Chokes

It’s important to me that things like race and gender and sex are important to me and I feel these things so strongly now that it actually physically hurts

but I look at what’s on my plate at the moment: two interviews to transcribe and three exams for which I need to study. Numbers and fragments. Diagrams of an industry in a flux that no one quite understands. Teeth bared, then rescinded, theory without understanding. I listen to my questions and I read my notes and it’s nothing but static, white noise between the ears, and there is nothing, nothing in there, about race and gender and sex and every interaction in between, every otherness in definition. Words and thoughts that seem as genuine as the smile on my graduation portrait. I have fangs, but they’re pointed inward, and my mouth’s begun to bleed.

.

Between taking five classes, working three jobs, and fretting over any and every iteration of my “professional future,” I’ve managed to maintain a fairly regular diet, slept before 1 a.m. most nights, and generally kept it together this past semester. My friends are well. My sister is well. The G.S. is well. My parents aren’t disowning me yet. My grades have generally been steady and my work has been…

This is when I start to wonder, and wander, and the guilt of only partly enjoying what it is that I do clings to me, wraps itself around my limbs and begins to break me. I love going to live shows and speaking to musicians because it takes so much to do the things that maybe I wish I were doing myself, because people get extraordinarily lucky breaks but it’s built on the back of hard work that’s invisible to the outside eye but clear in the tremors of their voices when they think about how things started, or maybe I’m just hearing the earthquake in my head shaking out into what others say.

The hardest part of doing anything isn’t necessarily starting something, or ending something — it’s the drag between those two points, the fatigue that kicks in when you realize that the thing has to be fed, but it’s so easy to slide it onto the back burner when there are deadlines to be met and schedules to keep up. I lost my planner at Coachella and almost cried when I realized that I would have to recreate my appointments and assignments from scratch. HA! “I lost my planner at Coachella” — who the fuck is the person with this problem, but oh wait, it’s me.

I’m not stupid: I know I’m in an enviable position in a lot of ways because of where I am, and perhaps I should clutch my blessings to my chest and herald my achievements and my gratefulness. Thank you, thank you, thank you, this means the world to me, to peek behind the curtains of the global entertainment charade, to shake hands with ghosts and get goosebumps at their nothingness. This is everything, the razzle dazzle, the limelight turned all the way up, listening to applause that never ends and that’s never really for you.

I started seriously working in music journalism by accident — she tossed the opportunity into my hands so easily that even now I wonder if she really knew what she was doing. But even though perhaps I don’t reeeeeeally, truuuuuly belong here, I have gotten used to fighting to be there just because otherwise, no one like me would be there. I literally see that most of the pit photographers are, practically, tall (to which I concede that there is reason for that), and inexplicably, white and male — for an industry with no common code or supposed barriers to entry, there sure appears to be a silent consensus about who gets in. So I’ve gotten used to having to wait, silently but studiously, wait and watch what others do and I’ve definitely learned on the job, on this job I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been an afterthought to someone else’s day,

but what have I done with this opportunity? Something, sure, but it could be so much more, and I can feel the possibility dangling just beyond the reach of my teeth, and if I stretched just a little bit more, I could bite in,

but I can’t, or rather, I don’t, and it’s on to the next thing.

.

I used to hate the idea that I had to carry on me at all times my one-sided hyphenation and the biological indicators that I am not, and will never be, one of the boys. But now I try to see it as a challenge — sure, an unfair one, but one that matters deeply to me and for which I’ve geared myself as best as I can.

But there’s no real way to combat the insidious idea that my hard work will never exist independent from my social/cultural/biological identity. A white boy from Princeton builds an argument that he actually has no privilege because he’s worked hard to get where he is, and okay, that’s cool, but it’s hard to keep your cool when you remember being cat-called as you walked home from work and the streetlights were flickering and you wondered if this is how it all ended, or about that time a stranger kept trying to press his hands against your thighs and your first instinct was not to call him out but instead to pull your skirt down, or the endless stream of “Ni hao”s and “Ann-yong han-say-oh”s that have seared themselves into your lexicon as mispronunciations and mockeries.

I see bindis and headdresses and sombreros and kimonos and I used to try and ignore it all, disengage myself from the discussion about these obviously! clearly! bullshit PC concerns. Like, gosh, Asia girl’s too loud and too sensitive, isn’t she supposed to be smart, just keep quiet forever and make nice with the world as it is — even though the men next door holler and shout deep into the night and the things they say make me want to burn them down. They’re just boys being boys, so why don’t you just be a girl. Anyway, women have come so far. Let’s aim for unity, gals. Gender equality for everyone!!!

I’ve had four years to try and figure out what it is I want and where it is that I want to go and in the end, I still feel bad for wanting the things that I want, for going where I’ve been, for having opinions that make people uncomfortable and laugh with a nervous tic. “Ha ha ha, yeah that sure sucks.” No shit. I go to tag “feminism” on Tumblr and the second most popular hit is “feminazi” and it kills me that people still think that it’s us vs. them, except it actually is but in the completely opposite dynamic, and there’s so many more of us than them so why is it that the world’s tilted in their favor? I’m not asking to rip out existing power structures… but no, I am, and yeah, it’s gonna suck for some people, but it’s gonna be so much better for so many more, and shouldn’t that matter? Shouldn’t it matter that people look at me and see weakness and meekness as my natural state of being? Shouldn’t it matter that my friends can’t dress for the searing L.A. summer without getting groped and gawked at? Shouldn’t it matter that people can’t be and aren’t judged by what they can do and who they are instead of artificial and superficial standards? Don’t tell me it’s not personal when it’s literally nothing but — and on the flip side, don’t tell me that I’m being selfish??? When clearly??? This is about something greater than just me??? But of course I’d personally want to live in a world that doesn’t treat??? My identity as a handicap??? In a world that doesn’t treat anybody’s departure from the able-bodied Joe Everyman norm??? As something to overcome????????

