I am ethnically Hakka/Hokkien Chinese. I was born in Malaysia, and raised in Singapore from when I was 3 til 18. I then moved to the USA where I completed a B.A. in Gender Studies from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.In university I became very attracted too to certain religious/spiritual philosophies, particularly to Buddhism, and to its various cultural incarnations such as in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, and the mostly Southeast Asian Theravada tradition, each with different ethical emphases and forms of meditative practice. I suspect much of my interest in philosophy, and South/East Asian philosophies in particular, also came from wanting to deeply root my political engagement in a personal(ised) ethical code. I wanted to explore being an 'ethical man.' I wanted to cultivate a zest for wisdom which I believes transcends the dualism of a male-specific or female-specific suffering per se.
I graduated uni in 2007 where I then moved to San Francisco to live with my older brother. He is also gay, which I believe has influenced and informed much of my relationship to my masculinity and manhood in particular. Living with my older brother has left a really deep and lasting impact on my life. As a man, I was lucky to have a role model for a healthy manhood based on intellectual independence, critical self-scrutiny, and also an embrace and celebration of my homo-sexuality. My brother and I often spent hours musing, laughing, and being generally contemplative about the nature of our quite strange and gay intercontinental existence. We talked about class privilege, the ability to have had an education in the USA because of our background in having employed, and well-educated parents. We talked about being Asian men in a white-male dominated world in the USA which was also dominated by patriarchal and colonial conceptions of masculine success, such as making a lot of money, owning a lot of property, and also having professional subordinates.
Throughout my uni career and in my work in San Francisco, I have engaged deeply and passionately with social justice issues, of which gender-based emancipation has been but one part. However, aside from tackling and re-imagining structural change, a bulk of my life's work is in the project of personal and interpersonal revelation. What that means for me is that any attempt to create progressive structural change in the name of feminism has to come from my engagement with the reform, reconstruction and then ultimate acceptance of Man as he is (and I do mean this is the gendered sense)...I believe that as men, we have a lot of work to do in our own lives in our contribution to feminist and women's rights movements. This does not only have to do with evaluating how we treat all women, but also how we treat all men, each other.
How do we regard each other?
Do we tend to view each other with suspicion?
Do we regard each other as territorial threats?
Can we experience brotherhood in its more valorous 'fraternal' sense of the word?
Can we embrace a type of masculinity and/or manhood which has integrity and does not justify or assert its existence through violent / fearful action?
Or is this just another romanticisation of some obsolete vision of how to be in this world? Perhaps we need another model entirely, or to dispense with the need for a model altogether?
What would an anarchistic (non-)gendered subjectivity be like, particularly if we are seen as men by others?
This means I talk to men. I talk to men about manhood. It is surprisingly challenging given how few of us have spent time in our lives really critically looking, questioning, being aware of our male socialization. In the truest sense, there is nothing unique about masculinity per se that makes it especially distinct from femininity, or that makes it uniquely synonymous with 'male.' They exist as expedient concepts to describe a peculiar human phenomenon of "sexualising" and "gendering" difference. No meaning outside itself. It is a contained cosmology. Yet it is one which we subscribe to as 'natural' (another concept which posits itself as oppositional to 'cultural'; a bit of an arbitrary dualism in itself).
I am curious about living here in Sydney as an Asian man. How it differs for me from living in San Francisco. I will not articulate in any detail the quite distinct differences for me in comparison just here. Needless to say, the difference in how my race is interpreted and regarded is striking for me in these two different cities in two different countries. And they together are certainly far different still from how my race was read growing up in Singapore, which has an ethnic-Chinese majority. All these experiences too have informed my understanding of masculinity. To have had many different types of racial experiences for me internationally has affected both how I have experienced gender and also how I have experienced sexuality.Why is this important?I think it is important for me to identify as pro-feminist, as most of my work is on issues of manhood, and not just by 'saving womanhood,' both of which have the outcome of dismantling patriarchy.
Similarly as I feel that the bulk of the anti-racist work by white folk should be related to working on developing critical awareness of issues of whiteness and white privilege, not just by 'saving brown people.'
I quite seriously encourage us all (particularly men) to contribute some thoughts about how we have experienced manhood in our own lives. Perhaps this is a good in itself.