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I am naked, lying in his bed under a pale-blue waffle-weave blanket. The rumpled cream sheets are soft against my bare skin, and my eyes are glued to the ceiling. The only light in the room comes through the slightly drawn curtains on the window to my right.

I’m struggling—not physically, not outwardly—but there is a knot in my stomach. It makes me feel like a stone statue nestled in a bed of cotton wool. The knot is immobilising. It is a dense, compact furball of emotion that I can’t cough up, a weight that means I can’t move without a feeling of dread sinking ever deeper into my stomach. It feels like days of period cramps combined with the first days of a full-blown depressive episode, concentrated into one small area near my belly button. It feels like a psychological manifestation of an autoimmune response; it is a knot that tells me I’ve done something very, very wrong.

It goes away, eventually. But it’s a slow process, and while it lingers, all I can do is wait for it to dissipate. It is not the first time this has happened, and not the first time in this bed.

It has been there since I was young—growing, calcifying, fortifying itself with age. It feeds off old adages, rules, anxieties, wanting and needing to be a good girl—a good Chinese girl—a good daughter, a good girlfriend. I haven’t told him about this, because I’m afraid he won’t understand. This is my first long-term relationship, and I’m afraid it might scare him away. I also don’t want to give anyone else any more of myself than I have to, and the risk here does not seem worth the potential reward.

I hear the faint sounds of the shower through two rooms’ worth of walls—he’s gone to the bathroom to clean himself up. He’s left me to recover, saving me from trying to explain why I’m frozen in place. Usually, by the time he’s back, his mousy-brown hair slightly damp and a towel wrapped loosely around his waist, I’m all right. If not, it’s easy enough to make up an excuse so I can continue to lie prone on the bed, hurting but not really hurting, waiting for this strange, ugly feeling to pass.

It’s not his fault. It’s not my fault, either, but I don’t really believe that yet. I convince myself that I must be doing something wrong; after all, it is my body that is reacting like this—he seems to be completely fine. I feel like I am doing sex wrong, whatever that means. Or, at least, I’m not doing it right. How else is it that one minute I am gasping with pleasure, endorphins running through my veins—and the next, my body feels like it will collapse in on itself if I move? Maybe it’s something unique to me that will never go away, something I will just have to deal with every time I have sex. I have no other way to explain how the knot sinks into my stomach and sticks there, how it makes me feel like a failure, like I am not worthy of sex, of love, of pleasure.

It’s not his fault. It’s not my fault, either, but I don’t really believe that yet.



Whenever I go to my childhood home, a dark-brown bevelled wooden cross stares at me from across the dining-room table. It has been there for nearly twenty years, a constant figure in my life. Our family started attending a particular church after my sister was born in 1996, and the cross was the congregation’s gift to my parents when we first moved into the house—a symbol of our (their) faith, a symbol of protection. I remember the day it arrived, accompanied by the chatter of Taiwanese aunties and uncles. My sister and I were playing in the corner of the rumpus room we’d made into a ‘secret playroom’ when Mum came to show it to us. ‘好漂亮哦,’ she gushed.

This light piece of wood holds an oppressive weight. It holds within it years of obedience, pain, and control. It is always the first thing that catches my eye when I go home; I see it from the moment I step onto the cold tiled floor. It is a reminder that my parents still think I believe in their God—that I should still believe in their God.

My family’s identity as Chinese Christians has shadowed my dating life. I was raised to believe in the purity of the nuclear family, that the correct—read: natural—life progression involved school, university, a well-paying job, a good Chinese boy, marriage, a house, children, and, in general, a fairytale-esque happily ever after. I ‘dated’ in high school, but nothing serious—my longest relationship only lasted a couple of months. I was too busy studying, and probably too immature for anything to last. My parents’ expectations regarding my relationships were all unspoken, of course—they emanated strongly enough off that wooden cross to prevent my sister or me from daring to challenge our parents or their beliefs. It was assumed that we’d do as we were expected, without complaint or question.

My parents also didn’t actively encourage my sister or me to talk about our emotions. I’m not even sure if they talked to each other about their emotions. Everything—good and bad—was suppressed. It was almost as if the image we had to project to the outside world had at some point stopped becoming a performance and just became the way we lived. I don’t think I realised how much energy this took out of me until I started living alone, how, for the first time ever, I knew what it was to feel relaxed—or, at least, a little more relaxed than I had felt for the past twenty years of my life.

I’m more honest with myself these days, because I know the harm I’m doing to myself if I’m not. I allow myself to be sad, frustrated, jealous, happy. The walls snap back up when I’m with my parents, though. It’s an instinct, a survival mechanism, the only way I know how to be as authentic as I can be without exposing myself to further scrutiny or criticism. As much as I hate to admit it, I know that as a Chinese daughter my life is not just my own; I am an unavoidable point of consideration when it comes to my parents’ standing in their communities. So when I’m home, the least I can do is not to say or do anything in front of them that would make them ashamed of me.


In my late teens, despite a lifetime of going to church with my deeply religious parents, I found myself losing my faith. God had not provided for me; prayer (on my parents’ advice) had not saved me from endless bullying, depression, and thoughts of suicide. I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t want to deal with the anger and the guilt-tripping that would most definitely be inflicted on me if I came clean.

I went to house parties, I drank, I met boys. I found out I was, in fact, attractive. I tried the casual sex thing for a bit even though I wasn’t in the right headspace to be sleeping around. Sometimes I felt guilty for not being in a relationship, for willingly giving myself to someone without getting anything in return. Sometimes I felt guilty for lying to my parents about where I was because I was busy having sex. The knot was there, sometimes, and I might have felt it if I wasn’t so busy trying to cram so much into my newly found freedom. If I’d slowed down to think about what I was doing, I might have figured out that something was wrong, but the hormone soup in my brain hadn’t yet stabilised, and I was too stressed about balancing twenty-something contact hours at uni with work and too worried about making my 9.00 pm curfew to notice.

If I’d slowed down to think about what I was doing, I might have figured out that something was wrong, but the hormone soup in my brain hadn’t yet stabilised.


Even though I was having fun exploring my new-found freedom, I still went to church every Sunday, in my Sunday best, with my family none the wiser. I knew the rituals of a Sunday congregation off by heart, so it was easy for me to pretend I still believed, that I was still a good Christian girl. There were two designated times for prayer during the service, and I knew I probably should have been asking for some kind of forgiveness for all the sex I’d been having and all the lying I’d been doing, but I really could not have cared less about what god thought of my extracurricular activities.

Still, the shame was there, simmering.


And then somehow I have a boyfriend and it all catches up to me while I am lying on his cream-coloured sheets in his double bed in his room trying not to move and trying to catch my breath.

It is a Sunday.

This is an edited extract from Me, Her, Us by Yen-Rong Wong (UQP),  available now at your local independent bookseller.