He looks down at everyone as he towers over them. His naturally blonde hair glows in the sun and his sapphire eyes pierced straight through me. I couldn’t resist his god-like muscular frame. He was the cover of every magazine and the hero in every piece of media I consumed as a child. Everyone around me adored him. And it was only natural that I fell in love with him too because he was everything everyone wanted me to be. Above all, I admired his bravery, stoicism and independence, all traits I sorely lacked as a child who spent so much of my time playing video games and reading in solitude. I loved him before I could even comprehend the definition of love itself. His name is masculinity.
I can’t say that he felt the same, though. Masculinity disapproves of anything and anyone that doesn’t aspire to be him. From the moment he laid eyes on my epicanthic folds and flat nose bridge, he saw me as a lesser man. He has always been known for abusing his power in society to devalue anyone who threatened the position of white men. For example, American society’s emasculation of Asian men started ever since the very first wave of Chinese immigrants arrived in the United States. White people viewed the economic prosperity of Asian workers as intimidating, so they socially ostracized them. Mistreatment and violence in the gold mines pushed Asian men toward professions associated with domesticities, such as laundrymen and waiters. Even today, small-penis jokes and snide “that K-pop boy looks like a girl” remarks subtly reinforce the idea that Asian men are somehow lesser. In the eyes of masculinity, and the Western world as a whole, I, along with many other Asian men, am viewed as feminine simply for being born as Asian.
But despite all the mistreatment, I stayed with him, because what other choice did I have? The image of masculinity that I loved was merely a reflection of society at large. From the second my ultrasound was performed, everyone around me had decided that I needed to be strong and restrained — signifiers of a “real” man. I was locked into the expectations of manhood and I had to either subdue my emotions or risk becoming a social outcast. If only Asianness was my sole “flaw,” perhaps I could somehow regain his acceptance.
Yet, unlike many other Asian men, I am, in fact, gay. On top of the emasculation that I experience as an Asian man, my queerness disrupts my assimilation into the white, heterosexual standard of manhood. Even some of my fellow Asian men do not treat me as a man because my queerness does not align with the heteronormative masculine ideal that they still pursue. The intersection of my race and sexual orientation adds a third dimension of emasculation; I am devalued as a man because I’m Asian, gay and both gay and Asian. Masculinity could attempt to degrade me by calling me a feminine gay Asian and there was nothing I could really do to defend myself because it was all true.
I was masculinity’s figurative punching bag because I deviated from his expectations, and he relished in my helplessness. Worst of all, it felt as though nobody, not even from my own communities, would help me. I was desperately bound to him in our toxic love affair, which only pushed me further away from myself. Over the course of my entire life, I tried to contort myself into the tiny confines of manhood, stifling back tears and trying to make myself palatable for his approval. But I have come to see that I was never going to be the man that he wanted me to be — because that man does not exist. Masculinity wants to break my spirit and torture me for not being manly enough for him. He never wanted to see me become a man like him; he wanted to feel superior. Not only could I never be like masculinity, but I also would never WANT to bring others down to raise myself up. Masculinity is weak and cowardly, hiding behind his power and privilege as a straight white man to inflict pain upon other men for centuries if not millennia.
While my sexual orientation exacerbated my alienation from masculinity, queerness has given me an alternate lens to navigate through my manhood as an Asian. Rather than resisting the idea of the effeminate Asian man, I’ve come to flourish beyond the boundaries of masculine and feminine categories. Instead of fighting to fit masculinity’s rigid standards, I aim to free myself from any expectations placed upon me by society’s definition of manhood.
As much as I recognize how toxic my relationship with masculinity was, part of me longs for the idealistic portrait I painted of him in my mind. I always idolized courage, and I thought if I could become the embodiment of masculinity, I could become bold and brave. However, I found the opposite to be true; my firm rejection of those expectations proved that I have more courage living as my true self than I ever did before. After years of relying on masculinity to control me, I still value courage, but now it is not because I want to become him. Masculinity hates me because I am everything he wants to be.
I’m ending my relationship with masculinity. Instead, I’m embracing the only man I will ever need: myself.
MiC Columnist Andrew Nakamura can be contacted at email@example.com