Monday, June 28, 2004

Walk Like a Man

My father was the first person to figure out that I was gay.

Even when I was unaware of it myself, he sussed it out, he saw the signs: the first indications of a limp wrist, the hint of a sway in my hips.

He saw me replace the tacky floral print wallpaper in my sister’s discarded Barbie Dream House by gluing pages cut out from a House & Garden magazine. He became suspicious when I evicted Barbie, moved in Ken and GI Joe, and installed a tiny home gym made from matchboxes. But it was the house's avant-garde art pieces I fashioned from Play-Doh that confirmed his suspicions. That and the cotton swab topiary.

I was only about eleven or twelve, an age where you’re old enough to know about sex, but young enough to not know what sex meant. I don’t know about you, but I was fifteen when the idea of sex clicked—understandable, considering the bulb in my head was not going to light up in comprehension by rubbing two electric plugs together.

I was hungry and looking for a snack. My father was in the living room watching TV. As I walked past him on my way to the kitchen, I heard him give a loud, disgusted "tsk!"

I stopped. Usually, I only heard this sound when he was losing at playing mahjong with his buddies.

"Hay, naku!" he said. These are the Tagalog words indicating exasperation.

He got up from the couch and stood beside me. "Walk like a man, son," he said firmly in Chinese. He pulled my shoulders back and pushed out my chest. I felt like I was about to do the chicken dance.

"Strong," he said, puffing out his chest. "Purposeful," shoulders back. Then he walked, like John Wayne challenged to a gunfight.

I tried to imitate him. "No, no, no!" he interrupted, "Don’t waddle like a duck!"

"Determined!" He cried. He demonstrated again.

I tried it. But even before I completed my walk, I could see from his expression that I wasn’t cutting it.

"Tsk!" he went, shaking his head, "Tsk!" Then he lost interest and turned back to his TV program.

Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry anymore. My father’s casual indifference sucked the hunger from my stomach leaving a cold, dead void. Sometimes parents are cruel in their impatience, their disregard. Sometimes a child just wants to please, to be worthy in his father’s eyes, to do something right for once.

I took myself back to my bedroom and shut the door. I took three bath towels and laid them end to end on the floor up to my mirrored closet door. I squared my scrawny shoulders and looked into the mirror in front of me as I practiced walking on my little terrycloth runway.

More Blake Carrington, less Alexis Colby! I coached myself. Purposeful! But not as if to get Krystle into a catfight! Strength comes from within! Not from oversized shoulder pads! I kept practicing...

Two weeks ago, I attended my graduation ceremony. I am now officially an MBA. My brother Peter is the only member of my family who was able to attend my graduation. I would have liked for the rest of my family to have been there. I would have liked for them to see me in the black cap and long, flowing gown which was perfect for my Stevie Nicks twirling gypsy impression.

As I stood on stage, the tassel from my cap touching my left brow, among the other solemn graduates, waiting for my name to be called, I thought about all the opportunities I have had in my life to get my name legally changed to "Derek" or "Lance." It would have sounded more glamorous than "Paul" over the speakers.

I thought about my father and the bare handful of life lessons he taught me. I thought about that day that he tried to teach me how to walk like a man.

It would be a few years before I successfully learned to walk like my father. I didn’t understand it right away—"walking like a man" was not the combination of stance, posture, cadence. It is a state of mind. It is to walk with strength, purpose and determination.

As I thought of him sitting on that couch, watching TV, a million years ago, I heard my name being announced on the speaker in the auditorium.

I walked, across the stage, just like he taught me.

Photos from my graduation: 1 2

Cute little Asian boy and his chicken, dancing
The Ultimate Dynasty Fan Site
Stand back! It's Stevie Nicks!

Walk Like A Man: What happened when I crossed the gender barrier

Walk like a HUMAN: The National AIDS Walk Directory

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