Hello, handsome.

Author’s Note: The following narrative is meant as a personal examination of my neuroses. Please see end of blog for disclaimers.

A few months ago, the company I work for worked with a male model/actor on a mini-campaign. As the de facto talking head for brand, I had to interact with this person a few times. Each time, I was extremely on edge, twitchy, and uncomfortable.

It wasn’t the guy’s fault. He was the quintessential showbiz “starlet” (is that a word we use for guys?), which is to say flirty with all and sundry, but in a way that felt kind of expected, considering his “image” and “newcomer” status. I guess it’s a little bit like how, in their rookie years, male KPop idols are expected to do cringey fanservice.

Basically, dude was just doing his job. And I knew that. I have nothing bad to say about how he acted at all. Still, in the one long video we appeared in together, you can see me slowly inch away from him, physically incapable of hiding how tense and uncomfortable I am.

In that video, I am dressed in a loose sweater, boot-cut jeans, and black Chelsea boots. My shoulder-length hair–freshly dyed blue–is disappeared under a beanie, the visible bangs styled in a swoopy part all KPop boy group stans recognize. If you follow me on Instagram, you know this look all too well. It’s what I call my “guy” mode, my “handsome” self.

With a name like “Frankie,” I guess some androgyny was inevitable. My wide shoulders, curve-less frame, square jaw, and low voice (no Elizabeth Holmes acts here) mean that I naturally telegraph a degree of masculinity. And I’m comfortable with that, embrace it even. I like that my looks are a little ambiguous, that the clothes I wear to feel attractive are more Harry Styles than Taylor Swift. I like being “handsome-pretty,” as a college friend once called me; wholeheartedly enjoy challenging the idea that there is one way to be feminine.

In short, when I’m leaning into pretty boy, it’s because doing so makes me feel like a pretty girl.

…but I’ll admit that handsome, sometimes, becomes less about sexy and more about self-preservation.

I bought the outfit I wore in that video a week before the shoot. I bought it because it made my shoulders look big and erased my curves. That day, too, I wore my tightest sports bra, one that flattened my A-cup into nonexistence. I wanted, not just to look like a boy, but to feel like one, because in that moment my brain telegraphed that as feeling safe.

I made it very clear earlier that I knew this male model/actor had to be friendly, flirty, downright rakish even (we should bring that word back), for his job. He turned the charm on everyone, and I knew it was because he felt he had to in order to secure more work. Such is showbusiness.

I knew that, but I still turned myself into a boy so I could escape that charm as much as possible.

Sometimes, I turn into a handsome boy for fun. A lot of the time, actually. But, on rare occasions, I turn into a handsome boy to feel safe. To escape charm and charmers.

I started dressing like a guy in earnest as a university student, coincidentally also the last time of my life I remember being super “girly” on the regular (other than a brief IU phase in my mid-20s, when I fell down the KPop rabbit hole). From my five-inch stiletto boots to my sock-curled hair, to my bright red lipstick smile, I worked to be pretty. And I was.

At least, that’s what a somewhat handsome boy told me. He said I was pretty. Or, well, beautiful. He was charismatic, well-spoken, playful and flirty and charming the way a male model/actor has to be, except that he didn’t have to be this way. It came naturally. He wanted to be this way and enjoyed it. And I enjoyed being around him. I had a crush. And I preened and prettified myself in response.

My efforts did not go completely unnoticed, I guess. Without going into a ton of details, we had a few verbal and physical exchanges that only just managed a PG rating (because, well, purity ring and personal convictions). I fell for him, hard, drawn in by his charm and easy laugh and the way he said, “You look really good today.” every so often. How he’d grab at my arms or nuzzle into my shoulder and murmur, “Your skin is so soft.” How he made me feel like the prettiest girl in the world.

In the end, I was wrong about how he felt. He said sorry, too, for the touches and the words. Still, I couldn’t shake–can’t shake–the feeling that I had been stupid.

Since then, I’ve been scared of a certain kind of charming, aggressively heterosexual guy. Of a certain kind of boy with a pretty face who says pretty words. Of situations where I feel too much like a pretty girl in the presence of a flirting guy.

Boy!me, with my friend Devyn.

Because, as a pretty girl, I’m incredibly stupid. I forget words are words. I forget it’s all a hunt, a chase.

And, as a girl, I’m seen as a target.

At least, when I’m a handsome boy, I can be, to them, an equal at best, and invisible at worst. At least, when I flatten my chest and hide my hair and quirk my brow and out-swagger them with the rings in my ears and the bite of my lip…pretty boys with their pretty words won’t think of me as a pretty girl, won’t think to try their charm on me. I can avoid looking and feeling stupid. I can avoid mistaking charm for something real.

When the male model left our studio, I took off the beanie and threw my hair into space buns. I slicked on brighter lipstick, and traded my spiky chains for dainty earrings of moons and stars. In short, I turned into a girl again, and after I was done, I posted this photo.

The male model liked it. He still likes my photos sometimes. It’s always the ones where I’m my girl self, posing and preening and being pretty.

