Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mask of Duality

Another musing, this one on a most unique mask of mine - the Mask of Duality. I don't know if this is a mask that many people wear, or if they wear theirs to the same degree I do. My entire life seems to have almost been two lives that never quite consolidated into one. Too often I find myself standing on the bridge between two worlds, unsure of which way to go. Indeed, it's often a bridge I'd rather not leave.
1. Culture
Being a Chinese-American automatically gives me a mask of duality. Here then I am a part of two cultures - Chinese and American. Here then I speak two languages fluently - Mandarin Chinese and English. Here then I am a part of an old heritage trying to fit into a newer one. I don't know if other Chinese-Americans feel the same way I do (but I bet they do), but it feels like I'm a part of both cultures and, at the same time, belonging to neither. How does this make sense?

Being a Chinese-American and trying to actively possess elements of both cultures, you're not quite a full part of either. If I were to go to China, it could become obvious really quickly that I'm American. Chinese people would see me as American. In contrast, I look Chinese in the eyes of many/most Americans. Somehow it feels like I don't quite belong.

An extension of this, many Chinese people (not to be confused with Chinese-American) I talk to are surprised that I'm fluent in Mandarin. They assume I immigrated to the US when I was young instead of being born here in the Midwest. They applaud me for being able to speak Chinese at all, but why the hell not? In contrast, many Americans almost expect me to be fluent in Mandarin to some degree, so it'd be really weird if I weren't. It's a rather annoying double-standard. But some of that is self-imposed. "We" expect other Chinese-Americans to be as fluent as we are, and it's widely held by Chinese-Americans that it's embarrassing for a "white person" to be fluent in reading and writing Mandarin over you' so we try to maintain our heritage to varying degrees.

This is why I love my Chinese 104 class over all my other courses this semester. Here then are 14 Chinese-Americans with similar cultural experiences as me. There's a special atmosphere in the class. We all laugh at the same inside jokes, we are able to communicate in both Mandarin and English, we all understand what it means to be a Chinese-American. Here then we gather for an hour four times a week and learn how to read and write Chinese, to "reclaim" a part of our heritage.

I've made peace with this cultural duality. It does confer a sense of specialness. Here I stand on a bridge between two worlds. To leave this bridge would mean embracing one and relinquishing the other. Would I become fully American and forsake my Chinese heritage? Or would I become fully Chinese and become a "fob" (fresh off boat, a somewhat derogatory term for Chinese-Americans who act like new Chinese immigrants)? No, I could never leave this bridge, I could never forsake one for the other. I will maintain my tenuous membership in both as long as I can.

2. Social Life
Another instance where I wear a mask of duality is in my daily social life. Since about 8th grade, I've had two "sets" of friends: girls, and guys. I don't know how or why I developed two such groups of friends, but I did. I would often go back and forth between the two since girls and guys didn't seem to mix as one group too often.

Some days (or time of the day) I'd be in the mood to hang out with one group over the other. There will be times where I spend all my time surrounded by girls. And other times where I only hang out with guys. In either case, it feels like I'm shutting out a group of my friends. It can feel awkward.

I remember my high school prom, that was interesting. I went to prom alone (I must've been the only guy to do so, it was quite embarrassing), yet I "hooked" up with 12-14 of my girl friends at a table (they also all went alone). It was fun as I took turns dancing with pretty much all of them. Basically, I was shared amongst a rather sizable group of girls. I was everyone's date, haha. Still felt awkward, though in a good way at times.

And all this time, nothing has changed. I still have a group of girl friends and a group of guy friends. It's just a bit awkward to be the only guy in a group of girls (though I don't let them know that), but I also sometimes feel like the odd man out in a group of guys. Trying to coordinate my time between the two groups is starting to get just a bit exhausting.

3. Sexuality
And here my mask of duality overlaps one of my masks of sexuality (no need to get into that here, as that was part of a previous post). It feels like I'm being pulled in two directions. Sometimes I'd be more attracted to a particular girl over certain guys, whereas other times it's the other way around. Sometimes I almost trick myself into thinking I'm just fooling myself, that I'm really just straight or gay instead of somewhere in between (it'd certainly be simpler I think). There have been some interesting developments as a result.

I now have ES-M's cell number, haha. And he called me today . . . to study. No problem, that's why he has my cell number in the first place; but I must admit, a part of me is flattered (pathetic, I know). He's such a sweet guy. So innocent, so nice, so cute and insecure . . . so freshman. I actually spend some time reassuring him that he'll survive his undergrad years and telling him that he just needs to find his place, that he's not stupid and all. Sometimes I get a daydream flash where I'd pull him to an alleyway and we'd kiss and such, and take away all his insecurities. Perhaps it's a good thing they're only flashes, I think I've been unconsciously flirting with him . . .

Now in another case, like my job, there are no attractive guys (to me) but there are two really attractive girls. It's honestly kind of hard to take my eyes off them when I should be helping everyone learn genetics. Sigh. I've come to realize and accept that I've "tiers" of attraction. Let's assume (though quite impossible) that we have two people, a guy and an equally attractive girl. All things being equal, I'll probably be attracted to the guy more. But, if a girl is downright more attractive than all the guys in my vicinity, then my attraction gravitates towards her instead. But am I just rationalizing? I don't know.
So my Mask of Duality anchors me to this bridge between worlds (the metaphor of my life). On one side is Chinese, the other is American. On one side are girls, the other, guys. One side heterosexuality, other side homosexuality. I'm a part of both but a full member of neither. Sometimes I'm being pulled in two directions, causing me to almost live two lives back to back. It's a mask I sometimes enjoy and always appreciate, but it also wears me out.

1 comment:

Cody said...

I don't think you're rationalizing at all. In fact, I think you've discovered something about yourself here. You are attracted to attractive people, regardless of gender. Let's call it "bisexual."