The Romantic Mask

Paris, City of Love, where we lay our scene of adventurous study abroad college students. Me and the girls were out in a little bar late at night. The lights were cool, a featured musician was playing acoustic, and my friends and I were ready for some dessert.

Apparently the musician was attractive. Apparently the waiter, too. The gals were checking them out, evaluating amongst themselves, Who was cuter?

I had nothing to contribute, so I waited until I did. The basics of what made men attractive, I always had to guess. All I could think about was how uncomfortable evaluations of appearance made me feel.

“Yeah, I never felt anything just from looking at someone, I don’t know,” I shrugged, hoping the conversation would shift.

“Wait, really?” gasped the girl in front of me, wide-eyed.

“Mm,” mused the other girl sitting next to her. “I’ve heard of asexuality, or demisexuality, before.”

Did she just say…? I don’t know how much my surprise showed on my face. I hadn’t heard it aloud like that before, so simply. There was respect in her nod as she regarded me.

“Wait, but I don’t think that’s what it is!” said the first girl quickly, as if to defend me from the label.

I neither confirmed nor denied, only considered. I hoped no one else in the group had heard; I didn’t want to be this unrelateable other in an already foreign land. Sometimes, hearing someone else say a word aloud that you’ve only read about in secret leaves you speechless.  

We enjoyed our drinks and ice cream and spoke no more of it.

Paris was amazing, and the study abroad trip was the first time I even thought of the possibility of travelling on my own in the future (previously, it had only been something I associated with honeymoons and family). When I wasn’t hanging with the gals, bonding over French chocolate and postmodern art, I enjoyed time exploring on my own just as much. I felt like I was on an adventure, sauntering by the Seine, surrounded by architecture I had first seen in animated films. I felt animated, myself. Colored chalk beneath me, street music around me, the romance and passion of the city got to me. I fell in love with life.

This trip was where I also wondered just a bit more, if I’d better get used to being alone. Am I really asexual? I thought.  Is it really that normal to love at first sight, that there’s a whole other label for people who don’t get it?   

There’s a poem by Shel Silverstein that remains one of my favorites no matter how old I get:

“She had blue skin,

And so did he.

He kept it hid

And so did she.

They searched for blue

Their whole life through

Then passed right by—

And never knew.”

Since I was young, it gave me encouragement to be myself because somewhere out there was my match. Don’t hold anything back because it would make a significant other happy.  

It’s just that for a while, I thought the mask was asexuality. And, (if you’ll pardon the irony) that I was afraid of showing my skin. That I was just suppressed, that I was in denial, that I just hadn’t met the right one yet. That “asexual” was just a word for holding back, while God had this whole soulmate set up for me and everything. Though I still feared there wasn’t anybody for me.

“Oh don’t worry, you will meet a guy someday, and he’ll fall so in love with you,” my childhood friend said as we ate together beside an old favorite fountain. Her words were like a glimmer of light from a wishing well. Just this sincere hope that I could inspire love with my existence.

I never dated in high school. I lived comfortably with “focusing on studies” and “purity” and “I’m not allowed” as excuses not to go on dates. I wasn’t exempt from admiring people, but all I ever wanted was to be friends. It was never on account of appearance making me feel a certain way, either. I remember when a new kid came on campus, and the girl-squad I hung out with at the time would gossip over how hot he was.

I was a blank. I didn’t get it. Why did people’s treatment of a newcomer have to depend on great hair or great…other parts? Yet somehow it was always a big deal to everyone, at least when I hung out with girls. It was all anyone could talk about, even when playing games.

“Truth or dare. Truth? Okay, if you had to kiss anyone on Disney Channel, who would it be?” These games never quite reached their creative potential, I thought.

“Oh I wouldn’t kiss anyone, I said.

“If you had to,” they insisted.

There was only one way out of this. Thinking of a fictional character he played, I said, “I guess…Ricky Ullman?” I came up with something, some girls agreed and we moved on.

Am I missing something?    

