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Shedding Light: Reflections on Deconstructing Light-Skinned Privilege from Within

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when colorism began to seep into my consciousness. But one childhood memory stands out, in grainy detail: I am young, elementary school age, sitting in the living room with my mother and watching a Khmer karaoke video of a woman singing to her lover. My mother tries to explain to me what the song is about. The language barrier between us likely eclipses any complete and nuanced understanding, but I am left with the impression that the woman is singing about her dark complexion, and how she remains worthy of his love in spite of the color of her skin.

“But she’s not even dark,” I point out.

My mother shakes her head. “They wouldn’t cast an actual dark-skinned girl for the video.”

Something uneasily clicked into place at that moment for me. It stirred whenever my mother made self-deprecating comments about her own brown skin. It stirred when she fussed over putting on powder 5 shades lighter than her actual skin tone before we took any pictures, or when strangers who knew my mother saw me and said to her (in Khmer), “Your daughter has such fair skin. She’s pretty, like a Japanese girl.” Sometimes Korean would be offered instead of Japanese, but never Cambodian, where my cultural roots lie.

“She takes after her dad,” my mother would usually reply to comments like this. When I was younger, these compliments about my skin were bearable, even flattering to me. I would smile and say thank you with ease, up until my early twenties, when the discomfort broke through the surface and revealed its true colors with the help of an increasing social and political consciousness, provided to me by a rewarding albeit pricey women’s college education. This discomfort hardened into an unsettling truth: I have light-skinned privilege, and every time I allow someone to uphold it, I am rejecting my heritage and the woman who brought me into this world.

The funny thing is, I had never been fully sold on the belief that light skin is more beautiful or desirable than dark skin, even though I was raised by a mother who had internalized it to her own detriment. Perhaps I hadn’t completely bought into the lie of colorism because I was raised by a dark-skinned mother. Why would I forsake my own mother and her beauty? I thought the color of one’s skin played an arbitrary role in determining someone’s attractiveness or worth. I found people of all hues beautiful. Ironically enough, this rationale may have enabled me to downplay my own complicity and culpability in an existing hierarchy of skin color. Once when I was in high school, my mother told me a Cambodian girl in my grade had won the beauty pageant at the local temple. “You could tell she couldn’t speak any Khmer, but she has fair skin. The other two girls were dark-skinned and had no chance,” she said.

I was frustrated by the news. Shamefully, it was less about the colorism than it was knowing that this Cambodian girl who had won on the technicality of her skin tone was more Americanized than I was. She can’t even speak Khmer, I thought bitterly. I’m more connected to my roots than her. I should win. Never minding the fact that I rarely went to the temple, had no idea this pageant existed until my mother had told me about it, and would have won on the technicality of my skin tone as well.

Perhaps my lack of self-awareness stemmed from the shade of my complexion sometimes being relative to the person perceiving it. Among my mother’s Cambodian friends, I am a light-skinned East Asian girl. Among my biracial white and Asian friends, I am tan, brown, dark. With the former, I am put on a pedestal within the colorism spectrum. With the latter, I am knocked down from it.

Two years ago, I visited Cambodia for the first time with my mother, who hadn’t been to her homeland since she left over thirty years ago as a refugee fleeing the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.  It was heartwarming to meet villagers who had grown up with my mother; these were people who had known her before the trauma of war and death had sunk into her soul. But whenever my mother introduced me as her daughter, some of the women would compliment me on my light skin and in response, I would smile awkwardly and mumble a thanks, guilt twisting my insides. My Khmer is limited, and I didn’t have the words or wit to tackle the colorism that occurred in those moments. Once, I looked at my mother’s still expression during one of these exchanges, and briefly wondered if each compliment directed at her daughter’s skin meant a tiny cut etched into her heart.

This inner turmoil rose up again when we visited the big fancy mall in the capital. White and light-skinned models stared at me from every advertisement, in direct contrast to a majority of the people who were shopping there. It rose up again when we stopped by a convenience store, its hygiene care aisle lined with whitening products. Witnessing all of this made me angry, sick. Witnessing this and silently struggling in my light-skinned body, with my colonized tongue, made me even more angry and sick.

I have seen debates over whether or not colorism is derived from white supremacy and colonialism. Some say it came before, and has more to do with classism than racism. I think these debates are mostly unproductive, especially if they begin and end there. In my mind, whether or not one came before the other, and whether one is more like another, is besides the point. Systems of oppression don’t operate in silos. White supremacy/colonialism/racism, colorism, and classism/capitalism work in tandem. They intersect and overlap to cast a wider net of dehumanization, one that has historically and consistently harmed poor, dark-skinned people of color the most. This is evident by who we see represented on the screen, on magazine covers, at proverbial tables—and who is not. People of color who can manifest an approximation of whiteness, whether through lighter skin, speaking Standard American English, possessing physical features classified as European, or having “good” hair (read: hair like a white person’s), are more likely to be provided with platforms where we can be seen and heard, which in turn can provide us with easier access to social and monetary capital. This is a triangulation of colorism, racism, and classism at work. For women and femmes of color, whose perceived value is primarily rooted in the colonization and objectification of our bodies due to white supremacist patriarchy, this becomes an even more complicated configuration of oppression.

I think a more useful question is: How can people who bear less or zero of societal burdens leverage their privileges to dismantle these systems of oppression? How do I, as a Southeast Asian woman with light-skinned privilege, use this privilege to combat the colorism that undermines the day-to-day lives of my dark-skinned family, friends, and community members?

I am still exploring these questions, but I know it starts with me. Me, unlearning the toxic notion that my light skin is inherently more desirable or valuable than comparably darker skin. Me, resisting narratives that uplift Eurocentric standards of beauty. Me, decentering myself when it comes to narratives that uplift the multifaceted beauty of API women. Me, learning to love and celebrate myself without throwing my dark-skinned sisters and femmes under the bus. Me, embracing the beauty of dark skin without fetishizing it.

I ask that my fellow light-skinned API sisters and femmes practice the same critical consciousness by taking a deep and honest look at who we choose to engage with in relation to skin color. What are the primary skin complexions of our role models, possibility models, and models for beauty? What are the primary skin complexions of our celebrity crushes, our sexual partners, our romantic partners, and our friends? If the answers to these questions reveal an implicit preference for lighter skin, we must ask ourselves why, and unlearn this harmful mode of being. Are we calling people in/out for perpetrating colorism, including ourselves? Are we pushing back on the person who tries to compliment us because we are light-skinned, or the person who disses our dark-skinned sisters and femmes in a misguided attempt to bond over deeply entrenched colorism?  Are we checking ourselves every time we post pictures in the name of self-love and making sure our beauty praxis isn’t centered on how closely we can mirror whiteness?

How can we do more to uplift the beauty and talents of our dark-skinned sisters and femmes? How can we appreciate our beauty as women of color without relying on controlling images and narratives that privilege light skin over dark skin? These are questions worth reflecting on as API women with lighter skin. If we truly believe in solidarity with and liberation from the struggles we face because of racism and sexism, then we must be able to confront ourselves and use our privilege to banish colorism, both outside and within.

Every time I think back to those moments when I was told I was beautiful because of my lighter skin, I cringe. Next time, I want to be prepared. I want to say, “Thank you, but I’m not beautiful because of my skin color. I’m beautiful because of the woman who made me.”

