How I Hated My Maleness, with Supplementary Musings from Childhood

By: Keith Sena, originally published here on Friday evening, May 20, 2016

keith bear

“How the fuck [are] you supposed to grow up when you weren’t raised?” –Eminem

Three hundred sixty-five evenings ago, I was reflecting on my first year at Baylor University.  It was the 2014-2015 school year.  In that school year, I took great strides toward understanding my past and recovering from it.  Community, friendships, and the experience of living away from relatives affected me profoundly.  This personal essay is about a complex I had for two decades; on this evening last year, I overcame it.

As a toddler, I lived with my parents and three older sisters.  Our parents would often bicker, but I was oblivious.  Every time our parents began to bicker, my sisters took me into another room and distracted me so I would not have to hear it.  My sisters kept me uncorrupted.  I was sweet to everyone, since the only way I knew how to treat others was with kindness.

Then one time while our parents were bickering, it got so noisy that nothing my sisters did could keep me from hearing it.  I sensed it was bad, but did not know what it was.  A man was shouting like I had never heard before.  I recognized our mom’s voice responding, but did not recognize the man’s voice.  I asked my sisters, “Who is that mean man yelling at Mom?”  His yelling sounded much different from his usual mode of speaking.

As I heard the altercation and discovered the man was our dad, something began changing in me.  “All over me / There’s something changing in me / There’s something growing in me” (Drowning Pool).  Our dad was my only male role model, and he corrupted me.  My psyche took the rest of the day to comprehend the change, and I slept on it.

The next day, I awoke a different person.  I approached a female member of the household—I don’t remember which one—and said something bad to her.  I remember my statement verbatim, but I do not feel comfortable including it here.  My statement was powerful. It included a reference to my maleness.  For a while thereafter, I was mean to everyone.

After a while, still as a toddler, I began to realize the error of my ways.  I did not want to be mean to others.  I wanted to be kind like before.  I had some successes in returning to kindness, but it was difficult because my psyche was corrupted.

Then, still as a toddler, I was playing at a friend’s house one day.  My friend’s mother said something around me to the effect that boys behave badly.  Along with her disparagement of boys—which was bad enough for her to let me hear as an impressionable toddler—her statement included a reference to me and my maleness. I would not stand for it.  I announced, “No, I’m a girl!”  In my mind, boys were bad, and girls were good.  Since I wanted to be good, I convinced myself as best I could that I was a girl.

When I was four years old, one day, my parents were having what would be the last of their usual shouting matches.  I was standing in the living room, observing.  One parent was at each end of the living room, and I completed the triangle by standing to the side between them.  My dad was in the military.  He threw one of his combat boots to the floor near her feet.  I think he intentionally missed hitting her with it, perhaps just to scare her.

Promptly my mom picked me up, and headed for the front door.  I held onto my mom, and looked back at my dad.  While walking through the doorway, she was saying things like, “I’m done with you!  I’m leaving you!”  While standing back, he was saying things like, “That’s fine with me!  Get out of here!”  Then she closed the door behind us.

This moment was the dissolution of my nuclear family; the divorce proceedings that followed were mere formalities.  Though I did not recognize its significance while I was experiencing it, I have come to recognize it as the saddest moment of my life.  In addition to its sad nature and profound effects on my life, it further instilled in me the sense that maleness is bad.

While I was in elementary school, my father shared legal custody of me with my mother.  He is Enneagram Eight, and I am One, so we both have anger as our primary emotion.  He taught me to manage anger poorly.  What he modeled for me at home was frequent outbursts and a short fuse.

My troubled childhood prompted bad behavior in school.  Teachers, staff members, and fellow students often irritated me.  I had a short fuse, and would often physically attack anyone who angered me.  I attended a few elementary schools, and was expelled from one for “excessive violence.”  My fourth-grade teacher joked to my entire class about how easy it was to press my buttons.

On many days, I got in bad enough trouble that the school sent me home.  It was usually for hitting a peer.  My dad often had to leave work early to come and get me.  Each time he had to bring me home for bad behavior, he hit me upon arrival.  He hit me to show me hitting people is wrong.  The school notified him of my bad behavior whether they sent me home or not, and he often hit me in these cases, too.  On one occasion, he picked me up by my shoulders, dug his fingertips extremely hard into my armpits, and yelled in my face about my aggressiveness.  Then he wondered why my behavior was not improving.

My behavior got bad enough for a teacher to call the police on me.  Two uniformed police persons from the city’s police department came to the school—an elementary school, while I was in the fourth grade.  They met with the principal and me.  The policewoman told me that if they ever had to come there again for me, I would be leaving with them; then she hugged me.

It was nice to feel like the policewoman cared about me, but I felt hopeless to improve my behavior.  I expected to be leaving with them in the near future.  Somehow I managed not to have them called on me again; perhaps it was not because my behavior improved, but because the teacher who called them on me was never again in charge of me.

I was unpopular in elementary school.  I managed to fit in only with a few other unpopular boys, and with mixed results.  These boys and I liked to explore as much of the campus as we could during recess and lunchtime.  We usually stayed in the large playground or its immediate vicinity.  Eventually, the time came when we had explored all but one area around the playground: the girls’ bathroom.

We wondered what was in there, and how it looked, but none of us wanted kpto be the one to trespass.  We formed a circle and deliberated for a few minutes.  Since I was the least popular, these “friends” of mine picked me.  They grabbed me and forced me over to the girls’ bathroom.  When we were just outside the entryway, they pushed me in.

I landed on my back, not hard enough to hurt.  I was angry at them.  I wanted to jump up and run out; but before I could get up, I beheld profundity.  I lied still in amazement.