Never talking about sex in church made it interesting. I remember the mischief of randomly flipping to Song of Songs with my best friend in the back of the room and stifling our laughs at what the heck these verses were describing. Eventually the book would be redeemed for us as an example of positive sexuality in the Bible. So in that sense, if physical desire was one place a lot of Christians could finally understand the reward of waiting for God’s love, was I missing out for dreading the idea of mandatory marital sex? On the other hand, there was one time we youth took a quiz on what spiritual gifts we would have, and most of us got “celibacy” as one (I think because we had been conditioned to take dating only as a mature gateway to marriage, and sexuality as a secret, and so shied away from talking about it). Though we all knew celibacy was subject to change once we really got out there as adults, I remember messing around in the church copy room with my friends muttering, “How is that a gift? That you’ll be alone forever?”

“I think it is,” said one of my friends. “It’s not being alone, it’s like something special between you and God, without needing anyone else.”  

Soon enough, college at a Christian university happened, and while I immediately loved my school, I remember the shock of finding out the culture of “ring by spring” was not a joke. Suddenly, as if I lost the cards up my sleeve, I lost my excuses not to date, unless I really wasn’t interested, despite gravitating toward a mostly male group of friends.

You’d think it’d be easy, not having to worry about achieving anything “more.” But what I yearned for felt so specific, and either misread or underappreciated. If I rejected the romance zone, I feared losing friendship over it.   

“Wow. I just find it funny how most girls around here wish for boyfriends, and you have the opposite problem!” a gal friend told me in the safe space of her dorm.

“I know, right?” It was funny, especially as I thought it was something I would want once I was in the new chapter of college. I had come into school knowing I wanted cross-gender friendships just like I grew up with, but I didn’t anticipate being so different for it. I think I was the only one actually anxious and surprised when friends who had only met that year started dating and people would comment, “Finally!

I knew I was supposed to be happy for what everyone else saw as the inevitable, but I felt more cornered into the idea that sex and romance was the ultimate way to experience love. I felt anxious that my dating friends wouldn’t need me anymore. Once they married, they’d be family without me.    

This was the age the magic was finally supposed to happen, the desire supposed to awaken, and I still didn’t get it. The romantic love of fairy tales, which I’d always fantasized about as something I would someday understand, suddenly became a stranger to me in adulthood. I could make-believe, but I felt like I was losing not only a fantasy, but relateability.  

But the more I researched about asexuality, the more I knew I wasn’t crazy for valuing friendship that much, more than anything in the world. More than flowery valentines, I just wanted with all my soul and being to prop my feet up beside friends for life, toasting and adventuring into uncharted travels of life. That was the blue skin I kept hid, on this search for friends like me who’d understand.

And if I wanted that closeness, I had to live authentically, and take off the mask of romantic expectation.

I remember the unexpected way the words caught in my throat before a couple of other queer friends. I was shaking, afraid of breaking their perception of me, afraid of becoming this unrelateable other in a community I loved. Then, when one friend said the word asexual out loud first, that opened it up for me. Sometimes hearing someone else say the word out loud brings your voice back. “Guys, I’m asexual.”  

“GO YOU,” was the immediate response. Followed by me talking way too fast as if the floodgates have opened, in front of friends I trusted, smiling at each other. And it was different from the way people had smiled before, teasing me for resisting romance. This was empathetic, and real, and this was love.   

I remember the sweet sense of wonder I felt going into winter break and immersing myself in ace positivity online. It was like the childhood glee of finding magic and keeping it a secret.  

I carried that glee over into the new year, slowly coming out in different spaces, enchanting myself into a dress of purple, black, white, and grey, feeling like a sorcerer with a shiny black ring on my middle finger. I was comfortable in my blue skin, having named it for myself at last.

One day in musical theatre class, we did a scene from Beauty and the Beast, and to my surprise I got cast as Belle. I was giggling on the inside as the characters talked about getting her to love the Beast in order to break the spell. I lightheartedly told my friend later, “That would really suck if she’s not straight!”

But then my friend said something enlightening to me: “Well, I don’t even think it’s about physical attraction, because the beast is not physically attractive. It’s about influencing each other, growing to love each other mindfully, intellectually, spiritually…” Because the Beast isn’t punished for not falling in love in the first place, but for not actively loving people around him. The lesson he has to learn isn’t how to force attraction, but how to be empathetic and inspire love around him.

