Just What I Needed

Hey there. I apologize for not having posted anything in over a month. I decided that I should focus on enjoying the last weeks of my time in Bangkok, so that’s exactly what I did. And now that I’m back in the U.S., I’m working on getting everything in order for my move to NYC. Needless to say, there has been a whole bunch of other stuff on my brain lately!

Having experienced a great deal of anxiety and stress after a work incident, I quit my job and booked a flight to my hometown abroad in order to get away from everything and everyone. I promise to explain all of this vagueness eventually, maybe in the next post, but it still highly upsets me so we’ll see how well that goes. Anyways, I was overseas for six weeks in May and June and my only plans were to see my relatives and de-stress.

Wat Phra Kaew

One of the many sights at Wat Phra Kaew

In the weeks leading up to my flight to Bangkok, I actually became somewhat nervous. I haven’t come out to my family in Thailand, and I knew that this new hairstyle paired with my affinity for men’s apparel would scream “GAY!” I couldn’t predict my aunts’ and grandparents’ reactions once they saw me, and I couldn’t tell if it would end up being perfectly fine or worse than how my mother reacted. All that went through my mind was “I’m going to be stuck in this house for six weeks if this doesn’t go over well.”

When I finally arrived at the house via airport taxi, everyone was waiting for me downstairs. I heard my grandma asking my aunts “Who is that?” as I entered. Everyone was a bit surprised by my change in appearance, but I ended up getting way more comments on my tattoo and the size of my arms (which are now puny due to the lack of lifting) that night than on my haircut. I felt so relieved and immediately knew that this trip was going to be wonderful.

And wonderful it was! I spent time with my family, ate a bunch of delicious food, and relaxed like it was my job. What was especially great was I didn’t encounter any annoying negative consequences stemming from my physical appearance while there. Is it wrong that I like looking masculine? That my best days are when I look in the mirror and feel handsome? My gender expression shouldn’t be something that negatively impacts my everyday life, and it wasn’t in Thailand. How refreshing!

Traffic by Central World

Colorful buses and taxis everywhere

I was out and about every day in Bangkok. Some street vendors and store associates mistook me for a man when greeting me, but it never surprised anyone when I spoke. Can I just tell you how amazing that was? People in Bangkok are well aware of the fluidity of gender expression, thanks to the the many masculine presenting women (known as toms) and trans women (katoey) who make up a highly visible percentage of the population. I felt right at home! So much so that my public restroom anxiety completely disappeared while I was there. I got one or two glances tops and never any double takes or stares. I used the men’s room maybe twice, but only because the lines for the ladies’ rooms at this one mall were way too long (something I’ll never understand) and not because I felt uneasy.

There are so many toms in Bangkok that I actually think it’s cool if you happen to be one. On several occasions after dinner, my aunts and I discussed the popularity of toms among young adults and what it means to be one. My grandpa liked to point out during dinner that he saw women on TV who had short hair and similar styles as me, so I often used this as a segue to get my aunts’ knowledge and opinions on tom presence and culture. I never considered myself a tom until this year, so I had some learning to do. The conversations I had with my aunts confirmed my preexisting notion that tom identity isn’t black and white. There are some toms who identify as women and use female pronouns, while there are others who use male pronouns. The ones who use male pronouns don’t necessarily have to consider themselves men either. In Thailand, women usually end their sentences with “ka” and men with “krup” for politeness. The lines are blurred when you throw toms into the mix, and it’s really a matter of what’s most comfortable for each individual.

Mural Selfie

Wat mural selfie. I had to, okay?

I don’t know if I’ve said it before, but my gender identity gets extremely confusing to me sometimes. I consider myself a woman, but I want to look like a man. I like that I pass as a man in certain spaces but hate being mistaken for one in others. I think about my gender identity a lot in the U.S., as if I should be able to stick myself into a specific box to make it easier for society to comprehend. I didn’t have these thoughts in Thailand because nothing is clear-cut there and that was okay. I loved feeling 100% accepted wherever I went, and I miss that now that I’m back in Virginia. I have to go back to reminding myself that I should just exist in a way that feels most natural and comfortable, like how I lived in Bangkok, but it’s noticeably harder here. Just the other day, I was at Life Time Fitness on a free trial pass and lost count of the number of people who glared at me as I walked through the locker room. But we’re not getting into that now. More happy thoughts from Thailand!