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I’m Not Dead

tw: suicidal ideation

When I was seven, I wrote on a piece of paper about how sad and alone I felt because no one understood me. I made the mistake of writing this deeply anguished reflection at my cousin’s house, where privacy was not an option. Soon enough, my cousin and her friends had come back to her room where I had been hiding, and snatched up the paper I had poured my heart into.

“No! Don’t read it!” I pleaded, trying to get it out of my cousin’s outstretched hand.

“What does it say?” her friends asked.

I watched my cousin’s brow furrow as her eyes skimmed over my neat, round handwriting. “It’s just about feelings,” she finally said, and didn’t share the paper with anyone else.

I remember feeling a wave of relief wash over me, knowing that she would keep my secret.

This memory still lingers in my mind to this day, nearly twenty years later. I think it’s because it marks one of the first moments this all began: this ebb and flow of chronic melancholy that has haunted me for most of my life.

Some people might ask, don’t you mean depression? And honestly, I’m not sure. Sometimes I use that word because it’s the easiest way to encapsulate my experience, but I’ve never been officially diagnosed. And according to the Internet (which of course you can’t always believe, but still), depression isn’t just about being sad. And I don’t know if there’s anything more to my condition, other than a deep, impenetrable sadness I default to when I’m alone with just my thoughts.

There’s usually a process to it. Sometimes it starts with uncertainty about little things, oftentimes nothing of consequence. Maybe I’m walking down a hallway and try to say hi to an acquaintance, and she doesn’t acknowledge me. Or a group of people sitting by me are laughing and I swear they’re looking at me as they’re doing it. Not knowing what other people are thinking when they see me or interact with me, leads to mounting feelings of dread, a queasiness in my stomach, a racing of my heart. Then the void gets filled with my own toxic, poisonous thoughts: I definitely did something wrong, said something wrong, they definitely do not like me, I am definitely a walking human error and my only solution is to crawl under a rock and die.

Other times, it begins with a negative response from someone that they may quickly forget within minutes but I end up holding on to forever: a scolding from a teacher on breaking a minor classroom policy, or a joking but biting remark from a friend. The hurt will fester inside me and along with it come those toxic thoughts again: I definitely did something wrong, said something wrong, they definitely do not like me, I am definitely a walking human error and my only solution is to crawl under a rock and die.

By this point, I am overwhelmed with existential feelings of rejection, shame, loneliness. I think things like, Nobody likes me. I keep fucking up. I’m going to die alone. I have no purpose in life. What’s the point of living? 

I’ve fantasized about dying, off and on throughout my childhood, adolescence, and adult life. I’ve gotten excited at the thought of being hit by a car and getting killed instantly. But the most important part is my funeral. Who will attend and how everyone will react. The things they would say once I’m gone. Maybe that’s when people will finally care, is the refrain that echoes in my mind. I’ve also romanticized suicide. What a tragic, courageous way to die. I could never do that. But if I could, how would I end my life? Jumping off a bridge and drowning? Swallowing pills? Throwing myself in front of an oncoming train?

I keep waiting to outgrow this unhealthy train of thought, but it catches up to me, especially in the past two years, when so many life stressors have built on top of each other in layers I am too overwhelmed to tease apart and remedy. What if…? Life is so exhausting. I’ve done enough. There’s nothing to look forward to. How long would it take for people to notice if I kill myself? 

On the bright side, I’ve combated these thoughts just as quickly as they’ve entered my head. No, you can’t. You can’t do this. Be grateful. You don’t have it so bad. Your family will never get over this if you die. You don’t want to hurt your family and friends, do you?

In a way, it’s been a morbid game of truth or dare I’ve played with myself:

Truth or dare.

Truth.

Would you kill yourself?

No. I’ve thought about it. But no, I wouldn’t.

Truth or dare.

Dare.

I dare you to kill yourself.

On my 26th birthday, I listened to Logic’s “1-800-273-8255” song for the first time and bawled my eyes out, especially when I heard him sing, “I want you to be alive,” because it hadn’t hit me until then how much I needed to hear someone say that to me.

The third time he sings the chorus, he changes the line to “I finally want to be alive.” Something inside me cringes at that part because I don’t know if I can ever genuinely sustain that feeling. It just sounds easy to transition into that mindset when it’s a lyric in a catchy four minute song.

A part of me knows this all sounds very melodramatic, and not quite in line with my life. I think this is because I have done a decent job of holding it together so I can avoid other people worrying or pitying me, or becoming a burden. People come to me with their emotional baggage. If I do it to other people, I try my best to keep my presentation as contained as I can. I usually save the actual emotional wreckage for later, when I can retreat to the privacy of  my car or my bedroom. Once, when I gave the slightest indicator that I was having a hard time to a friend, she expressed surprise and some disbelief. “But you seem so together,” she said.

And so I do.

I don’t know all the root causes of this melancholy. I can only guess. Maybe it’s because my family was so dysfunctional, maybe it’s because I grew up poor, maybe it’s because I was bullied as a kid, maybe it’s because my dad died when I was so young, but most of the time I’ve brushed this all off. So what? All of this stuff isn’t that terrible. Almost everyone has a dysfunctional family. It’s not like you were living on the streets, begging for scraps. I was guilty of also bullying other kids. And other people grow up with a single parent and turn out fine. There isn’t anything so awful in my past circumstances that should warrant this level of emotional turmoil.

All I know is, I am scraping by with some measure of self-worth I’ve worked hard to obtain and keep in the past seven years. Yet I can’t seem to progress much farther than deciding that I no longer want to hate myself.

Inspired by a friend of mine, one of my resolutions this year is to be kinder to myself. But I don’t understand how to do it. It seems kind of stupid to have it as a resolution, now that I think about it. I haven’t figured it out in the past twenty years, what makes me think I can figure it out before this year is over?

A therapist would be able to help, you might suggest. I hope so. The last therapist I worked with thought I should continue with therapy. I told her I was too broke, in a fancy white people roundabout sort of way: “I’m struggling financially at this time and I don’t think I’m in a position to afford therapy, although I would like to reconnect with it in the near future when my situation is more sustainable.” Maybe someday. What’s more important, therapy or opening a retirement account?

Last week I dared myself to Google “how to kill yourself painlessly.” I did. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately popped up. I read a list of suggestions that were paradoxically prefaced with a cautionary disclaimer that emphasized seeking help. Going through the list felt funny, like I was reading a bad fanfiction story removed from my actual life. I guess that’s a good thing, though.

I’ve always been pretty indecisive. Probably the only arena in which that is a valuable trait is suicidal ideation. I mean, death is so permanent from my understanding. I’ve never been good at hard decisions like that.

For now, I’ll keep hiking on trails that muddy my shoes and set my mind at ease. Laugh long and loud with friends. Write in the solitude of my room. Go to work when I can muster the energy, which has to be often by necessity. Promise myself I’ll get my room together soon, unlike the entirety of my life which is much harder. Listen to music that somehow holds my sadness in a way that I don’t think people can. Smile and tell people I’m okay, even when I’m not. Cry in my car and in my room and wonder who can bear witness to this ugliness, and would I want them to. Practice gratitude and try to hold the toxic thoughts at bay. Sometimes I’ll succeed, and sometimes I won’t. I guess that’s how it goes.

Sorry. That’s the only cliché I could think to end on.

2

Dying Alone and Other Exaggerated Concerns

I’m gonna die alone.

I say this a lot to myself.

