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Davis, California

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Column: All that glitters

The first thing Bob asked me when she walked in the door was, “Am I supposed to be the token Indian bisexual girl?”

I smiled, standing next to the giant backdrop set up in my living room. It was a giant roll of white paper hanging over a 10-foot stand for a photo essay I was doing for Vent Magazine.

“You called me out,” I confessed.

Just a week ago, I was talking with the editor-in-chief about how the magazine had too much of a focus on heterosexual East-Asians.

“I’m used to it,” she said. “I just need to know beforehand.”

After the photo shoot, Paul, the photographer, and I overlooked the pictures.

“There aren’t very may usable ones,” Paul said.

All of them were in-transition shots. I asked her to talk about her financial situation during the photo shoot for the photo essay I was doing on the student fees. Instead, she talked about how she vehemently prefers PCs to Macs. She was so passionate about it that her face in the photo we ended up using made the student fee hikes look like apartheid.

At a first glance, her eyes in the photo look closed. They’re really in mid-blink, though. She’s sort of smiling, but not. Her shirt says “I Heart Female Orgasm,” but the hoodie she’s wearing covers it to say “I Heart Male.” You never see the same picture twice, no matter how much you look at it.

The real life Bob embodies this as well. The first time I met her, she had a fohawk with the same angles as her cheekbones. I told her never to change her hair. The next time I had dinner with her, she changed it to the finger-curl haircut she has now. At one angle, she looks like a 1920s flapper. At another, the Venus de Milo. Then at another, George Washington.

The other night, Bob and I were smoking with Laura at her place. Bob had her hair straightened in a side part, framing the streak of glitter across her cheek. We were talking about the masculinities panel we went to for Generation Sex Week a few days ago. During the discussion, I asked if it was possible to express your identity without exerting power, and she said no. I agreed.

She said queer identities could only define themselves by not being straight, rather than having an inherent definition. They’ll always be referential to and never free from the binaries of gender that accuse them of being abnormal from the standard.

Critical theorist Slavoj Zizek says the reason stereotypes perpetuate is because the absence of categories will always be less desirable than an infinite number of categories, despite how much we hate being put into boxes. We will always resort to stereotypes because absolute freedom from them is always more terrifying.

Whenever I meet people, I comparatively define who I’m supposed to be in reference to who they are. If they smile and laugh, I do too. My humor gets cocky, and I make sweeping gestures with my arms.

If their humor gets dry, then so does mine. My voice becomes low and monotone. My sentences grow longer (and possibly funnier, if my syntax is clever enough). It’s like how car salesmen pace their breathing to inhale and exhale the same time you do, so you pick up a subconscious connection. It increases their sales.

But when I met Bob, I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be.

One thing Bob hates is when she dominates the conversation. She hates it because it probably happens all the time – it does when I’m talking to her, at least.

Part of the reason is because everything she says is so irrationally positive that you can’t stop listening. We were once at Bistro 33 during happy hour. During the entire time, she was telling my friend and me about her parents nearly disowning her for her appearance and sexuality. Her voice sounded like she was telling us how much better PCs were than Macs.

Another reason is that I never know who it is I’m talking to. I can’t fit her into a box.

At one point, she’ll be shrinking back in her chair, saying “You’re looking at me like I’m crazy.” I’ll then smile and shrug my shoulders, saying I’m not really one to talk. Then she’ll hug me and say I’m so cute she wants to put me in her pocket. I’ll insist that I’m taller than her.

We go back and forth like this, because she doesn’t know who she’s supposed to be, and when it comes down to it, neither do I. I’m not Chinese, but I’m not American. I’m not straight, but I’m not gay. I’m not a cardboard Christian, but I’m not a searching agnostic. I’m not a designer, but I’m not a writer.

When you’re a lot more familiar with who you’re not rather than who you are, there’s little to say about yourself.

“This time, I’m going to let you talk,” Bob says each time we hang out.

I never have anything to say. This is what freedom feels like, and I’m paralyzed.

GEOFF MAK is quitting Facebook. We’ll see how long that lasts. E-mail him at gemak@ucdavis.edu.

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