In the boys’ bathroom, other boys and I often had fun with paper towels.  We would wet them, crumple them, and toss them up.  If we did it right, they stuck to the ceiling.  Once stuck to the ceiling, each paper towel dried and stayed there permanently.  Sometimes when we tossed up a paper towel, it would stick to another paper towel that had already dried there.  The new one would dry on the old one, forming a paper towel stalactite.  We continued some of these stalactites with a third paper towel.  The paint up there looked worn out.  Custodians never cleaned the ceiling.

On my back in the girls’ bathroom, I saw a ceiling that looked like nothing had ever touched it since the painter’s brush however long ago.  It was beautiful.  I could find no flaw in it.  I stayed there on my back for a moment, admiring it.  All the anger left me.

Once I felt I had sufficiently appreciated the ceiling, I slowly stood up.  I noticed the tiles on the walls and floor were purple and white, instead of blue and white as in the boys’ bathroom.  This purple and white pleased my eyes.  Slowly I turned to see the rest of the room.  It was all magnificent!

The boys had not checked to see whether anyone was in there before they pushed me in, but I was glad to find nobody in there.  I went back outside and found them laughing.  I tried to tell them what they had missed, but they would not stop laughing for a second to listen.

Then I returned to reality: I was a boy.  That magnificent room I had just seen was not meant for me.  I could never be that clean or admirable.  My role as a male in the world was to be mean and dirty, and ruin beautiful things.  My anger returned.  Shortly thereafter, I made a pathetic attempt at arson of a school building.

Through fifth grade and middle school, I became gradually kinder and less violent.  My brain was developing, and I was becoming less impressionable and better able to decide for myself.  My dad’s behavior gradually lost its effect on mine.

When I was ten years old, my dad remarried.  I lived with my dad and my stepmother for two years, and they had primary legal custody of me during this time.  My stepmother, using her thumb as a visual aid, made a demeaning comment to me about my penis.

Around that time, my dad took me into a bathroom to instruct me on cleaning under my foreskin.  My stepmother later told me that she was (creepily) listening outside the door the whole time.  The way she told me about it seemed calculated to assert dominance over me and make me uncomfortable and embarrassed, all of which it did.

A common embarrassment for boys during puberty is sudden erections for no apparent reason.  One day while my dad, my stepmother, my stepmother’s adult daughter from her previous marriage, and I were together, I had one such erection.  I looked down at myself to see how noticeable it was.  My stepmother asked me, loudly enough to draw the attention of her daughter and my dad, “Are you embarrassed about something?”  I lied, saying I was not embarrassed about anything, since I wanted the situation to end.  Thus I learned to be ashamed of having a penis.

My stepmother would often accuse me of doing things I had not done, and my dad always believed her.  He hit me often for her.  She never hit me, but she liked getting him to hit me.  I once called the police on them for child abuse.  A policeman came to the home and spoke with us.  I begged the policeman to take me with him, but he said he could not take me.

One day when I was 12 years old, my stepmother accused me of doing something I had not done, as usual.  My dad put me over his knee and began spanking me.  As he struck me several times, I looked up at her.  She was looking on from across the room.  She had a big smile.  The longer I looked, the bigger she smiled, and the more animated with delight she became.

As I experienced her sadism and his abusiveness, something began changing in me.  “There’s something changing in me / Something growing inside of me // Go away / Don’t want this” (Drowning Pool).  I no longer cared about finding peace in life.  I just wanted my father and stepmother dead.  I did not care about getting caught.  Whatever would have happened to me, I would have been satisfied knowing I had killed them.  I became the epitome of hatred, valuing their deaths over my life.

My rational faculties recognized this state of affairs was no good.  I wanted to stop myself.  Excelling at introspection, I recognized I had two years until I would no longer be able to restrain myself.  A short time later, still 12 years old, I decided to tell someone.

I don’t remember whom I told; the important part was that I told someone.  I was at school when I told someone.  Various professionals met with me on campus.  That same day, my dad went to court on my behalf, and the judge ordered I stay in a mental hospital for at least 72 hours.  My dad took me to the mental hospital that very day.  I never saw or heard from my (now former) stepmother again after that day.

In an earlier post, I said I had stayed in a mental hospital, but I did not say why.  My desire for murder was the sole reason.  It had nothing to do with suicide or self-harm, neither of which I was even considering.  This brief time 12 years ago (I’m 24 years old now) is the only time I’ve ever been homicidal.  My relationship with my dad has improved, and he has admitted it was his fault I wanted to kill him.

After my 72 hours in the mental hospital, my dad and I lived together.  We were talking one day about my former stepmother, trying to make sense of what she did.  She had two housecats; she was kind and gentle with the female cat, but mean and rough with the male cat.  She had a better relationship with her daughter than with her son.  Her obsession with my penis was peculiar.  Everything we recalled led us to one conclusion: She hated maleness.

I continued through my teenage years and into adulthood with the complex that something is inherently wrong with me because I am male.  My rational faculties recognized it was probably untrue, but complexes cannot simply be reasoned away.  Communities, friendships, and experiences can remove complexes.

Three hundred sixty-five evenings ago, I was reflecting particularly on my friendship with Lydia Williamson.

Lydia and I began amicably at the start of my first year at Baylor University.  However, late in my first semester there, I showed her a rough part of my personality.  She did something harmless and playful with me that happened to upset me, and I responded adversely.  I could tell it bothered her significantly about me.  Surprisingly to me, this incident seemed not to harm our friendship; afterward, we moved on no less amicably than before.

