December 15, 2017
I’m sitting here on my floor cushion couch, still trying to decide whether I should write or if I should do my typical night routine of chewing and spitting junk food while binge watching some mindless sit com. It’s especially tempting tonight because I’ve already bought chips and cookies at the bodega, and I want to step away from the chatter in my mind and this overwhelming thing called emotions. I know the antidote to this desire to numb is to lean more into awareness, go through the fire, and then eventually I’ll finally pass through it to whatever relief is on the other side. The problem is, this fire is going to take weeks or months to get through, and I just. Want. a fucking. Break. When I do show up, I have a lifetime of pent up rage and self-pity – my least favorite and least familiar emotions.
Since I can remember, I’ve had this distinct feeling of being behind. Like everyone had this thing, this quality, that I didn’t have. I could never quite describe it, and from the outside, it made no sense. My life looks pretty shiny. I’ve worked pretty much nonstop since graduating from one of the top musical theatre conservatories- been in the original companies of a national tour and two broadway shows. My ego was satisfied. At 24 I was on top of the world. I was pretty, thin, nice, successful, hard-working, talented. These were my identities, this was how I viewed myself because this is how I thought the world viewed me. But suddenly, at the supposedly wiser age of 25, I completely self sabotaged this identity. Well, let me be clear, I’ve self sabotaged since my sophomore year of college, but this year, I lost my desire to fight. I let my rebellion win. I gained about 25 pounds, my skin exploded into a supreme pizza face, I lost my work ethic, I became selfish, mean, and depressed. Life sucked. The only way I could escape was bingeing and/or C&Sing (chewing and spitting), which I did almost every day. But that would make me gain weight and make my skin explode, which would make me sad, so I numbed it by doing it again. It was a vicious cycle. And the worst part of it was, I knew there was a simple formula to fix all these problems. I’d done it before. I refused to be the victim of my own actions. I hated entitled people who victimize themselves, it was my biggest pet peeve.
This was the time when the #metoo movement began, and the purging of the men accused of sexual allegations. As my facebook feed exploded, my heart began to rumble. Every woman has stories about inappropriate sexual behavior by men, of course. Women are angered by a lifetime under this patriarchal system. I was excited this societal issue was finally coming to light. But I couldn’t fathom actually posting a status myself, and I felt both admiration and repulsion at all the women who did. Some statuses felt genuine while others felt like cries for attention and pity. Me too became an everyday topic of conversation, and this rumbling in my heart grew stronger and stronger.
Then, one night, something changed. Well, it’s not as simple as that. I guess, one night, my behavior started to make sense. All of that depression, the eating disorder, body dysmorphia, etc. were only symptoms to the actual problem. I had never really dealt with my molestation. I thought I did. I talked about it with my therapist and would share with friends if asked. I didn’t think I was in denial about it. I could see how it impacted my relationships with men and sex. I understood my “daddy issues.” But that was only the tip of the iceberg.
That night, I was having a sleepover with my best friend, and her boyfriend- let’s call him Ben- joined us for the majority of the evening. Eventually, Me Too came up as it always does, and Ben asked casually, “Well, neither of you have been molested, right?” To which, I replied, “I have.” We got to talking about it and I told him my story.
When I was 9 or 10, I took private drum lessons. I was a musically gifted child, and my mom was constantly cultivating that talent in singing lessons, piano lessons, dance classes, etc. This teacher, let’s call him Ching because that’s his name, was particularly affectionate and thought I was extraordinarily gifted in rhythm. I was his “favorite,” and as the lessons continued, he began to kiss me on my cheeks or forehead with super wet, tender kisses. He had me sit on his lap sometimes as he would demonstrate the drums. I felt uncomfortable, but I couldn’t really tell if it was wrong, and I didn’t know what to do. My dad is very physically affectionate, he kisses us on the lips and pats us on the butt. My whole family is a touchy feely family. Ching would compliment me, kiss me, tell me how special I was. In my confusion at this behavior, I would giggle uncomfortably and thank him for the compliments. What else is there to do when you are a child alone with a grown man in his apartment?
