Content Note: Sexual Assault
Over the holidays, my family held a Euchre tournament. For those who are not aware, Euchre is a variant of the card game Spades that allows the player to call a suit to be trump, but only if they think they can win a majority of the tricks. It was the semi-final rounds and I was paired with my Juju John against my cousin Heather and our Juju Terry. Heather had beastly skill and luck with card games. She was the kind of player who would follow up a straight flush with a royal flush in poker and in Euchre, she was the kind of player who would ‘Go Alone’ twice in a match. We even started referring to absurdly strong hands as ‘Heather Hands.’
So there we were in the semi-finals. The hum of family chit chat filled the living room around us as people peeked over our shoulders at our hands to see what who was up. As expected, Heather and Terry were up a couple points, but my team had made some solid ground. Heather was up to call trump. Calling the suit can put the odds in your favor, but if you misjudge the strength of your hand, you can set yourself up for a loss. You’re considered to be playing aggressively when you take a risk and call the suit.
She almost called it, but then backed off and let me call it instead. My team ended up winning that hand and she realized she should have played more aggressively. She never made that mistake again. And she won.
My New Year’s resolution this year is to play a more aggressive Euchre game and I don’t mean it only in the context of cards. In the rest of my life I’ve been trying to cultivate a better relationship with taking risks, asserting myself, and committing to things. I’ve been trying to speak up more in meetings, put myself out there more for opportunities, and I’ve started Wing Chun Kung Fu.
My whole life I’ve been considered quiet. Not by my friends and certainly not by my parents, but by teachers, classmates, co-workers, by strangers. And for a long time I even identified as that. Even though with my friends I swore, talked shit, and laughed obnoxiously loud, that was the role I was born to play—quiet, polite, respectful, peaceful. In class I would sit silently and do my work. I wouldn’t cut up and I wouldn’t argue. It was a role so deeply ingrained that I find myself performing it even now when I know it doesn’t actually fit me that well.
I remember talking with some friends in high school about our big plans to take over the world. We joked about all the food we’d eat and the places we’d go and the teachers we’d fire. I said that I didn’t think I’d be the ruler of the world, but I’d be a damn good advisor. But why? I was competent, thoughtful, resourceful, and deeply analytical. But somewhere in my Asianness, my Queerness, my Anxiety, I just wasn’t a leader.
“But somewhere in my Asianness, my Queerness, my Anxiety, I just wasn’t a leader. “
My theatre teacher would say, sometimes you don’t get the role because you’re not the right fit. So I didn’t try to be a leader. Instead, like an origami crane, I learned to fold myself into something else. I would figure out the most useful shape for the people around me and that’s how I would find my value.
This belief felt innocuous. As a college student I never asked for help, but I was so happy to give it. If I wasn’t in a meeting or class, then if someone asked me for a favor, I’d do it. No questions asked. And I loved doing that. I valued my independence and I loved taking care of people, helping people, serving people. But that kind of thinking surfaced in every aspect of my life. Including sex. Well, Bad Sex.
The late Grandmaster Ip Man said, “You should always know the source of the water you drink from.” Yim Wing Chun, the founder of the Wing Chun Kung Fu System, was a woman. She lived with her father in a small Chinese village where they sold bean curd. A wealthy man from the town began patroning their stall and took a liking to Wing Chun.
He asked her to marry him. She said no. He told her to marry him. She said no. He began to threaten her and her father. She became fearful of saying no. So, she sought the help of a Buddhist Abbess. For many days and nights, she trained in the mountains, learning the foundations of Kung Fu from the Abbess. Once she had mastered the techniques, she challenged the wealthy man to a fight. And she won.
Lately I’ve begun thinking a lot about Bad Sex. I use that coded euphemism because I don’t always know what to call it. In particular I’ve been thinking about something that happened last September. At the time I thought the guy I was with was just being a bit selfish and not a great listener. I remember thinking that I should just go with it so that it would be over faster and I could go home.
I don’t know how I learned to let myself be folded like a bad poker hand or a piece of paper, how I learned to let my needs be superseded in place of others’. I don’t know how I learned to see these origami birds I fold myself into as beautiful no matter how many creases they leave under my skin. Maybe it was somewhere in women and femmes being valorized for their self-sacrifices, for how they fix men, for how they become trophies at the end of the movie.
Maybe it was in when the nurse who was running my STD test laughed at me when I told her that we didn’t use a condom because it wasn’t consensual. You should always know the source of the water that you drink. But I don’t know what it is; I just know that I’ve been drinking it for so long I might as well be drowning in it.
“You should always know the source of the water you drink. But I don’t know what it is; I just know that I’ve been drinking it for so long I might as well be drowning in it.”
The next day after that incident he asked to add me on Snapchat. I told him I didn’t use Snapchat. He knew I was lying and protested. “We basically had sex,” he said. I wanted to scream, but I laughed instead. When I ignored his texts he called me a Bitch. Wing Chun was probably a Bitch too. That’s how I knew I did the right thing.
It’s no coincidence that risk taking, asserting yourself, and taking charge are considered masculine traits. As such, when men take them on, they are considered leaders. And these traits, like with anything can lead to harm if not taken in moderation. But toxic masculinity does not come with having these traits, it comes in the absence of the other, the feminine. And I’m learning that embracing the strength of feminine traits should not come at the absence of these.
“It’s no coincidence that risk taking, asserting yourself, and taking charge are considered masculine traits…But toxic masculinity does not come with having these traits, it comes in the absence of the other, the feminine.”
There is value in self-sacrifice. But that sacrifice cannot be unlimited. I’m realizing that there is a difference between learning to serve your community and learning to serve other people. One uplifts everyone. The other uplifts someone at your own expense.
By now I’ve folded myself into a thousand different paper cranes. Some of them were beautiful, folded out of love and patience. But some of them were crumpled, torn, and ugly. If after a thousand paper cranes I get to have one wish, then this New Year’s resolution is it.
Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. But playing a more aggressive Euchre game is not just ‘leaning in.’ Yim Wing Chun shouldn’t have had to learn Kung Fu to be left alone, and Kung Fu wouldn’t have changed anything about September. This isn’t about learning to be aggressive, this is about unlearning being an object rather than a subject. Because if I was in Wing Chun’s place I would have folded instead of fighting.
With every tan sau and every shang lap, I’m trying to get closer to where Wing Chun was. I’m unlearning thinking I would only be an advisor and never a leader. Unlearning the reflex to set myself aside for other people rather than taking care of us both. Unlearning why I didn’t value myself enough to call September something other than Bad Sex.