This past fall semester, 11 months after that incident, I asked her how it had affected her.  She said it had made her feel like I was not a safe person.  I said I was sorry.  Then we agreed our friendship had been better since then.

Lydia is one of few people in recent years to have experienced a rough part of my personality that would make me seem unsafe.  Considering my background, it is a miracle my personality still has any warmth.  Three hundred sixty-five evenings ago, feeling touched by Lydia’s kindheartedness, I stopped hating my maleness.  Our friendship was not the only factor, but it was the greatest by far.

During my past two years at Baylor University, several feminist women have befriended me.  They have had positive attitudes toward my maleness, and reassured me of my goodness.  They have made me feel more comfortable in my masculinity than any other people group has.

Now, imagine my reaction when people say feminists hate men.  Ludicrous!  Because of my stepmother, I know what it is like to be hated and mistreated because of my gender; feminism promotes nothing of the sort.  As far as I can tell, my stepmother is the only woman I’ve ever encountered who hated men—and she didn’t even claim to be a feminist!  On the other hand, women throughout their lives encounter many men who hate women.  For every instance of petty “misandry” a man perceives, a hundred instances of harmful misogyny go unnoticed by him.

My old teddy bear is pictured atop this personal essay.  Do you see those dark spots on his face?  One day I was playing with him, in the same room in which my dad would later throw a boot toward my mom.  I tossed him up to the ceiling, like I would later do with paper towels in the boys’ bathroom.  He struck a light fixture.  Those dark spots are permanently burned onto his face.  Likewise, my childhood has scarred me.

[smile]

By: Jenuine Poetess

“c’mon baby, why don’t you smile?  just give me one smile!”

“hey mami, show me that pretty smile!”

walking down the street
i wear my fuckyou face
i learned to put it on
with the rest of my outfit
because wearing an open face
a friendly face
invites too much attention
no
walking the streets
taking the bus
existing while being female
has required a
different kind of face
one where i make my eyes go dead
and drain out all their light
i make people into ghosts
staring right through them
(some people take too many liberties
with eye contact)

i set my mouth hard
serious and unmoving

too soft
and they seem kissable
too warm
and people trespass

my smile is my secret weapon
it lights up rooms
changes moods
my smile is home to
those i love
and my home is not open
to everyone

my smile is my own
no one can demand it

i own the power that comes
with giving or
withholding my smile

they call me a bitch
in different languages
puta
whore
cunt
if it wouldn’t kill me
i’d laugh at their
fickle
changing
selves
in an instant of disobedience
their sweet and charming
becomes
a furious, venomous
snake

i have grown hard
but i rather be a
safe bitch
than a
sorry woman

i learned to harden my face
my features
places inside me
when i learned the price
i must pay
for owning soft curves
and for having the
audacity
to take up space in the world

for too long i had made myself
less
quiet
nothing

in the end
i rather relinquish
the softness of my smile
than any square inch
of my being

Asian Pacific American History Month: Personal Reflections

By: Allan Aquino

1) APAHM 2016: Opening Thoughts on Identity, Along with Some Fundamental Info

The origin of Asian Pacific Heritage Month (APAHM) can be traced to the late 70s when, under the administration of President Jimmy Carter, the first week of May was recognized by Congress as a special Heritage Week in honor of the history and contributions of Asian Pacific Islander Americans (APIs). The month of May was selected in honor two key events in American history: first, the earliest documented presence of Japanese immigrants in the U.S. in May of 1843, and, second, the completion of the transcontinental railroad by Chinese Americans in May of 1869. By the early 1990s, this celebration was expanded to a month-long celebration under the administration of President George Bush, Sr.

As far back as I can remember I’ve been asked the question, “What are you?” by curious strangers. I have an ambiguous phenotype and have been mistaken as Latino, Samoan, American Indian, African American, or multiracial. Curiosity is natural, and most of those scenarios have mostly been innocuous though, on some occasions, microaggressive and disconcerting. Most people, if asked that question, might instinctively reply by declaring their ethnic background. I, for instance, usually say, “I’m Filipino”. Like most people, I wouldn’t necessarily offer “Asian American” as my first answer. But if one were to ask me, “Are you Asian American?”, or, “Do you consider yourself Asian Pacific American?” I’d say yes. Absolutely, yes. And yet, as per the complex rule-breaking dynamics of Filipino American racial and ethnic identity, I might clarify that “my people”, depending upon social context, may also plausibly be considered Pacific Islanders or Latinos. (More on that later.)

Now, I am an Asian American Studies professor, not an Asian Studies professor. I am by no means an expert on any one Asian culture. And this is (what I call) my five-second summary of Asian history: hundreds of years of Asians trying to kill each other. But despite that history, descendants of various Asian cultures whose ancestors may well have been historic enemies find a common foundation as Asian Americans. What defines an Asian American identity is not a matter of ancestral national origins, it’s not ethnic backgrounds, it’s not a homogenous “Asian culture”, or race, or physical experience.

Asian Americans are defined by common social and historical experiences in America. We are all descendants of transnational immigrants, our families came to America in search of opportunities and a better life, we’ve all faced enormous odds – all the many layers and intersections of marginalization and overt oppression. Yet, despite it all, we’ve settled here, we built lives and communities here, and we’ve accomplished all this in solidarity with one another. We are not, to quote Prof. Ronald Takaki, “strangers from a different shore”. We’ve been here since the 1500s. We helped build this society. We are
everywhere. We are everything.

