The New Complementarianism

Featured photo courtesy of Steven Lee — go check out his work at https://artistsyl.weebly.com/ or at his Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/stevenoclock/.
Model: Max Chang

As an Asian American man, wanting to be viewed as desirable is not based in superficiality, but an urge to abolish structural racism that disguises itself in desirability and sexuality politics.
– Phillipe Thao, “Crazy Hot Asians: Redefining Asian Male Desirability

I’ve recently been in conversation with a fellow gay Asian friend regarding my problematic attraction to white men. I once half-joked that simply given the demographic of gay men in the United States, the probability of me ending up with a white husband is fairly high. I then proceeded to joke how I’d definitely change my last name for him so I could benefit from his white privilege.

It’s really strange — for all the work I’ve put into undoing the internalized homophobia and racism of my upbringing, I’ve still yet to extricate myself from the idea that the circumstances of my birth dictate what I should or shouldn’t do on a moral level. What began with toxic gender complementarianism now presents itself as a matter of racial complementarianism — something just as bad and twice as complicated.

All three of my past boyfriends have been white. Off the top of my head, all of my close queer Asian friends’ partners are white. And I honestly can’t recall the last time I saw a gay couple where both were Asian American.

Whenever I’m feeling particularly single, I go on YouTube to watch videos featuring cute gay couples (because I love myself), and I admit that every time I see a gay couple where one is white and one is Asian, something about it just strikes me as good. Something desirable, something to aim for — and it’s only been recently I’ve discovered how deeply rooted my tongue-in-cheek joke about ending up with a white guy actually is.

It’s disturbing how quickly my life has turned into a gay version of Yellow Fever. About every other week someone makes some ignorant assumption about my romantic life based on my race as I get messages on my dating apps about how much a guy “loves Asians”. There’s even a term for it: so-called “rice queens” are typically white queer men who exclusively date Asians.

Asian women have been dealing with such harmful stereotypes for just as long, and in the gay male community we share similar paradoxes — we’re expected to be submissive yet independent, demure yet intelligent, exotic yet familiar, sexy yet totally asexual. Before I can even get a word of English in, I am but a stand-in for thousands of people who share my skin color and sexual orientation.

And you know what? As much as I hate it, some part of me doesn’t resist. I realize I am part of the problem, and it certainly doesn’t help since I happen to fit the gay Asian stereotype so well. On some level, I get a kick out of code switching my way through the dashed expectations of white men. Thanks to a combination of Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome, my thoroughly American upbringing, and my two degrees, it can come as a surprise that my English vocabulary is more expansive than a lot of white Americans’. That I can quote Plato and analyze poetry and talk centuries of dead European composers.

At the same time a brilliant success and a horrible dishonor, the assimilated Asian American is an expert navigator of two cultural identities and yet garners the full merit of neither.

The problem is not with dating white men — there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The problem is the way I’ve been centering my desire on white approval and benefitting from white privilege by mastering the navigation of Western culture. In some twisted way, being on a white man’s arm would be making myself into my own trophy for winning at the assimilation game. That is white supremacy by any other name.

The process of decolonizing one’s desires comes with a life of powerful paradox. For me, as a relatively small and physically fragile gay Asian man who is easily crushable, white desire is a mixture of both a fear of being overpowered and also of a craving for security within the folds of white privilege. I deliberately avoid dating anyone significantly taller, older, heavier, or stronger than me in order to minimize power difference.

But in my self-perceived weakness I also let a sense of internalized racism get the better of me: more often than not, I succumb to the belief that I’m not worthy of being desired in a dignified manner, and the cheap fetishization I’m frequently the target of is the best I’m going to get. Intellectually, I know it’s false. But after years of living in a world where whiteness is a prerequisite for beauty and models of healthy Asian masculinity are woefully underrepresented, it’s often easier to let myself be reduced to an exotic object than it is to fight back.

Every once in a while I’ll look in the mirror and really like what I see. I learn to savor those moments. And as the months go by I find myself thinking it a little more often, and I have to stop the negative thoughts from intruding on my self-appreciation. I was never ashamed of being Asian American, but really loving the Chinese body I was born with is a goal I yet work to attain.

