May 20, 2016

frustrating gender things (it's 2016 you'd think humanity would be in a better place now but no)

(disclaimer: it's late, my brain is so tired, i might not be v coherent, pardon any long strings of sentences / grammatical errors)

In one previous job, he heard his boss call female colleagues “old cows” and refer to a middle-aged job applicant as “Dame Edna” after she’d left an interview. “Evidently men say things like that to each other all the time,” he says. Other trans men say they’ve heard male co-workers sexualize female colleagues when no women are present. “There’s some crude humor, some crass humor,” says Cameron Combs, an IT consultant in Olympia, Washington. He says he’s heard male colleagues do “appraisals” of women in the office or observe how female co-workers used their “womanly wiles” to rise up the ladder, conversations he says he never would have heard when he was a woman. “When they saw me as female, it was kind of an automatic stop,” he says. “It’s a little less censored, the jokes I hear, the comments.”

“Being privy to the conversations that men have amongst themselves really does give me an indication of how they think about women,” he says. “And sometimes it can be really scary.”

So I read this article.

And I guess, y'know, I should evaluate it. Look at exactly how the survey was conducted, point out possible loopholes. Cultural factors, too - just because it's this way in one culture doesn't mean it's this way in mine.

Because I'm terrified. I'm terrified to imagine how guys think about girls or what guys say about girls when they're in groups, even just a regular female friend. I'm afraid that my gender matters. I'm afraid that my femaleness matters in my friendships with my friends that happen to be male. That there's a factor of sexuality or attractiveness because of it. That I am standing on a rung on a ladder of females and female expectations in a guy's eyes, simply by virtue of being a female. Regardless of where I am on that ladder. That I am put there on that ladder at all irks me. Why can't I just be...a person?

I believe that my guy friends are good people, nice people who don't objectify a girl (or me, anyway). And I trust that good, God-loving Christian guys understand that all people are God's own children and immensely cherished by Him, and that they strive to see women in that manner, to be respectful in their perception / consideration of them. I believe that with my close guy friends (regardless of whether they're Christian or not), those I trust and those I truly chill with, and especially in those friendships where both of us know we'll never get together, there's none of the sexual factor going on. We're past that. I believe that they consider me as a person, and define me by my soul, more than any sexual implications by virtue of the fact that I'm female. Like, my guy friends are my friends not because they're guys, but because we happen to click. Same for my female friends. Duh. If I felt suspicious about the way a guy's perceiving me as a person I probably wouldn't hang around him much. I am uncomfortable when I know that The Fact That I'm A Girl contributes to a friendship.

It makes me thankful that I'm very average-looking / flat-chested / that I blend into the background easily. When random male friends make any remark about my appearance, even if it's a positive one, it makes me want to fight against it. Once a friend said he preferred me with my glasses on. I was pretty pissed off, even though I find wearing glasses more convenient and I only wear contact lenses to look and feel better. I wanted to make it clear that I wouldn't deliberately look a certain way for him, for anyone, and my glasses were my business only. I felt uncomfortable knowing that the way I looked was being noticed at all. Someone else once said they liked that I was skinny, and just that bit skinnier would be perfect. I was irked by the statement then, and if they had said it now, I would have thrown a shoe. I eat what I want to, my body shape isn't anyone else's business, I don't care what you think about it. A guy I was once somewhat romantically close to showed me a chat with his friend; all it said was "goodness man, she looks good!" but I flipped. I was like, the heck, stop objectifying, that's just a picture, what does he know about me. I was legit pissed. Maybe I was overreacting. But I get uncomfortable with the fact that someone is considering my appearance at all (especially if it's because of my gender), and not just seeing past these to the heart, where souls and personalities interact. I realise that I actually am very happy when my guy friends don't notice when I've cut my hair or when I've got makeup on.

Once You Zhuan dropped by my school and I had just gotten back from something and I went to change into a random T-shirt and FBTs and he said "ah, you look a lot more comfortable" and I was thankful. Thankful that he had made no comment about whether I looked better or worse, but simply that I seemed more comfortable in what I was wearing. He wanted me simply to be comfortable. I realise that now I don't care at all how I look when I'm around him, because he doesn't seem to care or notice. (I guess it also helps that he doesn't care what the world thinks of him, what with his extreme social awkwardness and five knives and tattoos and ten-odd piercings.)