2) “Latinos of Asia”: What Makes the Pinoy (Filipina/o American) Identity Unique

My parents emigrated from the Philippines in 1971. I was born in Chicago in 1974 and moved to the Los Angeles area around 1979. Growing up, I always had a large extended family comprised of Filipino American and Chicano elders; during my earliest years, I had a fundamental consciousness of that common value in Pinoy and Chicano culture: everyone within reach is a potential relative, and whether or not they’re blood relatives is incidental. It is common knowledge to both communities that family is not a matter of race or DNA – it’s all about whom you love and share your life with most.

Like many brown-skinned kids raised in L.A. what I wanted most was to belong. I was educated in a largely Eurocentric school system that had little regard for the histories and cultures of nonwhite peoples. My sense of ethnic identity was so compromised that by the time I was six I was already a self-hating Filipino. I insisted to my parents that I was American (code for honorary white), and I was overtly ashamed of my family and my dominantly Filipino and Mexican immigrant neighborhood. The stories and experiences of Filipinos, much like our Chicano gente, have always been ignored in histories and pop culture as if we didn’t matter or were best kept invisible. Even in today’s Asian American paradigm Filipinos are referred to as the “forgotten Asians” (despite the fact that there’s so damn many of us!). When people think “Asian”, they often think Chinese, Japanese, or Korean; and, on top of that, many non-Filipinos even consider us more geographically displaced Latinos than “Asians”.

I was awakened to my sense of identity and ethnic pride when I began my life at Cal State University, Northridge (CSUN). I was an incoming freshman in the Fall of 1992. I made quick friends with classmates affiliated with student groups like the Filipino American Student Association, MEChA and, later on, the Educational Opportunities Program (EOP). During that first semester I made my first connection with the CSUN Asian American Studies Department, who brought as a distinguished guest speaker Philip Vera Cruz, the former Vice President and highest-ranking Filipino member of the United Farm Workers. That particular experience defined my life and my destiny.

Through pure storytelling Manong Philip, as we called him, told me about Filipinos who’d immigrated to America in the early 20th century, working in agricultural fields and providing domestic services, essentially taking on the kinds of jobs and livelihoods the average U.S. citizen didn’t want. Alongside their Mexican neighbors and extended family relatives, I learned that brown kids like me were not a simple by-product of aliens from a foreign culture. My Filipino and Mexican family communities, since the earliest decades of U.S. history, built this society. We have always been an integral part of it. We deserve dignity and respect as much as anyone.

Manong Philip Vera Cruz told me about his contemporaries like the great militant Larry Itliong, who began organizing Filipino and Mexican laborers by way of strikes, boycotts, and demonstrations as early as the 1920s. And even amidst the Great Depression, Pinoys and Chicanos struggled and fought for a better life for their community families; interestingly, while the rest of America starved, there were no Pinoys or Chicanos in the bread lines begging for assistance. As our communities know, no matter how poor we are, no matter how much we struggle, what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine, and as long as we stick together as a family we’ll not only survive, we will live rich and joyful lives.

Inspired by Manong Philip I got into Ethnic Studies at CSUN. In 1995 I declared a Special Major in Comparative Ethnic Histories, and though most of my classes were based in the Asian American Studies Department, I took classes in American Indian Studies, what was then known as Pan-African Studies and, of course, Chicano Studies. I was fortunate to take courses on the history of Mexico and Chicano history, most notably with our community father and elder statesman Prof. Rodolfo Acuna. Now, prior to taking Rudy’s class I’d studied Filipino American history and culture quite extensively and was already an assistant in the Asian American Studies Department’s Filipino American Experience class. When I took Rudy’s class, I was amazed at how easily and effortlessly I empathized with and wholly appreciated Chicano social and historical experiences. I felt as if I was studying Filipino American history all over again, and it was a most awesome experience.

On that note, let me geek out over my fascinations with history and culture. Allow me to articulate how Pinoys and Chicanos share so much more of a common and singular history and culture than we realize. I’ve been teaching the Filipino American Experience class for 15 years, and though I’ve always had Chicano students, one of the first things I tell the Filipino kids is, “If you claim Pinoy pride, you’ve got a lot of Mexican in you and you probably don’t know it!”

Most of us know that the Philippines and Mexico were occupied by the Spanish Catholic empire since the 1500s. We know that Pinoys and Chicanos share common Spanish surnames and cultural traditions anchored in everyday things like religion, special holidays, culinary traditions, and vocabulary words. When I talk about the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, I clarify that statement by insisting we were occupied by Spain by way of Mexico and Central America. When it came to key economic and military decisions in the Philippines, the Viceroy of Mexico called the shots, and not so much the Spanish emperor. Beginning in the 1500s the Spanish empire established the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade in order to enslave the Philippines and import goods from China and India to the Spanish imperial territories. Filipino slaves, Christianized indigenous Malayo-Polynesian people, were called “indios” along with all other indigenous peoples of the Americas. Filipino indios played a key role in physically building Spanish territories in California, Mexico, and Central America. Likewise, enslaved indigenous peoples of Mexico, referred to in Nahuatl as “Huachinangos” were “exported” out of cities like Guadalajara and Acapulco as slaves in the Philippines. So as early as the 1500s there were Filipinos in Mexico, there were Mexicans in the Philippines, and all through time we’ve contributed to one another’s cultures and, ultimately, to a shared culture, a shared history, and a shared identity. Filipinos undeniably have Southeast Asian and Malayo-Polynesian roots; we got some Chinese and Indian and Arabian heritage in us. But our Mexican roots are key to defining what makes us unique as well as more in common with our Chicano gente than most people realize.

