“Hopefully that’s not a boy’s answer.” Ryan Chung, graduated last summer with a Bachelor of Art & Science degree, allowed himself to follow what came by with utmost self-guarded curiosity.  He is now a primary school teacher! In the closed laboratory of making the child for his future, he runs into a familiar boxing situation. 九個月不長也不短,卻足夠一個好奇而樂於隨機而伺的大學新鮮畢業生勘測四周。鍾樹仁沒想過會當上小學教師;面對孩童被模塑的場景,總是看到了多一點自己。例如:怎樣的答案才算是男孩的答案?何來這樣的問題?

 

Nine months ago, I would not see myself being where I am now at all. Jumping into the education industry with no legitimate experience in the field is a big risk. But I was going through a phase where stability came first in priority, hence the decision was made distinctly.

Every day, there are things that capture my attention naturally. No matter where life takes me to, my intention was always to know myself better through whatever I do. Hence, this article, or should I say this series, came about. I want to treat this as a starting point and to find my voice. For the first time in life, I am having greater control on what I do and where I go. Although I feel anxious in every step I take, I still believe these decisions lead me back to my true desires.

As a gender-nonconforming person, I was reminded again people’s insensitivity of gender variance nowadays. I was at work and we were looking at students’ performance on a test. When statistics showed that a student mistakenly chose the answer ‘magic wand’ as the child (amongst three other options with no gender stated) John’s favorite toy, someone responded, “hopefully it’s not a boy’s answer.” What’s the problem? Let me break it down for you.

This question was based on a table, wherein four children’s favorite toy was shown next to their name. The logic is to match the name of the toy with the picture of its depiction and pick the answer. Hence, based on estimation, some students were assumed to have chosen ‘magic wand’ because they lacked the vocabulary to understand the names of the toys, and it was simply a hunch. Some also think that the students chose ‘magic wands’ because it was a personal preference. It was more or less a joke at first, but unlikely to be after the response I heard. There are two problems. First, John, as a boy (by default) should not like playing with magic wands. It was, as mentioned, ‘not a logical answer’. And second, a boy (a student) is not supposed to think that a boy would like magic wands, or worse, a boy should not like playing with magic wands. “Hopefully it’s not a boy’s answer” suggests exactly these ideas with a tint of revulsion.

I do not blame the person who said that because I was also brought up with such strict standard and expectation of binary gender and their specific roles instilled in and executed around me. (Although out of everything, it really did not have to be what was said at the moment.) Simply put, this male-masculine/female-feminine expectation was all I knew, too. But it is also because of my upbringing, I felt strongly propelled to object the idea. You may suggest that I am overreacting on such a trivial matter. Yes, I might be, but it is also easy for a gender-conforming person to think so. It is these little things that we neglect to observe that made the conversation fall out of the picture. What if this response was heard by the students who really chose the answer based on their preference, be it consciously or subconsciously? After all, whether or not I am overreacting is not the main point.

As I was attempting a draft to sort out a cohesive topic from my messy thoughts for this piece, I came across an article [1] about the musical, Dear Evan Hansen. It gave me a nudge to express my feelings on what I heard. While most people and I praise the Tony Award winner, the author of the article harangued it from the perspective of a person who is struggling with mental illness. The reason I was drawn to the musical is much like the majority of people: I felt a sense of association and understanding. As selfish as it sounds, my only concern for the story is indeed the story itself, which revolves around the anxiety-ridden main character, Evan. I was not urged to change my angle. The story is good so long as it struck an emotional chord. However, one of the criticisms the author made frankly was that the story was a complete misrepresentation of people with mental illness. I was reminded that there are people who see the world differently, even if it is a drastic contrast from my point of view. And because it came from a personal point of view, it added weight to the argument. If it were not for writing this article, I would not have realized that indeed the story was cruelly constructed upon someone’s traumatic experience. It seemed almost to me that the story was fabricated purely to shine light on Evan’s life, thus the majority, but never the others. This is a story focused merely on a fraction of a big picture, and I was pulled further away from the focal point. As I can now see that it would be a totally different story if the play was written by a person who is struggling with mental illness, who had suicide attempt just like Evan, who or whose family and friends have faced similar situations but never had the chance to witness a different ending. It would not have been the same if the play was not only a manifestation of stereotypes and transplanted attributes.

Therefore, I could be overreacting, but really this term is merely relative. I would not be able to make such a strong point as the author did. As a matter of fact, I could barely propose anything constructive. However, we do not live in the same world, and perhaps unpopular opinions deserved to be heard too. You may consider this article a rant about the tiniest problem in the world. But try to think about this: you may not think it would be bothering to see toilet signs that are differentiated by colors and dress codes or to hear gender-specific pronouns casually thrown at you in conversation. Though, in reality, it is a nuisance. It is interesting how your ideals could be crushed and redeveloped suddenly by a story. In fact, many people (of different gender expressions) are not represented or perceived accurately and we are mostly unaware. What concerns me the most is if I would passively acknowledge and help maintain the binary gender system and reinforce the ideas of gender-specific roles by reacting just like everybody else. Or, does it really make a difference if I just try to speak for myself even in a completely personal capacity? And how do we facilitate children to become unique individuals when they are constantly pigeonholed at school and in other circumstances? All this, while I myself also struggling to step out of the frame to recognize a bigger picture of the reality that I see… Is this the only reality in which we are bound to exist? (Ryan Chung, 23 April 2020)

[1] Reflections on Dear Evan Hansen and poor representation

https://medium.com/swlh/reflections-on-dear-evan-hansen-and-poor-representation-1eb430cf0da3

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