It holds different weights at different times. Right after a disappointing date: I’m gonna die alone. The words are crushing. While I’m lying in bed watching fictional couples make out with each other on my laptop: I’m gonna die alone. The words feel like a weirdly pleasurable, masochistic ache. When I’m hanging out with one of my friends and her partner: I’m gonna die alone. They turn into a festering sore, oozing with resentment and pettiness. When my roommates are out and about with their significant others and I’m at home alone making faces in the mirror or talking to myself as I’m taking a shower: I’m gonna die alone. The words spill out, accompanied by gleeful, half-crazed laughter.

I’m gonna die alone!

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But what does that mean?

Well-meaning friends take it literally and tell me I’m being silly, of course I’m not gonna die alone. Which is true. The very least they could do is show up to my funeral and pretend to shed a few tears over my dead body, jeez.

But what society means and what I mean when I’m at my most heteronormative and melodramatic is, I am never going to find a guy with whom I can enter into a mutually desired long-term agreement of exclusively living and having sex together. No matter how staunch of a feminist I am, no matter how much I value my independence and my freedom, there are moments when I loathe how unlovable I seem to be, when I see my singleness the way society does: shameful and bitter.

Ending up single upon my deathbed wouldn’t sound so depressing if I had ever had anything resembling a love life. But all I have is a handful of unrequited infatuations and some blog posts that make like six people laugh. I’ve never gotten to the point of love. Hell, I’ve barely gotten to the point of mutual like. 

I know what it’s like to love and be loved platonically. I don’t know what it’s like to love and be loved romantically. It’s a foreign concept to me, nothing I’ve ever experienced firsthand. Sometimes I lie in bed at night and think, that kind of love may not be possible for me, no matter how much I sporadically yearn for it through what is probably just deeply ingrained social conditioning. I try to imagine myself in relationship-y scenarios and cringe. Gazing into each other’s eyes and celebrating anniversaries and all that shit. Fucking gross.

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At the same time, it’s hard not to feel left out when almost everyone my age has gone through those sappy feelings and rituals.

It would be easy to blame all my problems on my mom, but…

Some say my standards are too high. I’m too hard on guys, they say.

Well, why should I cut them some slack when society has already fucking done that, huh?! I’m tempted to shout back, but I guess I’m just proving their point.

Then I start wondering if I really am straight after all, if I seem to have such a clear disdain for hetero cis men and how the littlest things about them can turn me off instantly. But haven’t I acquired a level of self-awareness that would let me know if I was secretly a lesbian???? I don’t want to be some problematic bicurious Katy Perry girl who “just wants to experiment” either. Also there is a very specific kind of masculinity I’m attracted to, and if that isn’t a hetero cis thing to say, then I don’t know what is.

“Do you even know what you’re looking for?” my friend Susan asked.

I don’t. Sometimes I think I do, but now I don’t. But more importantly, I don’t know if the things I think I want to look for are things I should even be looking for to begin with, and I don’t know how to look for any of these things regardless so what’s the point of acting on things I don’t actually know and only think I know? You know what I mean?

I used to think, I just need to find a guy who has similar beliefs to me. That didn’t work.

Then I latched onto chemistry. Yes, chemistry is my solution. If I want to throw myself at him and shove my tongue down his throat, it’s a sign! Of something!

That hasn’t worked either.

People are telling me it’s about compatibility. I don’t even know what that means. I mean I know what it means, obviously, but I don’t know what it personally means to me in a dating context. I guess I’m supposed to figure that out, or maybe instinctively already know that, but I’m too overanalytical and cynical and tired at the moment.

I guess my problem is that I give up too easily on the guys I go on dates with. I think it’s because I’m afraid of getting roped into something I will regret or change my mind about, and I hate the prospect of having to reject a guy later down the road when we’re both probably emotionally invested to some extent and the fallout will be that much more awkward and painful. So if I’m not certain, I back out.

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I also used to think, fuck gender roles! Women can make the first move. And go Dutch on first dates. And be the first to text. But now…I don’t know. Some of my feminist friends who are more complacent about chivalry (ironically enough) seem to be in emotionally fulfilling romantic relationships with guys who like paying for stuff and seem like they aren’t total assholes. And here I am, the bitter premature spinster throwing middle fingers up at what I think is benevolent sexism.

“You can’t chase men,” my organization’s bookkeeper tells me. (Yes, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m just shouting to the world, on- and offline, about my nonexistent love life. Don’t judge me. Or well, probably too late for that.) “Men should chase you.

“But–that’s so old-fashioned!” I splutter.

She shrugs. “That’s just the way it is. Men who want you will chase you. You’re a cute girl, I’m sure you’ve had guys like you, even if you didn’t like them. And how did you know that they liked you? Because they made it obvious. When a guy likes you, you know he likes you.”

My stomach sank, because the words were ringing true, in spite of the protests coming from the unapologetically hardcore feminist in me.

I hated the premise of He’s Just Not That Into You–you know, that rom-dram with Ginnifer Goodwin who plays this girl who falls for guys who don’t follow up and some bartender dude tells her that guys will go the extra mile if they’re interested and won’t if they don’t? And now I’m being told by someone I look up to that shit is true and so basically I’m Ginnifer Goodwin’s character except this is real life and I don’t have some cute assholish guy coming to my door and telling me I’m his “exception.” No, what I have is awkward encounters with the guy working at the liquor store down the street from me because of the one date we went on in which it was confirmed that I have absolutely no idea how to date in real life.

I’ve been trying to come to terms with Dying Alone (TM) for a while now. Off and on, since the year 2011, when I told some infatuated Kentucky boy to stop texting me, when I was in my third year of attending a women’s college, when I seriously began thinking that I wasn’t the kind of person who could fit herself into the constraints of a romantic relationship.

“I think, therefore I’m single.”

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

I think too much.

I think I value myself. I value myself and I value my self, my individuality. That’s part of it. I don’t want to compromise my values. I don’t want to settle for less.  I don’t want to make myself smaller or soften my edges or shut my mouth to make a guy feel more comfortable. I don’t want to get with someone for the sake of being in a relationship, or just because I’m feeling lonely, or because I feel kinda bad and they’re being kinda pushy and super flattering.

Evidently, all of these things combined make up a recipe for dying alone. (Add bitterness to taste. Serve with the possibility of regret.)

Pessimism aside, I think I will be okay alone, more so than the average person. My quest to find romantic love has never been an all encompassing desire or life goal. (Is that the problem?) It’s kinda been mid- to low-priority, falling somewhere between paying off my credit card debt and doing laundry well before I run out of underwear (“underwear” including but not limited to bikini bottoms and emergency granny panties).

I think I will be okay, but then I see my friends getting into serious romantic relationships or getting married or once again getting so much closer to the possibility of real, lasting romantic love than I ever have (fuck, even my mom recently  got herself a boy toy after 18 years of widowed singlehood), and I start freaking the fuck out because dying alone suddenly seems more like a grim reality than some happy-go-lucky abstract future.  Dying alone as in, lying on my kitchen floor choking on a partially frozen TV dinner with no one to help me because I live alone and my friends live too far away and are too busy being married with kids to check up on that one friend whom they used to invite to the occasional “girls’ night out” that inevitably devolved into radio silence over time because they thought she would eventually outgrow her perpetually single phase but nope she’s still single and weird and catless which somehow makes her less pitiable than if she had like two or three cats, then I would die right there on the kitchen floor and my landlord will find me a month later because I hadn’t paid rent and only my siblings would show up to my funeral and say a few fucked up words.

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Just kidding. I’m sure they’ll be nicer to my corpse.