Then, one lesson, it went too far. I’d already beared the kisses and the sitting on the lap for the first part of the lesson. Then, he wanted to show me a drum video, and he had me sit on his lap. As we watched the video, he started kissing my face, my lips, my neck. His hands wandered around my body, playing with my hair, then my nipples, then down to my vagina, my anus, continually kissing me throughout. I froze stiff. I disassociated from my body and was in my body at the same time. I can’t even remember if he went inside my clothes or not. The video was probably 5-10 minutes long, but it felt like an eternity. After the video ended, he whispered in my ear, “We won’t tell anyone about this, right?” I nodded. “Good girl.”
My mom picked me up, niceties as usual, and I didn’t say a word. I had watched the stories on TV where the molester would threaten the kid not to tell anyone or else he’d kill them and their family, and I was afraid that would happen. So I was obedient as always, didn’t tell anyone, until the night before my next lesson a week later. I told my oldest sister that I didn’t wanna go to the drum lesson tomorrow, and told her why. She brought me to my mom and had me tell her, so I did. (I want to be clear here, I don’t know if this is what actually happened, but this is how I remember it.) My mom replied, “Well, did he rape you?” I said no. She told me that worse things have happened to other kids, and I didn’t have to go to the lesson tomorrow. And that was it. It was never talked about for at least a decade.
There was a time in college when I burst out crying in my acting class and told my class I’d been molested. My teacher sent me to the therapist, but after one session, therapy seemed pretty pointless to me. Over the years, it would come up in conversation here and there. It wasn’t a secret, so I thought I was healed. In a fucked up way, it was almost a badge of honor, proof that I had been through something awful and I didn’t let it defeat me. Here I was, an Asian woman who had been molested as a child, and yet I was not a victim. I took responsibility of my life, I worked hard, and I had a life I was proud of.
Back to that night with Ben. After I told him the story, he asked about if I wanted to press charges. His dad was a lawyer and he wanted to put a mark on Ching’s record. The thing about Ben is, when his mind gets into something, he does not drop it, way after everyone else has lost interest, almost to the point of annoyance. I said I would think about pressing charges, but it seemed pretty pointless now. After all, I wasn’t raped. This thing happened 15 years ago, on Guam. I’d consider it, but I wanted time to think about it. He did not grant me that wish. He kept pushing on and on, way past my rational level of comfort. He fought every excuse. And then, it clicked. “Don’t you want justice?” Justice. I never thought I was deserving of justice.
I watched my mind fight back with all the reasons of why I shouldn’t do anything, like a broken record. ‘You weren’t raped. You kinda led him on. Worse things happen to other people. It’s not a big deal. What’s the point? It happened 15 years ago. Don’t be a weak victim. You’re in control. Honestly, who really cares?’ And these thoughts made me weep. I had never put any validity to any feelings of anger, fear, or self pity. What made my life deserving of justice when so many horrible things happen all over the world with no consequences? But suddenly, this white man with all the privilege in the world thought I was deserving of justice. So deserving, in fact, that he wanted to go way out of his way to seek justice for me. He left me with one final argument. Different people are put into each others lives for a reason. Maybe this was his.
The biggest reason I didn’t want to press charges was that it meant I would actually have to deal with it all. I would probably heal, but that healing would be excruciatingly painful. Having to deal with this trauma meant having to feel a lifetime of pent up anger and self pity. It would be a slow breaking down of my every thought process, the way I viewed the world and myself within that world. I knew my eating disorder, my coping mechanism, was about to get way worse. I had to put myself through the fire if I was going to heal.
That night happened about a month ago. The first week, I really went through it. I used my Meisner class as therapy, and my body would convulse in sobs at the unfairness of it all. I could not believe that people could live their whole lives thinking they were entitled to justice. I was envious of straight white men because, very generally speaking, they grew up without disadvantage. The world was created for them. I sobbed for myself as I would sob for my child. I finally let myself feel sorry for myself, for the first time, ever. How unfair that I was born a woman, and an Asian, and I was molested. How unfair that I was developmentally arrested emotionally at such a young age. I have so much catching up to do.
