James Clarke tells us, “All boys wish to be manly; but they often try to become so by copying the vices of men rather than their virtues.” And for many that seems to be the case. However, at a very young age, Timothy was different.
In fact, as he explains, “I openly rejected masculinity as a kid. I would say, ‘I don’t want to do boy stuff, boy stuff is wack.’ I was very honest about that.” He had his reasons for doing so, which you’ll learn about soon enough. But what’s intriguing is that Timothy found a way to recalibrate his own ideas of what it meant to be a man and adjust it to himself–rejecting what he didn’t like, taking what he did.
Since being a youngin, Timothy has re-embraced masculinity for sure. But on his own terms, and certainly not by mimicking the vices of men.
Growing up was weird. I always felt like I was growing up like on a fence, teetering on two things. My mom is white and my dad is from Laos. I never fully fit in with either side of the family. I have this always-evolving queer identity, which isn’t easy to fit into a box either. And so, I kept to myself a lot as a kid. Young Timothy was a loner, observer. We grew up in a pretty rough neighborhood on the East Side of Columbus. Every now and then I still throw up the “e.” It was a predominately Black neighborhood where everyone thought I was Latino.
Early on, I got used to the question, “What are you?” It’s a really common theme for Asian Americans. It’s poorly worded, weird, and intrusive. But you get used to it. But my answer to “What are you?” was complicated because rarely did anyone who asked have any idea what my answer was.
People didn’t understand Laos, they didn’t understand queerness, they didn’t understand art. So, I got used to announcing myself. But the danger of that is you get used to painting your own picture. You get used to answering the question. It’s like a job interview essentially. You know what the interviewer wants to hear. So, I kept to myself a lot.
My dad wasn’t really in the picture. He had his own baggage. He came to the US as a refugee from Laos. He was in a really privileged family there. They had connections to the royal family. When he was 15, when the war broke out, he wound up in a refugee camp. He’d hit rock bottom. He came to the US and lived in the hood. He saw himself as a royal but was only allowed to be a mechanic. He saw himself as a diplomat, but was considered the lowest of the low, in America. We saw him twice a month. He gave $150/month child support for four kids.
Young Timothy kept to himself because he didn’t have the nicest clothes. My mom was such a penny pincher that, if she had Payless money, you got Payless clothes. I respect that to this day, but as a result, I like to flex when I get the money.
Early on, I got used to the question, “What are you?” It’s a really common theme for Asian Americans. It’s poorly worded, weird, and intrusive. But you get used to it.
I think I could have overcome wearing the dorky shoes if I had some athletic prowess, but I didn’t. I was “a little gay ass kid.” The finger wagging boy with the other girls when they are making fun of the boys. The boy who wanted to sit and draw or practice gossiping. The boy who didn’t want to go out and push over everyone, like the other boys. But in a way, I think I was almost braver as “a little gay ass kid.”
I got isolated more for embracing that “femininity.” I openly rejected masculinity as a kid. I would say, “I don’t want to do boy stuff, boy stuff is wack.” I was very honest about that. But now I’m feel more pressured to be masculine for the “rewards” of being that way. I feel like I was more fearless as a kid. I wish I could go back and affirm myself for that.
I think a lot about why my idea of masculinity changed. Part of it is due to the benefits of playing the masculine game. Dating. How you present yourself in job interviews. And one other weird thing I’m still coming to terms with is that maybe I rejected them because I harbored resentment for my father not being around.
So, I didn’t want to embrace things he did. For example, I love spicy food now, but hated it as a kid because he loved it. But I took time to nurture myself and realize that the negative relationship was reflective of his issues not mine. So, I’ve been able to embrace masculine things about myself.
I got isolated more for embracing that “femininity.” I openly rejected masculinity as a kid. I would say, “I don’t want to do boy stuff, boy stuff is wack.” I was very honest about that.
Embracing some of those masculine things come with baggage. You’re more likely to be a player when you embrace masculinity because a lot of it is rooted in entitlement. But entitlement is also really powerful in activism and human rights. And sometimes you act entitled so you can get what you deserve. Entitlement is something people of marginalized genders and sexualities should embrace more often.
But the problem is that I don’t think any of us are good at turning our entitlements off. You take that into the dating world and you start to think about your partner, “of course you’re going to cook breakfast for me.” I laugh at it, but I do see elements of my father in me. He went through women like nothing. So, I’m learning to balance it, without allowing my masculinity to box me in and control me. But sometimes I still want people to make me breakfast (laughs).
When I was first re-embracing masculinity, it was my understanding that masculinity was a path to power. Power is like a drug and it puts you on a high to make someone make breakfast for you after a night of pleasing them. Just like psychiatric drugs, you use it to help a mental health problem, but you can get stuck on it, and not want to ever function without it. I want to utilize power without getting power drunk where it starts to hurt me and my relationship with others.
It took being called out by someone whose heart I broke for me to realize it. It was someone I really cared about but I was too weak to show it. Back then, I thought I’d look stronger if I didn’t care. I was deeply into activism and always talking about feminism, but wasn’t treating the people in my life right. He called me out and I really started to think about it. I started to miss being able to talk to someone like I talked to him. So I started to retool my friendships and that helped.
That kickstarted the process of me learning to be more nurturing. Then I got confident enough to enter another relationship and then got my heart broken. The boy who broke my heart, everyone would say that he was more feminine than me based on the flick of his wrist and tonality.
But I thought about it, none of those things are inherently feminine based on what’s been constructed. And, in fact, he played more into masculinity in how he had power over someone and had control over someone. That’s great when you are on the battlefield or when you’re in a dangerous moment. But it’s not something you should bring into your home or a friend’s home. I learned that the hard way.
I laugh at it, but I do see elements of my father in me…So, I’m learning to balance it, without allowing my masculinity to box me in and control me. But sometimes I still want people to make me breakfast (laughs).