Thinking Twice

Last week I made the mistake of texting a man. More specifically, I messaged a guy who I had gone on a date with when I visited Boston several months ago at the end of summer. I liked several things about him: his intelligence, considerateness, and critiques of capitalism. When I got back to DC though at the end of August, he said he didn’t want to try long-distance and I also sensed a gap in our emotional maturity, though I also wondered if we could have seen each other more if I had been in the Boston area for longer. When I texted him last week though, I learned that he wasn’t physically attracted to me because of my femininity.

When I learned about his femmephobia, I felt a sense of shame rush over me and my body tighten up in self-disgust. I can’t believe you wasted your time on this femmephobic loser, I thought to myself. I wanted to run into the freezing cold to my local public library down the street so I could return my perfectionistic excellence badge, my self-respect badge, and my doesn’t-ever-waste-time-on-mediocre-men badge.

In some ways, this incident reminded me of my relationship with the K-Pop girl group Twice. Blackpink got me back into Kpop in 2017, and when I checked out Twice’s music at that time, I strongly disliked it. Listening to “Cheer Up,” “Knock Knock,” and “Signal,” I rolled my eyes and said, “bleh.” As a Vietnamese American I recognize my outsider status to Korean culture and music, though Twice’s music reminded me of outdated patriarchal norms I read about in feminist books, like women socialized into valuing cuteness and prettiness over assertiveness and only singing about wanting the attention of boys and men. I remember a lab meeting with my undergraduates back around 2018 where I openly disparaged Twice’s music compared to Blackpink’s; in a virtual meeting around mid-2020 with a group of leftist Asians, I “bleh”-ed again when someone mentioned their siblings liking Twice.

My feelings about Twice started to shift with their release of “More & More.” The song blends tropical house, EDM, and synth-pop, the latter two I love because I identify as an Upbeat Gay™. Wait a second, I thought to myself while listening to the song, I do want more and more, from this white supremacist patriarchal country, from media’s lack of representation of people of color in platonic and romantic relationships with one another, and from the lackluster men in my life. Somehow I stumbled upon the content creator bosgotnojam’s hilarious YouTube video about Twice, which helped me start to differentiate the members. Then I discovered their epic masterpiece “Feel Special” and their empowered bottom anthem “I Can’t Stop Me,” and from those songs I fell in love with their integration of femininity, assertiveness, and tightly-executed synchronized choreography.

Speaking of “Feel Special,” every time I watch the music video I scream when it gets to Nayeon’s part of the first chorus. The confidence that she emanates combined with the additional beat layered into her section, honestly step on me. Truly the vibe I want to channel in all areas of my life.

My growing fascination with Twice led me back to some of their earlier songs that I loathed, like “Likey” and “Signal.” While I recognize certain elements of Twice’s earlier music may feel grating, like the repetition persistent throughout “Signal,” I also started to more greatly appreciate the energetic, bubbly, and colorful elements of these songs. Soon enough, I started running a few miles a day to “Signal” – alternating between the original version, the Japanese version, the instrumental version, etc. – which I had never imagined myself doing back when I first listened to the song and detested it in 2017.

Twice’s femininity reminds me of my own and how grateful I feel that I never struggled with it, because my grandmother and my friends affirmed those elements of my identity throughout my life. While I experienced femmephobia from folks like my mother and certain men, I never internalized it because my femininity contributed to some of my favorite parts of myself, like my desire to practice empathy, my expressiveness of my emotions and how I do my best to give space to other people’s emotions, and my softness. Twice’s later music introduced a notion of duality that helped me warm to the group, the notion that I can be many things at once: assertive and caring, empowered and gentle, and outspoken and tender. I also acknowledge, though, that the individual-level agency I derive from Twice’s music does not counteract the fatphobia, colorism, and labor abuse that pervades the Kpop industry as a whole.

Through my relationship with Twice’s music, I relearned the okayness of revisiting things from my past and reexamining them with fresh eyes. I texted the man from Boston and learned that he’s femmephobic without a concrete plan to change, so I stopped talking to him. I listened to some of Twice’s past songs and now I’m blissfully bopping along to them in my messy little book-filled apartment. Perhaps it’s less important to stay consistent in my decision (e.g., like or dislike this music, text or don’t text this guy) and more important to stay consistent in my values (e.g., is this behavior compassionate, oriented towards social justice, etc.?)

That night, after I texted the femmephobic guy, I facetimed with one of my best friends Bri. We talked and laughed about a pattern we’ve noticed in certain men, the ability to name an issue (e.g., codependency, femmephobia, fear of commitment) coupled with an inability to actually take action to address that same issue. I think my aversion to this form of passivity may also contribute to my enjoyment of Twice’s music and upbeat pop music in general – the elevated rate of beats per minute fuels my agency to approach my problems instead of avoiding them. I can’t stop me, indeed.

I’m listening to “More and More” as I get this post ready for publication, so here’s a pic from that era. Gotta love the ethereal floral vibe, more satisfying than the vibes 98% of the men in my life have given me. Also UGH Jihyo’s pink hair is making me want to go pink again, maybe one day.

How do you develop confidence in the parts of yourself that society stigmatizes? Are there certain things from your past that you’ve revisited with fresh eyes and if so, have you grown from doing so? General reactions to this post? I learn about where I match for residency on Feb 18 so I’m budgeting my time with research, books, music, friendship, and self-reflection until then. Until next post!