I guess I was fine with dying alone when I thought I had accumulated an extensive support system. But seeing how fragile it is, watching/imagining it disintegrate before my very eyes, has thrown me into a panic.

The oscillation between fear and resignation, doubt and acceptance, makes me wonder: what state of mind will I be in when I close my eyes for the last time? And how will it correlate with my relationship status?

I can’t predict the future. All I can do is focus on the present and use cliches to distract from the fact that I feel very confused, disillusioned, and scared that maybe there’s something wrong with me after all.

2

The Harlot’s Cheek: Struggles with Self-Esteem (aka Trying Not to Feel Like Shit About Myself)

A week or so ago, my sister sends me this text message: “I wanted to tell you that you looked so beautiful in those group pictures!” The group pictures she’s referring to are the ones taken during the night of my organization’s gala, which is a fancy schmancy fundraiser that also serves as a great excuse to get all dolled up. I admit I did feel very beautiful that night, but seeing my sister’s compliment made something in me recoil rather than flutter.

I realized I felt angry. Why? Because my sister chose to call me beautiful when I was her kind of beautiful–wearing a sexy dress and covered in shit tons of makeup. I guess I never really forgave her for having such a huge (detrimental) impact on my (lack of) self-esteem. I was a very anxious, self-conscious kid growing up. Getting acne when I was in high school made things worse. I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror for many years. I carried myself like an apology to people for having to look at my face. I tried so many different things (Proactive definitely did not work for me), with little to no results.  No one ever said a mean thing to me about my acne, though. No one except my family, but a lot of it came directly from my sister’s mouth. Not that the comments in and of themselves were strictly mean, but she did a lot of policing of my face that created the same feelings of shame. Every time she saw me, she would recommend a new cleanser, tell me to stop touching my face, and tell me I should stop stressing out. She started saying stupid things, like how I wouldn’t have broken out so much if I had gone to the same middle school as she had. My younger sibling told me later that she once said the reason I had never had a boyfriend was because of my acne.

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The worst part, though? The worst part was just her looking at me, scrutinizing me, her gaze letting me know how ugly and therefore worthless I was in her eyes. It was humiliating to be evaluated in that way, and it was dehumanizing to know how I was valued by her. To her, I was just a walking pimple she wanted to pop. It seemed she couldn’t really see me past my acne. It got to the point where I wanted to avoid seeing my family altogether, and dreaded visits with them.

Going to college away from my toxic family and my shithole of a hometown gave me an opportunity to be a part of an unconditionally loving community. I got to know people who saw me for who I was, who liked me for me, who didn’t object to my face and didn’t see acne as my defining feature. It amazed me at first–why were these people so kind? Why would they compliment me? Did they even mean it? I began to realize that much of the shame I had been feeling was a projection of self-loathing I had internalized from my sister.

I started my self-love project my sophomore year of college, but it was a false start–more to do with the completion of a creative writing assignment than the willingness to look at myself and feel differently. But as time passed, I stopped caring as much about what my sister thought and started embracing myself for who I was, flaws and all. The vow I ostensibly made to love myself when I was 19 became a genuine promise. The acne stayed, off and on, but what had changed was me. I was tired of holding myself like an apology. I was so much more than the imperfections on my face. I was a writer. A feminist. A Harry Potter fanatic. A first generation college student. An ardent karaoke singer. A lover of dark chocolate and rom coms and kitschy art and boba. An adequately functioning human being. I started wearing this self-love on my sleeve, and it felt wonderful.

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That’s not to say I don’t have my off days. I can feel bad about myself as much as the average young woman constantly bombarded with the message that my primary value is my appearance. But I feel a lot better now than I did five years ago. That’s progress to me. Lately, it’s my sister who has been feeling insecure about herself. She’s constantly looking to others, including me, for reassurance. I’m tempted to tell her something petty and spiteful out of revenge for how awful she was to me when I was the one feeling low about myself, but I know that in the long term, it won’t help me or make me feel better. I know I need to be the better person, or there won’t have been any lesson learned at all. Because putting down other people is just an easier way of hating yourself, and I don’t want to be a part of that vicious cycle if I can help it. My sister is shallow and mean-spirited, and I feel bad that her mind hasn’t opened up new pathways of acceptance, belonging, and self-worth. I sincerely hope that someday she’ll be able to come to terms with what true beauty means, but her issues aren’t mine to work out.

I’ve started wearing makeup recently. Partly because I’m tired of buying makeup for one special occasion and letting it all go to waste, partly because I want to look older, and partly because yes, I want to cover up my acne which seems like it will never really go away. One of the reasons I’ve put off the whole makeup thing for so long (I think most girls start wearing it in middle school, maybe even younger these days) was because I saw makeup as a way of hiding my face, instead of enhancing it. I figured having a naturally ugly face would be better than having an artificially beautiful one. I still sort of have a second-wave view of makeup, but have grudgingly accepted that it can indeed be transformative and expressive and empowering. Makeup is a tricky art, and I’m still trying to get the hang of it, but I feel comfortable with experimenting with it now because I’ve been able to come to terms with my appearance without using makeup as a security blanket–which is critically important to me.

As for my sister’s text message–I ended up not responding. I didn’t want to say thank you, because that would mean her opinion of my appearance meant something to me, which I now know it does not. It’s hard to go back down when I’ve been fortunate enough to surround myself with people who believe I’m beautiful no matter the circumstance, who can make me feel good about myself without there being a catch.

I will say that I was a bit hesitant to write this post because some people view me as this strong feminist chick who doesn’t give a fuck about what other people think, and talking about this issue may undermine that (although maybe like three people will read this post, so whatever). But just because I’m a feminist who wants to smash the patriarchy doesn’t mean I’m immune to the patriarchy. We are all enmeshed in various systems of oppression in different ways, and we all have different methods of navigating through this tangled web in search of truth and liberation.

In the past, I always bowed to my family’s opinions, because I trusted them to see the truth. Now I realize, they can sometimes have a version of the truth that is as ugly and distorted as the way my sister likes to see my face. Yes, I have acne. Her truth is that this is what defined me. My truth is that I am beautiful and flawed, just like everyone else. When people compliment me now, I smile and say thank you without a second thought.

0

Aw Hell Yes: Why Fresh Off The Boat is Fresher Than Youuu

The Huang family on their way to Orlando.

The Huang family on their way to Orlando.

[5/8/15 update: I wrote this blog post before the Eddie Huang Twitter debacle occurred. As of now I am no longer a fan of Eddie Huang. Any expression of admiration and awe displayed below was during a brief, blissfully unaware time.]

The long awaited ABC sitcom starring the first Asian American family in 20 years has finally arrived, and it’s so cool yeah, it’s totally awesome~! I will admit, I had my doubts when I first heard about it via social media. The name itself made me wary: Fresh Off The Boat. F.O.B. This particular racial slur has been somewhat triggering for me. It never meant anything good as I was growing up–just a harsh reminder that in other people’s eyes, I was just a chinky-eyed outsider who talked funny. At some point it became my personal goal to put some distance between me and the F.O.B. label, so much so that the possibility of reclaiming it is personally unfathomable to me. I projected that shame onto those in my family who spoke accented English: my mother, my cousin, my aunt. They were the ones who talked funny, not me, I thought rather defensively. I was an American born citizen, and knew how to speak proper English, goddamnit. This anxiety around being perceived as a F.O.B. is still something I struggle with today. So learning that this show would be named after a word I associate with my childhood trauma didn’t exactly leave me brimming with enthusiasm and hope.

