"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Friday, September 01, 2017

on empathy.

Here's something I've been thinking about during this same-sex plebiscite hullabaloo: empathy is not the same as agreement.

I am trying, really hard, to empathise with people who differ with me on this issue. It does not mean I consider their arguments to be legitimate - because most of them are neither logical nor based in any kind of fact or reason that could be recognised in an educated and secular society. It does not mean I understand or condone hate speech or violence. It definitely does not mean agreeing or sympathising or backing off from my need to educate and encourage kindness and compassion. But it just means understanding where people are coming from.

I understand the knee-jerk reaction to imagine people who are different from you as a monolithic, one-dimensional, uncomplicated thing; but as an Asian who is also an English student who is also a sex nerd who is also a raging queer I'm uncomfortable with this unwillingness to understand where other people are coming from. I mean, I started empathising when I also started cherry picking from the Bible: know thy enemy.

I need to say on no uncertain terms that if you are opposed to same sex marriage, then you are opposed to my right to exist as a full human being. I know perfectly well I may never get married; I am nowhere near attractive enough to be as disagreeable as I am. I know that if I do get married, I will probably marry a cisgender man, because that's just how the stars of my sexuality and the demographics of the human species tend to align. But the question is not if or to whom I or any other queer person may get married to. It's about the simple fact that marriage is a personal choice, and it is deeply offensive that politics and now, apparently, every fucking person in the country, gets a say in the personal lives of a small and marginalized minority.

But here's what I want to say: I empathise with people who are afraid of disagreeing with or leaving (or being forced to leave) a community that they belong to. All the people I know who do not support marriage equality belong to large but also very insular and monocultural groups, like a church, or a specific retirement village with various social and economic barriers for anyone who isn't white and middle class. For the longest time I didn't see the appeal of these communities, because I have never been welcome. But I understand that if you are born into them, it is hard to leave; and not leaving involves sticking to the status quo.

I never grew up with any sense of community; my extended family don't live in Australia and being mixed heritage is not always an easy thing in Asian Australian communities. I never felt like I could act the part of a good Asian girl so I never bothered trying. I've been lonely, for most of my life, and that loneliness can be crushing. But it's also been liberating; I never make decisions worrying that I will be cast off, because I've always been a cast off. But I understand that the prospect of that loneliness can be terrifying. I don't know how to mitigate that terror, or tell you that it'll all be okay; because sometimes it's not. Sometimes I'm not okay, living without a community, and sometimes I feel like I'll do anything to find my tribe, as it were. And as much as I am queer and proud to be queer and proud to campaign for queer rights, I have not really found a place in the queer community, as a very straight-passing bi femme.

The only silver lining I can think of is that if you do leave, if you belong to a homophobic community and you publicly state that their homophobia is not okay and not something you are willing to be a part of, you are serving that community in the best way you can. Because I guarantee, within your community, there is somebody living in fear. There is somebody living in a safety net of lies and conceits, but watching you leave will give them hope. I don't know if that thought is enough to help you make some difficult choices about this issue, but I hope it is.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

violent questions.

When I was fifteen and talking to my best friend/pseudo-partner/emotional abuser, I said the word (I forget the context) 'filet'. Only I said it in the French way (it is, after all, a French word), as in 'fil-ay', because that was how my mother always said it, and I knew that the English language had lots of French loanwords and that we vaguely followed French pronunciation.

He immediately pounced. 'He' being a man, who was older than me (by six months, but a whole year in an academic context), and British. 'It's not fil-ay, it's 'fillet'. We're not French.'

It's hard to explain the impact of that moment. I've forgotten the specifics, but given that I only ever used that word in relation to my mother's cooking, we were definitely talking about my mother, and therefore my home and my only safe space (in spite of the multitude of inter-generational and inter-cultural conflict that is inevitable when two Asians try to raise Australian kids). My 'friend' was someone I respected enormously who had a lot of cultural privilege, as a British-born Australian, which is true even though I was born in Australia and English is my first and only language. The way he said it - in public, for multiple classmates to hear and snicker at, the hostility and aggression and condescension that was constantly threatening to erupt out of him; it was horrible. It was just a silly conversation about food, of all things, with someone who repeatedly claimed to be my dearest friend, but I remember feeling horrifically embarassed and ashamed; which is how all of us Mudblood Australians feel when we inevitably stumble into a faux-pas.

It's about six years on, and I've only just managed to convince myself of what I always knew to be true; 'filet' and 'fillet' are both perfectly acceptable words, in both pronunciations. Only six years, several years of estrangement from the 'friend' in question, and a degree in English to convince myself that I know how words work. For all my accomplishments, for all my certificates, for all the time I beat out other,whiter Aussies, I am deeply insecure about who I am and where I belong. We don't live in a world that is respectful and understanding of the multiple identities we may claim; we live in a world where people like me are suspicious, because we don't do what it says on the label.

I've always been a bookish person, which is not actually a particularly non-Asian trait; my mother was also into literature and poetry, back in the day, the only difference was that she was educated in Chinese and I was educated in English. I read the first Harry Potter book when I was five, and from six onwards I was considered particularly precocious at reading and writing. Some of it is natural instinct, that undeniable pull so many feel towards the written word. But some of it, I have to admit, was pride.

When you are someone like me - when you are a second-generation, mixed race Asian Australian who can only speak English - not being able to read and write and spell properly was not an option. I knew that from the moment I started school that people were going to assume the worst and that the only way to save face was to prove them wrong. Every nerd likes to come on top, but for me the stakes were higher; it was a way to say 'fuck you and all of your racist prejudices'. And it was the only way I knew how to prove my Australian-ness, because people are always itching to tear that away from me.