Throughout our lives in the United States, Pinoys and Chicanos lived out loud and side by side: boxing is a common sport and martial art in our communities; Pachuco culture and the Zoot Suit aesthetic, which some call West Coast hip-hop or urban fashion, is another commonality; many ingredients in our diet are mutual – Filipino food employs annatto seeds from the Yucatan, while Philippine mangos are grown in Mexico and ultimately imported to Chicano produce markets. Though Filipinos born in the twentieth century are not as fluent in Spanish as our forebears (my grandparents and eldest aunts and uncles were Spanish-fluent), we literally share elements of common language. For example, in Filipino language we call our aunties Tita; in Mexican, we say Tia. We call our mothers Nanay; in Mexican, we might say Nana. Both languages say Lola, which comes from abujuela, when referring to our grandmothers. Most of my life I assumed those were Tagalog words; only through Ethnic Studies did I learn those words are from Nahuatl – ergo, to listen to a conversation in Filipino language is to listen to wondrous inflections of Mexican culture. It is also through Ethnic Studies, even beyond my initial experience with Philip Vera Cruz, that I studied and eventually shared a working knowledge of the common history and culture of Pinoys and Chicanos upon which our common struggle was always built.

Around 1996, in a casual conversation I had with Prof. Acuna we came to talk about the UFW. With his trademark charm and enthusiasm Rudy said to me, “You Filipinos were the crazy ones!”, which he meant with tremendous respect and affection. As he himself wrote about in his landmark book Occupied America, Larry Itliong and the Filipinos of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) had physically battled the police and corrupt agribusiness officials well before they began collaborating with Dolores Huerta, ultimately reaching out Cesar Chavez and the NFWA to form the United Farm Workers movement that changed American labor history forever. Let us not forget the very reason it’s called the United Farm Workers movement is because 5,000 Chicanos united with 2,000 Pinoys.

It is obvious why, to quote my colleague Prof. Anthony Ocampo, many Pinoys and Chicanos alike refer to Filipinos as “the Latinos of Asia”. Filipinos, much like our Chicano and Latino gente, constantly break the rules and conventions of race and simplistic ethnic categories. Our very existence challenges a lot of stereotypes. And though Filipinos share common social and historical experiences in America with our fellow Asian Pacific Americans (we are API, after all), our common roots with our Chicano gente must never be denied. I for one feel it’s a true source for pride and celebration. When I claim “Pinoy pride” it is because I see myself, my history, and my heritage intertwined with and reflective of everyone in my community family amidst, as well as regardless of, what intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexual orientation define us. To quote my community brother Jonah De Ocampo, better known as the rapper Bambu: “Our people are the same, it’s [only] a map that divides us”.

3) …But Back to My API Identity:

Although I am undeniably proud of my Filipino American heritage, I stand completely united with my East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Island peoples. But even before I claim my “Filipinoness” or my “Asian Pacificness”, in my heart I am first a Los Angeleno. My sense of home and purpose, the language I speak, the food I eat, how I live my daily life – I share so much more in common with my fellow residents than with any of my kin in the Philippines.

The purpose of the month of May is not for APIs to retreat into ourselves, but to explore and share our stories with everyone. To celebrate Asian Pacific Heritage Month is to celebrate the meaning of civilization. To be truly Asian American is to stand in communion with all people and all issues pertaining to social justice and the end of oppression. We are ultimately one community and there is no separateness when it comes to social justice. If you claim an API identity but fail to empathize with issues ranging from education and the attacks on Ethnic Studies, the Black Lives Matter Movement, gender equality, the continuing epidemic of transphobia and homophobia, or the pervasive homelessness in Los Angeles, one of the wealthiest cities in history — then you truly need a critical self-examination of your own identity.

I conclude by quoting Manong Philip Vera Cruz: “Leadership is only incidental to The Movement… The Movement must go beyond its leaders… It must be something that is continuous, with goals and ideas that the leadership can then build upon… If more young people could just get involved in the important issues of social justice, they would form a golden foundation for the struggle for all people to improve their lives.”

***
Allan Aquino is a poet and professor of Asian American Studies at California State University, Northridge. Information on his work may be found at https://allanaquino.wordpress.com/

:: untitled ::

By: H. D. 

I wanted to talk about a major issue I have with the gender neutral bathroom debate Re: men using the opportunity to assault women. I’m troubled by a lot of what I’ve been reading. I’m sorry for every single girl among us who has felt like her story wasn’t truly heard, and for anyone who feels they didn’t get a chance at justice.

So it is bizarre and frankly a little frustrating that when it comes to rape, THIS is the line people are drawing in the sand as “too much risk”, THIS is the one incredibly rare scenario where people are speaking out in protest and actually advocating for the potential victims. I noticed there’s a distinct and surprising lack of the usual doubt, scrutiny, victim blaming and rape apologies and after a lot of thought and reading, I came to a troubling theory why: Obviously first and probably foremost, it’s because this is an easy cover for people to justify their transphobia and if there’s anything that makes ignorant people uncomfortable, it’s the thought of transgender people among them. (Don’t worry amigos. It used to be the same with openly homosexual people just a generation ago.) But secondly, and this is the one that really bothered me, it’s because it supports the comfortable narrative of what rape “is supposed to”[sic] look like: The menacing male villain in an act of random insanity or perversion preys upon a stranger-an innocent and sober girl with nothing questionable or sexual in her background who was just minding her business in the well lit place at the wrong time. Anything outside of that and they eat you alive. So these phantom rapist hypotheticals are not only perpetuating hate and prejudice against trans people, they’re furthering the stupid and enduring myth that what rape REALLY looks like is a dramatic and violent jack-in-the-box attack by a stranger in a public place. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, because it does. But people are generally very quick to blame even a hypothetical woman if she’s raped outside those circumstances and when all of a sudden the usual allegations of the woman making it up, leading him on or dressing like a whore are gone, you have to wonder why. What changed?