But watching the promo did. It was a bit cheesy, but showed a lot of promise–in large part because of the mom, Jessica, played by the talented and gorgeous Constance Wu. More than once, a joke that had been perfectly delivered made me laugh out loud. At last! I was finally, finally, finally going to see a show starring Asian people on mainstream television. (Yeah yeah, there was All American Girl, but I was 3 years old when it aired and it looked pretty mediocre anyway from what I watched of it on Youtube–I blame white supremacy.) But would the white gaze fuck this shit up too?

According to Eddie Huang, author of the memoir from which the TV show was adapted, it was all sorts of fucked up. My friend Laura wasn’t particularly enthused by the upcoming premiere of the show, either, given Huang’s criticisms. But the complexity of Huang’s article intrigued me further. He refused to say “America is great,” swore a lot, and used phrases like “reverse-yellowface” and “monoculture.” His article conveyed someone who was way more fucking awesome than I had initially imagined. Clearly Huang is too awesome for network TV, but instead of making me cynical it made me optimistic for the show. In my eyes, even a diluted version of his radical racial politics would make for great, conciousness-raising TV.

Seven episodes into the season, and I’m already a huge fan. In the first episode alone, white people/white supremacy are the butt of at least five different jokes. I loved it! While I can’t relate to every single instance of the Huang family’s shenanigans (which is fine), a lot resonated with me: being raised by a mother who is the epitome of frugality, expressing love through actions and not words, being perceived as an outsider, navigating white culture with caution and confusion. Through the specificity of Eddie Huang’s experiences on the show, I connected to something universal that isn’t coded as white. And it’s not just me: I’ve seen people of all races, ages, and genders commenting online that they love the show, think it’s hilarious, and could relate to it in all sorts of ways–proof that whiteness doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be our sociocultural default, our only reference point in American culture.

There are questions raised around authenticity–for example, that Eddie’s parents speak in accents that don’t sound quite right. While I understand those critiques, I would say poorly done Taiwanese accents don’t detract from the overall quality of the show. (I, personally, haven’t noticed anything wrong with the accents, but that’s because I grew up Cambodian American. We don’t all talk the same or know the particular nuances of other Asians’ fobbiness, okay.) I actually think the show is pretty subversive for a family sitcom on network television. What I especially enjoy about the show is how it challenges the Model Minority Myth: the idea that Asians have it just as good as (if not better than) white people. That is not true to my lived experience as an Asian American, and I know it’s not true for many other fellow Asian Americans. If it really needs to be racialized within the black-white binary, I would say that, just like Eddie’s, my childhood can be more readily associated with black culture than white culture. “If you were an outsider, hip hop was your anthem,” the real Eddie Huang narrates in the pilot. I grew up with the sounds of (admittedly mainstream) rap, hip hop, and R&B, never became close friends with anyone white until after college, and developed a no BS attitude and potty mouth that white people are generally uncomfortable with. So I appreciate that Fresh Off The Boat explores one Asian boy’s family and their exploration within this racial binary in America, and how it’s not as simple as, “Oh, Asian people and white people are one and the same.” When you’re not white and you’re not black, how do you fit into America’s cultural landscape? This is a question that I wrestle with all the time, and it’s refreshing to see it being reflected in mainstream media for once.

Eddie’s father, Louis, believes in the American Dream (TM), yet his race and class become obstacles in his path to fulfill it. In the very first episode, he comes to the tragically funny conclusion that his business isn’t doing well because there isn’t a white host to greet customers, leading him to propose to a skeptical Jessica that they hire one: “Instead of people coming in and seeing a Chinese face and saying, ‘Huh? I thought this was an Old West steakhouse,’ they see a white face and say, ‘Oh! Hello white friend, I am comfortable.'” Louis ends up hiring a predominantly white staff. The business starts generating a lot of buzz and income. Then in the most recent episode (Episode 7, “Showdown at the Golden Saddle”), we see a flashback to how Eddie’s father comes up with the idea of the restaurant in the first place: he stole the manual for the Golden Saddle franchise to create a similarly-themed steakhouse of his own. The most pivotal moment as I see it is when Louis is told by the owner that he must pay $50,000 up front in order to buy a Golden Saddle.

Louis finds out the franchise fee is $50k. Oh fuck.

Louis finds out the franchise fee is $50k. Oh fuck.

The look on his face is heartbreaking, especially as the others (notably, two white men) come up and fork up the cash they have, and he doesn’t. Louis’s struggles with running a successful business is a great example of how there are many minorities in America whose dreams are hindered by racial and class barriers (both of which are not mutually exclusive, of course).

Eddie, our protagonist, has his own battle with white America. He is one of only two kids of color at his new school. In the pilot episode and on his first day at school, the white kids make fun of him for his “nasty-smelling” noodles, which propels him to beg his mom for “white people lunch.” Here, we see that the desire to fit in is rooted in a desire to not be ostracized, which complicates the idea that Asians want to be like white people: Eddie isn’t so much embracing whiteness as he is trying to use it as a cover to hide his otherness. The flawless Jessica tells her son, “Well those kids, they just don’t know, that’s all. It just takes time to get used to something different,” but he refuses to listen. He ends up getting his socially acceptable Lunchable, but butts heads with the only other kid of color, Edgar, who is black. Edgar shoves him aside in line for the microwave, telling Eddie, “Get used to it! You’re the one at the bottom now!”

“No, I’m not!” cries Eddie.

“Yeah, you are! My turn, chink!”

This is a moment that makes me cringe, but also one I can appreciate: a heated exchange between two kids that is complicated by their races. We often center our discussions of racism on white people vs. one minority, which is incredibly important, but racial prejudices exist between minorities as well, and this scene is a perfect example of that. A black kid and an Asian kid, duking it out in front of staring white kids: the perfect allegorical Hallmark card for American racism.

The allegorical Hallmark card of American racism

The allegorical Hallmark card of American racism

The minorities can senselessly hate each other all they want, but in the end, it’s white people and white supremacy who benefit from the clash between them. This all just goes to show that racial prejudice transcends race. Black people can be prejudiced against Asians, and vice versa. Black people can be prejudiced against themselves, and so can Asian people–otherwise known as internalized racism. As depicted in this moment–Edgar’s argument that Eddie is “at the bottom now” presupposes he was already at the bottom, a deeply sad and implicit admission of being inferior on the basis of race.

Here’s the one thing about the show I’ve been disappointed by: way before the fight occurs between Eddie and Edgar, Eddie asks if he can sit with him at lunch, only to turn around and jump at the chance to sit with the white kids (another fine allegory for American racism). This is precisely where I am concerned: Eddie idolizes all of these black male rappers, yet he’s going to diss the one black boy in favor of the honkies who made fun of his mom’s food? Oh hell no. It seems the irony is not lost on the show, however. “A white dude and an Asian dude bonding over a black dude?” Edgar says aloud to himself before scoffing. “This cafeteria is ridiculous!” While I appreciate some level of awareness on part of the show of the racial politics at play, I’m hoping that Eddie and Edgar will ultimately become best friends and fellow underdogs at a school that’s blindingly white. But several episodes have gone by and it seems Eddie’s social circle has only gotten whiter and more male, so I’m feeling cynical about the prospects. Damn. I can’t deny this dynamic parallels the reality of racism however. It’s true that many non-black people parodoxically have a love for black culture, yet a total disregard for black people. It’s true that anti-blackness/colorism is a thing in many Asian cultures. And it’s true that white people see Asians as more ethnically palatable than black people (which is NOT the same thing as saying whites see us as equals–to use a racial hierarchy/gross metaphor, whites see us as the lapdogs and blacks as the yard dogs). Although I can appreciate the realistic portrayal, I still would prefer the happy ending.