That’s the thing about the oppressed. When you are raised in a healthy, supportive, environment and you are in the majority, you fundamentally believe you have a right to “liberty and justice for all.” Which is correct. Not only are your opinions and feelings valid, they are correct and important and the world should conform to them.* When you are among the oppressed, whether it be race, gender, or sexual orientation, society subtly treats you as slightly lesser than. You can fight all you want, and many successfully do, but more often than not you start to believe it. Like a battered woman in an abusive relationship, you begin to believe that that is what you deserve. It’s easier to accept than to fight. The combination of my gender, my race, and especially my trauma, made me believe at my core that my life was not as valuable as anyone else’s. I was not deserving of my own point of view. This is why I’ve always felt behind. This is why I’ve felt like a fraud calling myself an artist. My feelings had to be rational, or else I wouldn’t let myself feel them. I had to be in control. Of course I still felt them, and they came out subconsciously in my eating disorder. All the irrational emotions I suppressed was translated in my jaws as it aggressively chewed food and then spit it out for hours on end, a perfect metaphor for the emotions I would taste and spit out immediately.
Now, I have a lifetime of pent up anger and self pity that I need to release. It’s not just anger at Ching or my mom, it’s any situation of which I was angry but not conscious of it. When anyone wronged me in my life, I was quick to empathize. They had a bad day, they’re insecure, they are ignorant and made a mistake. While that is healthy in some ways, I was never on my side, and I suppressed my own valid feelings of anger. That girl in middle school who turned my new friends against me because I brought the Sars virus because I’m from China. (I’m Korean and from Guam.) Those teachers or directors who gave up on me because they didn’t see any potential. Those men who cat called and followed me down the streets when I was walking home alone at night. Someone told me that depression is anger turned inwards. Well, I’ve suppressed a lot of anger. With no outlet, these emotions have festered in me, and I’ve been depressed, a lot. The result- nowadays I am too quick to anger, like the dial has swung completely in the opposite direction. I think it has to be this way for a while and eventually it’ll even out.
Now, I feel like a kid navigating life in NYC. Ignorance was bliss. There was a simple way I viewed the world, a simple formula to have the life I wanted. People were valued based on some combination of beauty, career, popularity, and fame. Within that system, I could control where I stood. But I’m learning I don’t agree with any of that. I self sabotaged and rebelled against my ego because I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I had to break down my identity and see who I was without a job, without beauty, without popularity. My love for myself was conditional, and therefore, so was my love for my friends and family. You can only love others as much as you love yourself. I am learning I am a messy, anxious person with a hot temper, and a lot of fear. I’m also learning I am wise, creative, and honest, and becoming more authentic, which is what I most respect in others. I can’t pretend I totally accept or even like this yet. It’s like I lost my map, and now I’m just kinda winging it. Without rules and regulations, life just got infinitely more complex and interesting, and I have no idea what to do with it. Freedom is scary. But it’s little victories like tonight that give me faith that I’m gonna figure it out. I didn’t C&S tonight. I didn’t binge. I wrote this damn thing instead.
*In this Me Too conversation, men like to ask, “So what can I, a good guy, do?” I’d like to broaden this question to any person in a majority or position of power. First of all, you don’t have to DO anything, that will already be a win. All I ask is for your awareness. The next step- Listen, be attentive, and be on my goddamn side! Don’t get defensive, don’t tell me that you’re not like those evil men. That’s not the point, this is not about you. You have benefitted from a society that gives you an advantage. If I am expressing frustration at that advantage, I’m not frustrated with you personally. You’re just as much a victim to this society as I am, you just got the good end of the bargain. That doesn’t make you any less deserving of what you have. You can choose to empathize and intellectually feel sorrow for the oppressed, but then again- you get to choose when you feel that. So if you want extra credit points, choose to empathize when it is most inconvenient.