Humans of CSU: Intersection of identities

Collegian Staff

Humans of CSU

Editor’s note: Like Humans of New York’s “daily glimpses into the lives of strangers on the streets,” Humans of CSU tells the stories of the people who populate our campus. Written by Collegian staff and told in first-person from the subject’s point of view, this series aims to make each individual on campus relatable.

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Video by Chiara Garland.

Whenever I think about how to talk about myself, I usually start at my roots, right?

Photo by Chiara Garland.
(Photo by Chiara Garland.)

My mother is a Japanese woman. She was born and raised in Tokyo until she married my dad, who is a white dude from Illinois, 33 years ago now. I identify as Japanese and white — mixed race. I also identify as (a) heterosexual, cisgendered male. I say mostly able-bodied. I suffer from depression. It’s pretty severe, I guess, I’ve been told. I also have a 25-percent hearing loss.

I think the process of understanding my racial identity is really salient to me. Growing up, I was constantly being asked, “What are you? Where are you from? Where are you really from?” because I was born in Connecticut, and so that wasn’t good enough, right? And then, “Where are your parents from?” And once they sort of discovered that my mom is Japanese then they started asking questions like, “Do you like sushi? Do you use chopsticks? Do you know karate? Do you speak the language?”

I think what was hard for me was the answer to those questions was yes. I had this weird sensation of, “This is really weird that you’re asking me these questions, and it makes me really uncomfortable because you’re not asking any of my peers these questions.” I would get this from adults, I would get this from friends, I would get this from strangers, I would get this from people in the grocery store. So that whole process sort of clued me into, like, this whole world is kind of f**ked up.

When I got to college, that first semester gave me the language to articulate my experiences, and that’s when I sort of transformed my life. I got into this journey of “this is what the construct of the world is like and that’s why I was feeling this kind of way,” all through elementary school to high school, why I felt out of place, why I was suicidal.

Having hearing loss made me really insecure in terms of I was never sure that I heard someone right, and being too embarrassed to ask, “Can you repeat that?” more than two times. And then having these weird moments where people were like, “Hey, nice weather today, right?” and I’m like, “Yeah, it’s 11:30,” thinking that they asked me what time it was. Just having a million of these kind of shameful moments that weren’t my fault at all, I think, really shaped the way my brain works and really is sort of the root cause of depression for me, particularly as I tried to strive to be perfect. I would tell myself I would never misunderstand a question again because it was so embarrassing in the moment. But, of course, it would happen over and over again because it was just sort of bound to. That’s sort of the mindset I’m carrying with me now is, “What can I do to constantly better myself?” But it’s taken a while to get to a healthy place with that for me.

I’m going into my 12th year here at CSU. It’s ridiculous. I did my undergrad and my master’s here, and I’ve been in this position going on 2 1/2 years. I’m feeling a little bit of an itch to leave, but don’t tell anyone that. I think there’s a lot of growth to be done outside of this space. I love the work that I’m doing here and I look forward to doing it for a couple years, but if the opportunity comes, I think I’m open to it.

In my undergrad, I took a class called Student Alliance for Gender Education. After getting a lot of feedback about being a stereotypical dude, I was like, “That doesn’t feel good,” and so I was like, “Maybe I should get some education around it.” It turns out, I had some talent for facilitating programs, and (I had) the bonus of being a male-presenting person. There was a lot of power in a dude talking about gender. I shifted my focus from racial justice to gender justice in an effort to do more impactful work.

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As I was going through my undergrad, it didn’t take me a while to realize, “Holy crap, even though I’ve experienced all these racialized moments in my life, I wonder what I would’ve been doing to other folks, intentionally or unintentionally, to make me feel the way I did then through other identities.”

That’s when I really got into exploring gender identities and how my masculinity was constructed. I kind of found out that because I didn’t feel Asian enough all the time or because I didn’t feel white enough all the time, I was damn sure to be man enough. Breaking out of that shell was tough for me.

For me, it was a really easy leap between understanding the racial oppression that I faced versus understanding the gender oppression that I caused. For some reason, for most men of color, that’s not the case. I think my experiences in particular in understanding the intersection between gender and race has helped bring the gender conversation to some communities of color, as well as being able to relate and connect with white dudes in the same conversation.

I owe a huge majority of my growth to…some of the readings that I’ve done, the stories that I’ve heard, the patience of people that are willing to teach me, particularly women and especially women of color for me. I’ve always sort of prided myself on being a good listener even though I’m not able to hear well, so being able to listen to those stories has really shaped who I am today.

I would never have admitted to having depression as an undergrad or master’s student, and I think that has a lot to do with masculinity. But now, openly talking about it actually has increased my ability to connect with other people — particularly men. That’s been transformative for me. I’ve always been like, “Educate, educate, educate,” but now it’s more like, “Let’s grow together as people.” I’m sad that it took this long to get there.

I’m still sort of wrestling with feeling depressed, staving off suicidal thoughts. I think I’m able to mask it really well. More recently, I’ve been exploring this notion of being vulnerable about it as a source of healing. And so, yeah, just kind of a constant journey, and that’s where I’m at now.

Collegian Staff can be reached at socialmedia@collegian.com.

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