I'm thankful for Crescent, four years of no guys. (I actually had no male friends in those four years.) Never being concerned with how I looked in front of a guy or which girl had more male attention, never needing to navigate gender expectations and perceptions as an acne-ridden fourteen-year-old. I am thankful for the experience of the relative homogeneity of a girls' school, and I think it has shaped how I think significantly. They say you can tell a Crescentian from a mile away by the way she sits. Yeah, I'll sit like an uncle if I want to. Why should there be a gendered way of sitting? They say Crescentians are loud and can sometimes be quite coarse. Not very ladylike, y'know, talking a little too loudly, laughing a little crassly, sitting with their feet on the bench. I say that's how one grows up in a world free from gender expectations that don't actually matter. I am loving. I am gentle in spirit. I am generous.* As Jesus is. Why does it matter to you how I sit or eat or laugh?**

The prospect of my male friends thinking about girls, about potentially me, in a gendered way really bothers me. That a guy might look at a female friend with lust or with any sexual factor without her realising. And it's not just about sex. It's about how he sees her, perceives her as a person, subconsciously. How her person matters to him. There's a degree of objectification that I'm uncomfortable with. An attractive woman becomes an object of feasting, of satisfaction, and there's a whole power dynamic going on, okay. It's so much more. (Of course all these is not limited to the male person on the female person. Women do this to guys too. And I disagree with it for the same reasons.)

James Gardner is a newscaster in Victoria, Canada, who had been reading the news as Sheila Gardner for almost three decades before he transitioned at 54. As soon as he began hosting as a man, he stopped getting as many calls from men pointing out tiny errors. “It was always male callers to Sheila saying I had screwed up my grammar, correcting me,” he says. “I don’t get as many calls to James correcting me. I’m the same person, but the men are less critical of James.” 

 Dana Delgardo is a family nurse practitioner and Air Force captain who transitioned three years ago. Since his transition, he’s noticed that his female patients are less open with him about their sexual behavior, but his bosses give him more responsibility. “All of a sudden, I’m the golden child,” he says. “I have been with this company for 6 years, no ever recommended me for management. Now I’m put into a managerial position where I could possibly be a regional director.”

“As a man, you’re assumed to be competent unless proven otherwise,” she says. “Whereas as a woman you’re presumed to be incompetent unless proven otherwise.”

Okay I was going to type more about this but I've been on this page for 2 hours now and I was supposed to be doing an assignment and now I just want to sleep. But okay. I've never known or experienced this sort of gender discrimination. Perhaps because I was in a girls' school (seriously, the girls' school experience is so beneficial, to a woman's confidence and identity-formation and just, it's good, ok). Perhaps because in ACJC the Students' Council president was a girl (and an incredible one too!) and I was the head of a subcommittee of ten. The four subcomm heads were equally split gender-wise, and both in the Executive Committee and in the entire Council itself, there were considerably more girls than guys. My class had more girls than guys. (It was also an arts class, but I never really interacted with the science classes.) And maybe it's convenient for me that the humanities and my future probable career path in teaching is extremely female-friendly. So no, I've never felt unfairly discriminated against because of my gender; I've never felt like my gender mattered for anything, even for (most of) my friendships, so, yeah, this article frightens me. As I was reading the article I felt like hiding in a hole with a few cats and ducks. I felt scared, suspicious of men (even though I do trust those I'm close to), wary of the future and Other Men and the corporate society that seems to hiss with unfriendliness towards females and the great big Working World where I'll have to dress nice and put on makeup and navigate a completely different social sphere.

ok i'm v tired i need to sleep goodnight


*Not always, of course. There are many times I am unloving and ungentle and ungenerous. Not the point. And I'm, y'know, being rhetorical / literary / ya just go with it k

**There are other instances in which being a woman differs from being a man in the biblical sense, when they come together in imitation of the relationship between Christ and the Church. I'm not going into those right now, and that's also far too deep and dense to go into on a space like this, and I also don't know enough as of yet to talk about it here. And that's very different from arbitrary cultural gender expectations, which I am discussing.

