I Feel Like I’m Losing Myself

EXPLORING TRANS — SATURDAY, JULY 10, 2010, 8:11 PM

I feel like I’m being pulled in so many different directions. I don’t know how — I’ve never know how — to deal with multiple identities in a way that didn’t cause one of them to be neglected and ignored. I’m a Korean adoptee, but I’m also queer and trans, and I haven’t yet been able to figure out a way to unite those identities, instead of simply pushing one to the foreground and the other to the back.

For years (prior to my discovery of theatre in high school), Korean dance — and my traditional Korean dance group for Korean adoptees — had been my whole world. My life revolved around socializing with other Korean adoptees, listening to Korean pop music, learning Korean, practicing Korean dance and drumming, going to Korean restaurants, obsessing over members of the latest Korean boy bands. After theatre, however, all of it began to pale in comparison, and I began to drift away from the dance group.

Once I realized what I’d been missing, I couldn’t go back. Back then, it was like I couldn’t breathe. The dance group seemed so straight, so gender-normative, so girly, so conformist. When compared to theatre — to the “edgyness” (to my sheltered, sixteen-year-old, Catholic school-going self), to the irreverence and liberal attitudes, to the boys with nail polish and the rebellious girls — dance lost more and more frequently. Of course, there might have also been the fact that theatre had older girls that I absolutely idolized and found fascinating, and the core of the dance group was girls my age and younger.

It wasn’t even as though everyone in the dance group was straight (although to my knowledge, they are), or as though there were tons of out queer kids in theatre (because they weren’t, although a fair number of people have since come out of the closet). It was more a matter of attitudes. In the dance group, it was though gay people didn’t exist (except, perhaps, for those two girls at camp rumored to be bisexual who were thus shunned). In theatre, boundaries were pushed, and people were more aware, more open. It was little things — singing Avenue Q’s “If You Were Gay,” or noticing lesbian undertones in Dante’s The Divine Comedy (or at least, in our production of it), or joking about being lesbian lovers — but those little things made for an enormous difference in atmosphere. Oh, theatre wasn’t perfect, by any means, but there was so much more possibility.

Theatre — and the people who were part of it — was so wonderful, so bright and dark and intriguing, so glorious and important and different and freeing — I got caught up in it, and dance (and all that went with it) often became a distant second. And so it went. After high school, I floundered a bit, trying to find my place without theatre (and, perhaps more importantly, without my theatre group from high school). Upon coming out, I threw myself wholeheartedly into the queer groups on campus. Even more so than in high school, the Asian students group on campus seemed restrictive and excessively gendered (there is, after all — or seems to be — a very specific type of femininity in Korea that isn’t as all-encompassing here and definitely isn’t anything that I identify with).

Every now and again, though, a sense of longing sweeps over me, reminding me that of my Korean roots. I miss Korean dance. I miss the drumming. I miss the sense of community. I miss being around people who understand the unique experience of being a Korean adoptee. I miss the friends I had and the rare times in which I felt that I belonged. I miss the food; I miss the music; I miss the language. And I wish I could be a part of that again.

The problem is that I don’t fit in. I never really learned much Korean — there are two- and three- and four-year old babies who know more Korean than I do. I haven’t been back to Korea in almost five years, and I don’t have a trip planned in the near future. I haven’t kept up on the latest k-pop groups. My sense of personal style is wildly different from most of the other Korean adoptees I know. The real problem, though, is the lack of queer and gender-transgressive people in the Korean American communities of which I know. Being queer, and being trans, has become such an important part of who I am. It’s taken me a long time to figure out who I am, and I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want to go back to always playing a part in order to fit in.

I’m all for difference — I don’t think that people only need to be with people who are exactly like them. And that’s not what I want; it’s just that it’d be nice — it’d be really, really nice — to not have to constantly be compromising who I am, only displaying certain parts around certain people, only being understood in a specific way by that particular group of people. At the risk of throwing myself a pity party, it would be nice to not feel so alone. Being Korean, and an adoptee, and queer, and trans gets alienating: I’ve never met another queer, trans-identified (or genderqueer, or otherwise gender-variant) Korean American (let alone an adoptee).

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3 responses to “I Feel Like I’m Losing Myself

  1. Thank-you for sharing this. I find your reflections on your journey to be so insightful and humbling. The more I study Korean, spend time there, develop some cultural knowledge about my partner’s home country, and integrate aspects of Korean life into my own, the more I think about your summer camp for Korean adoptees that I knew nothing about when I was assigned to work it. It was a crash course in Korea but almost nothing like the realities I have experienced in my partner’s family and time in Korea. Talking with an adult friend who was adopted from Korea at age ten has been so eye opening to the added oppression and alienation adoptees often face. I’ve also been reading and thinking a lot about my own race privilege and how that does and will forever play out with my partner as a bi-racial couple in the U.S. (have you read ‘Yellow’ by Frank Wu?). Given that I have nothing more than a glimpse at the many aspect of your identity, I am in awe of your strength, patience in teaching others about the Trans community, and your own self-awareness. I hope you keep writing, and I hope you find the support you need, even if you never find someone just like you.

  2. Well, I know it’s certainly not the same thing, but you met a Chinese American genderqueer person once! As one of three biological offspring in a four-offspring family (my baby brother was adopted and was born in China), I can still understand some of the alienation you feel for the ethnic culture you come out of and want to maintain connection with. I don’t know much or any Chinese, and even though I have extended family that I’ve grown up around and interacted with over the years, I’ve never been very emotionally close to them. And the gender and sexuality stuff just makes it more difficult since they are so conservative. I do feel alone in that regard, but there is some hope. For me, it’s a sister who’s supportive and another sister, a father, and an aunt who care about me even if not supportive. For you, perhaps it’s the fact that now that you’ve identified the community you want contact with. Technology is an amazing thing, and it enables all sorts to gather–even if just online.

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