The aspects of my identity are fueled by tension and otherness. The battles of tension and otherness shout at each other, debate each other, lie to each other, chase each other. They torment me, define me, limit me.
They tell me: I am not queer enough. I am not Korean enough. I am not American enough. I am not feminine enough. I have heard it all from society, even from my own community.
In these spaces, the pressure to conform exists alongside my own expectations for acceptance simply because. On both fronts, I miss the mark.
Across these identities, checking off one box could also uncheck another — a perpetual game of mutual exclusivity controlled by radio buttons. But I don’t fit into someone else’s singular brand of ‘queer’ or ‘Korean’ or ‘woman.’ I don’t fit singularly into any of those boxes, because in me, these pieces don’t exist without the others. They simply can’t.
The battles of tension and otherness support each other, teach each other, lie next to each other, comfort each other. They teach me, strengthen me, free me.
They allow me to accept myself simply because.
It’s 2018. I’m at a Mitski show at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. It is the first show of two sold-out nights. There is a group of Karens next to us. They haven’t stopped talking since the start of the show, not even for “First Love / Late Spring.” As a Pisces, I take this personally.
Mitski sings the line all the fans know —and the one bi-cultural kids know all too well: “I guess I couldn’t help trying to be your best American girl.” Through the crowd emerges an Asian-American woman clearing the path out for her two friends, parting a sea of flannel shirts named Josh.
The last of the trio is in tears and has her entire face bandaged, as if she had just left the dentist’s chair post-wisdom teeth surgery. As she gets closer, it’s clear that she did. I can’t tell if her tears are from the physical pain or from Mitski’s pain, or a mix of both.
But she is here. To see someone who looks like her perform. To support someone who looks like her.
They are not the same, as we are not the same. Some of us bear our pain on stage or in public, some of us wrap our pain around the entirety of our heads, and some of us are just here for the first of two sold-out nights.
But we all carry the orb of shared strength and resilience, and we are here.