Because I know at the core of my heart that just because I don’t look like the majority of my Hollywood crushes doesn’t mean I’m not a different kind of beautiful. That my personal worth is completely independent of who I’m dating — let alone the race of the person I’m dating. That though in the end it’s certainly possible my future husband happens to be white, it wouldn’t be because I did both of us a disservice by underpinning my desire on his whiteness and my non-whiteness. It’d be because I fully recognized my strength as an Asian man and responsibly decolonized my desires.

It’d be because I’m worthy of dignity, respect, and a boy who recognizes that I’m amazing as hell. Full stop.

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A Taste of Home

Moving to a new place is hard. You leave your community, your family, behind; your apartment is dusty, and the heat is oppressive. But you get to know your roommates, you sweep the floor, and slowly it starts to feel like home.

The ache in your heart never seems to disappear, but you scrounge together the ingredients you have — a box of vegetables you ordered online, too ugly to be sold at a market but perfectly good inside. Onions. Garlic. Carrots. Green beans.

You brought pieces of home with you: rice, which you put on the steamer, and a packet of Japanese curry — it was your dad’s signature dish. He made it every family gathering, every time you came home from college, and just any time you ever asked.

It takes you almost two hours to finish. You salted too late, you’re missing the chicken, and you forgot that vegetables have water in them. The sun has long set by the time you fill your bowl, but you know it was exactly the right dish to make.

You’ve forgotten why your heart hurts so much, but it only takes one taste to remind you. Your eyes unexpectedly sting with tears, and you cry for the first time in a long while. Because you did it all on your own, and so long as you have the arms to cook, and the mouth to eat, you carry your father with you.

Because when you eat, you live. But more than that: so does he.

Be Not Afraid

screenshot2016-11-09at10-05-31amLast night I delivered a short homily to my college’s choir before our first performance of the annual Christmas festival. This is the full transcript of that.

The Lord be with you! Therefore: let us not fear — that’s this year’s theme, right? Fear not. Easy.

Personally, when someone tells me not to be afraid, I admit it’s not actually very helpful. It feels almost dismissive, like they’re unwilling to take my fear seriously. I am afraid of a lot of things — spiders, dead things, peanut products — or on a more serious note, I am afraid of failure… of loneliness… of my uncertain future.

Some fears keep us alive. Some fears keep us from living.

We’re all deeply afraid of something, so “fear not” can sound like an impossible task — as if it’s some sort of rule we’re expected to follow. And as someone who suffers from anxiety, I tend to think this way a lot. But sometimes we need to be reminded that these are words of comfort.

This is God’s promise to us:

When you walk through the waters, I’ll be with you;
you will never sink beneath the waves.
When the fire is burning all around you,
you will never be consumed by the flames.

When the fear of loneliness is looming,
then remember I am at your side.
When you dwell in the exile of a stranger,
remember you are precious in My eyes.
(Excerpted from Philip Stopford’s “Do Not Be Afraid”)

It’s not a matter of if we face fear, but when. And when that time comes, how will we respond? It’s unrealistic to assume we can will our fear away — in fact, I think that’s dishonest.

Rather, “fear not” isn’t the end of it. Listen to the words of Joshua 1:9…

I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for YHWH your God is with you wherever you go.

“Fear not, for I am with you”. Therefore, be bold.

All of us are afraid of something, whether it’s of making a huge, life-changing decision, or of coming in fortissimo on page 2 of Virga Jesse. But I encourage you not simply to “fear not”, but to own that fear. Face it head-on, for you are not alone. God is with you and for you. All of us are with you and for you. Be strong and courageous — so boldly we pray:

O branch of Jesse, You have blossomed in fullness of both divinity and humanity, restoring peace and reconciling in Yourself the lowest with the highest.

Tonight, as we rejoice and sing on behalf of Your people, remind us that You are with us wherever we go, whether in the valley of the shadow of death, or in the candlelit glow of a Presbyterian church.

Lord, help us to not be afraid; help us to be bold,
for You have redeemed us,
You have called us by our names.
We are Yours,
we are Yours,
we are Yours.

Amen.