May 19, 2016


(disclaimer: the following may sound insensitive to some. Please do give me your opinions if you find it insensitive or offensive, but know that I don't mean it that way; these are just my thoughts and questions being put out there in the open, of a Singaporean girl who comes from quite a comfortable background coming into contact with a country that has a lot of homeless people, something I don't see to this degree back home. There are many people in Singapore who are in need, in terms of finances and much more; but this, here, is in some ways a societal difference that I have yet to wrap my head around.)

cambridge day 2

I'm walking down Bridge Street, waiting to have dinner with Yixuan after she's done with her paper, when a woman stops me: "do you have any change, I'm homeless, I'm just looking to buy a cup of coffee, it was raining, I'm so cold" - at the reminder of the rain I get out my wallet and hand her two pounds. It was indeed raining the whole day. Not a Singapore thunderstorm, just light, rhythmic; but I had spent the afternoon rolling around in bed because of it, and she had to be out here. I would have rather just bought her coffee or soup, but there was no cafe or supermarket nearby.

There are so many homeless people around, and I've been feeling guilty at walking past them without giving them money, so I determined to give today. But it's just sort of odd to me, because many are also seemingly perfectly able-bodied, not old, capable of working. I wonder if a few of them prefer not to work, because they get unemployment benefits; I've heard this more cynical line of reasoning, with anecdotal evidence, from some people. And I personally don't see very many people in Singapore who ask for something for nothing; even a blind man busks; even a wheelchair-bound woman sells tissue packets. (This is also indicative of something terribly twisted and wrong in our own society, though, especially when you think about people who are forced to resort to prostitution or multiple jobs to support their family; I do think that unemployment benefits have a place, and better medical fee coverage / childcare support for those who need it.) They're doing what they can, as long as they're able to, for what you can give. Here...there are so many people just...sitting there, unashamed to ask others for change. I'm a student who earns $6-8 an hour from taking bubble tea orders and transcribing interviews late into the night. During the school term I sleep about 4 hours a night. My flight ticket here was the result of 3 months of part-timing at Koi. And even so I hate asking my parents for allowance when I need it - I'd rather skip meals, even though I know my parents will definitely give me if I ask - so I guess it is strange for me to enter a world where so many people who seem capable of working are sitting around and asking for money.

But then I live in a country with an unemployment rate of under 2% and the third-highest average working hours in the world. A country whose housing prices are sky-high so a large portion of us live with our parents until we're married and eligible for our own flat* (or even after we're married, too; or also forever if we remain single, like my aunt or a couple of my mum's friends). A country of sleepless, overworked, stressed-out individuals who are always chasing, always chasing. A country of people too obsessed with "saving face" to be comfortable with asking others for money. A country where the poor work far too hard, for far too little, just to earn enough to get by, because unlike the UK, we don't have unemployment benefits; if you're fired you don't have a system that will support you. Work is a matter of struggle or death. What do I know about this country and its culture that is different from mine?

Two minutes later I reach the end of the street and stop to look at the advertisement of an Italian restaurant. "Ey," I hear from behind me. I turn back. Two men are sitting on a bench. "You got change?"

I do, I have two more pounds; but I finally ask him the question that I've been too afraid to ask every person who has asked me for money: "why don't you work?"

He doesn't seem to understand me. "Something, you got change?"

"Do you have a job?"

"I'm homeless. See my sleeping bag."

"Why don't you have a job?" He finally understands, I think; he tells me he had an operation. He raises his pant leg to show me the skin graft on his shin, tells me it was from his elbow. The two pounds are his immediately; ah, it must suck, being out of a job and needing an operation like this. He wasn't conscious for four days, broke his ankle for the second time during a pizza delivery job he had previously. He tells me he was from Poland; came here sixteen years ago. "Why did you come here?" "You know Poland." My heart sinks. I come from a country that's all about economic growth, and I often forget how badly most of the EU is doing economically. When I was in Greece in freshman year, it was undergoing its sixth year of recession; youth unemployment rate was over 60%; you could have an MA and be working as a server at Subway; people were tired. For me, a well-educated Chinese from an upper-middle class background in Singapore, I can have a decent income as long as I put in the effort. The policies in my government and the workings of my society support me, don't marginalise me. The economy is doing well, and my parents have stable jobs. I am not discriminated against. There are so many others who try so much harder, but were born in circumstances that don't allow them to thrive.