It is impossible to explain to white Australians how isolating, how othering, how dehumanizing to constantly be asked the endless variations of 'why aren't you white?'. For other immigrants, there is maybe a notion of home, some idea of origin or the motherland; for me, there is nothing. It's Australia or nothing, because the other places definitely do not fucking want me. When you grow up between cultures, you see the flaws and failures of all of them; but people are constantly telling you to deny reality, to not talk of unpleasantness, and simply spew patriotism from every orifice at every opportunity. Taking obscene and sometimes unjustified pride in being Australian is an essential part of being Australian; and when I was younger, I tried. When I tried to voice my distress at racism, people would say 'you're just Australian, so ignore it'. Australian-ness is presented as a protective amulet, and then just as you accept its dubious powers, people try to snatch it away from you. They tell you to be more Australian, and then all it takes is a stranger to say 'but where are you really from?' to remind you that no matter how hard you try, you'll just never be Australian enough.

It's not that I'm dying to be considered a true-blue Aussie, even though by every legal definition I am one. To grow up without an identity that everyone can agree on is a deeply traumatic experience, and an experience that is consistently ignored and marginalized because the number of people who experience it are small and voiceless. There are few people who understand what it is to grow up alone, isolated from community, to only have your family, but even they don't really understand what it is to be everything and nothing all at once. And it's even more painful that although I was born here, although I was raised here, although I have an Australian passport and Australian birth certificate and graduation certificates from Australian schools and universities, my Australianness is not innate, and can be taken away by random strangers on the street. And I am protective of my Australianness because, for all of Australia's flaws, I am afraid of what I am and how I would be treated without my Australian identity. Being Australian gave me access to free healthcare, to life-saving surgery. Being Australian gave me access to university, an opportunity many aunts, uncles, and grandparents were never afforded. I am not always proud to be Australian, but we all have qualms with our own churches. It is the belonging, the security, that I don't want people to take away from me. However inadequate a safety blanket being Australian is, without it, I have nothing.

Asking someone 'where are you from?' cannot in any way be considered an innocent or innocuous question. Not anymore. I am tired of accommodating white ignorance. There is a violence and hostility that fuels such demands, especially on strangers, that we cannot deny anymore. To forcibly remove from people the identity that is and always will be their birthright is deeply painful for we who have always existed in the fringes of communities, never fully accepted because we are too far from the norm. It is gaslighting on an institutional level; it is people - our teachers, our peers, random people at work, strangers when we're out buying carrots - constantly saying 'you do not look like me so you cannot be one of us'. Belonging, in this post-colonial world, is evidently not as simple as a few pieces of paper, no matter how well deserved or hard earned. Belonging is a privilege that is literally imbedded into skin; Australians have colour-coded their nationality, and I am not in the 'in' pile.

It saddens me, that identity remains so skin-deep. Australia has literally, in every possible way, created me. Australia is the country that brought my parents together, Australia is the country that resurrected me out of biological inviability. Australia is the country that has educated me to become this mouthy, outspoken, overly-loquacious intellectual snob. I am the product of a lot of effort, a lot of money, a lot of investment and wishful thinking; but all it ever feels like is that Australia is hellbent on throwing me away, because I'll never be a product that comes as described.

Which, you know, sucks.    


Monday, June 26, 2017

The Sparrow Lover's Wife

Nobody ever thinks of the sparrow lover's wife
Raising pigs alone
For a sparrow lover who never comes home 

I wish the sparrow lover's wife
Would pay the sparrow lover back in kind
Let the cuckoo wear cuckold's horns

It's true,
I was once the sparrow
But in truth, I'd rather be the sparrow's lover

To die in the middle
(To die in the heavens, no less)
Is a kinder fate than to live to the end.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


Now Playing: Liability by Lorde (so they pull back, make other plans; I understand - I'm a liability) 

I've been home for a month or so now.

Life is great. I help mum with laundry. I got a job. I procrastinate and put off things as always. Sometimes the dark clouds come but they're always gone by sunrise, only leaving behind strange purple bruises under my eyes. 

Going to Canberra was acting on the impulses of the very lonely child I once was. I spent a lot of time feeling stuck in Perth, feeling like I had nothing to lose; and then, of course, as I was leaving, I felt like I was losing everything.

When I left, I wasn't the desperately lonely child grasping for any chance to escape. I was a young, confident woman with friends and a partner and a life that was so incongruous with the big serious things I was throwing myself into. I've written before about how people never stop to think that the smart girl has feelings, has complex emotions and ideas about things that aren't strictly scholastic. Nobody will ever understand what I gave up on. 

It is hard to explain how utterly bereft I sometimes feel. For the first time in my life, I'm not really in any academic community, and I do miss it; and I do know, as I struggled with my demons, I was taking ANU for granted. Alma mater, indeed. Quod me nutrit me destruit. My friends have all moved on; we have all left each other behind. My dog died just before I got home and it has been...lonely. A year of gloomy solitude has not been enough to acquaint me with the kind of loneliness you feel deep in your bones; the kind of loneliness that simmers gently in the background and bursts into flames in the dead of night, when stray tears start to fall.

I live in limbo; too afraid to put down any roots, enduring the dreadful insecurity of living as a visitor, as a guest in a place you once called home. I feel like life is on hold.

But I have faith. I have faith that, one day, I will look back and have no regrets; in the same way that I look back at the things that devastated my younger self and can really only laugh. I take courage where I can and give thanks for all that I have. And I have never doubted myself. I never will.