Melinda

“I'm not willing to settle for less.”

Name?

Melinda.

Where did you grow up?

Northern New Jersey until eighth grade, and then Oklahoma through high school. I went to undergraduate school in Texas and graduate school in Washington, DC. Now I’m in South Florida.

Were you brought up religiously/secularly/other?

I was brought up in a Protestant household where the appearance of faith took precedence over the reality of faith – religion was about going to the ‘right’ church, joining the ‘right’ groups, socializing with the ‘right’ Christians. Even as a child the structure of it all seemed hypocritical to me. It completely turned me off organized religion.

Was there turbulence throughout your childhood/adolescence?

As an adopted Korean child being raised by Caucasian parents in the 1960s, when international adoptions and mixed-race families were rare, I probably heard and experienced every cliché imaginable and then some. It could often be hurtful.

Were you ever embarrassed about your development/puberty? If so, why?

Yes, because I took a long time to reach puberty. When I began high school, I was still flat-chested, straight-hipped, and not menstruating. To make matters worse, my mother loved that I still looked like a little girl and dressed me in knee socks and ruffles while my peers were showing off their new curves in hip-hugging bell bottoms and platform shoes.

Can you remember any key moments in your formative years that shaped you? 

One day my father said to me ‘Good thing you’re a hard worker and know how to get along with people, because you’ll never make it on your looks.’ I’ve been a people-pleaser ever since, and mistrustful of compliments about my looks.

That shaped your sexuality?

When I was a child, I was sexually abused by a family member for several years. Until a few years ago, I was proud of myself for not letting it affect my adult sexual behavior. But after a particularly traumatic period, I landed in therapy, where I finally confronted my demons and acknowledged that my childhood abuse had much to do with shaping my sexual identity.

I’ve always been way too aware of my femininity.

When did you become aware of your gender?

I’ve always been way too aware of my femininity. My mother loved dressing my sister and me in frills and ruffles and curling our hair. To this day, I can’t stand ruffles.

When did you become aware of your own sexuality? Were there any key moments?

I became empowered by my sexuality at age 19, when I had my first real mind-blowing orgasm with a white plastic vibrator my college boyfriend bought at Spencer’s Gifts. Until then, I had enjoyed sex, but didn’t know my body had such capacity.

What, if any, are the obstacles you’ve overcome on your path to womanhood?

Mostly the typical societal biases against women in general, and assumptions about Asian women in particular.

Have you ever been embarrassed, burdened or ashamed of your sexuality? If so, why?

What woman hasn’t been? Not too long ago, someone I had loved very much told me I’d meant nothing to him while we were together. Because our whole complicated sexual relationship had been built on pledges of true love, his confession sent me spiraling downward into a pit of monumental shame. Essentially he reduced me to this – thing – that had served no purpose except for his sexual gratification. I felt dirty, insignificant, and ashamed of myself, my gullibility, and my sexuality.

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“I consider myself a champion for women.” – Melinda
Photo by Samantha Dietz

What is the image you think you project every day?

Someone who’s much more in control than I really am.

What is the image you would like to project?

Serene, strong, centered, compassionate, empathetic.

What do you think the image other people perceive is?

I’m a chameleon. Some people see me as a very zen yogini, others as a super-efficient worker, others think I’m pretty creative, and a rare few experience me as a wildly sensual woman. When I think about this question carefully, I realize no one knows all of my facets, nor should they.

How would you describe your personal experience, existing in the way you do, each day?

I wear several different faces and I’m pretty good about not letting them overlap. I seem to recognize which face is appropriate where.

What is your political stance on women’s reproductive rights? 

Politics don’t belong anywhere near women’s reproductive rights. And we wouldn’t be asking this same question to men about their reproductive rights, which kind of says it all right there.

Are you pro-life or pro-choice? 

Pro-choice, absolutely! Pro-choice does not equate to anti-life, but pro-life does eliminate the woman’s right to choose.

What are your feelings about contraceptives? Their availability, cost, stigma, usage?

One of the best side effects of menopause is that I no longer need contraceptives. I always hated that, even with the most caring of partners, ultimately contraception became my responsibility. And I don’t like to think about what years of chemicals might have done to my body.

