December 2016 – Part I

Friday, December 2nd
… Our relationships are fragmented. Friendships aren’t bound to geographical locations anymore. We literally have friends from all over the world, friends whom we see maybe once a year if we are lucky. … We are still able to build on these friendships. Time may chip away at the foundation little by little, but we can renew a coat when we see each other again.
But we are always so busy catching each other up on the major events that have happened. As consequence, I have no one to turn to with the everyday tales – no one to fully share my life with. When I need a warm shelter from an emotional turmoil, I have no immediate number to dial, because first I’d need to renew some intimacy bridges with my friends before I pour out my woe to them.

Tuesday, December 6th
Return to mindfulness, Day Zero. …

Thursday, December 8th
… My body and I have a difficult relationship. At most, I tolerate my body. I have not grown to love it in all of its angles and varieties. I still hate my body in photos. My immediate thought is, no one will want to hug this ugly body.
Bodies are so… messy. So loud, burpy, slick with all sorts of liquids and semi-liquids. Bodies smell, sometimes terribly so. They make all kinds of noises.
But bodies are also wonderfully soft and comforting. Surprisingly agile and adaptive. They are an extension of ourselves, because they are so expressive. They are very intricate and delicately balanced out. The tip of our tongue leans against our palate and teeth to create sounds that have the tremendous power to release us from this agonizing isolation.

Friday, December 9th
… The best thing about the performance was this incredible and instinctive connectedness. As the showtime came nearer, we started to open up more, to rely on each other, to support each other. Audience didn’t really matter, only to the fact that their presence helped to bring us closer. Before, during and immediately after the performance – we were close and connected in ways that differ from the immediate & almost automatic love of family, or the easy and comfortable friendship, or even the quick surge of love between lovers.
Our connection was more instinctive. Intuitive. A smooth flow of bodies and consciousness. There was no judgment, only compassion. No one hid or shied away from the group. It was a big, warm hug, cozier than a sunny wintry morning with a cup of tea and a good book in front of a fireplace, safer than being in my mother’s arms.

Tuesday, December 13th
… Being strong means going through the life being who you are (or who you think you are), trying to not kill your heart but instead trying to feel its every beat. Being strong means allowing your heart to be torn into pieces and putting them back together, and letting that change you. Strength is the humble acknowledgment that we can’t control all of our lives, that unfair things will happen, that by chasing after happiness, we lose the present moment. …

Wednesday, December 14th
What is gender? What does it mean, in this 21st century, to be a woman? A man? By now, these have become personal questions for each of us, since there is no generalizable answer.
I find myself torn between wanting to assume the “traditionally male” behaviors and wanting to keep the integrity of femininity, whatever the fuck that means. Perhaps I should stop labeling/gendering everything I do, and just do whatever strikes my fancy.

Friday, December 16th
… I was afraid to have opinions, because none of them were “fully” informed, and I feared people would criticize me for it. The only thing that has changed is that I have begun to just acknowledge the shortcoming in myself & everyone else, because our opinions are always going to be partial, incomplete, subjective, unfinished.

December 2016 – Part II

Sunday, December 18th
I can already feel it happening. The slipping. The slide into conformity. The strange metamorphosis that takes place inside me at this strange place called airport. …

Tuesday, December 20th
…An oppressive force that kills my creativity and causes me to be (or at least try to be) the Angel of the House. It’s no wonder my sister can’t create anymore. Her time and energy are demanded and allocated already. The scary thing is that this culture? system? makes you want to be the Angel, so you give up your time & energy voluntarily.
… I don’t want to hide who I am, but I am camouflaging already, on auto-pilot. As my grandma went on about finding a husband & etc., I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I have met a person who is making me feel all these tender feelings, and that she’s a girl. …

Wednesday, December 21st (Yule)
… Family is all-consuming – you are a part of the bigger puzzle; each of us has a role to play and burden to share (we all lay out our burdens and divvy up). Opinions to ask for, advices to be sought after, even if you have no intention of heeding them. Even when you are far away, physically, your place is reserved for you. Once you come back, you are expected to slide into your role seamlessly. The only alternative, so I feel, is to alienate yourself from the web so much that you are finally cut off, and the gap you leave behind is filled quickly enough.
There are things that I have to necessarily hide, but these deceptions/half-truths don’t torment me as much anymore. Perhaps because I’ve finally accepted that demanding from my family to accept me unconditionally will create too much of a weight on this fragile web. …

Thursday, December 22nd
… I was thinking about whether ‘angel of the house’ is an appropriate term cross-culture, then I realized that there already is a Korean term for this phenomenon: 착한 여자, or ‘good woman’.’Good woman’ has, in the Western societies, a sexual connotation, but in Korea, ‘착한 여자’ is a woman who neglects herself, denies herself rest and pleasure, and spends all her time and energy on taking care of others’ needs. Critical voices have already commented on the toxicness and impossibility of such an ideal, but the truth (as I see it) is, our [Korean] cultural expectations breed such women. It’s couched in terms such as kindness, discipline, filial obedience, but the result is the same ‘착한 여자’. …

