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My contribution to Manning Up

Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family, and Themselves was recently released. This anthology of transmasculine individuals explores diverse perspectives on manhood, masculinity, and male embodiment. The San Francisco Launch Party will take place this Tuesday, June 17 at the SF LGBT Center, 7-9pm.

In honor of Father’s Day, here is an excerpt from my piece, entitled “Sculptor,” which uses the metaphor of my father’s work as a fine wood sculptor to describe the ways I sculpt myself as a transman.

My father knows wood like an extension of his hands, rough logs transformed into the gentle graces of a woman’s curves or the fearless leap of a dancer. He begins by turning the wood in his hands, examining its every twist and blemish, then shaves away and refines its natural beauty into a new form that was already there, intrinsic. While some work originates from fallen tree branches, other pieces are carefully selected for the wood’s properties. But no matter the source, they all get sculpted into fine art, diligently sanded to a smooth caress and stained to deep rich tones.

As a young adult I began to sculpt, first focusing my efforts on the internal framework before venturing to carve and sand the rough exterior terrain. My psyche grew like a gnarled tree on the Pacific Coast, the stiff ocean winds pushing, pulling, wrenching, twisting it into its unique form, outstretched arms, jagged and vibrant.

Decades later, in puberty for the second time and still sculpting, I jump into a massive outdoor pool and slice the water until I push back the shame, the violent gaze, the racism, and all the insidious barriers to my being. I build my pecs and I am stronger in my ability to stand tall with my chest out. The girth of my neck expands to hold the weight of all the noise in my head. My legs thicken so I can walk the extra mile. I shed the subjugation of being an Asian female in this society, so I can present myself as the proud Asian man that I am: a husband, brother, father.

But somehow I am not the only one at the chisel. I feel the expert hands of others sculpting me into being, the wooden chain of interconnectedness. I sense the rough, crooked hands of my haole father in his shop, and the brown, smooth hands of my uncles mixing mah jongg tiles. I sense my father’s father in dark blue overalls tinkering in his woodshed, and my mother’s father sitting on the ground weaving baskets from coconut palm fronds. And I feel how my three children, ages seven, four, and one, shape me into the Dad that I am, as I divide my time between working long hours as a public health consultant and caring for them in a daily way.

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