I should assume that my family members, at least my aunts, have inferred by now that I’m gay… or trans… or something that’s not straight. They haven’t said anything to me regarding my sexuality, and I haven’t been asked if I’m seeing anyone. As I previously mentioned, I’ve never explicitly come out to them and I don’t intend to until I’m in a loving relationship with someone who wants to hang out in Bangkok with me. But the significance of my aunts knowing and not saying anything is that it doesn’t matter to them. I can be who I want to be, present myself the way that feels right, and still be the same Bo they’ve known and loved for the past 26+ years. It means the world to me and makes me wish I didn’t live thousands of miles away.

This vacation was just what I needed. It opened my eyes to another part of the world in which I felt fully accepted for being myself. I think Bangkok might be my city. You know, my city–the place that will always be perfect to me no matter what. It will forever remain my home and I hope that I can make it back there again soon, maybe even for good.

Wat 2

 

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Men on the Left, Women on the Right

My choice to speak now requires a little extra thought. I don’t mean content-wise, as I’ve always been mindful of that… but these days, situations determine whether or not I should speak or remain silent. If this makes absolutely no sense, which I have a feeling might be the case, let me give you an example.

I am a big concertgoer, and for several months I attended shows at Echostage quite religiously. Like many concert venues, Echostage staff members ask show attendees to divide into separate lines for security pat downs, bag searches, etc. My first EDM show with my new boyish looks was Krewella’s Get Wet Tour back in November of 2013.

“Men on the left, women on the right!” one of the security guys announced to the crowd as my friend Mike and I entered the queue. It was a routine procedure for us to separate—I would walk over to the line full of scantily clad, slightly intoxicated women and Mike would join all the bros in their tank tops and basketball jerseys. This was nothing new. But as soon as I made eye contact with the security guy, this happened:

“I said guys on the left!” the Echostage employee directed at me along with a mean stare.

“I’m not a guy,” I responded, raising both my eyebrows to give him the “I can understand English just fine so you better stand down” look.

“Oh…” he said under his breath, immediately dropping his gaze to refocus on his line. The 6-foot-plus staff member avoided all eye contact after that exchange. (Okay, so this retelling makes me appear a lot more badass than I really am. On second thought, I’m perfectly happy with this portrayal. Carry on…)

Once I got to the front of the women-only line, I was greeted with some side-eye action. “Here we go again,” I thought.

“Hi. How are you doing tonight?” I asked the stern blonde woman. This was my attempt to ease the discomfort I was feeling with all the questionable looks I was getting all night. It worked. A couple of words were all it took for it to click that I was, indeed, standing in the correct line. I was able to see her expressions of confusion instantly vanish. So that’s what I had to do. Talk.

My voice was now the quickest way for me to inform those in my vicinity that I was not a short teenage boy but a woman. I didn’t have my ponytail to take care of that for me anymore, so now it required explicit effort on my part. Having gone to several shows after that, I have made it a habit to speak in line and always greet those at security checkpoints before they say a word to me. Is it a pain in the ass? Oh, absolutely. Do I understand that my own personal choices have led to the reactions I’ve been getting? Yes, certainly.

What am I really trying to get at with this example, though? I think I’m still figuring that one out as I analyze this among similar scenarios, but it does raise some notable points:

  1. I can pass as a man when I remain silent.
  2. I can pass as a woman when I speak up.
  3. There must be something in the universal security personnel handbook that states “It is required that you be an asshole, or at least give out the illusion of being an asshole, at all times.”

Seeing as how I don’t walk around in public talking the entire time (that would be crazy and I’m not at that point in my life just yet), point #1 is the default. This is actually something I think about on a daily basis, the fact that I can so easily pass as a vertically challenged man as long as I don’t open my mouth and make noise. While I do not personally identify as transgender, lines have gotten so blurry within the past several months that I’m beginning to question what being a man or woman actually means.

