|Posted on June 4, 2019 at 3:00 PM|
Tuesday, June 4, 2019 11:21am
Today I want to write about privilege. Today I want to reflect upon a privilege I spend very little time appreciating. I refer to the fact that I am practicing Chinese medicine as a Chinese-American. I am culturally aligned with my profession of choice. For all that I appreciate how my bilingual-ness gives me an edge over everyone (Chinese or not) who struggles to learn the language as an adult, I don't spend much time thinking about how lucky I am that I happen to be a Chinese person who likes Chinese medicine (and Chinese language, Chinese culture, Chinese food, etc. etc.) I have many students and colleagues who are not so lucky. In fact, since most of my community is not Chinese, most of the best practitioners I know are white. A couple have East Asian heritage (Vietnamese-American, Thai-American). But I witness my peers' and my students' struggles with cultural identity daily, watch them interrogate the line between appreciation and appropriation, answer judgmental questions from people who do not understand this experience, judged by patients who haven't even met them yet. I witness these things happening, without the kind of compassion I have developed for my trans friends with gender dysphoria.
I am aware of my privilege as a cisgendered woman, the fact that I feel aligned with the gender assigned me at birth by the doctor at the hospital based on my genitalia. I play with my gender presentation; I've even explored using the mens' room (the lines are always way shorter, and the restroom on the floor where my doctoral classes were held were men only...sometimes when the lecture is good you don't want to waste time running up or down stairs to pee...) but I've never really wanted to be a boy or a man, for all that I've been visually mistaken for one occasionally. Especially when my hair is short. I didn't like being a girl, but I love being a woman and wouldn't trade it for manhood, or manliness, even if the process were a lot less messy and invasive. I think my true identity is closer to androgynous in the older, both-and sense of that word, as in both male and female, at once. But I have never felt not at home in the body I was born into. I don't know what that feels like. I imagine it must be hard.
So I don't know what to say. I do not understand how it feels, because I am fortunate not to have those problems. But I see it. Culture dysphoria, I call it in my head. I know it is happening, all the time. I myself occasionally have to fend off tactless questions from my own relatives about why I am teaching 'the white people' who in our Chinese xenocentrist perspective "will never really understand our medicine/language/culture as a true Chinese could". To which I respond (usually a little snarkily) with the theme of Nerdnote #50: ...Effort matters.
Some of my worst students have been Chinese. Some of my worst classmates, too. Not to say that every Chinese person lives out the PTSD of our recent history (and I say 'recent' in the context of Chinese history, as in the last 150 years) but many of them reject the jewels of my cultural heritage, as a rich person is careless of his wealth, or an athletic young person, of her health. Many of the people I respect most in this field are not Chinese. Many, many Chinese-Americans are more whitewashed by their own parents as well as mainstream culture (thank you, assimilation) than my colleagues who resonate with the medicine we practice. I know people who approach my culture with effort and humility and a nostalgia that seems carried across lifetimes.
I sometimes wonder if their souls are more Chinese than mine. I, the firstborn child of parents who can trace their heritage back centuries to third largest clan in the Hundred Families, who spends most of her waking hours steeped in Chinese and whose love of it was infectious long before she became a teacher...I wonder. And I appreciate my luck, to be so aligned.