What are your feelings about casual sex?

Under the right circumstances, why not? There are times in most of our lives when it works, and also times when it doesn’t work so well. I’ve enjoyed periods in my life when all my sexual activity was casual, but as I’ve gotten older and a bit more certain about what I want, casual sex no longer appeals to me. I think my yoga practice and developing my own wacky version of spirituality has taught me that nothing beats truly connected sex, and I’m not willing to settle for less.

Are you in a relationship(s)?

Yes, it’s long distance, which has its good and bad sides. We’re absolutely overjoyed when we’re physically together. It’s like –boom!– fireworks when we finally see each other and the sex is crazy-over-the-moon delicious. And since we’re both pretty independent, we value our alone time, too. But communication is hard over the phone and internet. Sometimes we really struggle to understand each other without the softening effects of loving body language and facial expressions and, most importantly, touch. Having someone’s arms wrapped around you during a difficult conversation is a lot easier than having that same conversation over the phone.

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“I draw my greatest inspiration from [my female friends], as well as my greatest comfort and strength and joy.” – Melinda
Photo by Samantha Dietz

What are your feelings about marriage?

I’ve been married twice. The first time was relatively short and can be generously attributed to a youthful mistake; there was extreme passion on my part, but not on his, and his emotional indifference took a huge toll on me. The second time I was married for 18 years and we were together for 20. It was mostly good; together we’ve raised three amazing children and we’ve remained really close friends. But we also married for the wrong reason: after being in a relationship for two years, we thought marriage was the next logical step. And we stayed married ‘for the kids’ about 10 years past our expiration date.

Would I marry again? Yes, for the right reasons. And those would be intense love and passion, deep commitment, and the overarching need to connect in every way possible – emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, legally. I would not marry again because it’s the practical thing to do. I’ve already been on both sides of that fence and it doesn’t work. I would marry again only if it makes absolutely no practical sense at all – only if my heart, not my brain, compelled me to do so.

To me, marriage means there’s something profound and unshakable between us that we choose to recognize in front of the world. That’s the unabashed romantic in me. Those who say it’s just a piece of paper are probably secretly afraid of what that paper really represents. There’s a reason why the LGBTQIA community is fighting so hard for the right to get married, and while some of it has to do with practicalities, I think a lot more is about being free to make a different, more complete, kind of commitment. That being said, I would rather never be married again than marry for what to me are the wrong reasons.

What are your most positive relationships with other women?

I love my female friends. I draw my greatest inspiration from them, as well as my greatest comfort and strength and joy. That may sound a bit trite but only because it’s so true. I really, really, really love my female friends. More than that, I NEED them.

And your negative?

Sometimes I sense a competitiveness and cattiness among women. That makes me sad because we face enough obstacles already. We should champion each other.

What does the word ‘woman’ mean to you?

Strength and grace and beauty and sensuality and power and compassion and unconditional love.

What are your feelings about monogamy?

I like Dan Savage’s word: monogamish, meaning mostly monogamous. In the beginning of a relationship, while I’m still working through my own insecurities about the dynamics of the relationship, I function best monogamously. But I also realize that relationships change and grow over time. In theory, at least, I’m open to others becoming part of that dynamic eventually. But it all circles around to connection for me: first, I have to find a level of trust with my partner that allows me to feel secure and confident about inviting others in. Monogamy is what gets me to that level of trust.

About polyamory?

Polyamory done right is damn hard work. I think a lot of ‘polyamorous’ people really have open relationships – which to me means the primary goal is sexual activity with others – and they call it polyamory. True polyamory, to me, is about forming multiple deep, meaningful, comprehensive relationships that include sexual activity. That means everyone involved in the relationship has to be open, honest, and upfront with each other, even with the hurtful messy bits. Especially the hurtful messy bits. And when multiple feelings, needs, emotions, and sexual energies come into play, complications increase exponentially. It’s not just about sex. In fact, sex may be the easiest part of polyamory.

Do you feel your choice to participate or not participate in consensual sex is at all affected by societal influence?

At one time, yes, but not anymore.

How do you feel about products marketed to women?

