Writing by Simon Tran
Illustration by Keet Geniza
Growing up a (closeted) queer, Asian American, I wanted to feel like I had power. When we went to church every Sunday, instead of listening to the priest’s homily, I would scan the congregation for the tall, handsome white men. You couldn’t miss them. Their broad shoulders, classic white handsomeness, and impressive height distinguished themselves in the crowd like evergreen trees in a wheat field. I looked at these men, not just because of my attraction to them, but because I knew that they represented power. There was something about those white, tall, attractive men that I convinced myself I needed to be like. I would then look at my father, a short version of those men, and instantly understand how he didn’t have that same factor.
Growing up in a town of mostly white people, I never really saw other Asian bodies. When I did, I didn’t want to do anything with them. I was not like them. They were like my parents, who didn’t understand what it meant to be white or American. Instead, I would focus my energy particularly watching those tall, handsome white men wherever I went. Why? Women gravitated towards them. The watches on their wrists were usually gold or an impressive silver – a clear sign of confidence and money. And their bodies were built differently than mine; instead of skinny, yellow bones that I could never seem to get rid of, they had strong, muscular bones wrapped in impeccable white skin. Clean. Shiny. Even. Why did Asian men look so unimpressive, but those tall, handsome white men looked so mighty and beautiful? Why was our skin an abnormal mixture of brown, yellow, and dirt? I swear my mom washed me when I was young…
9th grade. That’s when I started to examine my own skin. Whenever I watched porn, I would see fit men with stunning white skin and no flaws on their bodies. Looking at my own, I saw dirtier shades of brown on random areas of my body. My skin was a discolored aura of being weak, unattractive, and powerless. No woman (and secretly man) would want to see me naked. No person would ever see me naked until years later. I could not stop looking at the uneven color swatches on my body. Ashamed of the skin I had, I started to scratch away the brown off of it. I spent hours clawing away my ethnicity until my skin bled slightly. When that happened, I would run to the bathroom mirror, and instead of being alarmed by the blood from my body, I became aggravated to only find that my tan and the dirt around my armpits, legs, or ass were still there, more uneven than before.
No person could ever see me naked.
Whenever I got home from school, I would run to the bathroom, strip off my clothes, and become increasingly disappointed to find that my attempts to claw away my tan failed, leaving sharp, white scars on my body. If I could claw away the surrounding dirt spots near those white streaks of skin, then I would be clean. Those tall, handsome white men didn’t have these types of problems with their skin.
You need to not have them either, Simon.
here were days where I felt satisfied with my attempts to claw away the brown, dirty spots on my body. But whenever we would go on a vacation or I would play soccer during the summer, my skin would naturally darken quicker than I could ever claw.
You can never be like those tall, handsome white men, Simon. Regardless of how much you clawed, the sun would naturally make your skin glow yellow and brown.
SIMON TRAN is a theatre artist, writer, and storyteller. A recent graduate of the University of Washington, he co-created UW’s first socially conscious sketch comedy group, Racy Sketchy Sexy, writing and performing sketch comedy that focuses on social issues and minority empowerment. In November 2016, he launched his podcast Human Crayon, which focuses on young adults processing life after college and grappling with the social and political climate. A first generation, queer Vietnamese American, he is passionate and committed to social change and using his voice as an artist to deconstruct the problematic narratives of minorities. Personal website: simontran.net
KEET GENIZA is an artist born and raised in Manila. Her art employs prose, poetry, zines, comics, drawing, painting, collage and illustration to explore the cusps between personal heritage and narrative reinvention. She currently lives and works in Toronto. Her recent works and process can be seen on her frequently updated blog at www.makeshiftlove.com, or on Instagram @makeshiftlove.