Ephemera

Stuff that’s neither here nor there. Stuff that defies categorization, or else was written at too late an hour for me to think about categories.

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.


Me and My Lists: An Interlude from Age 25

Previously published as a Facebook post.

Last night, I attended a friend’s wedding reception, then afterwards headed to my mum’s highschool reunion. The extreme amount of social contact is probably why I’m so exhausted right now (Sunday morning) that I can barely keep my eyes open.

The wedding was absolutely lovely, and also super chill. I didn’t get picked for the garter toss games (my friend Marisol, the bride, knows I don’t like those sorts of things), got to eat a lot of delicious food (Marisol, your caterer was AMAZING), and, as you can see from the photo above, had a great time at the photobooth. I didn’t really get to mix and mingle, but that was totally fine, since I didn’t really know anyone there.

In contrast, my mum’s HS reunion is full of people who have watched me grow up. The “Batch ’81” aunties and uncles have seen me napping in my elementary school PE uniform while waiting for Mama, and very nearly saw me napping in my gown last night while trying to stay up long enough to fetch her home from their wild partying.

(This is how pathetic I am: my mum parties harder than me.)

Of course, since I know this batch people, I had to mingle a bit more than at the wedding. Generally, it was just to say hi and that I was sleepy. A few asked after my Conservatory of Music studies. But one exchange in particular struck me as both funny and odd.

Near the end of the night, I found myself cornered by an auntie who also happened to be the mother of one of my highschool classmates. I was prepared with my stock “Hello! Yes, I ate already. I’m so sleepy, Auntie!” spiel, but found myself having to respond to another line of questioning. For almost the entirety of what was probably a ten minute “conversation,” this Auntie kept repeating “You’re so beautiful! Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”

She sounded almost panicked, and wouldn’t take “God’s perfect timing!” for an answer (which is an anomaly in my Christian circle).

I kept explaining that I was busy and anyway had a lot of cool things currently going on in my life, but this auntie would. Not. Stop. By the end, I was too exhausted to give further coherent answers, so my mum–God bless her–swooped in to save me.

But now, having had a little more sleep, I think I have one.

Honestly? It’s just haven’t met the right person yet. And it’s not from lack of “effort,” per se: I’ve been “set up,” and I’ve also met people I might like, but considering that I’m really holding out for a Christian who’s actively being discipled (my faith is very important to me; I’m sure you understand)…it’s not an easy ask, I guess.

Do I get lonely, sometimes? Yeah, sure. I just said as much to a friend in FB Messenger, and I often have to ask my friends and mentors to pray for me when the longing gets intense. But I have meaningful friendships, and shared life, and things that God has placed in my heart that I’m excited to see bear fruit. My life, essentially, is full, even if there are days when I don’t feel that way.

Am I perfectly content in my singlehood? Nah. I’m twenty-five and hot blooded, and as any of my poor crushes can tell you I can be EXTREMELY affectionate and demonstrative when I like someone. I’ve got a lot of love to give, and I do want to share it, but, well, that person hasn’t showed up yet, and that’s okay. I have other things to enjoy, because life is, I’ve learned–and someone tell my boy-crazy sixteen year old self this–about more than just falling in love. And while I haven’t made peace with the idea that they might NEVER show up, I’m comfortable with the idea of we’ll cross the bridge when we get there.

Anyway, I still have happy crushes and what else are KPop idols for?

(I swear, being a fan of Kim Seokjin has done wonders for my looks. JINNIE, I LOVE YOU!)

At any rate, that was an interlude. Thanks for listening, friends.

-aRT

P.S.
Auntie kept saying that it was important I get a boyfriend already because my mother wants to have grandchildren already. My mum said I should have told her that I my mum already has a grandchild: my cat.

P.P.S.
Incidentally, she and some other Uncle kept calling me beautiful/pretty (I was fully made up, what do you expect?!), so at some point I stopped saying just “Thank you!” and started replying with, “Thank you, I know.”

LET ME TELL YOU: that “I know.” freaked them out enough to start a whole new line of questioning: “HOW DO YOU KNOW? HOW CAN YOU SAY YOU KNOW?!”

(The uncle in particular sounded almost offended.)

Sir, Ma’am, I work for a makeup company. I’ve had a threadlift done. I take at least one selfie a day. I am both very vain and someone who was not considered pretty growing up: the combination of the two meant that I learned how to put myself together and use the tools at my disposal to “clean up.” After all that, I definitely know when I look especially good, and when I don’t, because when I do…there will be LOTS of photographic evidence.

Also, let’s be honest: genetics. My mum was HOT when she was younger. So thanks, Ma.