Writing

[Worldwide Handsome Day, 2019] In Seoul (demo ver.)

Two years ago, I was in the middle of what I have now come to learn was an untreated depressive episode, compounded by major life changes: new job, going back to school, my band breaking up. I was turning twenty-five, an age where I felt people are supposed to have at least some their life together and have something to show for it. Instead I was starting over. I was lost. I was scared. I wanted to give up.

A friend introduced me to KPop, figuring having something else to focus on would help. Instead, I fell down the rabbit hole that is Bangtan Sonyeondan, and fell “in love” with my bias, Kim Seokjin and his solo song, AWAKE. Listening to the lyrics–ones he’d written himself and pushed for, having been rejected 20 times–made me feel like someone had finally understood where I was: knowing I would never fly, but wanting to run a little bit longer.

That year, I would release the first original I would write in Jin’s honor. It was called “Golden,” and it promised that, though I knew Jin’s “legs might get tired” from “chasing down the sky,” the love he put in the world would be worth the exhaustion, because it would always come back to him. I truly believed that for him.

In hindsight, I guess, I also wanted to believe that promise for myself.

“Golden” started something of a tradition: every year, I would record something in view of a December 4, 12AM KST (December 3, 11PM Manila Time) release. It would be a song that was for Jin, but also for me–a recap of the year that was, of the things I was learning, of the person I was becoming as I kept running, just a little bit longer, the way Jin sang that he would.

This year, I find myself in a similar place as two years ago. I am facing major life changes: withdrawing from school, applying to a new course, my job growing in new ways, leaving the org I co-founded. I am turning twenty-seven. I still don’t think I have my life together. I still doubt I have anything to show for the years I’ve spent existing. I am still a little lost. I am still scared.

But I don’t want to give up anymore.

While I am, in many ways, the same girl as I was in 2017–lacking in many ways, making a lot of mistakes–one thing has changed over the years. I’ve slowly learned to let myself believe that I can be better. That I if I just keep running a little longer, when I look back, the distance will be like I flew from where I was to where I’ve ended up.

A few nights ago, me and my two “PD-nims,” Carl and Nik, had discussions on projects for 2020 and 2021. Nothing’s solid yet, but there’s something. I won’t pretend that I don’t still grapple with the negative feelings, the fears and frustrations, that haunted me two years ago. But I’m more hopeful now.

In 2017, I found a song someone wrote for himself, and it gave me hope. This song, written two years later, is a product of that hope, of that idea that if you can just run a little bit longer…things can get better. And they do.

To Kim Seokjin, who will never read this: thank you for your song, which felt like a hand to hold when I needed one.

And, to everyone else who has been a part of this journey so far: thank you for listening. Let’s keep running together, for just a little bit longer. ❤

~ Frankie

[poem] Things I should do now that you’re gone.

1. Write poetry again. Write about love. Write long lists. Post it all on the blog I made because I knew you were reading. Where I stopped posting because I knew you were reading.


2. Take more selfies. Share them: on my stories. On the fake IG account I told you about but never let you find. On my timeline, set to public, with detailed descriptions of outfits, hair, makeup. Stop hiding that I am as vain as you told me I shouldn’t be.


3. Make a lot of first drafts. Post them. Make things quickly, in bursts, sharing them just as quickly. Post in the middle of things, unfinished, in process. Expose people to the mess of making, so people can see: there is no magic, no bolts from the blue. Only mess and mistakes. Only hoping for better.


4. Sing high. A lot. Because I like how it feels, how it sounds when I hit the notes right. Because it will take a lot of tries to get those notes right. Because I will never learn if I do not try and fail and try and maybe it’s too late, at this age, to challenge my range instead of leaning into it…but I’ll never know unless I do.


5. Stop pretending I don’t still hear you. Because I do.


6. Admit that, if I’m honest, I did not love you. No, I loved the idea of you, of us, of the roles the roles we played: the boy wise beyond his years and the girl who hung on his every word. In a small way, I made you my world; loved the safety of you telling me what to do, who to be, who to become. Tried to follow it to the letter until I realized I couldn’t, didn’t, didn’t really want to.


7. Accept that you never knew me, because I’d never allowed you.

That, from the moment we met, when I chose to pretend I didn’t know things when I did, I set a precedent. I crafted a first impression, and allowed you to run with it. I chose to play the role of the girl who needed your shaping: Eliza to your Henry; Galatea to your Pygmalion.


8. Admit that, in the end, we didn’t have love but validation.

I wanted to make someone proud of me.

I needed it to be you.


9. Accept that sometimes…I might still miss needing you.


10. Promise I will ever need anyone as much again.

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.

An acquaintance 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.