While the Beauty and the Beast story we know is a love story, it could have been romantic yet asexual love. It could have been intentional, platonic love. Or unconditional, altruistic love, helping one another out of a mess. Maybe even demisexual love, if their physical attraction develops after they’ve gotten close enough for the spell to be broken.

So if I ever get caught under a magical spell that can only be broken by true love, I’m not doomed for life. I’m not as outside of fairy tale love as I think. I have the love of my friends, my fellow travelers, my crazy writers, my rainbow community, my theatre troupes, my newfound church, my inspiration. As I saunter down chalk-colored streets, laughing, kissing absolutely no one at the top of the Eiffel Tower, who knows, I might even find another with blue skin.

Happily ever after? With how much I love my life, I’m just getting started.

Ellen Huang is a recent graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University with a BA in Writing & a Theatre minor. She writes twisted fairy tales, directs original skits, reenacts Disney scenes on demand, swims in the ocean, practices pyrography, dresses thematically, jokes about things she’d never do (guess), and owns a cloak. Much of her fairy-tale-inspired work is grounded in themes of progressive faith and platonic love.


At the Corner of Queer and Here

In the spirit of transparency, I would like to disclose that this piece is doubling as a dating personal. I eat meat, date other women, go to church, and practice the art of monogamy in the Pacific Northwest. On my days off I can be found imbibing in the Kool-Aid of Crossfit, reading something off of The New York Times Best Seller List, and working my side hustle that chains me to a pager (hint, not a drug dealer). I’m also an ABC (American Born Chinese, for the people in the back), but my parents grew up in the Philippines and speak a Chinese dialect only made known to the mainstream recently with “Crazy Rich Asians.” My dating pool dwindles from limitless to impossible with each swipe left. With each intersection of my identity, thousands are felled in the proverbial sea. Each new layer I peel leaves my nose running and eyes stinging until I am reduced to a slobbery mess. This is not to be mistaken for the process of peeling an onion.

I often find myself standing at many intersections looking both ways before I cross. I have absolutely no desire to get hit by a bus à la Regina George in Mean Girls. The halo brace is not a lewk I think I can serve. So I tread lightly in the spaces I occupy. Sometimes, I don’t even cross at the intersection. I stand at the corner like a Wal-Mart greeter, waving in the friendliest, most welcoming manner I can muster until someone acknowledges the part of me I wish to present. I only present what I have deemed safe for human consumption, given the situation, the time, the context. I often find myself withholding pieces of my identity out of fear. In queer spaces I am often “not queer enough” because I am an active participant in a religion that has traditionally been oppressive to many like myself. On the contrary, in Christian spaces my lifestyle is an abomination to many.

But as cumbersome as each piece of my identity can feel (I know, the Crossfit can be polarizing), each piece is essential in my identity. An example of this would be my day job as a nurse. This primarily female-dominated job requires me to be okay with bodily fluids and playing with sharp objects. If I were okay with bodily fluids and playing with sharp objects, I would be a serial killer. If I were okay with bodily fluids in another female-dominated trade, I would be a porn star. For the record, I am neither a porn star nor a serial killer. The cross section of nursing requires these three elements. Without one component, my profession becomes something entirely different. Without one piece of my identity, I become someone else entirely.

To my previous point, I am well aware certain omissions have certain implications. At some points, I’m not sure what is worse, getting hit by a bus because I am standing in the intersection or being mistaken for a porn star because I’ve left out a piece of my identity.

But nevertheless, I am right here. I have been here. I’ve made myself a home at this intersection. It is a space I can authentically and wholly be myself, moving beyond survival into a space to dream. Not just any kind of dreaming, but the kind that happens when safety is a given and you know where your next meal is coming from. Even then, this can be a lonely place, more often than I would like to admit. Those periods of loneliness are alleviated by the people who have helped make this place my home. They have helped me settle at this intersection by the truth they speak and the love they give. Love is given in the form of affirmations, disappointment, things to eat, and things to drink. Love given in the form of disappointment is doled out in the you-know-better-than-that after flirting with old flames. Disappointment comes from my community remembering who I am and what I am worth, when I have forgotten. Like many, my heart can be reached through my stomach. There was a time I opened up the pantry to find a quart of maple syrup paired with a note that says “I’m sorry your week was crappy, hope this makes it sweeter,” from my roommate. My mother’s love manifests as dismay when she hears that I grabbed a burger at In-N-Out on the way home from the airport when she had been cooking my favorite dishes all evening. A pinch of this and a pinch of that had been simmering on the stove all evening. But, oh well, at least her daughter was home safe and seated at her table. There has been an abundance of love given and received. Because of this abundance, there is more to give. Here at the corner of Queer, Asian American, and Christian is where I reside and all are welcome. We have weighted blankets.

