boys

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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That Thing Called Paasa

Apologies for the radio silence.  It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and it’s still pretty hectic but I’ve found some down-time to type out my thoughts on something that’s been bothering me for quite a while: the concept of “paasa.”

Too many times, I have had boys’ walling out of girls who like them (and vise versa) chalked up to not wanting to make them “asa.”  As someone who has been on the receiving end of this treatment more than a few times, I have to ask: Since when did being friends (or friendly?) automatically imply that you wanted something more? 

When did inter-gender relations begin to take on such malice?

On my end, the rationale for why I reach out is the understanding that familiarity breeds contempt. When I’m being friendly, I’m trying to get to know the person beyond the rose-colored filter my feelings have given them. Heck, sometimes it’s my way of removing it–navigating my way to normal, while still being able to keep a person who I see as “valuable” (badly put) in my life. Crushes are confused affections, and it’s not unheard of that they could–do–transform over time into more platonic feelings.  Sometimes what begins as a crush blossoms instead into a meaningful, platonic partnership of the kind where you bicker mercilessly on Facebook in pursuit of a common good.

(Hi, C. Or should I say, “Jack.”)

I don’t know if this is hard for people to understand, but sometimes being able to address the elephant in the room–to table it for discussion as if it were something as innocuous as the weather–automatically diffuses whatever time bomb of emotions was ticking away. It absolves the lover from loving, while at the same time building their self esteem because that love which felt so illicit, unwanted, and undesirable is instead being treated with about as much ceremony as you treat a (SMALL) whitehead: annoying, but harmless, and eventually destined to disappear. Turning it into an inside joke sends the message that “Hey, it’s no big deal. Your friendship is valuable to me, and your crush is independent of that value.”

Because, newsflash, crushes are by definition designed to be fleeting. Friendships, on the other hand, are supposed to be long-term.

I know that love can make people crazy and delusional, and the possibility does exist that some people are truly so far gone as to be made “asa” by something as innocuous as polite friendship.  Reality check: reality checks don’t always work.  I do agree with being direct–“I don’t like you in the same way.”–or even blunt–“You’re not my type.”  But once the cards have been laid down, can we not talk about feelings like adults?  Can we make them non-issues, instead of being made to feel (as a crush-er) like a non-entity.

Because, you know what, the silent treatment does more harm than good.  Love makes masochists of us, so the pain of being shut out can sometimes fuel the crazy.  After all, nothing makes a crush last longer than marathoning emo Taylor Swift songs.

(Why, Wildest Dreams? WHY?!)

I don’t actually like writing off my ex-crushes as buttheads (except for the few who are, and who incidentally are still my friends), but how else am I to cope when the door’s slammed so hard in my face I’d break my nose if I had one?  Yes, I’m bitter, but not so much because my love has not been returned. I’m bitter because I, not my feelings, have been judged as undesirable.

Unless the person has done something truly creepy–and to some of my crushes who are reading this, I am so sorry and yes you can avoid me forever, or at least until we’re all really old–or is obviously still on the chase (having not taken “no” for an answer), why waste a perfectly good platonic relationship?  Feelings are feelings. They happen. Why can’t we just treat them as such, and leave our friendships intact?  

I don’t know.  I honestly think I’m probably as guilty of this immaturity as the next person, which means that I confuse myself. (But then again, when have I not?)  Whatever the answer, the fact remains #ThatThingCalledPaasa hasn’t prevented me from hoping.  Instead, in some ways, it’s robbed me of my ability to hope that someone might even consider me remotely likeable.

Anyway, that’s it for my two cents.  Stay safe and dry, and until next time, I remain, yours truly,

~aRoamingTsinay~

Excerpt from “Requiem For Fish Car: To Punk Boy, From Broadway Girl”

“Your mix was called “A Far Flung Heart”
and it made me cry
because, between “Mayday Parade” and “Watsky,”
it was like you understood me–
had mapped my aortas
and saw where the scars were…
And you were not afraid.”