Each time he does, I throw my hair up and chisel my jaw with contour and run my hand through my hair the way I’ve watched Tom Felton, then Ed Westwick, then Park Jimin do. I post photos of this, my other self, and my friends leave heart react emojis and call me handsome and I feel…relief.

Because handsome is safe. Handsome means I’m out of reach. After all, those charming boys with their charming words don’t often start with, “Hello, handsome.”


P.S.

My brother wrote to me that this sounded pretty heteronormative (and unhealthy) for someone he knew had feminist leanings.

What he says is true, and I’m aware (and saddened) of that fact. I wrote this blog as a means to pick apart why I always felt the need to “man up” around charming men, and why I shy away from flirtation and shoot down physical compliments from the like. When it comes to a certain breed of heterosexual [bleep]bois, after all, also being a boy generally renders you invisible.

That being said, I feel I should make things clear with a disclaimer. So, DISCLAIMER: This blog is a personal reflection of an unhealthy inner narrative. I by no means endorse the prevailing idea that masculinity means one is “safe” from predation, and femininity is not.

I recognize, in fact, that this narrative feeds into a rape culture wherein male victims are unable to come forward, due to the assumption that being male by default makes them sexual aggressors.

Also, I am 100% androgynously dressed, cisgender women are someone’s type, and that person may or may not have “predatory” intentions.

I hope that, by sharing the end results of the toxic mindset that makes masculinity as equivalent to hunter and femininity as equivalent to prey/prize, I am helping build safer spaces for everyone.

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Yellow

Been listening to this specific version of Yellow lately, not because of the lyrics necessarily, but because of the moment in Crazy Rich Asians when it plays. As Director Jon Chu describes it:

“…there’s an intimate story [in CRA] of a girl becoming a woman. Learning that she’s good enough and deserves the world, no matter what she’s been taught or how she’s been treated…The last scene of the movie shows this realization as she heads to the airport to return home a different woman. It’s an empowering, emotional march and needs an anthem that lives up and beyond her inner triumph, which is where Yellow comes in.”

Jon M. Chu in his letter to Coldplay

I haven’t really talked about it, but about two years ago I tried to make the conscious decision to close myself off romantically. To intentionally not like anyone seriously, and shut down any attempts in that direction. I did this because for most of my young adult life, I’d based my self-worth on whether or not I was considered likeable, lovable, beautiful enough for someone to choose.

Suffice it to say, my attempt at closing myself off has failed a few times, with each failure being more painful than the last. I could not get past the internal narrative of “Of course (x) would pick someone else, like someone else. Why would anyone like me?”

The last time I liked someone was the worst. As it became clearer to me that they liked someone else–someone I knew who is, and I do not exaggerate, one of the nicest people in the world, and the most deserving of love–I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about how I had been so foolish to think for a second that person would want to be my friend, let alone “like-like” me, as the elementary school kids of my day used to say.

From there, I spiraled, thinking of all the ways I was unworthy: how I was prickly and antisocial to their bubbly and warm; how I was negative and cynical to their positivity; how I was worldly and dark compared to their–and I cringe at my using this word–purity. It didn’t help that these were things I’d heard said about me before: negative, dark cloud, why don’t you smile?

I didn’t belong with them, so why did I think that anyone would want me to belong to them?


I heard Yellow being played at a gig I attended recently.

When I first heard Coldplay’s live version, with its beautiful piano intro, I imagined this song would be played at my wedding. It’s a love song, after all: her skin, her bones, all beautiful, all yellow and glowing and you know I love you so much.

This time, though, when the artist started covering it, I thought of that scene in Crazy Rich Asians, when Rachel Chu decides she is worth it, even if she doesn’t look like Nick’s family, even if she doesn’t fit in at all.


So no, I’m not the nicest person in the world. I don’t smile easy, or often; my happiness looks more like manic neon lights than gentle, glowing sunshine. I may never really stop being slightly pessimistic, imagining the worst case scenario. It takes me a while to trust. For all of my purity ring-wearing, I don’t always think of my mind or my soul as particularly “pure.”

But I think that, at least to myself, I can think of my skin and bones as all beautiful, yellow. That, if no one will sing this to me, I can sing for myself, You know I love you so much.

值得去等候. This love, this slow journey to seeing myself has worthy, it has been worth waiting for. And as I learn, and fail, and learn again, it will still be worth it.


Epiphany: a myth/origin story.

A/N: I found this in my Apple notes and decided to put it up so my blog wouldn’t be fully of “neggy vibes.” If you’re a fan of Kim Seokjin of BTS, enjoy. If not…I promise more content soon?

~*~

Kim Seokjin-oppa.

When you started this journey, a Konkuk University student (rumored 200:1 acceptance ratio for your course; that still means something) at barely-twenty, you had looks. You were the “Legend of Street Casting,” hunted down first by SM Entertainment and later by BigHit. You had money, too: rumored son of a CEO, a golden-spoon idol if there ever was one. And you had luck: there in the right place, at the right time. If you hadn’t taken that bus. If you hadn’t got off at that stop. Who knows? Who cares? What matters is the circumstances conspired to put you in the eye of someone with important eyes, and soon you were whisked away on a journey you never imagined for yourself. The boy who wanted to be a businessman, then later an actor, was going to become something else entirely: an idol.