Friday, December 23rd
This is the place where I stopped growing. Each time I come back, no matter how much maturity I have gained in the mean time, I revert back to an 11-yr-old, all irrational irritations & too easily bent under the family pressure (while exerting the same pressure on sb else and so keeping the family “together”).
You are to take up a free-time activity that can be put down at a moment’s notice. Nothing that requires your concentration, for that’s needed somewhere else. Grandma never had the leisure to write any of her thoughts down, so she resorts to speaking. Whenever she lies down to rest, when any of her children/grandchildren are over for a visit, she tells us stories – but more often grievances. There are so many unvoiced stories inside her. …
Sorrow. There is so much sorrow here. Sorrow and guilt. …

Monday, December 26th
… It is funny – almost scary, even – how one becomes attuned to the moods of the others in the same microcosmic community. There was something off about Dad tonight, he didn’t plop himself in front of the TV as usual. Whether he knew it or not, he craved human connection, so he sought it from us – his gezin. And perceiving this, it was impossible to leave this island of community to attend to my own things. …

Tuesday, December 27th
Saints are boring. They certainly aren’t humans. To sacrifice oneself – the body, the mind, the soul, the time – for others is very ego-less, but it also lets one off the hook about developing oneself. …

Friday, December 30th
… It’s a curious culture, ours. Or theirs. Or anyone’s. I think there is a certain advantage to living with their primary family, i.e. the family they are born with, until they found a family of their own. There’s less loneliness, for one. A certain psychological stability. But certainly, there are also disadvantages – not using all the years (20s, 30s, 40s even!) to develop their own identity, to experiment, to find out who they are, to grow used to solitariness (even if they never get married & live with their primary family forever, some day their parents are going to die).
… It still feels like my heart’s being torn, that moment of saying goodbye, the instant of physical separation. The moment when the reconstruction begins, the self dissolves, and my head enters the schizophrenic zone again. …

labels and confidence

More than four years ago, when I first started to realize that I was attracted to girls and women, I tried on one label after another to see if one fit me perfectly. Questioning, bi-curious, gay, bisexual, and probably some more. These labels seem to come with neatly typed-up instructions on How to be _______. At that time, I refused to see how complex humans are and that we can’t fit into a fixed number of boxes because there are always going to be people who feel like strangers in those boxes.

I didn’t mind people who refused labels. I didn’t think they were confused or anything. They seemed pretty convinced of who they were, theirs just weren’t one of the “typical” sexual orientations. But I still wanted to fit in one of those boxes as smoothly as possible. For me, having a label ready meant I knew who I was. I firmly believed I had to know who I was. I mean, if I didn’t know myself, who did? If I knew myself, I could confidently present myself to the world. I could deal with whatever crap that was thrown in my way because I knew myself and thus believed in myself. I thought I couldn’t support myself 100 % if I didn’t know myself. And for me, having a label I identified with meant knowing myself.

There are lots of questionable thoughts in the second paragraph. It feels a bit like deconstructing my own thoughts, but what I’m doing now is an important process nonetheless (for me, I mean. I have no idea of knowing whether any of this is relevant to you.).

Anyway, none of the labels sat comfortably with me. The funny thing is, by trying to break out of heteronormativity, I had designed just another rigid box for me to fit into. I had certain preconceptions of what it means to be gay or bisexual or straight. I had a hard-and-fast rule for each of them and didn’t even consider the infinite shades of in-betweens.

It’s not about what the label means, it’s about what you make of the labels. That means that my bisexuality isn’t going to match 100% with your bisexuality. If we had a room full of self-identifying bisexuals, we would probably all define “being bi” a bit differently. Heck, I thought I was straight for the first sixteen or seventeen years of my life. Then I thought I was “just” bi-curious. Then I thought I was gay. Then asexual. Then back to hetero. My sexual orientation fluctuates, and today that feature is my identity. Yep, I’m the person whose sexual orientation changes all the time. For the general public (if anyone asks), I’m bisexual. But it’s my way of bisexuality. In this regard, no one can tell anybody what is a “valid” sexual orientation (or gender identity, or racial identity, or ethnicity, or whatfreakingever) and what isn’t. We are not the ones experiencing what X is going through, so how can we condemn that what X is going through is “not real”? It sure as hell is real for X.

Labels are just that: labels. Whether you put “bisexual” or “gay” or whatever on my forehead, I still remain the same person in essence. Of course, the public perception changes as it reacts to the various labels. But the person underneath the label remains the same person.

I’ve been struggling with labels for years. I thought I didn’t have an identity if I couldn’t showcase a certain amount of labels. Somehow it seemed incredibly lame to just offer, Well, I’m me. But who is “me”? We offer labels as “facts”, as if they are supposed to give an insight to who we are. “I’m an American. I’m an accountant. I’m a man. I’m a fan of Manchester United. I speak Amharic. I’m divorced. I’m a sax-player.” Is this what we boil down to?

I don’t have a national or cultural label for myself. I can tell you I’m legally Korean. But I don’t feel Korean.
I don’t have a label for my sexual orientation.
I don’t always have a label for my gender.
For years, I called myself a “reader” but sometimes I don’t read at all for weeks and months.
Daughter, sister, grand-daughter – they are all tied to the gender. And I don’t always feel like a daughter.
And the most common feature: I keep changing all the time.

So I can’t define myself. Until a few weeks ago, however, I always felt the need to define myself. Because if I couldn’t define me, I couldn’t be me. Right?
But that’s not true.
I’m still me. Even if I don’t have a fixed contour, I’m still me. I still breathe, laugh, sleep and cry. I’m just one shiny box among seven billion other shiny boxes. And I’m not going to force my shiny box on anyone else. So why should you force yours on me?

Inspired by Jen’s video.