I’m not a fan. They tend to prey on our self-worth, or more accurately, our lack of it.

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“When it comes to defending my children, I turn into a tigress.” – Melinda
Photo by Samantha Dietz

How do you feel about feminine hygiene products’ portrayal in the media?

I find the marketing to be offensive, but then again, I find feminine hygiene products to be offensive. Do we see ads telling men their penises stink and they need to cover up with a manly fragrance? No. But women’s natural odors are portrayed as so unpleasant that they need to smell like flowers instead.

Were you always aware of what your body could do sexually and mechanically?

No. In fact, at age 55, my body is still surprising me!

Do you feel your sexual education was sufficient?

No.

If not, what would you have done to make it so?

I’d focus less on the mechanics of sex and more on the emotional components. I would strip away the shame and secrecy and blatant message of abstinence. I think girls, in particular, grow up thinking their sexuality is a precious gift to be bestowed upon their partners, and they should ‘save’ themselves for that perfect partner. In reality, our sexuality is a precious gift bestowed upon us, and we should be taught how to use it in a way that best honors our true selves – no shame, no secrecy, abstinence by choice and not enforced by societal guilt.

Where do you feel unsafe as a woman?

Leering and ogling make me very uncomfortable, because it reduces me to an object. I also cringe when I see it happening to other women.

Where is somewhere you can exist without fear?

In my thoughts, when I meditate, on my yoga mat, when I write.

Do women treat you differently than men?

In general, no. It depends on the person, not the gender.

In what ways does being a woman make you vulnerable or exposed?

I’m always aware that there are places I shouldn’t go and things I shouldn’t do, and that if I choose to go there or do that and something happens to me, it will be considered my fault.

Would you consider yourself a feminist?

I consider myself a champion for women.

How do you define feminism?

I don’t. I would rather work toward a world free of -isms. No racism, sexism, or any other -ism! Just equality and fairness for all.

What do you think are positive ways the world views women?

I think we are viewed as the peacemakers and caregivers.

And the negative ways?

We’re seen as the weaker sex, when we actually have great strength.

Do you think the world’s perception of women limits or benefits them?

I think any kind of generalization marginalizes people.

What is your relationship to sex?

Sex has been both my friend and enemy at various points in my life. Right now, it’s my friend, a very cherished one.

How do you define sex?

With a partner, it’s about tapping into my raw animal power, forming a deep soul connection, and finding heightened spiritual awareness using my physical body (all that and a bag of nuts!).  Masturbation counts as sex, but that’s just a physical release.

What does a sexual relationship mean to you?

I’m very much into connecting with my partner. So a sexual relationship, even a casual one, must have some element of connection, both physical and emotional. A good sexual relationship feels open and playful, and I love an element of risk, like public sex!

I would marry again only if it makes absolutely no practical sense at all – only if my heart, not my brain, compelled me to do so.

Do you feel comfortable communicating your sexual needs to a partner?

It depends on the partner. In the past, it’s been hard to fully open up about my fantasies and desires. Fortunately, I’m now in a relationship where I’ve pretty much let my hair down in that department. So far he hasn’t run away screaming.

Have you found a balance of fulfillment with your partners?

At this moment in my life, yes, except for the distance (which means not often enough).

Do you feel that YOUR desires are marginalised in the bedroom or are less important, if so, why do you think that is?

Right now, no, but I’ve experienced this in the past. This is a huge blanket statement, but I find some men view foreplay as a means to penetration. I’m super-sensitive to any hint of impatience, so if I sense my partner is going through the motions of ‘press this-poke that’ just so he can get inside fast, I go cold. I want – no, need – the full-body experience. Probably a lot has to do with the gender roles we’ve grown up with. Boys learn early on that ‘manly men’ penetrate and nothing else really counts as sexual activity.

Are you fearful of being openly sexual for fear of judgment?

I try to be careful about the forums where I’m openly sexual. I have quite a few non-vanilla sexual interests that would be perceived negatively by the mainstream. I regret that I have to be careful, but it’s important that judgement over my activities doesn’t impact my children. I’m not worried about being judged otherwise.

Have you ever been in a position where your sexuality was used against you?

