Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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Identities, Marked and Unmarked

I finished reading Chang-Rae Lee's novel Native Speaker yesterday and it prompted some thoughts. In many ways I think he was trying to write a sort of Korean-American Invisible Man, a sort of ultimate parable of What Korean-Americans' Lives Are Like. This caused me to think about marked versus unmarked identities, and how Asian women writers like Maxine Hong Kingston or Amy Tan or (my favorite!) Anchee Min tend to write novels about What Asian-American Women's Lives Are Like (with a few exceptions - Banana Yoshimoto, for example, does not seem especially female-centered in her writing to me - though she's also not American or living in the West at all, which I think may be related) whereas Euro-American women and Asian-American men tend to hardly even mention in passing the fact that the experiences they write about are Euro-American or male, and they just seem to be under the impression that their books speak for all "women" or all "[insert specific nationality or race here]-American people."

Then I was thinking about my own writing and all the different ways I've tried but often failed to find my own racial viewpoint to speak from, to speak not the viewpoints I'm told to speak about "what you're supposed to feel about being White" but rather what I actually do feel and have felt all my life, the actual ways that I as an individual person have related to my Whiteness. About having grown up being disgusted by "White people" because they were the ones who were constantly making fun of my Korean-American friends, calling my friends racist names and asking stupid racist questions all the time, and me constantly trying to disown all connection to them, surrounding myself with nothing but exclusively Asian friends. About how upset and threatened I felt if any of my friends talked to or showed any interest in other non-Asian people because my own pseudo-Asian status could only be maintained by belonging to a circle of friends who were all Asian, and if any other White people started hanging around then soon I'd be perceived as just another one of them and I didn't want to be assimilated back into them, I wanted to be an Asian separatist.

But that's the ultimate Euro-American experience, isn't it? I don't know many Euro-American people who wouldn't prefer to be anything else in the world rather than White. And even the ones who do want to be White (because I think there are some, especially in more conservative circles than I tend to hang out in) would certainly never dream of admitting that they'd ever want to be White. That would just get them in trouble, if they said anything like that aloud in public. So the White experience is necessarily either a continual effort of trying to escape Whiteness, either to become something else like I've tried to become Asian, or simply to pretend race doesn't exist at all, like the stupid anti-affirmative-action campaigners are always doing.

I feel proud of myself now for having defined the Euro-American experience. Maybe with some luck I'll even be able to carry it over into my writings, and turn my novel into a novel of The Euro-American Experience, as a marked identity for once instead of an unmarked one.

But that's only half the job I need to accomplish, because I also want to know how to reconceptualize maleness as a marked identity. For that I call upon all the males who read this. What does it feel like for you, as an individual, to be male? If you were to write a whole book about being male, what would the book be like?

I want to know what maleness feels like.
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