Janine Sy is everything she says she is the in the piece above. She is constantly on the prowl for new music and new podcasts to listen to. Recommendations can be sent to

Joy: PAAC Christmas Home Video

The 12 Days of Christmas is a carol about the 12 gifts Christ has given us. For example, the partridge in a pear tree is Jesus on the Cross and the two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments. We’ve decided to rewrite the lyrics to anticipate our joy with Christ in the complete renewal to come.

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me the death of the patriarchy!

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me 2 R B G’s, and the death of the patriarchy!

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me 3 pride parades, 2 R B G’s, and the death of the patriarchy!

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 4 fair trade shirts, 3 pride parades, 2 R B G’s, and the death of the patriarchy!

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 5 I U D’s, 4 fair trade shirts, 3 pride parades, 2 R B G’s, and the death of the patriarchy!

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 6 open borders, 5 I U D’s, 4 fair trade shirts, 3 pride parades, 2 R B G’s, and the death of the patriarchy!

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me 7 free tuitions, 6 open borders, 5 I U D’s, 4 fair trade shirts, 3 pride parades, 2 R B G’s, and the death of the patriarchy!

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 8 public care plans, 7 free tuitions, 6 open borders, 5 I U D’s, 4 fair trade shirts, 3 pride parades, 2 R B G’s, and the death of the patriarchy!

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 9 living wages, 8 public care plans, 7 free tuitions, 6 open borders, 5 I U D’s, 4 fair trade shirts, 3 pride parades, 2 R B G’s, and the death of the patriarchy!

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
10 gay wedding cakes, 9 living wages, 8 public care plans, 7 free tuitions, 6 open borders, 5 I U D’s, 4 fair trade shirts, 3 pride parades, 2 R B G’s, and the death of the patriarchy!

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me 11 gun free states, 10 gay wedding cakes, 9 living wages, 8 public care plans, 7 free tuitions, 6 open borders, 5 I U D’s, 4 fair trade shirts, 3 pride parades, 2 R B G’s, and the death of the patriarchy!

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 12 cop convictions, 11 gun free states, 10 gay wedding cakes, 9 living wages, 8 public care plans, 7 free tuitions, 6 open borders, 5 I U D’s, 4 fair trade shirts, 3 pride parades, 2 R B G’s, and the death of the patriarchy!

PAAC 2018 Holiday Letter

From a simple Facebook group to a beautiful beloved community and powerful voice for justice, PAAC is growing up so fast! Here’s a small sample of what we were up to in 2018.

Lent Devotional (February and March)

Somebody asked, “Hey, are there any devotionals written for and by Asian-Americans?” And we said, “No, but we can make one.” Charlene Choi spearheaded a team of 50+ writers, artists, musicians, dancers, and other creatives to bring you Our Daily Rice, a very PAAC journey through the Gospel of John. With over 12,000 views spanning 40 countries in just 1.5 months, we are humbled and honored by the reception this work received. Our Daily Rice remains available for reading any time on our blog.

As I Am Blog Series (ongoing)

After celebrating the Lent Devotional, we launched a new platform for PAAC voices: As I Am. We use words to explore and create Asian American identity. We wrote narratives, poetry, essays, and more. Our topics ranged from duality to perfection to unanswered prayers. As we move into round two, we ask our writers to take us out of the homes and churches we grew up in and push us into spaces where we’re not as visible: media, history, and the wild world of dating.

