On the Microlevel: My Story So Far

Since I have completed my undergraduate studies, since I was rejected from every graduate program I applied to, since I realized that a change in locale would not change the problems in my marriage, I have been unsure as to what to do with this space. Part of me wants to stay true to my intentions when I started it: anonymously writing about how deeply personal events reflect social inequality. But I’ve been feeling weak, by which I mean, I have been so wrung out from recent events that for the past two months I have been physically sick. I gave my heart to a person who has a very mild form of autism, but more than that, I gave my heart to a person who wasn’t taught to love. Often, in his face I have seen my own failings: my quick temper, my impatience, my selfishness. This was the air I breathed, and he was so lost that it was inevitable that I would lose myself too. Lose him or lose myself. It wasn’t even a choice it was so automatic. I walked on eggshells, tried to change in a million small ways and several large ones. I fed him with my energy, not understanding how to better help.

The strangest thing was how this transformation affected me. I have always felt very deeply, so deeply that I often feel foolish for feeling so much. I have tried to change, but it is to my own deep dismay that I conclude that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sufficiently dampen my dumb, strong heart. The world doesn’t have much use for depressives. But I digress. In high school, my life felt like chaos. I did not have a good relationship with my dad. I constantly strained for my mom’s approval, but I was very controlling. It’s difficult to explain without diverging into what will basically amount to the blasé issues of the bourgeois. Regardless, I began to cut myself shallowly all over my body, and would go through long periods of irregular eating. If anyone noticed, I don’t remember them saying so. I turned on myself, but actually I don’t know if I was ever on my side to begin with.

I haven’t cut myself in eight years. Or, I should say that I haven’t cut myself physically. In the place we lived before, I began portioning myself up. The more chaotic things got, the more I ate, and the more I scrutinized myself. Eventually, I would not leave the house without a full face of make-up on. As a former professor used to ask, “Make-up? Making up for what?”

Indeed.

But, the girdles and control-top tights and fake eyelashes and big earrings and fried sandwiches make me feel momentarily safe…or did they make me feel momentarily numb? So I cut myself up more swiftly and with more conviction that I ever did when I drew blood. And the comfort and guilt and shame and self-loathing followed just as surely as ever.

 

This is my own spooky story for Halloween, and it is apt because of my relationship with this holiday. When I was very much younger, I told my mom I wanted to be Cinderella with “long, blonde hair.” She gets a kick out of this story, but the truth is that it pains me because when I hear it, I hear it through the lens of these years of painful self-injury. I hear it through these years of feeling like a second-rate castaway. I hear it through the painful lessons I have learned on how to be a Korean American, middle-class, West Coast, transracial adoptee. I am striving to accept myself, but in doing this I have to recognize that I have never felt as if I am anything more than an amalgamation of mostly negative feelings. I am shiftless, rudderless, constantly made and unmade by the perceptions of others.

 

My hope in writing this is that it will help to get the poison out. I am no longer physically sick. My partner is seeking treatment. I have been able to lower my castle walls, and something that feels like my self is beginning to creep in.

Here is my point: somehow, somewhere along the way, in the midst of my feminist and sociological studies, I began to hold myself to racist, misogynistic standards that played themselves out on my body. I tried to “compensate” for my skin. I fell back on old habits. My impulse in such a long-standing crisis was to hate myself. And, this was not overt. It happened slowly in a way that made it feel like a strong, definite, and empowering choice.

This has been my story of what happens when you diverge from hegemony in a society where portions of the population regularly have to fight for human rights because they are the wrong color or love the wrong people or come from the wrong country or look like they have the wrong genitals or are the wrong age or have the wrong biological/neurological make-up or…

But it’s only my story so far.

The rest is still to come.

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On Shifting Perspective(s)

There is a woman in my mind. I plait my hair to be more like her, but when I look in the mirror I see myself sans-bangs, sans-fringe, sans-highlights and dye. I see what I was trying to hide. I see that I was trying to hide.

 

As I advanced in my studies at the university, I was exposed to the argument that non-white women who bleach their hair, get plastic surgery, take on certain inflections, etc., are “fake.” That is, that these women of color had so internalized racist beauty standards that they were attempting to erase their ethnicities, their status as other, by feeding the so-called beauty industry by buying promises of whiteness in the forms of products and services. And, as a young woman of color who had begun dying her hair at 14, I thought that assessment was callous and one-sided. My feeling about this argument was not aided by the fact that it was men of color and white women who expressed these views. What did they know about being a young woman of color? Why did I have to be more ascetic than the white girls I knew who regularly adorned themselves with whatever they could afford? Because of phenotype? Because some man might read my pink hair as racial rejection? Because some woman might see me as treacherous on top of foreign?

I had thought that in the land of rugged individualism I could negate this faux-group ownership through hours of dreary work. I wanted more than the ability to escape the compliments of the adults I knew who, all my life, had remarked on the shiny blackness of my hair while reaching out to fondle a few strands. I knew that they meant to compliment me, but as a transracial adoptee I was convinced of myself as a castaway outlier. The heart of these compliments was the ever-present beat questioning my authenticity.

This question of authenticity remains, but now I can hold it in the palm of one hand. I have claimed control, and I maneuver it around until the question becomes: “What right have you to judge my authenticity?”

The ability to change an orientation, even if it is just my own, has made me see that in bleaching and dying my hair, in clothing myself and piercing my skin, I was trying to become someone different. But more than that, I was trying to become. And in trying to become, I was attempting to blot out the uneasy questions of who my actions dictated I was.

I wasn’t “trying to be white” when I bleached my hair. I was trying to live in a world in which I wasn’t primarily congratulated on and judged because of something that grew out of my head. I was trying to force everyone around me to work to see me.

 

This woman in my mind is part of a cast of characters who take up and replenish my energy. I have been writing and revising, but mostly I have been reading, and in doing so I have been creating. I am tired of feeling like an ascetic because the things I used to love have turned so twisted, so misogynistic, so racist, so violent, so hateful that I have begun to stop loving. I am taking comics, action, sci-fi, folk tales, and turning them over in the palms of my hands. I am taking everything and everyone I have ever loved and am letting them all turn me. I look at myself barefaced and see no almond eyes, no yellow skin, no stereotypical traits.

Now that I have begun this work I see me.