A God of Love and Surprises

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
– 1 John 4:18 (NRSV)

Exactly one year ago, I publicly came out as gay. Today I’m formally coming out in full moral support of same-sex relationships. You probably saw this coming (especially if you read my latest post), and if you know me in person this is no surprise. But I felt it might be helpful to tell the story of how I ended up here — though if you’re looking for a theological exploration, I’m afraid that’s for another time.

Back in the summer of 2015, a friend I found on an online group for LGBT+ Christians was considering becoming a Catholic priest, and one day, he struck up a conversation with me about celibacy. I confessed to him that I had only tentatively parked myself on Side B and maintained celibacy because it was the “safe option”.

In truth, something felt very off about my experience with “lifelong” singleness. I felt trapped by my faith, forced into a vocation I never desired for myself. And though I tried to convince myself I could learn to love it, I could never shake the feeling that I was living a lie.

My primary concern through everything has always been to remain faithful to God. I never set out to prove any particular viewpoint right or wrong — I just wanted the truth, but in order to do that I needed to look further into affirming theologies. A lot of what I came across didn’t strike me as very convincing, but I was willing to dialogue with this new friend of mine, who ever so graciously walked me through his beliefs. We respectfully disagreed and began to learn from each other’s experiences.

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The Art of Being Broken

9439696-vintage-metal-world-globe-lies-cracked-and-broken1Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
– Matthew 5:4 (NRSV)

Things are very much not okay right now. There’s so much crap going down all over the world (see: wars, hurricanes, political shams, etc.) that it’s hard to tell if I just notice all the bad in the world now that I’m older, or if things really are getting worse. It’s become very hard to hold onto hope amidst all this chaos.

And then there’s my wreck of a personal life. These past few years have been the most growing I’ve ever experienced, but they’ve also been the most trying. This year in particular has wounded me the deepest, and I’ve never felt closer to the brink of falling apart. In the span of the last 12 months, I:

I might as well buy a t-shirt that says “emotionally unstable” on the front. Living under the weight of everything above, plus generalized depression and anxiety, has taken its toll on me. I am an expert at pretending to be okay, but I can’t continue to do that every time someone asks me how I’m doing. Because the truth is this:

I am broken.

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A Posture of Mercy

college-photo_15333Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
– Matthew 9:13 (ESV)

Three years ago, I fell in love. It was Preview Weekend at Westmont College and the air was alive with excitement, with perfect Southern California weather beaming down on a group of hopeful students just dipping our toes into the pond of postsecondary education. I had never felt so welcome before, so at home — so loved. My mind was reeling with the possibility of attending such an amazing place, and as soon as I returned north I sent my application in. I chose to love Westmont, and it was one of the best decisions I’d ever made.

But much has changed since then.

I used to wear rose-colored glasses when it came to my school. Choosing only to see the good, I found it easy to accept the rules and regulations expected of me when I became part of the community. And yet I still vividly remember sitting at my desk, my eyes fixated on a single sentence on my computer screen:

The college does not condone…occult practices, drunkenness, theft, profanity, and dishonesty…sexual relations outside of marriage and homosexual practice.
– 2013 Westmont Community Life Statement (bold added for emphasis)

This was before I accepted my sexual orientation, and still I found myself reading that one clause over and over just to make sure I didn’t miss something. I didn’t know what even constituted “homosexual practice,” but it made me nervous. Several conflicted minutes passed before I hesitantly clicked the “agree” button. Deep down, despite my tightly locked closet, I knew that rule was directed towards me.

And perhaps this made sense — a boy who spent his life feeling estranged, unloved, and dissociated from himself ran to a place of security. A place where he could find himself, find joy, find Jesus.

I trusted Westmont because I thought it would be that place. I hungered for the true knowledge and love of Christ, and I fought down my hesitation because I thought Westmont would be the place I finally tasted it. And for a while, it was.

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The Illusion of Breath

“Do you see it too? Sometimes it looks like he’s still breathing; we’re so used to seeing the motion that our eyes trick us into seeing an illusion of breath.”

