When I came out at 19-years-old, my family had no idea I was gay. They were stunned: all of them.
It’s not like my parents were blind to my (many) femininities. In fact, I’d say they were actively concerned. Bouncy sixth grade boys using recess time to practice Spice Girls choreo wasn’t exactly the norm in my town. But my immigrant family understood — albeit naively — the distinction between sexuality and gender. As a child, the issue wasn’t that I was a budding homosexual — the issue was that I was stupendously girly.
Boys will be boys — this rule I knew to be absolute and true. Sure, there was nothing innately harmful about braiding hair or drawing dresses, but male femininity was only met with consequence. To follow my feminine instincts was to expose my social defects; and I just sadly couldn’t help it. It went far beyond recess dance routines: everything from my handwriting to the way I threw a dodgeball or laughed at a joke seemed to blow my masculine cover. The criticism was humiliating and consistent: “Henry acts like a girl!” It’s in this moment that I recognized femininity as my social nemesis: an evil, pink force determined to drag me down with the sissies and pussy bitches.
In the coming years, my puzzling femininity was given a new label for my peers to better process: Ah, Henry Bae is “gay!” Gay Bae takes it up the ass! It all makes sense now! But my social misconducts weren’t immediately absolved when Brokeback Mountain won an Oscar. Same-sex marriage was gaining federal recognition in the U.S. Supreme Court, and I was still getting honked-at for crossing the street in a skirt. Sexuality and gender are two independent parts of identity, and progress for one hadn’t necessarily meant progress for the other. Crudely put: you could finally be gay, but you still couldn’t be such a fag about it.
Frustrated with the confines of gendered behavior and male masculinity, I currently find myself at the helm of my first company, designing and manufacturing high-heels for men. The most common assumption is that the brand is catered to drag queens. It makes sense, I suppose, to imagine the only customer able to don a six-inch heel without compromising his gender identity would be one in blatant costume. In its ideal form, Syro — short for anasyromenos, a gesture motif in Hellenistic sculpture where a female goddess raises her skirts to reveal a powerful, evil-averting penis — is a service for boys and men to escape the authority of heteronormative masculinity (at least where footwear is concerned). It’s a way to walk in liberation and assert pride in femininity in the most damning of ways. In practice, a grown man walking down the street in a pair of heels without the safety of a club to blend into is, unfortunately, a walk on the dangerous side.
For the systematically oppressed, rebellion doesn’t come without a price. But by empowering our identity, we reject our stigma and take our freedom for ourselves.
- Soojin Park
- Lily Chen