Focusing on the brighter side: what definitely makes the show is the one and only Jessica, the mother of the family, who is an all-around badass and breakout star. She praises her son for physiologically rejecting white culture, takes all the free samples at the overly excited grocery store, blames douchey white teenage boys for hitting her car with their bodies, and knows when a song she’s beautifully singing is NOT a duet. Better yet, the actress who plays her is also pretty kickass. Jessica is fearless, fierce, funny, and shamelessly herself. She was made even more perfect in Episode 5, “Persistent Romeo,” in which she teaches Eddie about consent and date rape by attacking him with a plush bunny.

Jessica:

Jessica: “LIKE THAT? YOU LIKE THAT?! NO? WELL GIRLS DON’T EITHER! NO MEANS NO! RESPECT GIRLS!”

YAAAAASSS. Not only is her character inherently feminist, but so is the dynamic she has with her family: they may fear and resent her at times, but through that is a deep respect for her as the matriarch. In Episode 6, “Shaq Fu,” Louis tells his family, “My father, your Ye-Ye [sp?], made me work hard for every penny. And that work ethic is how I’m able to keep the lights on.”

“But not the AC!” retorts Evan.

“That’s your mother’s thing, she runs the house, don’t pull me into that,” Louis quickly responds before returning to his lecture on work ethic–a one-liner that says a lot about the power and influence of Jessica as a stay-at-home mother and wife, power that everyone else in the household recognizes and acknowledges (okay, not too sure about the grandmother, but it’s significant that in a house primarily full of males, Jessica is the goddamn boss). Too often, the sitcom mother is portrayed as an uptight, controlling fun-sucker whose domestic labor and role in the house is often exploited, scorned, or taken for granted. Jessica subverts that trope through everyone’s deference to her, and of course, through unapologetically being herself. “That woman was tough. She could handle anything,” narrates Huang over the scene in Episode 6 where little Eddie ceases and desists with “phantom-flickering” Evan when Jessica threatens him by saying, “I could get by with only two sons. Think about that.” Through Jessica’s toughness, her dismissal of white culture, and her deep love for her family (and karaoke!), we are gifted with the opportunity to embrace an Asian American female character in all of her glorious complexity.

Fresh Off The Boat isn’t perfect. Huang’s concerns of course are completely valid. As the show progresses, there is the danger of reinforcing the status quo, of promoting white supremacy through assimilation, of giving up authenticity in favor of universality (white people love their binaries). I sincerely hope the show doesn’t go in that direction, even as the Huang family become upwardly mobile. The show will probably never reach the level of radicalness Huang envisioned, but I would be incredibly happy if it continues the way it has: questioning white culture, making jokes at the expense of white people, exploring race relations and API identity in America, challenging notions of gender within an API context, deepening and complicating its cast of well-rounded Asian American characters. The show is the first of its kind in two decades, which explains the pressure of it to be well received and successful, by both white and Asian audiences alike. That pressure is the age-old burden of representation that befalls all marginalized groups who can’t afford to be mediocre the way privileged groups can be. While this is unfair, the cast of Fresh Off The Boat is game. As Randall Park, who plays Louis, puts it perfectly in an interview with DisneyExaminer: “The hope is that, you know, the success of our show can lead to more doors being opened for Asian Americans to tell their stories.”

Picture perfect: The Huang Family

Picture perfect: The Huang Family

3

The F Word

I am in pursuit of meaningfully embodying intersectional feminism, because feminism alone has been coded to mean liberation of white women, and their liberation means nothing for me and fellow women of color. My liberation is bound up with all women of all ages, races, classes, bodies, abilities, sexual orientations, and gender alignments, not just the select few I’ve been conditioned to look up to and revere within the confines of Western white supremacist colonialism. That said, I still choose to identify as a feminist, because I don’t think racist/colorblind white women have the right to push me out of a word that steps so easily on my tongue and gets my heart riled up in a good way. While aware of the implications of what feminism alone may mean, I will make room for myself, and others like me, I will make room in the word feminism and in the concept of feminism until there is a space for all.

I’ve been thinking about how the general definition of feminism has been the “equality of the sexes” but these days I’m not so sure if that phrase, which has been carelessly tossed around a lot in mainstream media, truly captures the meaning of feminism, especially since it seems to me we are more so striving for equity, not equality. Equality implies that I want to be treated the same as a man, which is not true: I want to be treated like a human being, as a woman. You might not understand the distinction, but it’s an important one to me. I don’t want to conform to socially constructed and masculinized ideals of intelligence, knowledge, or power. I don’t want to be made into a man’s image and likeness in order to be respected or liked. While some desire that option, not all of us do, and I believe choice and self-love to be two of most important tenets of an actualized feminism. I want to be acknowledged and respected in my femininity and womanliness, however that is defined–there are no fixed meanings (when will people stop thinking in essentialist boxes??). What is considered feminine to me may mean something different to someone else; what is considered womanly today will mean something different later down the road. Regardless, there should be no guilt or shame or othering for not fitting into the status quo’s expectations for who deserves respect, dignity, and kindness.

“Equality of the sexes” is ultimately a limiting definition of feminism to me. It glosses over the fact that women in all of their variations have disproportionately bore the brunt of violence and oppression at the hands of men, particularly hetero cis white men. It ignores the fact that sex and gender can mean different things. It also ignores the fact that we have yet to implement a true standard of equality for any of the genders that exist–yes, even men, although the conversation has been appropriated and centered around them for far too long. I think we need to overcome this one-dimensional view of feminism that is always contingent on whether or not we hate men: “Feminists hate men.” “I’m not a feminist because I love men.” “Oh my God I just realized I can be feminist and love men.” Feminism at its core is not really about whether or not I love men. It’s about whether or not I love myself. I choose to try loving myself. I don’t see how someone professing an act of self-love and demanding respect for it should be stigmatized or disregarded.

And evidently the words “feminism/feminist” are threatening because what, narrow-minded individuals feel threatened when they see or hear “fem”? Femininity is not exclusive. They make it exclusive, because they are afraid of it and ashamed of it and push it away. Who is really the victim when a man is not allowed to cry, masculinity or femininity? Femininity is laughed off, ridiculed, and even murdered when it slips on another skin. Masculinity in its different guises often triumphs. When you start seeing both ideas and individuals, you start to understand.

No, the idea is not that all men are evil or that women are all good. That is a cartoonish view of feminism. People need to start looking beyond the person and at the bigger picture. There are men, and there are women. Let’s destroy that division. Let’s include the rest of the categories that exist or could exist. Let’s have all of them blend into one, split apart, blend again, however you want and feel and need. Let’s split open our minds into ten different possibilities at once when you see a stranger’s face, instead of pigeonholing them into this flavor or that–how boring and limiting is that, to think you only have a choice on either palm, read to you by others who look to more others to read their palms, when you can simply spread open your own hands and see that there are whole worlds that could be at your fingertips?

4

Let’s talk about, um, awkwardness. Or whatever.

So, like, yeah.

Awkwardness.

What’s up with that?

I would estimate that about 90% of my family and friends would agree that I’m awkward.