I used to want to shut this all out but it kept swirling up, so this is where I begin to let it in. And surprise, surprise — it feels pretty fucking fantastic, but even as I wrap this up, I find myself wondering if I’ve said too much.

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2 thoughts on “Chokes

  1. i’ve been thinking about this so much lately actually i was toying with trying to write it all out and email it to you lol but you’re busy and i haven’t gotten my life together yet. was thinking especially re: that whole zine idea thing and how it was beginning to seem pointless or misguided and i feel like a lot is changing in my brain largely becuz i’ve been reading a lot of suey park’s twitter which i do not always feel 100% behind but there’s so much there that’s super worth paying attention to and so i’ve been getting like, super confused. i wanna talk 2 u about this when you have a chance! or summer!!! ugh, i still have no life plans

    anyway- i feel like race-issues-fueled anger as you’re expressing here and as i feel pretty often is really important, but then i can’t figure out where it fits into the whole scheme of .. .well… capitalism i guess. and economics. if i’m in an economically privileged position and east asian immigrants do well at such a higher rate than african americans or native americans then what does, for example, me shouting about other people’s racism towards me do in the larger scheme of things? It seems like a dangerous thing to focus on for its ability to conceal what some call asian americans’ complicity in white-centric power structures, and their enthusiastic participation in the fucked up thing that is capitalism(i obviously can’t speak for all of us, but i’m thinking of asian american students at cal who flock to business school, asam computer scientists who flock to silicon valley and gentrify the shit out of it, even my own parents who seem to enjoy spending money on pointless shit so much…). but of course it’s not a competition about whoever’s more oppressed getting to talk over the other, and this shit still needs to be talked about… I just feel like i can’t see the ultimate end goal with the way things are, and i want to figure out a more effective way to confront this thing that is real and important and needs to be confronted. the feeling of pointlessness as things are might be tied to why websites like http://www.mochimag.com and audreymagazine.com and http://www.angryasianman.com/ often seem to ring so hollow and pointless- because what’s the real thrust behind them? Is being “asian” enough reason to be the subject of a story on these sites, and why, when “asian” is such a vague term anyway? obviously there’s a specificity to the experience that you and i both know. but in a lot of ways that specificity seems to be determined by white ppl. like, the certain types of names that people who look a certain way get called. why does something externally imposed on us become a criterion that people want to perpetuate, which these websites kind of sort of are? i mean isn’t “Asian” just a more polite term for oriental, with basically the same meaning? why do we keep using this term then?

    yeah sorry this is so long and off-topic to your experiences… also, i’m not saying i’m right about any of this i’m just babbling/thinking through typing.

    and i’m so god damn sorry you (and all of us) have to deal with this shit.

    • HOLY SHIT, I literally wrote this entire thing with you in mind and was even going to like, FB it to you and ask for your opinions on it… this only cements my feeling that we have to work together…

      I was wondering where to fit all of this socially-directed anger within the context of global social movements and within the global capitalist framing, but maybe it’s because I’ve been studying macroeconomics all day (ha. ha. ha.) that I just couldn’t figure out, as you said, where to begin tackling the idea of the “model minority” socioeconomic status that a lot of East Asians/-Americans perpetuate. And I’ve been grappling with the idea of race/ethnic distinctions in general… but again, haven’t come up with an exact idea of why everything both feels and is so shitty on an intrinsic level.

      It’s like, by defining or partitioning yourself into anything, you’re immediately creating an exclusive space, when what you’re *supposedly* working for is a cross-boundary dialogue of understanding and acceptance? And if the supposed hope/goal/end game is to extinguish the notion of exclusivities granted to certain pedestaled identities, doesn’t that play against it? But I guess my own instinct has changed in that now, if people sling shit at me because of my existing identities, I dig my heels in and say, “Yeah, this is who I am,” because the notion of giving out makes me sick.

      I don’t really know either. Just… it’s so easy to talk about theory applied to fictional situations but then when it comes into play with real life, I find myself holding back, and I don’t know where exactly that self-silencing mechanism comes from but it just… it tires me. And I just keep seeing these kinds of arguments play over and over again, and I don’t think there’s any one right way to come at it but there are some ways that feel so, so wrong. So yeah, even though the Asian distinction comes with a shit-ton of baggage, and even though it’s difficult to talk about cultural and racial distinctions without coming off as ignorant in every other way, and I know that I’ve been complicit before and will definitely be complicit in upholding these same structures again… there’s still a distinction between existing as that model minority figure and pushing back when I can, as I can. Like, there’s so much that I do enjoy about living now, in this time, in America, and it’s not as though I want to opt out and live in some pancultural commune — but I want people to recognize that not talking shit isn’t the same thing as understanding and pushing back against why things are shit.

      Following Suey Park has showed me what I don’t have the guts to say, but also just how hard people push back against any sort of, not even radical, but oppositional and confrontational activism. And while yeah, sometimes it’s like “Whoa, hold up”… no. It’s sometimes difficult to follow what she’s saying, and sometimes she directs her energy toward directions that I personally don’t think are the most fruitful, but she and others like her dedicate themselves to this, to defining an “us” and calling out the “them,” and the process is rough but that just shows what’s working against her.

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