I have a thing for guys with facial hair. It makes them seem older, more masculine. My first kiss was with someone who hadn’t shaved in a while. I remember dancing with him at a party where I was awkward and desperate to fit in. I pressed my cheek against his and felt tiny, protruding stubs grating on my face. The kiss was sloppy and wet. While his fluttering, slippery tongue was awkwardly inspecting my mouth, I thought, “So this is what kissing feels like. Am I actually supposed to be turned on by this? And why so much tongue?”
Niall* had facial hair, a goatee, specifically, which wasn’t the only quality that made him masculine. He usually wore a baseball cap backwards and he didn’t over-pronounce his “s’s” and “l’s” like I do. He did, however, elongate his vowels, but it wasn’t in an overtly-feminine, queeny way. He sounded more like a Southern-Californian surfer “bro” who ate fish tacos on the weekend and hit the gym every Wednesday to work on his quads.
When I had first met him, I thought of him as nothing more than just a cute straight guy who sat next to me in class. I had already gone through the tribulations of having an unrequited straight crush when I was in high school, so I had made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let myself get carried away again. But Niall was different, because he actually had a boyfriend. He was masculine and gay, which meant that if we ever happened to be deserted on an island together, he would eventually have to have sex with me and he wouldn’t be completely appalled by the idea of it.
I had snooped around on Facebook and came across his profile picture, which was of him and his boyfriend, both in tank tops, arms around each other’s hips. I had never experienced so much hope and disappointment at the same time. I had finally found the elusive “straight-acting” gay guy that didn’t hide behind Craigslist posts. But like the straight guys that I had pined over in high school, he was perpetually unavailable.
The following year involved bouts of depression intermingled with the occasional optimistic moment. He said hi to me in the dining hall. That’s his way of saying, “I have a huge crush on you and I’m going to eventually dump my boyfriend,” right? There wouldn’t be a day where I didn’t think of him. After months of self-reflection and a long summer, I reached a point where I could move past my unhealthy obsession. I was merely perpetuating a heteronormative fantasy as a way to not deal with my own sexual identity and gender performance.
I was attracted to Niall not because of who he was but because of what he represented. Even though he was gay, he performed masculinity effortlessly. If I couldn’t be masculine, then at least, my partner should be. Despite having taken classes on queer theory and being involved in Queer student orgs, I still desired to have some semblance of heteronormativity in my life, and that desire manifested itself in my obsessive, unrequited crush on a butch gay guy. Like everyone else, I was (and am) socialized by the hegemonic, white, heterosexual patriarchy that dominates our culture. My attraction to white, muscular frat guys only reinforced the same heteronormative institution that oppresses me for being Queer, Asian-American, and feminine.
Just because I had read Foucault and participated in LGBT-related activities didn’t mean I was a Queer activist. I had to re-evaluate what I viewed as sexually attractive and acknowledge that certain aspects of sexuality are products of socialization. I found power and freedom in that. But that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally smile when a cute “bro” asks me, “Hey man, do you have a pen I can borrow?”