressive forces in society tell us to focus on externals, like having a thin body, or owning luxury clothes or brand products, or marrying a man and taking wedding photos with him, over internal forms of self-regard. I feel fortunate that I internalized the importance of fighting back against such strength-depleting messaging earlier on so I could thrive later on in my life, including now.
At one point my current therapist said that one of my strengths includes that I do not let myself get in my own way. Her statement reminds me of a line from “Break Free” by Ariana Grande, one of the first pop songs I fell in love with: “I only wanna die alive, never by the hands of a broken heart.” One way I make peace with my inevitable death is by taking comfort in how I spend every moment of my life engaging in action I find meaningful. Even if I die later today, or tomorrow, or next week, I know I allocated what time I had to try and promote compassion and social justice. If I get hit by a car
which I’d rather have happen to me than date a mediocre man, tbh while jogging to Twice’s “I Can’t Stop Me,” I don’t want my last thoughts to revolve around getting skinnier or making myself more appealing to other men. While I’m here, I’m living to empower myself, my friends, and my communities.
How do you try to resist oppressive societal messaging that tries to get you to change who you are or who you want to be? General reactions to this post? Hope folks are well and until next time!