Not really, except maybe in reverse. I had a boss who once said, jokingly, that she didn’t care how I signed on a particular client, even if I had to dress up in a bunny suit and seduce him. Then she paused, reflected, and said, ‘Forget it, he wouldn’t be interested. You just have that way about you.’ What the hell was that supposed to mean? I think my LACK of sex appeal was used against me there!

Have you ever been physically or verbally threatened because of your appearance?
I’ve been physically and verbally threatened in the past because of my ethnicity.

When you imagine sex, what is the visual/feeling you associate with it?

At the risk of sounding too New Age-y, when I imagine sex (or have sex) I sometimes see colors that correspond to the chakras. Mostly I see colors from the root chakras – reds, yellows, oranges – but I recently had one amazingly intense real life experience where I saw dark blue, which relates to the third eye and intuition, during orgasm. It was so overwhelming that I started crying uncontrollably afterwards. So sometimes I close my eyes and try to return to that feeling whenever I think about sex.

Is sex empowering for you?

Yes! Especially during orgasm, I feel empowered and unstoppable and all primal female animal. I am noisy and loud and messy!

Is sex embarrassing for you to discuss?

Not at all.

Is there anyone in your world you undermine your principles for?

I hope not.

In which situations do you feel safe to speak your mind/stand up for yourself?

When it comes to defending my children, I turn into a tigress.

What do you seek through sex?

It depends. Sometimes it’s adventure, sometimes assurance, sometimes fun, sometimes please-just-let-me-have-a-straight-up-no-holds-barred-orgasm. Actually, make that a double.

How do you feel about the media’s portrayal of women?

There’s a recurring theme of backhanded compliments that bothers me. The latest trend seems to be in praise of ‘real’ women, which sounds noble on its face, but the act of categorizing us – even in a way that’s supposedly empowering – actually diminishes us. It feels condescending somehow.

Are you satisfied with the women you see depicted in film, television & advertising?

Most forms of media are unrealistic, so no, I’m usually not satisfied with portrayal of women – or men, ethnicities, families, children – you name it.

How do you think the world at large views women?

We have a long way to go before the world views women as equals. I don’t define equal as apples-for-apples, but one day I hope what we bring to the table is regarded with equal respect and importance.

How do you maintain a sense of self?

My yoga practice keeps me grounded.

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“I’m a chameleon … no one knows all of my facets, nor should they.” – Melinda
Photo by Samantha Dietz

What is something you deeply love about yourself?

My emotional resilience. Because I’m quiet, people think I’m fragile, but in reality I am very strong when I need to be.

Who are/what are your biggest motivators?

My children.

Do you have people you look up to?

There are people I admire for their various strengths and attributes, but I don’t have anyone on a pedestal.

Do you ever feel overlooked in the workplace because of your gender?

In the past, I haven’t felt overlooked as much as undervalued and underpaid.

Because of your appearance?

No, it’s definitely a gender thing.

Do you find entering the work force as a woman has any bearing on how people will treat you?

I’ve been in the work force since graduating college, so I don’t know how people would treat me otherwise.

Have you ever experienced sexism or sexual harassment within a workplace?

I had a boss who talked to me about his penis size and endurance on my first day of work. I needed the job, so I didn’t report it. The talk continued, but it never went past talking, so eventually I took it in stride. I wish I had been bolder about cutting it off (the talk, not the penis).

How have you dealt with conflict?

I dislike conflict. Who doesn’t? I used to flee from it. But now I try to face it head-on instead of burying my head in the sand.

Have you ever been verbally abused or threatened because of your gender?

No. My ethnicity seems to generate more abuse.

If so, how did those in your life respond when you told them about it?

It has simply been a part of my life since childhood, so I really don’t tell anyone about it.

What are your feelings on motherhood?

It’s the greatest adventure in the world.

What are your biggest fears?

That I won’t accomplish everything I want to do, or experience everything I want to experience.

Your biggest regrets?

Staying in the wrong situations for far too long. Being afraid of change.

Your greatest accomplishments? 

Choosing the hard path(s) when it mattered most.

Anything else you’d like to add? 

I am honored to be a part of this.