On Refusing to Showcase the Hurt

Before we get into it, the recap links I’ve been saving for you:

And the books I’ve been reading and am so excited are out right now:

And a piece I wrote for the 30th Anniversary issue of ALLURE is now online. It’s about the end of the Kardashian era and how it’s shaped our lives. I picked up the issue myself the other day and there are so many bangers.


Right now I’m pretty quiet online because I’m in the last stretch of my book deadline. this will remain the case until the first draft is in, so I appreciate your patience and am very thankful you’re still subscribed and continuing to subscribe to this newsletter. I appreciate your faith in me.

I have had this draft earmarked for weeks to break down the anti-Asian conversation in the beauty industry, but I’ve been dragging my feet because rehashing it when I’m sure many of you are well aware of what is going on would just be self-flagellation at this point. This has been a big part of my research for years and I just hit a wall. Researching injustice in the beauty industry for 7 years straight - it has been that long or more, according to my boxes of drafts - it gets to you! I’ve been gotten to! So now I’m just too exhausted from dealing with that kind of violence every day in my offline life and in my writing. Every time I’ve seen conversations about anti-Asian conversations in the beauty industry I just remember every time a piece of mine has been killed for pointing it out - for being too angry, for being too political, for not being a legacy publication’s voice and too much of my own - and I just get really tired. I really don’t think the fact most of the things my killed pieces have in common over the past three years are that they somehow expand on Asian identity is a coincidence. I think that says a lot about what we’re not usually allowed to talk about in public.

Even with those barriers, I’ve been weaving my Asian American identity into my beauty writing for years. So I’m not going to walk out the trauma today, and I hope you’ll give me the grace to just rest with you for awhile. Instead I’d like to share some restorative exercises I’ve been working on, and maybe you’ll want to do it too:

Share You've Got Lipstick on Your Chin

Consider writing to a person that loves you, is curious about you, not reading in bad faith. Consider this especially if you are used to writing in front of other people and are constantly receiving feedback. Put the feedback away, and the fears. Consider writing only to one person instead. Imagine what freedom that might bring. Imagine writing not in defense of your existence or position but in celebration of what you’ve learned and who you’ve befriended and what has changed for the better, and what has expanded in your brain. Imagine reframing loss as letting go of what does not serve you. Imagine the luxury of feeling like you don’t have to persuade the reader from dehumanizing you the second they land on the page!

I’m used to writing in defense of my position in the margins or like as a pathway of understanding something that has been ignored or systematically devalued. The weight of looking hard at what hurts has deeply bruised me. It’s disheartening and I want to address that erosion and put it to rest and repair my brain. I really want to be able to metabolize the pain into something more generous to my continued existence in the world . . Into something joyful beyond practicality.

It’s so easy to see a world future where people fall short of your hopes and even your lowest expectations. Seeing a future where the ‘right’ people win actually requires so much more imagination and faith. It’s not hard to predict dystopia, it’s already here. It’s not hard to see it effects some people more than others - it’s already happening. It has been happening. The insistence on speculating a world where that isn’t true requires a reversal of history, even temporarily, and that is a Herculean leap of faith. In what? Faith itself? Maybe. But mostly that other people care as much as you, and that you aren’t alone in the process. You never were. You mustn’t be naïve about that - the world is so much bigger than your imagination, and that is ultimately what overwhelms you.

The future is always science fiction and we aren’t just our ancestors wildest dreams but their nightmares, too. Both being true is just who we are, not just bad or good - something simpler: reality, which is far more complicated and surprising than either narrative. Some ancestors were rapists. Some of them were heroes. There’s a lot of battles in our blood, and that work is not yet over. It’s understandable to find that difficult to endure. Personally, I hit a point where I am really exhausted by the idea that I have to explain how I got this pain. By doing so, maybe I’m not actually writing to my community but the white supremacist gaze in hopes of it sympathizing with me. But those aren’t my people. They aren’t my home. It’s time to unlearn that inclination, actually, and put my love and attention towards the people who love me the most.

So, again: consider writing only to a person or a people that love you, and love you without the need for explanations.

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Some quotes I have been chewing on in this vein:

The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.” - Toni Morrison

A book that has driven this thought process, too, is Craft in the Real World. I have these parts highlighted:

A truly anti-colonialist book would have to decolonize its idea of whom it is for. . . the term microaggression is for people who need to distinguish less obvious racist attacks from more obvious racist attacks, or unintentional racism from intentional racism. My struggle is generally with the effects, not with the intention.

Some other books I’ve read recently that do this well - allowing space for expansion of the very identities it’s about and for beyond the tropes that have quickly been established around them:

  1. Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu

  2. Detransition, Baby, Torrey Peters

  3. A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging, Dionne Brand

  4. Humanimal: A Project for Future Children, Bhanu Kapil [OK fine this is an old favorite, Bhanu is one of my absolute favorite writers]

And beyond my own homework question, it really is always worth revisiting The Audre Lorde Questionnaire. (Divya Victor compiled this version, and citation is a politic. Support her work!)

THE AUDRE LORDE QUESTIONNAIRE TO ONESELF

  1. What are the words you do not have yet? [Or, “for what do you not have words, yet?”]

  2. What do you need to say? [List as many things as necessary]

  3. “What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?”  [List as many as necessary today. Then write a new list tomorrow. And the day after.]

  4. If we have been “socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition”, ask yourself: “What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?”* [So, answer this today. And every day.]

Take care of yourself and others. I’ll talk to you soon.

P.S Until March 31, 20% of paid subscription signups are going to go towards the Welcome to Chinatown project. If you join at the patron level of $150 a year, I’ll randomly pick two other subscribers to upgrade them to the pair tier, too, on top of the 20% donation.