Friday, June 27, 2008

The Labeled Masks

I've a feeling that I might potentially be blogging a lot in the next few days. For some reason I get into this "mode" where I just think/muse a lot and have tons of things on my mind. I need to do a mind-dump. Some of it is random, some of it weird, some of it deep, and some of it just stupid.

This has been something I've been thinking a lot lately. I was IMing Mike from Random Thoughts In My Life a week or two ago, or something like that. In short, I had been in a rather depressive mood for weeks, an episode that has been going on and off all of my last semester of undergrad. I confessed to him that I felt very conflicted internally.

You see, when I started this blog I had pretty much settled on that I was bi. But from time to time, I'm just not sure. And I hated myself for this. I don't personally have a problem being bi, or gay, or whatnot. I do, however, have a problem with not knowing with absolute certainty. And there's really no way for me to "find out" during these summer months when school is so devoid of people, and then I'll be home where there's nothing to do. I need to know, and I can't.

Mike brought up an interesting point. Why should I care right now? Why should I confine myself to a label? Why should I call myself bi, or gay, if I'm obviously uncomfortable as such? It's a valid question. Why must we define ourselves? I've read this on almost every blog in my blog roll, the question of identity and labels. Oh how we would all prefer that we wouldn't have to apply labels to ourselves.

Well, I personally think labels can be very important. They are a function of language, of distinguishing things about ourselves and in the world. We have words to describe nearly everything we come across. How could we function as humans in this world if not for some kind of language? Some way of distinguishing things and communicating that to others? Because we're not telepathic or whatnot, language and the labels they create are sort of a necessary evil, if you will.

To that end, each person carries several labels. It's a pretty fundamental concept in psychology and anthropology. The question is, how do these Labeled Masks affect us? They help us orient ourselves in the world, they give us a reference point from which we can relate and interact with others. Lately I've been having a crisis of sorts with my Labeled Masks on a level I never thought I'd ever have to encounter. Let's take an obvious Labeled Mask - I am an American. That is obvious by birth, education, life experience, etc. Another one, for example, is that I am male. That is obvious by anatomy, activities (many/most of them), gender role, blah bah blah.

A more ambiguous one is that I am Chinese. What does this mean? What does "Chinese-ness" mean? I am Chinese by ethnicity, Chinese by language (but not fully?), Chinese by cultural heritage. But I am not Chinese by birth, education (for the most part), and life experience. I've never set foot on mainland China. How Chinese could I be? For example, would - let's say - an African by "race" who was born in China, raised in China, is more fluent in Mandarin than I am, is more literate in Chinese than I am, be considered "more Chinese" than me?

There is also an interesting thing to be said when things cross languages and cultures. For example, I could call myself a 中国人 (zhong guo ren), which means "Chinese person." I could call myself a 海外的中国人 (hai wai de zhong guo ren), which means "foreign-born Chinese person." Or I could call myself a 华人 (hua ren), which is the term Chinese people give themselves. Which Labeled Mask would be most accurate? Which one should be worn more often? In another sense, should I be Chinese American or American Chinese? Is there even a difference or not? This is but one of the many thoughts that plagues me from time to time. I suppose language here is inadequate to explain my frustration on this issue.

Again it brings me to the question, why should it matter? Would "allying" myself with one Labeled Mask or another cause me to behave any differently? Would it cause me to act sympathetic towards others of the same group? Would there be a kind of kindred spirit between others who wear the same Labeled Mask and myself?

Going full circle, to this end I am still not fully sure whether I would feel more comfortable wearing the Labeled Mask of bisexuality or homosexuality. Currently I wear no such mask, at least not publicly. To the best of my knowledge, except those I've explicit told, no one knows anything. And so it defaults to straight even though I don't actively wear this mask. Truth be told I am completely cut off from the bi/gay world. I know abysmally little about it. Because in truth, it's not a world I had concerned myself with for the vast majority of my life, it's not a world I had ever sought. And now, without a base to set off from, I feel like an isolated island.

Of course, the argument goes, why should it matter? Sexuality is almost certainly a spectrum. Why limit yourself to either "extreme" or the center? Why apply a Labeled Mask at all? I would counter - we call north, south, east, and west directions. These are arbitrary applications. When does north become northwest? When does south become southeast? There is nothing on earth that definitively says "This is northeast." However, without these it would be very difficult to find our way around. We could wander lost for a long time without knowing which way to go.

And so, a Labeled Mask for sexuality might do the same. At least, I hope it would achieve to this effect for me. With it, I could begin to progress towards a more open and happy life. But first, I must figure out which way to walk. Until then, I will wear none.

I've done a lot of reading on others' blogs lately. Here are 3 more that I'll add to my blog roll:

Just me
charlie's blog
Tranquil Time

Enjoy! More to be add soon hopefully.

1 comment:

julian. said...

Hey Aek,
I guess I started reading your blog because I am in a very similar position. I am a bisexual, Chinese, male. And I just wanted to say that I totally understand this post, like I understand what you mean. Seriously. It's really hard to tread that western/asian line, and bisexuality is another spectrum that's difficult to navigate. If you want to talk sometime, drop me a line at
That having been said, fantastic post.