I feel like I’m being pulled in so many different directions. I don’t know how–I’ve never know how–to deal with multiple identities in a way that doesn’t cause one of them to be neglected and ignored. I’m a Korean adoptee, but I’m also queer and trans, and I haven’t yet been able to figure out a way to unite those identities, instead of simply pushing one to the foreground and the other to the back.
I was at the Dragon Festival today. My old dance group (Korean traditional dance, mainly for Korean adoptees) was involved in hosting an exceptional group of professional Korean dancers, as well as two b-boys, all from Korea, at that festival. It was an amazing performance. Despite the heat, the sprinkling of rain, and the outdoors location, it was one of the best Korean dance performances I’ve seen (including several in Korea).
Seeing my former dance teacher act as emcee for the performance, and talking with old friends and parents from the dance group, brought back so many memories. For years (prior to my discovery of theatre in high school), Korean dance had been my whole world–my life revolved around socializing with other Korean adoptees, listening to Korean pop music, learning Korean, practicing Korean dance and drumming, going to Korean restaurants, obsessing over members of the latest Korean boy bands. After theatre, however, all of it began to pale in comparison, and I began to drift away from the dance group.
Once I realized what I’d been missing, I couldn’t go back. Back then, it was like I couldn’t breathe. The dance group seemed so straight, so gender-normative, so girly, so conservative and conformable. When compared to theatre–to the “edgyness” (to my sheltered, sixteen-year-old, Catholic schoolgirl self), to the irreverence and liberal attitudes, to the boys with nail polish and girls who cared about more than clothes and boys–dance lost every time. Of course, there might have also been the fact that theatre had older girls that I idolized (and, in retrospect, had massive crushes on).
It wasn’t even as though everyone in the dance group was straight (although to my knowledge, they are), or as though there were tons of queer kids in theatre (although a fair number of people have since come out of the closet). It was more a matter of attitudes. In the dance group, it was though gay people didn’t exist (except, perhaps, for those two girls at camp rumored to be bisexual who were thus shunned). In theatre, boundaries were pushed, and people were more aware, more open. It was little things–singing Avenue Q‘s “If You Were Gay,” or noticing lesbian undertones in Dante’s The Divine Comedy, or joking about being lesbian lovers–but those little things made for an enormous difference in atmosphere.
Theatre–and the people who were part of it–was so wonderful, so bright and dark and intriguing, so glorious and important and different and freeing–I got caught up in it, and dance (and all that went with it) became a distant second. And so it went. After high school, I floundered a bit, trying to find my place without theatre (and, perhaps more importantly, with my theatre group from high school). Upon coming out, I threw myself wholeheartedly into the queer groups on campus. Even more so than in high school, the Asian students group on campus seemed restrictive and excessively gendered (there is, after all–or seems to be–a very specific type of femininity in Korea that isn’t as all-encompassing here and definitely isn’t anything that I identify with).
Every now and again, though, a sense of longing sweeps over me, reminding me that of my Korean roots. I miss Korean dance. I miss the drumming. I miss the sense of community. I miss being around people who understand the unique experience of being a Korean adoptee. I miss the food; I miss the music; I miss the language. And I wish I could be a part of that again.
The problem is that I don’t fit in. I never really learned much Korean–there are two- and three- and four-year old babies who know more Korean than I do. I haven’t been back to Korea in over four years. I haven’t kept up on the latest k-pop groups. My sense of personal style is wildly different from most of the other Korean adoptees I know. The real problem, though, is the lack of queer and gender-transgressive people in the Korean American communities of which I know. Being queer, and being trans, has become such an important part of who I am. It’s taken me a long time to figure out who I am, and I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want to go back to always playing a part in order to fit in.
I’m all for difference–I don’t think that people only need to be with people who are exactly like them. And that’s not what I want; it’s just that it’d be nice–it’d be really, really nice–to not have to constantly be compromising who I am, only displaying certain parts around certain people, only being understood in a specific way by that particular group of people.