Think about it: in all the posts I’ve seen regarding a cis male allegedly raping a woman who knows him, the responses are always predictably critical of the woman, scrutinizing her every move and motive, and generally the lucky rapist has more than a few Devil’s advocates on his side. They seem to ask questions not to glean insight or to hear her side, but to go down the “legitimate rape” checklist, seeing if her rape fits all the criteria before they even consider blaming her attacker. Well were you drunk? Didn’t you text him the night before? Well if you didn’t want to have sex, why was he in your bed? In the case of the hypothetical man pretending to be trans to rape a woman, the victim is nothing more than a crime scene who did all she could against an unprovoked madman. This is problematic because it removes all human elements from the victim and from the story, and frames the definition of rape to be an exclusively obvious act; an outright assault on an innocuous woman who, as a requirement, did literally NOTHING to perpetuate it and absolutely EVERYTHING short of death to stop it. If there’s any less effort on either part, then the rape is now out of the comfortable narrative and she is met with contempt and suspicion. It also dehumanizes the rapist, making it seem like the only men who rape are hulking, imposing, criminally minded cave men who one day snap on a random woman. This is important because it means the opposite traits prove he is NOT a rapist, and if he’s not a frothing, deviant, perverted, intimidating guy-if he was a clean cut youth minister, or a young handsome baseball player for instance-then he couldn’t be the bad guy could he?

Now, the cut and dry image of “legitimate” rape has become the only acceptable circumstances if you seek justice, and only qualified women may apply. Drunk? Your fault. In his apartment? Your fault. Have a lot of sex before? Your fault. Didn’t get his blood under your nails in the fight? Your fault. Took a shower after and messed up the rape kit? Your fault. Too scared to report him immediately? Your fault. Because thanks to the spread of the “respectable rape scenario”, all your classmates realize the boy from school you said hurt you so badly couldn’t possibly have done it-not when you willingly met him for drinks and even flirted with him over texts. Not when he plays rugby and has a beautiful girlfriend. Everyone saw your arm around him at that party. All of a sudden, your story has human elements to it-he’s not a mindless beast, and you’re no ingenue-and thus, it becomes a tall tale meant to stir up trouble for the young man. The “man pretends to be transgender woman to access bathroom and attack women” scenario is tilting at windmills in the worst way possible, because it’s obscuring the uncomfortable truth of what rape actually looks like with a ridiculously far fetched smear campaign against trans women- and that’s much more dangerous than a phantom bathroom assailant.

A man pretending to be a woman to sneak into a bathroom to rape an unsuspecting woman is not the enemy here. The culture that allows THAT to be the only type of rape that gets recognized or planned for is the enemy.
Look at the football player who assaults several women but is allowed to remain on the team because no one is paying 80 dollars a ticket to watch a woman receive justice.

What about the man who learns from media influence that a woman’s agency is just a lock on her vagina, and he can wear it down with the right combination of drinks, half truths and contrived lines to finally get past it. Who can she go to to for comfort when he finally forces himself inside her over half hearted protests and quiet resignation? Who will believe her when her story is so, so, far from the knife wielding stranger in the bathroom?
When a college fraternity brother drugs and rapes another student, the problem isn’t the act itself, vile and unforgivable as it is. The problem is that he’s surrounded by a culture where roofies and rape and coercion and women being used for sex are all punchlines, and a woman saying she was raped is met with disbelief, disgust, contempt, ridicule, and above all else, permanent skepticism. How can anyone ever be expected to stand up and say “my story has more to it than being overpowered in the bathroom by a stranger, but what this man did wasn’t right”, knowing that what will invariably be discussed is not the actions of the rapist, but her performance as a victim to make damn sure that she got as violated as she feels.

Forcing trans women to use the men’s bathroom is not keeping men OR rapists out of the women’s bathroom, it’s keeping WOMEN out of the women’s bathroom, and it’s perpetuating an ideal crime that invalidates other people’s stories. A woman’s safety, inclusion, and right to basic human dignity (Mystifyingly defended in the context of a public bathroom but not her own bedroom) does not come with ANY stipulations.

I am now unsilent

By: Anonymous

From the time I was old enough for anyone to listen, I’ve felt an insatiable drive to lend my voice where there wasn’t one. I’ve felt like a warrior, screaming among the crowded streets of an underdeveloped world to all the people walking about, ignoring the mute. It was an obsession, seemingly from the outside and its motivation wasn’t conscious. Revered by some, annoying to others. For me, it was community service. A “do-good” service that felt instinctive.

Baylor University has recently been in the news concerning their unjust treatment of sexual assault victims. The kids were upstairs playing, my husband was at work, and I was downstairs reading the accounts that made the world stop for so many women, girls really. After I was finished, I began to sob … uncontrollably sobbing. Shoulder jerking, heart paining, breath raping, snot string sobbing.

It was at this exact moment I realized the birth of my voice. The voice I lent to so many others was fueled because I didn’t have one for myself. My voice wasn’t some divine soul driven instinct. It was about empowerment, control, and self-worth.

I was 14. I went with my cousin to a high school party at an apartment clubhouse. They had Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. I don’t remember how much I drank, but I remember I blacked out. Before we even left, I was in the bathroom paying homage to the porcelain God. I remember a friend, although I don’t remember who, was holding my hair, but at some point she tired of this ridiculous scene and rejoined the party. She probably stayed longer than I would’ve.

