This summer Mark, a Beijing expat of 4 years (and former team member of Jingkids International, the Beijinger’s sister magazine!), created Beijing Queer Space Takeover, an open and supportive community for LGTBQI+ folks and allies to come together and make connections.
Beijing Queer Space Takeover came about as a personal desire of his to take those in the LGBTQI+ community from the anonymity of dating apps, the smokiness of dark clubs, and loneliness of solitary lives to the light of community building, to create lasting and meaningful friendships and connections.
Mark discusses more of his own personal experiences with body acceptance, gender identity, and the unconditional love, acceptance and support we all desire as humans.
It seems for as long as I have been alive, my body and I have oscillated from an uneasy truce to in-and-out war.
At the very start, according to my mother, there was the battle to just keep the developing organism that would eventually be me in her womb as I threatened to miscarry severally. Then came the fainting spells she endured before my form was expelled from her. In the nine-month-long ordeal, maybe the easiest thing according to her was the birthing of my 3.7-kilogram body.
My body and I have almost always been healthy, but that depends on your definition of healthy. No, I didn’t have a debilitating case of asthma as did so many of my cousins, and never had measles or the chicken pocks, as did so many of my classmates. I did suffer colds, but it seemed my body was quite adept at fighting them off.
My body and I weren’t big fans of boisterous activities that are an accepted part and parcel of the growing-up process, so we rarely had to tolerate cuts, bumps, and bruises as did other boys.
And that is where my body and I began to diverge.
At the age when the world takes an interest in defining children, it seemed as though people didn’t quite see how I saw my body, nor did they experience me the way I felt I should have been experienced. Depending on who you asked, or what outfit my mother dressed me in, my body either belonged to a boy or a girl.
I have a vivid memory of a Sunday school teacher at a Presbyterian church in a town where my Aunt’s family lived, refusing to accept that my name was Mark.
She insisted for the duration of the class, which I would assume was an hour, that I was certainly not a boy but a girl. I mean, look at my hair, listen to my voice, look at my face, and my colorful clothes! There was no way I could be like every other typical boy in the class. Mind you, they were rural boys not exactly clad in the latest in kids’ fashion as my mother had made sure to do with me.
But even more curiously, this confusion that both I and my body presented, brought a delicious joy to me which I didn’t understand. It was as though I had full access to this thing I would later come to know as gender identity, and I could switch between both male and female, depending on where I was, who I was with, what I wore, and my own mischievous mood.
It meant that I was friends with everyone. The boys saw me as one of their own albeit not as boisterous, and the girls saw me as part of them too, albeit a little too aggressive. It was ultimate acceptance. And for one of the few instances in my life, my body and I were in full alignment.
The safety of this early acceptance was to be short-lived, however. This body of mine began to attract unwanted attention from predators who would have their way with it in ways I would sooner forget, and both it and I were powerless to stop it.
It was, I was told, as these abuses were later discovered and swiftly ignored, my fault. Whether it was mine or that of my body, I wasn’t quite sure, but I understood that I was malfunctioning. There is a way to be, a way for my body and myself to operate, and I was failing at it.
For some, my face was far too pretty for a boy’s and my voice was far too soft. My gestures were far too fluid, and my walk far too effeminate.
How could the heinous acts perpetrated against me not have happened? Had I just been a ‘normal’ boy, then I would have been kept safe. This was a lie as I came to learn later on in life, as cases of abuse are indiscriminate, happening to the manliest of men, to the most feminine of women.
One thing was clear. The line between genders which I enjoyed blurring so well would land me in trouble.
No more so than in high school when both my body and I dreaded the big changes that we were both going through. My body’s soft face was beginning to harden, and its eyes began to narrow. Suddenly, the soft, round, ambiguity of childhood was giving way to the sinewy, trim, linear nature of adolescence.
But despite this, my body’s feet still went one before the other, in a sort of soft catwalk that it and I had studied and mastered through watching television and my mother.
It was incongruous that this body, this face, now sprouting the vestiges of a beard should present itself this way, in that still soft, high-pitched voice, and still recoil at typical teenage boyish interactions. My body and I knew who we were and who we wanted to be. But my school and family thought otherwise.
Have you ever sat across from someone labeling your difference as a form of illness? All the while remembering stolen moments behind the basketball court in school with a boy’s boy who would surely grow to be a man’s man, petrified at both being caught with you, and inexplicably liking you as intensely as he does? Have you felt both vindicated and vilified at once, to realize that you and your body are allegedly working at cross-purposes?
I thought this would be a transient thing but it continues to this day. Through the valley of the shadow of deadly adolescence to the exuberance of young adulthood where, for once, no one cares what you are, just as long as you fit their definition of ‘cool’, and what is cooler than a doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde uneasiness between one’s physical and one’s self?
And even now, as both my body and I call ourselves mature, we still face the same cognitive dissonance in the face of others. “What is he?” “Is that even a he?” “Oh, but I think she is very pretty, albeit mannish!” “She must be trans! Look at those muscles.”
I can claim my part in the confusion that ensues in my presence. I like dresses, and the aesthetic of long hair, but I also like how my body looks with well-developed arms and calves, but also the gentle slope of my derriere in a fitted or flared piece.
I like how strong my body’s back looks when arched and trying to balance in heels. I like the angular nature of my face, paired with the flirtiness of a good pair of wispy lashes. I like to see the skin above my lip and below my chin bare, but I also like to feel stubble push against my skin as I smooth over my skin.
No. I am not trans. But my body transitions through many forms of expression from day to day.
Rather than bothering to correct people each time they get my gender wrong or choose to interact with me and my body in ways that make them most comfortable, I focus more on the fact that my body and I are finally at peace. We like each other and ourselves.
There is not a hair out of place, or a line badly drawn. Everything is where it should be. And it is the rest I so longed for after a long journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. I and my body are me. And I am proud of who I have become.
If you insist on pronouns then I will tell you what mine are. For the most part, my body and I are He, his, and him.
Though we find that to be limiting at times, because according to folk wisdom, our emotional and sensual ranges might she, her, and her’s levels, and at times, we might not want to go by any gender.
Most recently I decided to be a wit about it and decided that our new identity was a potato, and our pronouns were roasted, fried, and mashed. It is genius if you ask me. Who doesn’t love potatoes in any configuration? And isn’t that what we all want? To be loved, respected, appreciated, missed, even deified at times.
My body and I, despite our static presentation to the world, have had the privilege of being loved, earnestly and truly, by people who have seen beyond the white noise to the person within.
We have had the physical vessel that is my body appreciated and the person inside treasured. It is a beautiful thing I would wish for us all. For us all to make peace with our physical and psycho-emotional selves, and maybe then we will be far less hung up on what genitals others have between their legs, or what gender they might wish to present to the world and begin to respect people for who they are.
By all means, ask. It is only polite. But that, my pronouns and my genitals do not begin to scratch the surface of whom I am, and I would say the same for you. I can boil down my complexity, however, in this way. I fear rejection just like the next man or woman. And deep down, I dream of a world of unconditional love, acceptance, support, and mutual respect.
This is not a he, she, it, they, or fried thing. This is just a human need. And surely, this is part of what Pride Month is all about. Or maybe, it is just what it means to me.
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