There’s a line between identity politics and body politics that crosses the junction, the threshold, the dash between my roots and my surroundings. This is to say that the line exists between Chinese and Canadian. This is to say that to live in the hyphen is to survive. It is a line between who I am and who I should be; we are lucky if they align and we do not experience dysphoria.

But in the hyphen, everything is dysphoric. A woman in the hyphen is worse. One must survive the pull between not only Chinese and Canadian, but also between what a woman should be and what I am. Compounded, there is a pull between what a Chinese woman should be, and who I know myself to be.

How does one survive the question of the decency of a mini-skirt? Is it indecent because I’m a woman, and women should not be indecent? Or is it indecent because of my culture, because Chinese people don’t wear mini-skirts? Is it indecent because I’m a Chinese woman, and a Chinese woman should not wear mini-skirts?

But I’ve worn mini-skirts. And I’m still a Chinese woman. So if those two cannot exist together, what, then, am I?

Another example: how does one survive the question of beauty? As a woman, I am not feminine unless I have long hair. In Chinese culture, a woman’s long hair is a symbol of beauty. Is it a sound argument to say that these premises should lead me to believe I am not beautiful because I am a Chinese woman with short hair?

To live in the hyphen is to survive. It is to walk the thin ice between a culture you erased because of the dominant, erasing culture. It is to feel hatred for who you are and how you have come to be. It is to bear the pull of the different intersections that divide you into the being that you are. It is to feel the pain of invalidation, and to feel pleasure in re-identification. It is to participate in subliminally degrading rhetoric for the sake of your identity, and it is to take on the burden of taking back your rhetoric for the sake of your identity.

To live in the hyphen is to survive. It is to exist in a world of clashing values. It is to navigate the split of your body. It is to remember who you are when you cross the threshold, from one side to another, and to keep them distinct when you know they are interwoven seamlessly into who you are. It is to apologize for how you treat your body because of what the world projects onto it.

To live in the hyphen is to survive. It is to remember that your body is belongs to you in a place that tries to own it. It is to remember that your actions, and morals, and beliefs, belong to you in a place that tries to change them. It is to remember yourself in a world that thinks they understand who you are.

The tear between the hyphen is pain. The mending of the (irreparable) tear is also pain. Everything about the hyphen is pain. Everything within the hyphen is pain. Everything beyond the hyphen is pain. But, of course, pain of this sort should not be felt if you are a proper, Chinese woman.

Living in the hyphen is to feel unfamiliar – you are not really Canadian, but you are also not really Chinese. They made a mistake in grade school when they said two halves comprised a whole; rather, at least in the hyphen, two halves don’t take up nearly as much space as they should.

Living in the hyphen is to be epitomized by dichotomy – it’s either you’re this, or you’re that. You’re either Chinese, or you’re Canadian; you’re either feminine or masculine; you’re either beautiful, or you have short hair. You live in the hyphen, but you shouldn’t live in the hyphen: it is undesirable, it is unnecessary, and it is disappointing.

Living in the hyphen is to survive self-disrespect. You apologize to your body by having sex, drinking, and doing everything one half of you says is absolutely unacceptable. But even your apology cannot ignore the fact that you must also apologize to the other half of your body that bites its tongue during arguments, and that comes home at seven o’clock on a Friday evening because it is indecent for a woman to be out that late. Living in the hyphen is to survive the misinterpretations of your actions; living in the hyphen is to survive body politics; living in the hyphen is to survive identity politics.

To live in the hyphen is to seek asylum in yours and others’ experiences, but understanding none will be quite like your own. The hyphen is both a safe haven and a dystopia.

To live in the hyphen is to stay silent – or to be rendered silent – about the pain of living in the hyphen.

To live in the hyphen is to survive.


Hyphen by Karl432 is licensed under CC0.

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Self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades. Intersectional feminist. Educator/linguist in training. Fashionista, food-lover, and fairly poor hand-eye coordination.

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