Twice he invites me to sit on the bench, but I say it's alright; Yixuan's arriving at any minute, and while I'd love to hear more from him, my heart is also a little sad. The guy beside him shouts something presumably in Polish, and they converse loudly for a while; they're probably saying something bad about me, the weirdo Asian girl who's so hung up over a mere £2. Whatever. I'm a college kid; I'm broke, too. The other guy motions towards the Italian restaurant, suggests something in English about treating them to a meal there. "Aye, don't listen to my friend, he's a bit crazy." I smell hard liquor in his breath, and I hope he doesn't spend my money on alcohol. I wish there was a supermarket nearby so that I could get him one of those £3 meal deals. I had one of those yesterday, and the day before, and probably tomorrow... they're cheap, wholesome, and good. A full meal for £3, complete with a smoothie and yoghurt / fruit! I hope the £4 I've given away in the past five minutes will be put to good use. That's more than an hour's work at Koi. £4 is $8, and that's four lunches I can buy back home. (Ananas chicken rice, man. It's quite bad, but it's $2. Or tako balls, or economic bee hoon, or 菜贩 with two veggies and no meat, or lor mai kai. If you're like me, a brokeass college student, you'll know.)

"Buy some bread with the money," I suggest.

"Yes, I will buy something, chips maybe," he replies.

"But chips are not healthy. You can buy bread, or rice, something that will fill you up." I wish there was a Sainsbury's nearby. I'd just get him that meal deal. And, I mean, a baguette at Waitrose is £0.60. A bun at any supermarket's bakery section is less than £1. Come on. You can get a decent box of sushi for £3. Chips don't add any nutrition at all and they don't fill you up. They're a luxury, not something you get when you have nothing. The £3 meal deal is great and delicious, too, and you can find it all around. But he doesn't seem to understand me. "Yes, something. Thank you very much." Ah, forget it. I think when I'm in Rome later in the summer and I'll be buying groceries to cook and stuff, I'll bring around an extra sandwich, or maybe just carry around one of those supermarket meal deals if they have them, for times like these.

"Have a good day," he says in his casual loud tone.

"Thank you," I say softly, so that he doesn't hear. "It's my birthday." I let it quiver in the air, a little wisp of a word, before it vanishes with more of his casual words that roll past me. A ping on my phone: Yixuan has arrived. I fight back tears of frustration and settle my heart. Over dinner Yixuan tells me that she volunteers at a homeless shelter or something on Saturdays; I guess I'll go, too, if they'll let me, just to... just to know.


*I recognise that there's also a big problem in the HDB policy, regarding couples that are not considered to be married under Singapore law, single-parent families, etc., basically families that are not what Singapore considers to be the traditional nuclear family. I do feel that something needs to be done about this, but this is not my focus in this particular post sooo yupppp

May 6, 2016

to hold one's depth

One night, over beer, we spoke of 'good days' and 'bad days'. You spoke with soft edges, with gentleness like cupped hands, like a quiet fireplace, surrounding, holding my being. On non-bad days, I realise, I don't even think about death. The notion of wanting to die is foreign to me, absurd, peculiarly pitiable. On bad days it is just too hard, life is a burden that is too much to bear, I just want the ache to end.

That's alright, you say. On bad days you cannot summon the particles of strength in the atoms in the fibers of your limbs to get out of bed. Bad days pass like blanks, like gaps in the continuous etching of life, and you have come to accept them.

He is a saucer, a little white porcelain saucer of light soya sauce, and as tenderly precious as he is both as a person and to me, he will not be able to hold my depth the way you do, the way she does, the way /he/ would have been able to, if he had a way to wrap around his own darkness in acceptance and redemption.

(She will hold his depth, though. She will embrace his being, cup around it like a healing balm, and they will make each other better.)

A few days ago, though, I was privileged to catch a glimpse into the saucer's special depth. The soya sauce does have a darker gradient as it approaches its slightly concave middle. He reminded me of someone else, someone who peeled off the exterior, just for me, to uncover his solid-rock foundation, maturity. He taught me a great deal about what it means to be honoured and respected, by others, by myself; and I am forever grateful.