Die Alive

“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.

Speaking of my friends, here is a picture of soy garlic and galbi-flavored wings from a Korean chicken place near my apartment I recently decided to try out! Both of my closest friends are currently long-distance so I/we often get food to eat it in one another’s presences when we call and talk. Yay food and friendship!

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!

9 Comments

Filed under K-Pop, Personal, Pop, Society

9 responses to “Die Alive

  1. Kartavya Ratate

    so so glad to see you prioritising values-aligned activities and fighting against the oppressive societal forces as much as you can! definitely agree with you on choosing to “die alive” (by continuing to engage with things that give real meaning to our existence, till the very end of our lives) rather than by the hands of these toxic systems of power.
    recently I happened to read the epilogue to “Appetites” (which I hadn’t read earlier when I first read the book last year), and felt this rush of hope and longing, particularly in the final few lines. So many times your writing reminds me of her work, especially when you examine the interconnection between the outer forces and the inner self.

    also, I very much appreciate you acknowledging your privilege while speaking about your accomplishments, and seeking to deconstruct the systems that provide those privileges. that awareness is so essential for reaching out to those who are underprivileged and oppressed—many times ppl are very worked up about helping others but are still reluctant to accept their privileged positions.

    take care, and I hope you have a great week ahead!

    • awww thanks so much for this warm response! being compared to queen Caroline Knapp’s writing in Appetites is *the* greatest honor so I’m grateful to you for bestowing that upon me! def love examining the intersection of outer and inner self. (:

      yes so essential to practice self-awareness about our own privileges. appreciate you as always taking the time to read and comment, hope you have a wonderful remainder of the week

  2. Yes, that’s true that you don’t get in your own way and that’s great. I prioritise running because it’s my main weekly source of socialising, as well as my weekly coffee with my friend Gill and my blogs. When I was out for two weeks having lost my nerve after my fall, my running friends checked in with me and I went for a lovely dog walk with Claire, but it wasn’t the same as doing some miles and catching up. So I’ve been doing that this week. As a middle-aged, safely married white cis straight woman, it’s nice to have fewer expectations on me from outside, although I am getting a bit anxious about what on earth to wear to our running club’s awards night, where I’m presenting an award (even though I know it literally does not matter).

    • Yes love that you use running as a way to socialize! And I’m glad that folks still checked in with you when you lost your nerve. Appreciate you naming your own privileged identities here as well. Curious: what did you end up wearing to the running club’s awards?? Though yes totally resonate with it not mattering. (:

      • Yes, my running group are great. And now we have a Cold, my other friends are checking in on both of us, too! Haven’t been to the awards night yet so still don’t know. People from running club tend to go quite excitable when it comes to going out so I will fade into the background whatever!

  3. Manaal

    I wish everyone would read this! Thank you for communicating such a powerful and inspiring message, you made my day. Sending lots of love and peace your way

    • This is so kind of you! Thank *you* for taking the time to read it and to leave such an affirming comment. Returning the feelings of love and peace, hope you are doing as well as possible!

  4. You’re one of the most modest and accomplished person I’ve known. Every minute of your life has a purpose. I don’t think you’re the type of guy who would veg out in front of the TV for hours at a time. Even though we’ve never met, I had this feeling of sadness when you write about dying. (even though the part is more focused on living a fullfilling and value driven life).

    I love entries like these that make me reflect on my own life.

    Take care!

    • Awww thanks so much for saying that Matt! Yeah I honestly could not veg out in front of the TV, unless I’m watching a documentary that is about a social justice issue or perhaps a character-driven show I can talk about with friends. I would feel sad about the thought of you dying too! Glad that you are practicing self-reflection about your own life and sending much warmth and care your way.

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