Why do I choose to step into the women’s line despite it usually taking longer since most women carry purses and bags requiring visual screening? Why do I feel such strong ties to a gender that has been prescribed to me by society? If gender is merely a social construct, then why do I sometimes feel the need to go out of my way to convince others that I am a woman? While these questions are interesting to regularly ponder, they are also simultaneously frustrating to think about as I continue to gain a better grasp of my identity.

But in thinking about all of this, concert lines are the least of my worries when compared to the other, more common, gender-segregated spaces: public restrooms and locker rooms. We’ll get into that next time.

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Initial Reactions – Part II

My mother’s silence and looks of disapproval luckily only lasted two days. She hasn’t shared any opinions about my hair since then, and every now and then she’ll ask if I just got a haircut without actually making any comments about it. My hair, like my sexuality, is now on the list of things that we don’t discuss. I’m okay with that.

Despite my mom’s objections, I absolutely loved my new do. I loved it so much that I quickly snapped the selfie seen in my first real post as soon as I could. To go hand in hand with feeling like my “true self,” a side effect of my haircut was feeling like my clothes magically looked 10 times better. That polo in the picture suited me more; my button ups fit so much better; my blazers finally looked right. Maybe that was the reason why I immediately gained confidence, and it was all from losing that excess length. I’m still not exactly sure, but everything was great now that I looked like a short young man (yeah, okay, maybe teenage boy at best). Shallow mirror talk aside, my scalp was also much happier, no longer having to deal with the constant pull and weight of my long locks. Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you that I had a lot of hair on my head and my ponytail was so heavy that it probably could have been used as a weapon.

The responses over social media reassured me that I had picked the right new hairstyle. I was wondering if anyone would say “WTF!!” or “Ew, why?” but they didn’t. Instead, I got comments like “THIS HAIRCUT WAS MADE FOR YOU!! this ‘do was clearly your destiny” and “*lets bewbs out* take my body.” I didn’t expect to see comments of that nature at all and, to this day, I’m beyond thankful that I hadn’t made one of the worst mistakes of my life.

As for the reception at work, I had only warned one coworker that I was going to come back looking different the next day. That Tuesday morning, my new look was originally met with wide eyes and exclamations of surprise. But shortly after, it garnered compliments from my colleagues and one boss. I say one boss because the other one held his gaze a little longer than usual during a meeting but said nothing. I wasn’t sure about how to take his lack of comment, but maybe it was a professional thing to not make a big deal out of a workplace-acceptable change in hairstyle. Regardless, I thought my undercut made a great first impression in the office.

work selfie

And you thought you could avoid my “first day at work with short hair” bathroom selfie. Nope; that you cannot.

While my only concern was that I would miss having long hair, it never crossed my mind that I would have to deal with any negative consequences. That evening after my 9 to 5, I went to the gym and walked into the locker room as I did every other day. This time it was different, though. Those whom I hadn’t previously built relationships with were alarmed, only to look slightly less perplexed once I greeted my acquaintances. It was at this point in time that I realized I unknowingly crossed a societal boundary. I was being perceived as a man who made his way into the long locker room without realizing that he was surrounded by a bunch of women. This was just the beginning.

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Initial Reactions – Part I

My mom and I have a close and loving relationship, and her acceptance of my masculine image has come a long way over the past several years. There was a time when she was hesitant to walk into the men’s sections with me, passing judgment when I’d purchase something new on our then regular mother-daughter mall outings. These days, however, she’ll even point out and suggest nice button-ups or bottoms whenever we find the time to go shopping together. I know she doesn’t advocate the way I dress, but she actively tries to show her approval and I’m thankful for that.

My haircut idea was not something I thought my mom would okay with, though, just because it was big change that would push me further along the scale of masculinity. But to my surprise, when I told her of my plan and showed her some potential styles, she actually approved. It’s not like I needed her approval for a haircut, but it was nice to get positive feedback from the person whose opinions I valued most instead of the unrelenting resistance that I had wholeheartedly expected.

So because I knew I looked different post-haircut, I had anticipated some sort of reaction, perhaps a gasp followed by a “Not bad!” or maybe even a small compliment. That was wishful thinking.