Someone knocked on the closed bathroom door. I was too drunk to give consent of passage, but they walked in. It was a boy in a grade above me. I didn’t know him but I knew who he was and I still know his name. He laughed at me and I can’t say that I blame him. I can’t remember if he shut the door, but what happened next is a burned scar time will never forget. He started taking off my pants. This was no easy feat because, after all, it was 1990 and the eighties style of painted on acid washed pants were still all the rage at my school, not to mention I was bent over a toilet barfing. I can still hear the echo of my voice in the porcelain bowl. “Stop.” “Don’t.” I started to cry. It wasn’t a ferocious cry. It wasn’t a cry fueled of anger. It was a cry of defeat. Loud enough for him to hear, quiet enough for no one else to come. I stared into the toilet the whole time. An occasional tear would ripple the waste water my head had become intimate with. He left and I didn’t even pull up my pants.

This story remained unspoken to anyone, lofting in the back of my hidden memories, until the night I read all those rape accounts at Baylor. My husband came home from work and found me. Eyes swollen. Memories streaked across my face. A lifetime ago. So, at our family table, where my kids share their school day stories, I shared the dirty secret I had hidden for over 26 years from myself. A girl who didn’t have the courage to have a voice for herself spent the next two decades lending her voice to others, and now I know why. Thank you Baylor survivors. I am forever indebted.

What I have learned

By: A. H.

On the eve of my birthday, a dear friend and I walked back from my car, snacking on cups of half-consumed froyo. She asked me a question.

“What have you learned this year?”

And I wanted to tell her nice life lessons. Bible verses. God stories. Jesus-in-the-flesh stories. I wanted to tell her about how the hard parts of the year helped me cherish the good parts. I wanted to say that I learned to love a little better. Hell, I wanted to at least start listing off the syllabi of all of my classes.

But my first thought was his name.

Because the honest answer I guess is that I learned not to trust people. I learned that sometimes people aren’t actually as they appear. Sometimes people do the unimaginable. Sometimes the neat lines you draw around people, the assurances you curl under at night before you turn out the lights, are just thin air.

Sometimes, people lie.

Sometimes, people say they would never do x, and they do x. A lot.

Sometimes, people do the inexplicable. And it’s just that. Inexplicable.

But that’s not good post-froyo, my-last-day-being-a-teenager nostalgia, so I say:

“Actions speak louder than words. Sometimes people say things, but they do things that show that they didn’t mean what they said.”

Because that’s a nice way to say:

“I’ve been screwed over and I’ve spent a quarter of this year being kidnapped and the last quarter trying to find myself again, and I’m still in this same 19-years-and-364-day-old body, but days like today feel like learning to walk again, so here I am, wobbly knees and weepy eyes, trying to make sense of something that makes no sense.”

So I guess I’ve learned to stop blaming myself this year. I’ve learned to stop apologizing. Because the fact is that this should have never happened to me. He should have never happened to me. They should have never happened to me. I should have never had to make escape plan after escape plan as safeguards for the next time, because this year I learned that some things never change. This year I learned that I didn’t leave my ghosts in my hometown. They came back, even after I went to all that trouble to put the blood over the doorpost and eat my dinners with a staff in my hand. Because sometimes, ghosts come back in different bodies. So maybe I’ve learned not to be so optimistic when I open the door. Maybe I’ll check their ID next time. As if ghosts come with warning labels.

So this year I’ve learned it wasn’t my fault. This year I’ve learned there is no amount of age, experience, or knowledge that can safeguard me from abuse. Sometimes shit happens to you. And I am done listening to people telling me how to avoid it. It’s time that I start saying:

“I’ve been screwed over and I’ve spent a quarter of this year being kidnapped and the last quarter trying to find myself again…and I wasn’t the person who misplaced the key.”

I wish I had round, young answers for sweet friends. But I find an optimism in admitting that there are some parts of my story that I’m not complicit in. Sometimes people haunt you. Sometimes people hurt you. But I am hopeful, because one day I will have a little girl and a little boy. And I will tell them.

“Sometimes people lie. But it doesn’t mean that we stop telling the truth.”

This is my truth. I am 20 years old and I woke up at 4am last night with nightmares. I don’t remember every detail of everything that has happened to me, but I remember the edge of my tapestry while it did. I have a handful of people that listen anyway, and I’m grateful to the people who tell me the true story when my brain wants to make up a fake one that’s easier to swallow–you know, like the pills that say that you’re making it all up. It’s appropriate that the medical term for my brain is four letters long. I thought about writing down all of the events in order, but then I realized that to say any of this is to say that it happened.

That’s what I’m learning.

[I will not calm down]

By: Jenuine Poetess

these days I’m full of piss and vinegar
I’m angry
no.
I’m mad as hell
spitting
sparking
growling
Rage

I imagine these scenarios:
me
losing my mind
white hot fury
burning it all down with
one look
one word
one fist punching the sky

they have not invented
a language strong enough
to articulate the tempest
turning and churning
a tumbling tumult
floodwater outrage
roiling in my bones
teetering on the verge of
Eruption

I thunder at the lies
I strike lightning at all that was stolen
I hail down upon the abuses
I earth quake the manipulation
I flood the cruelty
I tornado the selfish
greedy
taking
and taking
and taking
into oblivion

my wrath is a monstrosity looming
a shadow, palpable
tall tall darkness
a Leviathan loosed
from my Mariana Trench deeps
an unfurling fury
unfettered

one Roar would shatter continents
one footfall would send oceans into global tsunami
one sweep of fisted hand would raze nations to finely ground sands

I am
this seething ire
this foaming temper
this
Righteous
indignation

I pretend

By Kat, published with permission.  Original blog posted here in 2015.