One friend, Chelsia, would argue that I’m not “that” awkward, but that’s only because she is way more fucking awkward. (Love you, Chelsia.)

Taking into consideration my self-professed self-awareness, neurosis, and useless talent of seemingly intellectualizing trivial things, I have decided to pretend to be an awkwardness expert and present to you a rambling report on all things awkward. Questions such as

  • What does it mean to be awkward?
  • Is it more to do with the situation or the individuals/parties involved?
  • What impact does self-awareness have on being awkward?
  • Do you have to feel awkward for the situation to be awkward?
  • What makes a situation awkward?
  • Are some things universally awkward?

will probably not be answered in any satisfactory way or at all, sorry. I said I’m going to pretend to be an awkwardness expert, gosh. You actually expect me to do any real work?

So, okay. Let’s try and define awkwardness.

From dictionary.com:

“lacking social graces or manners: a simple, awkward frontiersman. Synonyms: gauche, unpolished,unrefined; blundering, oafish; ill-mannered, unmannerly, ill-bred. Antonyms: gracious; polite, well-mannered, well-bred; smooth, polished, refined.”

Okay, the synonyms and antonyms are totally untrue. I know plenty of awkward polite people!

From Merriam-Webster:

5. a :  lacking social grace and assurance <an awkwardnewcomer>

:  causing embarrassment <an awkward moment>

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.

From Oxford Dictionaries:

  • causing or feeling embarrassment or inconvenience: he had put her in a very awkward situation
  • not smooth or graceful; ungainly:
    Luther’s awkward movements impeded his progress
    she was long-legged and rather awkward

Okay, embarrassment, social ineptitude, we get it.

From my housemate:

“When you feel weird.”

Pretty vague, but somehow it hits the spot. “Weird” I would interpret as being “uncomfortable” in the case of awkwardness, which can be best described by thoughts such as, “Uh…,” “I don’t know what to do or say,” “This is wrong.”  Embarrassment I would argue is different, in that it is more extreme and shame-inducing, comparable to thoughts along the lines of, “Oh my God, why is this happening,” “What the hell,” and “I’m going to crawl under a rock and die now, kbye.”

An Awkward Situation that is just “weird”

Jessica*, an acquaintance whom I will admit to having a girl-crush on, invites me to her kickback. I attend mostly out of obligation. We are circles apart. She is one of those people you feel is likable enough, but you never exactly click with for some reason–the kind of person you’d be down to hang out with if she made the effort, but no one you’d want to spend all night telling deep dark secrets to. I make small talk with her, run out of things to say, and start feeling weird and wondering if I should grab another beer just to have something to do with my hands. I leave the party early, but not before telling her goodbye. I reach for a hug–she hugs me back, but also kisses my cheek. ACK WHAT. Her perfect lips on my gross, oily cheek WHAT HAS SHE DONE!! NOOO SHE HAS BESMIRCHED HER MOUTH WITH THE FOULNESS OF MY CHEEK OH GOD NO. I freeze for a split second, wondering if I should kiss her back, but instantly recoil at the idea of planting my contaminated lips on her flawless face. Also I am not a touchy-feely person. Also slight homoerotic feelings aside, she is merely an Acquaintance. So I simply stick with the hug and get the hell out of there.

*Name has been changed to protect the awkward

An Awkward Situation that is “embarrassing”

Walking around with a period stain on my ass and not realizing until later ACKKK WTF FML FML OMFG WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME?! Okay, so I probably wouldn’t go up to a stranger and tell them either. But there should be some policy around these things! “Be it a period stain on one’s posterior, a something in one’s teeth, a prominent booger in one’s nose, or anything remotely to do with the disruption of one’s personal appearance, it is your forthright duty as a sympathetic and decent fellow human being to discreetly and kindly inform the victim of their unfortunate happenstance, thereby allowing them to take the necessary measures to eliminate or at the very least minimize the impropriety to which they have befallen.” Or yenno, something like that.

So as I suspected, awkwardness is comprised of two factors, which can be overlapping or isolated:

  1. personal feelings of embarrassment, “weirdness,” and social dysfunction (inside your head)
  2. causing others to feel embarrassment, “weirdness,” and social dysfunction (outside your head)

These factors are important in determining whether an individual or situation is awkward.

Sometimes, it’s all just in your head.

An Awkward situation that is just in my head

Um, I’m drawing a blank here, sorry. Everything I think is awkward is just plain awkward to me, okay. How can you really ever get confirmation that something you feel was awkward, is in fact not awkward at all?

But rest assured, sometimes what you feel isn’t necessarily what others are feeling, which lessens the awkwardness. I mean, it’s not really possible that everything agonizing and uncomfortable for you, would also be equally agonizing and uncomfortable for everyone else involved. Right?

Well, at least that’s what I tell myself. I mean, it doesn’t hurt to abide by this rule, if only as a means of self-preservation. If you just freak out on the inside about some stupid thing you just said or did, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just act calm and unfazed, and no one will really pick up on it, and you know…people have really shitty memories for that sort of thing, in my experience.

There have been times when I have done things that other people find awkward, but I personally don’t find awkward at all, although I have acknowledged the awkwardness of my actions in retrospect. It’s just that, I don’t give a rat’s ass. Which I guess makes me less an awkward individual and more of an asshole.

Awkward Situations that are outside of my head

  • Suddenly lying down to take a nap in the midst of boring company
  • Laughing out loud because some funny thought just struck me and not sharing with others why I am laughing
  • Saying “Uh…” for a really long time when someone asks me a question that I don’t have an answer to just yet because for some reason I think it’s okay to not-think out loud
  • Talking about sex in a very flippant manner
  • Randomly bursting into song (almost always a pop song)
  • Pointing out odd quirks that people would rather I not have taken the time to observe and vocally express directly to them about them
  • Asking people if I’m being awkward, which (who knew?) makes things more awkward

awkward1

Whatever, people are weird.

I’m not sure if being aware that I’m awkward has made me more or less awkward than I would be had I not been aware of it. In a way, I might be the worse off for it because then my awkwardness becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: “I’m awkward! So I’m just going to keep being awkward, because that’s who I am! Yay, humiliation! Faux pas for the win!”

Then again, I would rather not be obliviously awkward. I know of one particular individual who is awkward and in the complete dark about it. She makes dumb, insensitive remarks all the time and has no idea of how uncomfortable people become when they are around her. To this day, she still thinks we are friends to some degree when no, we’re not and I’m not sure how to tell her without sounding like a total bitch. (The “Sorry, I’m busy” line doesn’t have an expiration date does it?)

There are a couple of people I know who self-identify as not-awkward. I would agree that for the most part they are indeed not awkward. They adhere to social scripts just fine, adjust as the occasion warrants it, and respond fairly well to anything deviant thrown at them. One such person would be Dino Head, the humanoid robot I mentioned in previous blog posts.

An Awkward Situation Made Less Awkward by a Non-Awkward Person

Girl Spoonerism (1:18:10 AM):   hey, i have to tell you…something

Girl Spoonerism (1:18:15 AM):   lol

Macfinder25 (1:18:18 AM):         sure, what’s up?

Girl Spoonerism (1:18:44 AM):   i have to be melodramatic again

Girl Spoonerism (1:18:48 AM):   i can’t talk to you anymore

Girl Spoonerism (1:19:05 AM):   so..um..goodbye?

Macfinder25 (1:19:06 AM):         ok, why’s that?