My brother and I stood at the side of the bed where our father’s still body lay. Half an hour prior, our family had gathered to be with him as he drew his last breaths. The morning sun was shining through the shades, casting a warm glow around the room. After 61 years of struggling, our dad had finally finished his journey, and for what might have been the first time, he looked truly at peace.

The two of us hadn’t spoken much as we stood by the bedside, but I nodded my head in agreement with my brother. Every little movement in my dead father’s direction prompted me to look harder, to keep searching for that wisp of breath that could have been his. The natural rising and lowering of his chest was no longer there, but my eyes couldn’t seem to give up expecting it — as if somehow he’d suddenly wake up, gasping and flinging his eyes open like in the movies. But he didn’t.

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An Inexhaustible Grace

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
– 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

The past few weeks have been difficult, to say the least. So many terrible things have happened around the world, and as hard I try, it’s become more and more exhausting to respond in a gracious and compassionate manner.

I saw many of my LGBT+ friends experience this particularly after the Orlando Pulse Shooting, when we flocked to social media in mourning, but were met with constant misunderstanding. Despite the pain of our community, we found ourselves having to explain why that tragedy mattered to us, and many of us even had to talk down opposition to our sorrow.

Marginalized individuals should never have to defend their existence to majority parties, and the problem is only exacerbated when the majority invalidates those minority experiences. And quite frankly, it’s thoroughly exhausting on our end.

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Running from Joy

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
— Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV)

I admit: I’m a glutton for self-punishment. Not in the bodily, masochistic sense, but I’m a prototypical perfectionist who sets impossible standards for myself and then proceeds to beat myself up when I inevitably fail to measure up. I was raised with the concept of total depravity — the idea that there is absolutely nothing good in me apart from God, and that anything good is from God alone (which I have no actual part in).

Growing up, I internalized this entirely unhealthily. The idea that I was nothing but a worthless sinner may have made the concept of grace easier to grasp, but that never sunk in. I latched on to depravity so obstinately that my self-perception erased most of my humanity. I learned to see myself as a monster beyond redemption, every prayer and every good deed a worthless attempt to earn the affection of the Father who would never love me. And who was I to question that?

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CSP, Part 1: Foreigner in the Fatherland | 外人在祖国里

Yay blurriness?
A sloppy selfie taken after arriving in Hong Kong.

The last three months of my life were not what I was expecting. Romantic ideals of getting in touch with my “inner Chinese culture” and exploring the depths of the language were weighed down by social anxiety, isolation from loved ones, and overarching feelings of incompetence, and what I thought I was getting into quickly turned into a fight simply to stay in one piece. But it was precisely in those dark times that I learned the most about myself, about my heritage, and most of all about God.

No amount of mental preparation could have spared me the radical transformation to be effected in myself — the bursting of an ideological bubble so long held firm by a self-contained and sheltered existence — yet in the end I find that’s precisely what I needed after all. Between all the fun times and the fascinating explorations, the semester invisibly held me through a burnishing flame that not only melted away the façade of who I thought I was, but further illuminated the God who all people are made in the image of.

The China Studies Program (CSP), sponsored by BestSemester through the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), was a three-part abroad semester hosted by Xiamen University (厦门大学 Xiàmén Dàxué, often abbreviated as 厦大 Xiàdà or XMU) on the southeast coast of Fujian province, right across the Strait of Taiwan.

After a brief orientation period in Hong Kong, Segment 1 focused on academics in Xiamen. During this month I took courses on Chinese Language, Intercultural Communication, Contemporary Society & Public Policy, and Tai Chi. This post will focus largely on Segment 1.

Segment 2 was a travel component we called “the Trek”: one week in the ancient capital of Xi’an, another week in the modern capital of Beijing, and a few days in the metropolis of Shanghai. During this Segment we were given a rigorous overview of Chinese History spanning about 5000-7000 years.

Finally, Segment 3 marked a return to Xiamen, where seven of the ten students would begin internships at various companies in the area, while three of us (me included) would continue with an elective course called Dimensions of East Asian Culture — encompassing short workshops about Chinese Home Cooking, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Traditional Chinese Painting.

Continue reading “CSP, Part 1: Foreigner in the Fatherland | 外人在祖国里”