I pretend things will be okay, when I fear they will not – acting as if these series of actions will result in a measurable end point. A satisfying end to things I have trouble picturing.

I pretend to be normal – as Donna Williams says she does – attempting to say the write things at the right time, only to find myself in a game of conversational tetherball: Oh, there it goes – my words, this dialogue; it’ll come around again, I suppose.

I see my words overlapping others, finding their place, as the grip of my pen grows ever tighter and more painful. I suppose this means we’re getting somewhere. Where I’m not ready to go.

I pretend to understand – you, this situation – hoping that, believing that sense-making will lessen the pain of this experience. It doesn’t.

If I just knew how and why I’d feel better – longing for a coherent narrative – I create one, invent one, collage one out of the pieces of my life:

The ever-present real details and scenarios. These utterly terrifying things that happen to me, about me.

I’m finding the words for these seemingly indescribable visuals, the concepts and labels I’m not sure are mine. They are.

What if someone in this room could tell you who you are?

I can’t, won’t, shouldn’t.

But you can.

These are your bits of narrative. Claim them. Embrace them. Feel them out. This is not a rejection of the self you knew – this is a renaming, an honoring.

Not weird – othered or strange – different perhaps, quirky – autistic in a way you haven’t all the way acknowledged. Every word but that one. Yes, this is a thing.

Pretending is something you do when you’re working through what is, imagining what could be. Acting as if – as you become the person you know you are.

***
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She did it anyway

By Kat, published with permission.  Original blog posted here in 2015.

She once told a professor she had enough anxiety to power a small city, that it got her stuck in the mire of worry loops. And yet she finished that class; she did it anyway.

Her diploma will have an asterisk, with a footnote below, finished this PhD with anxiety and familial trauma – a neurotype that felt so awkward in the midst of the majority.

And so she learned to imagine these things were possible, that she could manage, not in spite of, but because of.

What would you think of someone who’d been through all of that, who was where you are now?

She’d be pretty amazing.

She looked back at the girl with a knowing look reserved for processing and responses to Socratic questioning. So there she was in the land of coping and somehow managing, and yet she did it anyway.

She remembers the side of shame, implicit, but nonetheless there, that came with a paper extension.

But you always turn things in on time…

I know.

She walked back into the conference room the following day, giving a presentation she felt was poorly thrown together – ill-prepared. But you know what, she did it anyway. And sat through the barrage of criticism that followed. She waited to cry, feeling numb and clinical instead.

Minutes later, after making a deliberate exit – let me know when she leaves – she collapsed into the neighboring cubicle. This is what a meltdown feels like – tears and talking about nothing and everything, letting a friend now in the know, put dividers in a project binder.

She let herself go, shields down; she tried to explain. Wounds in full display, she did it amongst the shame. Vulnerable and confused – a bit dismayed and lost – she did it anyway.

In between the apologies and shame of being helped, she let her words fill the space in between the freshly carpeted floor. These words flood out, like a pent-up storm – clouds released as the showers pound the ground below.

She isn’t sure how to be grateful. We’ve moved past vulnerability. I wish there was a word for this. Emotions on display. To the just is – I can’t stop this flood anymore, not without a subsequent numbness. We sit together, for she is paralyzed, sitting against the wall, remembering to breathe.

This ends soon, she reminded herself. She cares and will sit with you through this. Perplexing, I know, but you’ll live through this. Relief and embarrassment is a muddled mix of emotion she is trying to explain to herself. I don’t know what happened, but it did.

Her feet touched the ground as she saw the adjacent hallway; I suppose I’ll have to leave here eventually – and so she slowly got up, afraid to pass by onlookers’ glances, but she did it anyway.

This hallway stretches into an L; door in the very corner, and so she kept walking, avoiding eyes and searing glances.

Am I still blotchy? I redden in the midst of tears.

You’re fine. You can do this.

This support was unexpected, but welcome; she has no idea how to let people in, to give a measure, even a teaspoon of trust – but she begins anyway.

***
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Text-based: On building Autistic community

By Kat, published with permission.  Original blog posted here in 2015.

How long will I have to mince my words? You see, I have these traits – I’m 85 to 95% sure that this is who I am. I’ve lived in euphemistic dialogue for some time now…

I’m socially different, sensory sensitive; missing gist for detail. This is who I am, regardless of how you choose to see me, label me. We sustain ourselves in these Voldemorty spaces – that which shall not be named.

I’m autistic. Not that you’ll believe me. We’re unicorns. The highly verbal, completely awkward, often confused. I’m not a 12-year-old boy who like trains. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t.

My passions are information gathering, sorting, and sensemaking. That’s why I’m here today. I brought a list of all the things you might think are wrong with me – I prefer different. This is merely a collection of traits – some of which get me stuck. Please don’t medicalize me, marginalize me.

This is new to you. Not to me – I’ve been this way my entire life – just hadn’t found my coherent narrative. Hadn’t imagined there were others like us, rising in dust and hashtagging it – dialoguing across countries and timezones. Other women like me, yet utterly alien in their own spaces.

We are developing our own dialogue, a shared narrative – together. I see us in a decent-sized room, sitting at a table, offering virtual cups of tea.

Remembering.

Verbalizing.

Being.

In this created space – creative space. We are ourselves, with little explanation. Needing no one else to fill in our gaps. We are our own. Here anyway. Coda. Yet this space, although not enough, is a starting point. Free from labels or to label as we wish. Existing together in a shared collage of narratives.

Of course this text-based medium would serve us well. Free from constraints of nonverbals and missed cues.

We are here in this place. We fit. We belong. And we are enough. Together.

***
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