娘娘腔 (pro. niángniángqiāng): literally meaning a womanish mouth; a derogatory term for sissy or effeminate
Throughout my childhood in China, I was singled out for the different ways I acted – whether that was the inflections natural in my voice or my predilection for barbies over sports. This was a term I grew accustomed to after repeated reminders from family members, classmates and teachers. My parents tried their best to teach me the right and wrong ways for boys to act, and before long I internalized a hatred for my feminine demeanor and outwardly compensated by masking my behaviors. I deepened my voice, adopted neutral colors, and veiled my emotions in order to act “normal”. I embodied this stressful balancing act even after I moved to the States, and throughout high school. Every morning I put on the same mask, but now, I was also acutely aware of my race.
Try as I might, the sissy in me kept slipping out. Every flick of the wrist, over-exaggerated hand gesture, or sway of the hips drew unwanted attention. I felt shame from every disapproving glance shot towards my direction from relatives. I felt fear when classmates hurled slurs like this and worse ones at me. I felt defeated as teachers turned a blind eye away from my harassers. Most of all, I felt guilt. I was guilty for not being the son my family wanted. I was guilty for failing to provide the large family so heavily emphasized in traditional Confucian teachings. I was guilty the Shi lineage ended with me. My sexuality had a stranglehold on my family name, and I was slowly killing it. These feelings consumed me and sent me on a downward spiral even after I had come out to my friends.
Today, I realize being on the intersection of two competing identities has defined my struggle for self-love. I have made great strides in recognizing myself as an individual beyond my race and sexual orientation. But even so, I still feel out of place whether I’m with other Chinese people or gay men. There was an unspoken agreement to never come out to my grandparents and extended family. I feel left behind by a queer liberation movement centered around gay white men, many of whom have embraced hyper-masculinity and continue to shame the effeminate members of the community. I’ve been told I’m too gay, too Asian, too femme, or I simply don’t fit.
I am not my acceptance. I am gay and Chinese-American, but more so, I am an individual. I am myself.