No Fats, No Femmes, No Asians: Adventures in Identity

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 11.33.53 PM“I like naked boys better than naked girls.”

This is my very first joke.

I am four years old. My parents are allowing my brother, sister and I to sleep in the same room so that we can celebrate the installation of dozens of glow-in-the-dark stars on my sister’s bedroom ceiling. My brother and I are camped out on the floor while my sister, a wise twelve to our four and six, respectively, explains the ins and outs of this new technology.

urlThis statement, as sincere as everything else I say at the age of four, is in direct response to the intro credits of Quantum Leap, which is appointment television in my household (and in the household of anyone else with good taste in 1992). It’s with no shame that I admit that Scott Bakula is probably the catalyst for my earliest sexual feelings. His naked body, awash in blue smoke, is maybe the most amazing thing my four year-old brain can process, and gives me cravings to see more boys like that awash in blue smoke.

(It should be noted that after revisiting the show recently, it is pointed out to me that Scott isn’t actually naked in that blue smoke, but at four years old, this is what I think a naked body looks like because, even though I am myself in possession of a naked body, I am four years old and an idiot).

My brother and my sister cackle wildly at my statement, “getting” the joke that isn’t a joke. I am silent. I don’t understand why this is funny. It would be a couple more years before they tell me this is wrong. It will be a couple more after that before someone explains why my brother and sister are white and I am not.

I, like many other Korean “Jeffs” and “Beckys,” am adopted. We popped up in many suburban white households in the ‘80s through the ‘90s, due in part to Korea’s relaxed adoption policies, but mostly because Asian babies are unequivocally the cutest babies. My family is warm, kind, and very, very Christian. But they are my family, and I never (except for one “you’re not my real mom!” moment that I’m not particularly proud of) think of them as anything but that.

My parents strike a good balance between explaining carefully why my face is not their face, and treating the whole thing as a non issue. I am homeschooled, which makes things a little easier on them.

OrnamentsAllSmI watch home movies of my family meeting me at the airport, and wish there was something worth submitting to Bob Saget. I am given ugly Korean Christmas ornaments one year and cry because I want Wonder Woman. I am told my birth name, and don’t understand why someone would name a boy “June” (Joon), and then I quickly wish I am a girl named June, because girls named June get to be secretaries and fall in love with ruggedly handsome journalists when they play make believe with their sister and her friends on Saturday afternoons. Boys named Joel do not.

I come out of the closet twice more between the ages of 12 and 16. About twelve times more if you count the number of times I write, “Please, God, don’t let me be gay,” in my prayer journal or post anxious questions about the heavenly fate of homosexuals on Christian message boards in the early days of internet anonymity. Thirteen more, if you count the time I named my cat “Rock Hudson.”

Through homeschooling I manage to escape bullying and uncomfortable questions and sex ed and evolution. I sit quietly most days, reading books and getting the answers for my math work directly from the answer key (I’ll regret this later on, which is a different confessional essay entirely). I watch as my brother educates himself by playing The Legend of Zelda for hours and hours on end, and read aloud all the talky parts. You know: drama class. At some point I decide I want to go to college someday, and convince my parents to send me to public school despite their numerous concerns about drugs and secularism.

It only takes a month of public education and I am in love with a boy named Steven who stands in front of me in Concert Choir (the best choir, in case you were curious — I am very talented). A month after that I am an out and proud gay teen.

I embrace it wholly and completely. I am genetically engineered (literally, depending on what science you subscribe to) to fit into this world. I listen to Wicked on loop. I crusade to start a gay-straight alliance in my high school. I triumphantly play one season of JV basketball in an (ill-advised) attempt to shatter everyone’s idea of gay stereotypes. I do the morning announcements because I’m charismatic and like attention.

I have been gay for ten years now, and things are going really well. Thanks for asking.

I have been Asian for my entire life, and I still don’t know exactly what the fuck that means.


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