So you had looks. And you had money. And you had luck. But, apparently, not enough, because in the eyes of the world, you didn’t luck out on enough “talent.” You weren’t talented, not to them. Just the visual. Someone to fill the ranks. A pretty face to put in front of the cameras, if the cameras ever made it his way. Invisible, because all you were meant for–at first, at least–was to be seen.

Here is what did not get seen: more than looks, more than money, more than luck, you had hunger. For actual food, of course–your appetite is legendary–but not just that. You had looks and money and luck and for other people that would be enough to coast on life but you didn’t. You could have been “just the visual”–many idols, after all, have gotten by on their stunning good looks–but that wasn’t enough for you.

You had to be good too.

And so you practiced singing, even in your sleep.You worked out to get better at dancing. You made instrumentals at 3AM for your voice coach, recorded yourself over them to show her look, see, I can do this now! Have I improved? What can I do better? You begged your producers for singing parts, bit down on every line they gave you even when–let’s all admit–the raspy, throaty growl they tried you out with was probably not the best initial choice. But you ran with it. You ran with it all. You ran full-tilt into this dream that wasn’t yours to begin with, but it had fallen into your lap and you were determined to chase it with all of who you were.

You balanced studies and the spotlight and never let anyone see you falter, not after that first show that caught you with your pants down.

And yet…the world kept saying that wasn’t enough. The world told you that you weren’t good enough. That you didn’t deserve to be where you were.

The world told you to hate yourself.

You could have, you know? You had looks and you had money and you had enough privilege that you could drop out and build a new dream elsewhere, if you wanted. But you didn’t. Instead–so you’ve told us–you stared at the mirror and decided loving yourself would be the thing you worked on next.

So you learned to call yourself handsome. You learned to blow kisses. You learned to pose for the cameras, learned to tell ridiculous jokes without flinching, learned to lie between your teeth that you thought you were the most beautiful man in the world, until if not for your red ears or embarrassed laughter, you could fool everyone, even yourself. You embraced your visual status, owned it, said yes, I may be a face, but what a face that is. Said you were acting young to look young. Said you were determined to live brightly.

Because that is what all of this was: determination.

And, underneath all that, you buried the pain, the long nights trapped in studios and practice rooms. The days-months-years of learning skills you—honestly—sucked at. The failures. The people who laughed at you, called you pig, were determined to erase you. That first television shoot–the first and only time the world would catch you with your pants down.

Then, finally, when you were given a shot, when the time was right, you dug that pain out with your two hands. You wrote it into a song, watched that song get shot down twenty times but you did. Not. Stop. Refused to stop. Demanded they give you one more shot, just one more shot.

Awake was born.

(Months later, across an ocean, a girl you will never meet heard it and read the lyrics and maybe, maybe it kept her alive long enough for her to save herself.)

After that, you kept going. You demanded the world take notice. You spoke up more. You got more lines. Your voice soared ever higher, the veins popping in your neck from the strain but you were determined. Little by little, people started to notice you more and more and had better things to say. You went from “the one who is only good for taking care of the others,” to “Worldwide Handsome.” To “heart man.” And maybe those are all gimmicks, but suddenly the world started watching, and when you knew they finally saw you, you showed them what you could do.

Triple high-notes. Harmonies. Put-your-lighters-up classic rock covers.

And so they let you kickstart this comeback. They let you take this intro, because it was rightfully your time and because, to be honest, you’ve earned it? And maybe you didn’t write the lyrics, but there’s something to be said for your company’s founder and its lead lyricist giving you these words:

I’m shaking and afraid but I keep going forward
I’m meeting the real you, hidden in the storm…

…I may be a bit blunt, I may lack some things
I may not have that shy glow around me
But this is me
My arms, my legs, my heart, my soul…

not so perfect, but so very beautiful.

You took your struggle and turned it into a voice. You took the hate from the world and turned it into self-love. You took your weakness and you turned it into a story. And so maybe you don’t have “natural talent,” but talent can be learned. Skill acquired. But character cannot be trained, only built, brick by brick, with long nights and bulletproof skin and a relentless desire to run, just a little bit longer. You can fake it till you make it with talent, but you can’t do that with heart.

You have looks. You have money. You have luck. And—after years of training and fighting—you have skill. But, on top of that, now you have something that is, perhaps, more valuable: you have a journey. And that journey will inspire long after the songs have ended and the stage lights are off and the crowds go home for the last time.

I know, because you kept–you keep–inspiring me.

~*~

Disclaimer: Obviously, while some of what I’ve mentioned are facts, this is a creative writing exercise, so a lot of it is emotional speculation, hence “origin story” or “myth.” Take it for what it is: not an authorized biography, but a reflection on what fans project onto their idols, and what those fans take away from that projection.