Macfinder25 (1:19:12 AM):         if it’s okay to tell me

Girl Spoonerism (1:20:00 AM):   because i’ve been kind of obsessed with you and that’s really creepy sad and pathetic and i need to stop

Girl Spoonerism (1:20:06 AM):   but thanks for all the advice

Girl Spoonerism (1:20:08 AM):   lol

Macfinder25 (1:20:18 AM):         Ah, alright. You’re welcome.

Macfinder25 (1:20:26 AM):         Best of luck with your future endeavors.

Girl Spoonerism (1:20:50 AM):   you too.

Girl Spoonerism (1:21:16 AM):   jeez, you still have to be all formal at the end?

Macfinder25 (1:21:25 AM):         I thought it would help?

Girl Spoonerism (1:24:29 AM):   nope.

Girl Spoonerism (1:24:32 AM):   am i creeping you out?

Macfinder25 (1:24:43 AM):         No, we’ve only chatted over IM, really.

Girl Spoonerism (1:29:02 AM):   …this is stupid.

Macfinder25 (1:29:12 AM):         ?

Girl Spoonerism (1:30:20 AM):   i bid thee farewell, good sir

Macfinder25 (1:30:29 AM):         Goodbye 🙂

Who was awkward in that situation? Me. (Duh.) Who was not? Him.

Ackkkkkkkkkkk

Okay whatever I’m over it, it’s been 3 years goddamnit.

(And I know I know I know. I said I wouldn’t talk about Dino Head but my–ermm–experience with him is ripe with awkward fodder that is perfect for exemplification in this totes awkward blog post!)

Anyway, that’s not to say that non-awkward persons cannot cause awkwardness. They are just better at handling awkwardness, whereas awkward individuals like me tend to freak out and make things even worse.

An Awkward Situation Made Even More Awkward by a Supposedly Non-Awkward Person, Surprisingly Enough

After two years of silence, I reached out to Dino Head again. And started obsessing over him again. Ugh. But finally I found the courage to meet him in person. In previous correspondence with him, I learned that he enjoyed dancing and was purportedly good at it. I asked to see a Youtube video of his alleged talent, not caring about the creeper implications of my request. He said he would show me in person, once he was back in the Bay. So of course, I held him to his word when we met up at a dive bar on Piedmont. He was somewhat perplexed by my insistence on seeing his dance moves, but was happy to oblige. “Not here, though,” he said, glancing over at the somber-faced men playing pool. “This isn’t really a place to dance.”

“Just dance out on the street!” I urged.

“Let’s just find a club,” he said.

We left the bar and drove downtown in his fancy ass car. The nightclub he had in mind had some standup thing happening that night, so that was a no-go. We headed back to his car.

He paused at the curb and put in his earphones. “Well, I’m starting to feel a little weird about this, but here goes nothing.”

I stopped and stared. “Uh…” He was dancing to music only he could hear, and I’m not even trying to romanticize this shit, like literally he was dancing to what was probably some obscure electronic shit on his smartphone that I couldn’t hear like at all because he had his earphones plugged in, so all I saw was a scrawny white dude kicking his legs up in silence while I was just standing there with him on the street not knowing what to do or say or how to respond and it was just so, so incredibly awkward.

“Shouldn’t I be listening to the music too?” I said.

He kept dancing.

“SHOULDN’T I BE LISTENING TO THE MUSIC TOO?”

He stopped. “How would that work?”

“I don’t know…blast your car speakers, or something.”

He ended up doing just that, and it was slightly less awkward. The whole damn thing was awkward, but at least it wasn’t awkward specifically because of him. It was awkward in general because of me, but that just meant things were normal.

I think I’ve tackled quite a range of awkward scenarios. But what about a situation made awkward by the sheer fact that two awkward people were interacting with each other rather awkwardly, as not witnessed by a third party non-awkward non-observer? (This will make sense, I promise.)

A Situation Made Awkward by the Sheer Fact that Two Awkward People Were Interacting With Each Other Rather Awkwardly, As Not Witnessed by a Third Party Non-Awkward Non-Observer

The other day, my good friend Darcy and I were walking down Piedmont, drinking boba and window shopping. I ran into someone I had a class with back at Mills. I think our eyes lit up in recognition at the same time. “Oh! Hi!” I said.

“Hi!” she said. She had a clipboard in hand. Apparently she had some sort of job canvassing.

We stood there looking at each other for a second. Uh, should I hug her? Okay I’m just gonna do it. I hugged her. She responded in what seemed to be surprise or reluctance. Or both. Ugh.

Damnit, now I had to introduce the two. “This is my friend Eve. This is my friend Darcy.” Several cars whooshed by.

“Sorry, I didn’t catch your name. What is it?” Darcy asked.

“Eva.” Oh shit thank you random cars.

We made some small talk but there were a lot of weird pauses thrown in. Spaces unfilled. Our fixed smiles, unsure of what else to say. Trailing off topics, disconnecting, echoes of each other’s words that left us with nothing to go on. Empty-handed tongues.

She was still at Mills. Hadn’t been able to do much writing. You? Oh, I’m working on a screenplay. Oh, okay. We should totally do a writing group! Yeah! Yeah! …So what’s this petition about? Oh, it’s protesting the dangers of fracking. Oh, I know about fracking! Cool! I won’t ask you for money! Awesome! Great! …

God, the awkwardness! Ackkk. I just wanted the conversation to end already. Even as I was talking to her, I was madly trying to assess the situation and figure out why the hell it was so goddamn awkward. Is this all in my head? I wondered. No, no, it doesn’t feel like it. It can’t just be me either. It really did seem like she was part of the problem too. She was mirroring my every awkward move. But who started it? Did it matter?

Darcy, being the friendly and sociable person she can be, steered the conversation towards our shitty shit economy, thereby sustaining the conversation longer than was absolutely necessary. Damn you, Darcy! I waited for it to die down again into a kind of lull. The job market sucks no matter what field you’re in? Yup. Yup. Yup. … Alas! An opportune moment to disengage, perhaps? I lunged for it. “Well, we should probably let you get back to your job!” I said brightly. “It was nice seeing you!”

I hesitated again. Should I try hugging her again? Okay fuck it whatever it would take to get this thing over with. I went in for another hug. Look at me, Miss Smooth-Talking-Friendly-Gesture-Person! Not. It was one of the worst hugs I had given in a while. Our arms were misaligned and she was just so surprised by it, like bitch why are you so surprised people hug in situations like this all the time I swear I am acting normal goddamnit! Yeah, it was just…all bad. The most superficial and contrived thing I had the displeasure and misfortune of initiating this week. “See you!” I said. I couldn’t stop talking in exclamation points.

“See you! Say no to fracking!” she called after us, accompanied by goofy finger guns.

I fake-laughed and walked off with Darcy, internally cringing at the entire exchange.

“Wasn’t that awkward?” I exclaimed when we were a good two blocks away.

“Huh? No, it didn’t seem awkward to me.” She shrugged.

“Really?”

“I was mostly focused on how much taller I am in these shoes than both of you.”

awkward2

So.

What to conclude from all of this?

  • Awkwardness: feelings of embarrassment or discomfort caused by a deviation from or mishandling of social protocol
  • I’m awkward
  • I should stop talking to random dudes from the Internet (emphasis on “should”)
  • I’m awkward

And most importantly,

  • I’m awkward

tl;dr I am an awkward asshole who rambles a lot. And should really seriously stop talking to random dudes from the Internet