PAAC Family Retreat (August)

From a PAAC Family member who attended the retreat:

Being a queer Asian American Christian can feel lonely and finding spiritual communities that fully affirm both race and sexuality is difficult. But spending a weekend at the PAAC Family Retreat reminded me that I am not alone in my journey and identity. We shared meals, told our coming-out stories, worshiped, laughed, and affirmed each other. Being in a space where many of us did not feel the need to further explain our complex pointed me to how the Creator continues to break down harmful boundaries humanity has built. From this experience, I have gained many valuable friends and family who I can support and rely on as I continue to live in my fragmented identity.To all of my queer Asian American siblings, both out and not out, I want to remind you all that you are not alone in your journeys and that you are all loved. I want to thank our PAAC Family Moderators for organizing the retreat, sharing our stories in the main PAAC group, and for fostering community following retreat. I would also like to thank the donors who helped make attendance possible for many.

Statement on God’s Justice (September)

In September, we launched the Statement on God’s Justice, created (in about a week) by a cohort of PAAC writers, editors, designers, PR team members, and organizers. PAAC responded with grace and power to the Statement on Social Justice, a document that was hurtful, demeaning, and caused a lot of pain not just in our community but in the greater Christian community out in the world.

What’s next?

Hold onto your boba, PAACsters. In 2019 we are planning a major redesign of the PAAC website, a new platform for PAAC voices, and yes, a live conference in LA. Keep up with us over on in the PAAC Facebook group for the latest updates.

What Shall We Cry?

Today’s reading: Isaiah 40, Mark 1:1-8, + Luke 8: 26-39

What does it mean to be a voice in the wilderness? What will you cry?

Note: Straight Christians, we’ve all been complicit in the irreparable personal harms and civil rights violations that have been inflicted on the LGBTQIA+ community by virtue of belonging to an institution that propagates such violence, and therefore it is incumbent upon us to align ourselves to help eradicate these systemic injustices. So this entry is just as much for you to read and meditate upon as our fellow queer family members, neighbors, and friends.

Please join me as we read these two vignettes to reflect on this week’s Advent theme of Preparation.

Voices in the Wilderness

By Ophelia Hu Kinney

December 4, 2018

Reconciling Ministries Network

The United Methodist Church, the third largest denomination in the world, is heading this February to a decision-making forum in which we’ll answer just one question: is there a place for LGBTQ people in the kin-dom of God?

If I’m being honest, it’s a question I hold lightly. Though I work for an organization working to open the doors of The UMC to LGBTQ people, it’s a question I hold lightly. It isn’t that I should, but I do. Because I’ve been turned away from churches before on account of who I am, and I don’t just want queer Christians to survive. I want us to thrive.

But my colleagues are grassroots organizers who travel for weeks at a time, holding Dunkin Donuts cups on their laps at 3am while they wind down South Georgia roads to talk to folks who’ve never met an out queer or trans person; board a train in California to teach a whole church how to love a trans child in their congregation; fly out to Oregon to listen to the direction in which African Christians are taking us.

And those quiet feet going out into the world while every day is still young, they tell me to clutch the vision close to me – to hold it tight. I want to hold it lightly, but good news is like honey on the fingers; it doesn’t let you let it go.

Last month, my colleague flew to Brazil to visit the nation’s first queer-affirming, all-welcoming Methodist church. The nation just elected a president who’s vehemently, violently anti-gay, stating publicly that he’d sooner have his own son be dead than gay. What would you do as a Brazilian queer or trans person with that knowledge? That terror?

It’s in the midst of that that this church reaches out and says, “We want to be bold.” They write me online. “Greetings to the Reconciling Movement from the Reconciling Church of Brazil.” It’s a modern-day epistle. I write them back.

Erica Malunguinho, a Brazilian activist and trans woman, put it this way: “I’m not afraid. According to the system, I was already born dead.”

Born dead with no-place to go but six feet up. Six feet up through the dirt and the breathlessness and the suffocating weight, a memory of sunlight that hasn’t happened yet…

The Brazilian church is raising funds for its new building. Its leadership is electric. They sent a 360-degree photo last month. The site is yet unbroken. It’s in the middle of the city.

Everywhere I look, I’m catching visions of life that have yet to push through the ground – sunlight that has yet to break.