13 Comments

Filed under Personal, Pop

13 responses to “Thinking Twice

  1. Interesting. I apologize for my naiveness but I didn’t know about femmephobia. Gosh, I hope you don’t take my comments the wrong way because it’s really that I’m stupid and don’t understand things but I want to understand. So the guy used LDR as an excuse but he just didn’t like the way you think, feel, react to things? 😑 So if it was not a LDR, would it be ok? I’m glad you are not really talking to him again.

    And yes, as I get older, I revisit some music or books and have a different feeling towards them.

    And can’t wait for Feb 18! ❤️

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, I am also glad that I stopped talking to him! Yay for revisiting music and books as you get older. Appreciate your shared anticipation for Feb 18!

  2. priya

    i had the same view of twice initially too. i especially didn’t like signal, and still their other songs like likey aren’t that good. i guess that was because i subconsciously and sometimes actively avoided femme things because of dysphoria by association. i do really like twice now, especially “yes or yes”, “feel special” and “fancy” and love how hap put and feminine they are! haven’t gotten into the group enough to learn their names, but i look forward to every comeback!

    glad you have awesome to focus your energy on instead of unworthy men.

    • haha at the strikethrough at unworthy men, I mean exactly though! and I appreciate your self-awareness and reflection about the femininity maybe eliciting dysphoria. I haven’t been able to get into “yes or yes” or “feel special” and at the same time I’m glad you enjoy those songs. I hope you are doing as well as possible (:

  3. Ha – the red hair on the person in the middle made me long for my hair to go that bit greyer so I can go into lots of fun colours without all the hassle and upkeep of bleaching it. So low-maintenance. And not very feminine. I’m reeling from that guy telling you you were too much so. Eugh. What a knob, as you may not say there, perhaps! I’m sorry, and I’m glad you’re able to seek refuge in music and friends you love.

    I’ve changed my opinion on various things over the years. Not the big ones, like my leftist politics! But I certainly found I didn’t love Anne Tyler as much I thought I did last year; I also a while ago discovered it was OK to read other George Eliot novels apart from Middlemarch … I have often wondered what I saw in old boyfriends, too!

    • Omg would love to see you with red hair eventually! That’d be amazing. And I appreciate your warmth and solidarity about the mediocre man – good riddance honestly.

      Thank you for sharing your reflection. It sounds like the core values perhaps have stayed consistent while other things like reading choices or awareness about certain reading choices have shifted. I hope you are doing well. (:

  4. How interesting you use Twist to tie everything together. 🙂

    I remember when at started working, I would try to be conscious of how I hold things, walk and talk. Part of this was also how to behave in order to move up the corporate ladder. Sigh…

    It’s sad to learn about your friend’s femmephobia. I’m sure this wasn’t the type of closure you had wanted. I think it says more about his weakness and inscecurities than anything about you.

    I hope everything works out for you on Feb. 18th. I’ll be cheering for you from afar.

    • Yes yay Twice! And ugh, if only femmephobia weren’t persistent in so many settings including work. Yep, this guy (who is def not my friend right now) has some limitations and hopefully he works though them and if not, not my issue to deal with at the moment. Thank you for the well wishes for Feb 18, nine days away!

  5. I can see why you and your friend were discussing men and the idea of naming problems but not resolving problems, if you’re both romantically interested in men, but do you think this is something men do more often than women? It’s a behaviour that I associate more often with women, in my experience, the likelihood that one will recognise and name a behaviour that isn’t healthy but not actually try to change it. in any case, I can relate to the frustration of feeling as though a potential friendship/relationship has been nipped in the bud because of an aspect of my identity that’s immutable. Sigh.

    • That’s so interesting! I’d be curious if you’re referring to any particular demographics of women? In my experience, while there are a few men I know who practice self-awareness and take action toward self-improvement, generally women have been forced to be a bit more aware of their own feelings and emotions and how they can take action to make strides in their/our lives. Ugh, that sucks about a friendship/relationship being nipped in the bud because of an aspect of your identity. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment and sending much warmth your way!

      • I’ve been thinking about this, and I don’t think I see a pattern in terms of demographics, except that in one of my closest friendships with a woman much older than me (more than twice my age) I never witnessed that behaviour. If she made a determination to do/not do something, she simply followed through, which I took more as a reflection of her awareness of her own mortality. But I don’t think everyone in their 70s/80s is necessarily that resolute either?? Heheh

  6. Kartavya Ratate

    It sucks that you had to hear such femmephobic trash. Your anger is validated, and I’m glad to see you finding comfort and strength from things that are helping you assert your identity – it’s so critical to ground ourselves into who we are, especially in moments like these. No one should be shamed for who they are. I have been at the receiving end of such kind of hate too. And it really hurts, and makes it difficult for you to define yourself and embrace your identity. But ultimately, there’s a lot of hard work and emotional support that has to go from your side into protecting yourself, and I’ve been grateful to have several resources and outlets to help myself do exactly that – whether it’s listening to and watching the MVs of K-pop songs, reading feminist texts, journaling, or reading your blog posts, educating myself, and helping others. Like always, you have my support and warmth, Thomas, and I hope you continue experiencing fulfilment from the things you value. Take care!

    (And omggg if you’re thinking about dyeing your hair pink at any point in the future, please just go for it!!!)

    • Yes thank you so much for taking the time to read this post and provide such a thoughtful and warm response. Love the notion of standing firm in our identities and having specific strategies to cope and empower ourselves (e.g., music, writing, reading, etc.) Means a lot that my blog posts can serve as a form of support for you! And omg ugh I keep getting signs that pink might be the best move… we’ll see…

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