I have always been a vocal person.
For four (almost five) years, I ran a blog called Fascinasians where I shared content about race, gender, feminism, and current events. Those who know me know that I am never one to shy away from conversation, and will probably be the first to openly discuss something I feel is unjust or wrong.
It has now been six months since my last relationship ended. After joining a sorority whose chapter philanthropy is fighting sexual violence, my passion for fighting domestic abuse grew and grew. Every friend who came to me and every person who shared their story with me stoked my fire. I did workshops on Asian American feminism and talked about toxic masculinity and warned people what to look out for to identify a dangerous situation or relationship. I never once thought that I would have to do it myself.
You never think it's going to happen to you.
It was the typical post-college love story. Friends of friends reconnect in a new city and fall in love. Slowly, and then all at once. Before we knew it, we were living with each other and building a hopeful and beautiful life together. To many, we seemed 'the perfect couple.' We were both feminists, talked about social justice issues constantly, and were kind and loving to each other. It was the first time I dated someone whose politics aligned so closely with my own, and I loved it.
As always, things were different in private. I struggled with the idea of heteronormative monogamy and after months of pushing for a break or open relationship, my boyfriend and I went on a break so I could "get it out of my system." Admittedly, I broke the rules that we set so I came clean and took responsibility for my actions. I fell in love with someone else, specifically someone he was worried about, and broke his trust in me. I cheated.
Even when it's happening to you, you won't believe it.
Six months later, it's still surprisingly difficult to talk about and write about what happened after I told him.
It escalated from yelling and screaming before he picked up an old dresser we had thrown out and smashed it on the floor, splintering it. He picked up the larger pieces and hurled them across the porch, ripping it apart with his hands. He picked up a kitchen table my mother had given me and threw it with such force, I thought for sure the ground was going to crack. At this point, I had pressed myself against the wall in shock.
That's when he turned to me and drew his fist back. Not knowing what he was going to do, I closed my eyes. He punched the metal awning above me, the sound echoing past our front gate. From that night on, it was a constant flood of verbal and emotional abuse until I moved out. I wish he raped you, then I wouldn't have to be so angry with you. At least then I'd know you didn't want it. I hope you never find happiness again. You never deserved me. I wouldn't have done this if you hadn't made me so angry. You know I could never hit you. Everyone says they would have done the same thing.
I knew from years of holding workshops on identifying red flags in relationships that destruction of property, yelling, and verbal abuse could lead to physical and sexual violence. Allowing myself to stay in a relationship where the past ebbed and flowed in waves of fear was something I couldn't do. This wasn't the first time he had done something like this, but it was the first time he did it in front of me. It was also during this time that my ex started reading "The Red Pill" on reddit. Described as "Discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for me," it's a breeding ground for misogyny.
My ex and I had many conversations after that first night, and he apologized and vowed to go to counseling. I also promised to go to counseling, and blamed myself for what had happened. We continued to live together and try to make it work for months before I moved out. He demanded that I quit my job and stop going to the gym, since I would interact with the other person there. Eventually, I realized that things had changed. Too many things had been done and said and at the end of it all, I could never be in a relationship with someone I was scared of.
We need to talk about domestic violence in Asian American communities.
It's important to note the cultural and historical context for all of this. Talking about domestic violence in AAPI communities dances on a fine line between stereotypes of "wife-beating Asian men who get defeated by white guys" and "hey, there's a huge problem here that we aren't talking about."
There were whisperings about how "that's just how Korean guys are" and it felt wrong that everything could be reduced to blaming it on him being Korean. In films and TV, we often see the "White savior" trope where they rescue a woman from the evil clutches of some abusive man (usually not white). The Asian Woman/White Man combination is especially popular.
At the same time, as Reappropriate wrote:
"intimate partner violence is a real problem for AAPI women (as it is for all women, including all women of colour), and it deserves more of our attention. The Asian American Psychological Association reports that 1 in 10 AAPI women report minor violence from an intimate partner, while 1.2% experience severe violence. The Association further suggests that intimate partner violence may be grossly underreported in our community; in other microstudies, 40–60% of AAPI women surveyed reportedly experienced some form of intimate partner violence."
In Korean culture and pop culture, we see many instances where abuse is normalised. We see it even in popular shows like I Miss You. "This has been so normalised to Korean drama audiences that many fans of I Miss You wished that Lee Soo-Yeon (Yoon Eun-Hye) stayed with Harry Borrison (Yoo Seung-Ho) despite the character being guilty of severe emotional abuse that escalates into physical abuse."
Do I think that all Asian men are abusers? No. Do I think many people willfully ignore aspects of Asian culture that normalise misogyny and abuse? Yes.
There is much more that I can say about the danger of hypermasculinity in AAPI men, but this collection of Tweets from 18 Million Rising's town hall on August 5 says it all.
People will doubt you.
What surprised me was the aftermath of all of it. Once I had moved out, cut contact, and processed everything that I had happened, I looked around and saw that I was more or less alone. Everything that my friends and I had talked about and worked on seemed to become lip service. There seemed to be a general unspoken sentiment of "well, she kind of deserved it." Even now, I can't log on to social media without seeing one of my former friends smiling in a photo with him.
No amount of words can capture how alone and broken I felt when I tried to talk about what happened. It was like screaming into the night and hearing nothing -- no responses, no echoes, no one there at all. My way of processing was to buckle down and try to keep moving forward, but I've reached a point where I can't pretend it didn't happen anymore. Desperate to return to some semblance of normalcy, I did my best to "keep calm and carry on." I doubled down on my career, explored new hobbies, and traveled. I debated writing about it because life is so good now, and bringing it up means reliving everything.
My social circles are very small now, and very private. The only people who know about my private life are people that I have chosen to share information with. I am lucky to have such strong people around me propping me up when I need it, who always remind me of reality, and pull me out of the black hole of self-blame and guilt. Some days, I still feel like I deserved all of it.
It's not your fault.
No matter what you do, no matter what happens, violence of any kind is never justifiable. No one ever deserves to be scared of the person they love. And don't let anyone tell you this is "normal" for someone just because of their race or ethnicity. Just because violence isn't physical doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
You'll want to go back and try and make it work, but know that you deserve better. And if you're in a situation where you're asking yourself if you should tell someone, do it. Because for every shitty person who makes you feel like you deserved it, there's someone out there who is fighting for you and loves you.
I will always speak up if something is wrong. I'm done keeping people in my life who excuse this kind of behavior. I want to take the frustration and helplessness that I've felt for the past 6 months and face it. We need to elevate these conversations and bring them into the light instead of letting them fester in the dark.
18 Million Rising hosted a Twitter chat on August 5 about toxic masculinity, gender roles, and misogyny in AAPI communities. There were some great conversations about how AAPI culture ties into masculinity, how it impacts queer AAPI folks, and what some actionable next steps are.
I titled this Work in Progress because that's exactly what it is. There isn't a magical end date to reliving trauma or guilt. I am always going to be processing this in ways that will manifest differently. And that's okay.
I'll end with a recommendation from Reappropriate, a friend and mentor. Special thanks to Elizabeth Aritonang, my best friend and biggest advocate.
Read More: For extensive discussion of intimate partner violence within the AAPI community, including a list of cases involving intimate partner homicides and homicide-suicides involving AAPI victims and perpetrators, please see Shattered Lives: Homicide, Domestic Violence and Asian Families, a report by the API Institute on Domestic Violence.
Juliet Shen is a fast and furious feminist residing in New York City. Otherwise known as Fascinasians, you can find her tweeting about technology, politics, and start ups.