Excerpt from Legion of Demons:

A Sermon After the Pulse Mass Shooting

By Rev. Laura Mariko Cheifetz

June 19, 2016

Westminster Presbyterian Church

In the days following Pulse, Rev. Laura gave a sermon naming the evils in our society and world. In it, she stated that it is important to name that which is demonic today, and that our demons are Legion. From mass shootings to systemic racial injustice, she spent much of her sermon naming injustice after injustice, and then how we are to be delivered from them. We pick up as she closes with this bit of advice:

“We who hear this story have no reason to turn away from hope.

It is turning from a myopic focus on our own fears about decline, our fears of not speaking prophetically enough, our fears about becoming too political, our fears about how much we lose in this time of rapid social change, to the news of what God has done for us.

If you recall from the Scripture for today that the demons do not just depart. They do not dissolve into the atmosphere. They have to relocate. In this world of the Scriptures, evil is not erased. It moves.

Being a Christian is not living in some fantasy world of butterflies and unicorns. Demons do not simply disappear. Being a Christian, struggling with our faith, struggling to find the will to be part of a community that can be exasperating, is to see a world full of demons, to know these demons better than we would like to, and know exactly what we are up against. It is to stare death, chaos, and disorder in the face and proclaim the gift of life, God’s presence, the power of community, in the same breath. It is deciding to live resurrection.

Hope is the queer community showing up at Pride.  Hope is being brown and gender nonconforming, and leaving one’s house every day. Hope is the young black person protesting police brutality because there are beautiful people out there who deserve to live. […] Hope is the family fleeing violence in another land, hoping to reach safer shores through impossible conditions. Hope is the legal team fighting to defend Native American sovereignty against the broken treaties and promises of the U.S. government. After all, if a Gentile possessed by Legion can be freed and sent even before Jesus’ ministry was officially open to non-Jews, if someone who lived chained and naked among the tombs can be restored to community, I say we who sit here with our doubts and fears and grief and brokenness and tiny glimmering hopes have no excuse.

Go. Get out of here. Do your work.

  • Care more about saving lives than retaining members.
  • Refuse to be held hostage by xenophobic fears and bureaucratic excuses that prevent us from welcoming more refugees
  • Refuse to be held hostage by a gun culture propped up and fed by gun manufacturers, who care more about the bottom line than about our beautiful children.
  • Become a thorn in the side of those who feed the demons.
  • Become the elderly women who have been standing on the corner of Washington Street and MLK Drive in Atlanta, protesting the war since the early 2000s.
  • Make it easier for people to exercise their citizenship.
  • Make it safer for queer people to gather.
  • Teach your children you don’t have to know what gender someone is to treat that person like a human being.
  • Make this country really free for Muslims and Sikhs who want to live without being harassed, or their places of worship vandalized.

Aren’t you sick and tired of holding vigils?

When you return to your home, don’t pretend like anything is the same as it was. Name the demons. Declare how much God has done for you.


[Full Text: A Legion of Demons]

These two vignettes remind us that there are voices crying out on your behalf and on behalf of the Christian community. These voices call evil in the Church and in society for what it is. They name the injustices of conversion therapy, the firing of queer leaders, and the shaming and outcasting of human souls. They name injustice in the fact that it is at most times impossible to be fully queer and fully Christian in the world today.

Therefore, know that you are not alone and that you are known. Known not only by a harm-bound institution, but too by a holy Divine. Know this and cast your light, a light that is greater than the light of stars, onto the Legion that has been unjustly placed upon your shoulders.

Then speak, and walk through the world as wholly yourself.

About the author: Ophelia Hu Kinney (she/her/hers) lives in Portland, Maine with her wife and two cats. She is the wife of a fearless reformer, the daughter of two circumstantial pragmatists, and the sister of a hopeful romantic. Although she grew up in a family of agnostics, she became a Christian in college and has worked ever since to understand what that means. Ophelia believes that we inherit from our divine source the ability to co-author and co-build the kin-dom of God. She and her wife tend You can support the work that Ophelia described in her piece by donating to

About the author: Laura M. Cheifetz (pronouns: she/her) is a Teaching Elder in the PC(USA). She serves as Deputy Director of Systems & Sustainability at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), overseeing operations and development. She is an online contributing editor to Inheritance, a progressive Asian American Christian magazine. Laura is multiracial Asian American of Japanese and white Jewish descent.