When my mom saw me for the first time, my new coif elicited the worst reaction I had received to anything in a while. Worse than all the times I mentioned wanting tattoos. Worse than the time I came home after clumsily smashing my face on the sidewalk on the second day of eighth grade.* Worse than the day I finally confessed that the girl who kept coming over every college break wasn’t just a good friend. The look on her face was one of complete disgust, mixed with a lot of disappointment and a bit of shock. It was completely unique to this situation and not an expression I’d like to see again.

“Are you a man now?” Mom asked. This may have been the first time I had to defend my gender. It was weird because this was my mother whom I was speaking to.

“No,” I said (she wasn’t convinced). “I just have short hair now. You even said you were fine with me cutting it.”

“Not this short,” she retorted.

We left it at that. She didn’t speak to me for two days.


*Being the lazy kid that I was, I decided it was a great idea to run down a hill instead of walking around it to save some time after getting off the school bus. Little did I know, that hill ended in a rather steep, unforeseen drop. I landed just fine when I jumped, but the weight of my backpack pushed me forward, and all I had to cushion the fall were my face and hands. Eighth grade was a rough year.

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Goodbye, Hair

Seven months ago, I decided to cut off my long mane and go for a completely new look that I was previously way too chicken to seriously consider. I wasn’t girly by any means (see below) but my hair allowed me to cling on to what little feminine physical characteristics I had.

longhair

My long hair felt like a big part of who I was since second grade, and I was hesitant to let it go. So much so that it took about four years for me to finally decide to chop it all off. As bad as it sounds, I didn’t want to be that stereotypical lesbian. I was already wearing men’s and boy’s apparel, something I actively resisted until my college years, so did I really need another visible signal of my gayness? But it was time. I had to go for it, especially after the thought marinated for years. After all, it was just hair, right?

I remember my haircut experience quite vividly. I had made an appointment with a friend of a friend, a talented hairdresser based on the pictures I saw on Instagram and Facebook, for the evening of October 3, 2013. My girlfriend at the time had fully supported my idea, and I was both excited and nervous. The stylist was very sweet upon our first meeting, and I could see that she was a little puzzled as to why I wanted such a drastic change. I couldn’t really explain it. It was just the change that I needed.

As she cut off the first bits of hair, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Did I just make the worst decision of my life? I couldn’t go back now. I wanted to cry. “Wait until you see the finished look,” I thought to myself, “Maybe it won’t be so bad.” Locks of hair dropped onto the floor, creating small animal-like piles around me. I was so overwhelmed that I had to quit watching the process, an attempt to rein in my emotions.

I don’t know when I gained the courage to look up again—probably when the stylist asked me if I wanted to go even shorter for an undercut, to which I nodded—but the person I saw in the mirror was not the one who walked into the studio that day. As cheesy as it sounds, I saw my true self for the first time. Along with the huge grin plastered on my face, I walked out of the studio with a new sense of confidence that I had never felt before in my entire life. I looked different. So androgynous. It was perfect. Everything was perfect.

Here’s my first post-haircut selfie (new do, same ugly bathroom walls):

1stselfie

Just hair, huh?

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An Introduction

Hello there and welcome to Short Hair, Do Care! I wanted to create a space where I could freely share my ideas on gender and sexuality based on my experiences, so here we are. To give you a better sense of who I am, here are a few personal tidbits:

  • I’m 26 going on 27, but most people think I look somewhere between 14 and 17. It’s a struggle at bars, let me tell you.
  • I live on the East Coast
  • I am Thai-American and lived in Thailand for about 7 years of my childhood
  • My Instagram feed in three words: cats, menswear, fitness
  • Romantic comedies and chick flicks are my favorite. If our date includes a nightcap and Mean Girls or Pitch Perfect, you’ve won me over.
  • Lifting is highly enjoyable for me. Most forms of cardio are not.
  • I used to be a t-shirt blogger
  • Many of my friends will tell you that I am a shopaholic. I kind of agree.
  • My hair is now the shortest it has been since I was about three years old. This is the main driver for this blog, but more on that later.

Well, there you have it. I think that is a good enough introduction, and you will certainly learn more with future posts. With that said, thank you for reading and welcome to my inner thoughts!