No matter what, family will always be family. It can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing, there’s nothing you can do about it. In my case it’s a bad thing. Of all the problems I had growing up, communicating was one of them. Not simply because I’m from a traditional-thinking Chinese family and I naively ignored the chance to learn Chinese properly (I was born here in the UK, why would I need to know Chinese? Well, that’s what I thought) but also my parents had a restricted view on the world. I don’t blame them for it. If I’d been through what they’d been through, I would probably be the same. Whilst growing up, my dad was very strict. He was the head of the household so he had to be. Both my parents came over from Hong Kong years ago. My dad came over to study and my mom then came over to be with him. They settled here and became British citizens. Back then, there was a lot more racism and divide – something they experienced a lot of. This led to them becoming withdrawn and cynical, but they carried on. They kept to themselves, didn’t have many friends and learned about their new surroundings from the news. Communication was obviously a problem as English wasn’t their first language, though my dad’s was better due to studying over here. Somehow they managed and eventually they had kids: my sister, me and my brother.
Needless to say, we were brought up on their values and opinions. They retained a lot of Chinese traditions and values, which was great, but they also refused to consider any alternatives. I did often question why they had us. My dad had no clue how to love us as kids. Act like a dad, yeh, but there was no real emotion. He was just going through the motions of raising kids. When I was much younger he wasn’t too bad. He at least made some kind of effort. That soon deteriorated and he became an unapproachable dictator. I sometimes wonder what caused that. There must have been something that made him switch off and distance himself from us. Everything had to be done his way and my mom just existed to do what he said. She didn’t know any better as she gave up her own family and education to come over to the UK to be with my dad. She knew he was strict and short-tempered though. Over time, they kind of branched off into good cop and bad cop. I still found them difficult to be with though. Something just didn’t feel quite right.
My sister is the eldest and I’m 2 years younger than her. As kids, I spent a lot of time on my own either drawing, building stuff with Lego or trying to create something. My sister and I would sometimes play together and when we did, it was usually what my sister wanted to do. At school, I’d seen other kids getting along or playing with their siblings, so I felt I needed to do the same. She was a huge Barbie fan when I was about 5, so we’d play with her dolls. I didn’t think much of it then. As far as I was concerned, I was being a “normal” kid by playing with my sister. I never stopped to think about the fact that we were playing with her dolls. Maybe I was trying too hard to fit in with kids my age? Maybe it just felt natural to play with dolls? Whatever the reason, it happened. In early primary school, I was always picked on and bullied so much for being Chinese or for being so skinny and not very tough to the point where I found myself having more girl friends than friends that were boys. When I was reduced to tears after being teased or shoved to the ground, some of the girls took pity on me. We’d end up playing tag or reading instead of play-fighting or football like the boys. Again, it felt natural. Probably because I felt safe or probably because I felt like I fitted in more.
When I was 7, my brother was born. I knew he’d look up to me and that I had to show him how boys behaved – even though I didn’t have the answers. The only answers I had to offer him were lies. Regurgitating what I saw others do or distorted truths my parents had fed me. Oh yeh, my parents view of the world was bizarre to say the least. It’s like they just made up what they didn’t know. Stuff based on their own experiences like we’d never be accepted for being Chinese. Other stuff too, like my dad once telling me deodorant was bad for you because it stopped you smelling by blocking your armpits. WHAAAT?! Took me fucking ages to eventually realise that wasn’t the case. Luckily when I hit puberty I never smelled nor did my armpits ever sweat. Yeh, my body seems to work differently – but that’s another story. I was always embarrassed about my family. I avoided talking about them or family life. Anything to not make it even more obvious that I was different. Anything to get away from who I was. I just wanted to belong to something normal.
Towards the end of primary school, I did start to become more like the other boys. I started playing football and joking around but not fully. Something always held me back. When playing football I was too scared of getting hurt or falling over. All that shoving seemed too much. However I stuck with it as that’s what boys did. Up to that point, every interaction with the world told me I was different because of my ethnicity. Even my parents would keep telling me that people around me would never accept me for just me. I felt the need to prove I was just like the other boys. I guess that’s how the pretence started. I stopped thinking about why I actually felt different and concentrated on proving a point. A point that I could fit in, and that my ethnicity didn’t matter. A point that turned out to be pointless: the difference was never about my physical appearance.
As mentioned in my post about my eating disorder, things never really got much better for me. It was always one thing after another which meant I never did go back to thinking about the difference inside me.
Featured image: via Google