When I was in 8th grade, a bunch of kids who hated me started calling me a dyke and a lesbo every time they had a chance to. (This isn't my only instance of bullying, but it was the first time they used those words.)
This was in 1997, and we were a tiny little private K-8 school, and my 8th grade class of 25 kids was mostly Asian and Indian. I am willing to bet that they didn't actually know what being lesbian or being gay actually meant - they just knew that it was an insult, so that's what they called me.
Looking back, I probably didn't know any better than they did what being lesbian or being gay actually meant either. But in response to them calling me those words, I would often yell back, "What are you, some kind of homophobe???" And it would shut them up for a while. (Either they didn't know what the word meant, or they could tell that I'd just called them something worse than what they called me.)
Being bullied and teased taught me compassion and empathy for other human beings - seeing other people/groups being bullied, discriminated against, harassed really hurts my soul. It taught me non-conformity - if the popular thing was to be like THOSE kids, then I didn't want to be popular. I don't need to sit around waiting for other people's approval.
On the other hand, I'm a bit lonely. Aside from a precious few people, I keep a certain distance from most people I know, and I don't feel comfortable in social situations. And I live a life of frustration in trying to convince other people (my students especially) to care about their fellow humans. (Doesn't mean I'll stop trying though.)
One of my favorite shows from my adolescence, Daria, was finally released in its entirety on dvd recently, and I'm excited for it. (It's on my mind because this morning, a friend of mine from high school sent me a really great article about why the show was "the greatest work of young adult fiction since the cave paintings at Lascaux.")
This show was a major influence in terms of shaping my personality and interests and the way I responded to the world. Even though I was more like the character Jodie (student body president) than Daria herself, I admired the fact that the hero of the show was smart, sarcastic, and just as disillusioned with the youth of America as I was. Not to the point where she completely withdrew from the world, but enough to keep her from getting sucked in. And that's kind of how I am. Daria was not a "F*** the world!* sort of person - she was more of a "The world does suck, and it's fun to laugh at it, but in the end, I'm going to stick around because I do actually care" sort of person. She was not easily impressed, but she wasn't a brick wall either.
I have a love-hate relationship with being Asian. I love being Asian when it relates to my family and traditions and what I grew up with. I hate being Asian when it relates to my peers or the collective identity of my generation of Asian-Americans. When I was in high school, I wasn't Asian enough for the Asian group - too whitewashed, because I listened to Nine Inch Nails and Bush and Dance Hall Crashers and shopped at Hot Topic back when people still thought it was a weird goth store, instead of listening to rap/hip hop/pop music and wearing whatever was popular with them back then. You know, things that don't actually have anything to do with being Asian, right?
And then when I went to Lewis & Clark, which was over 80% white, I was invited to events sponsored by our school's Ethnic Student Services, which helps students of color "adjust" to life on campus, I was actually offended. "Me? Ethnic? The only part of me that's Asian is the outside!" was my response. "I don't need help adjusting. I'm practically white!" In hindsight, I was completely, wrongfully judgmental of the department's aims, and one of the things I would change, if I could, was my decision not to be involved in their events. I think it would have made me a better person, and that is one of my regrets. Maybe I needed more help than anyone else, because my relationship with my ethnicity and my cultural background is so troubled.
I wish I could say that I've figured out my feelings on the subject. In the end, I just am what I am. I won't deny that there is Asian in me - not just my physical appearance, but everything that I grew up loving is there. It's not going to go away, and I don't want it to either. I don't really know what it means to be Asian, but what I do know is that no one else gets to make that distinction for me.