Learning to accept who I have always been

It’s been a long road towards my self-acceptance. I’ve been battling with my notions of self-doubt and self-hatred for almost as long as I can remember. Recently, through the help of my loving and caring partner, I am now at a point where I feel like I have truly accepted myself and my being.

You may read this article thinking “wow, what an idiot”, and I honestly could not disagree. It has been a long road to recovery for me from my self-image.

At the time of writing this article, I am 28 years of age.

Name calling

Since I was a young child, my name had always been the starting point of targeted bullying. The name “Dingli” was definitely uncommon where I lived, which was an area more commonly populated by traditional “white” names like “Smith” and “MacDonald”. As young as 6, when I entered the first grade, my surname felt like a curse. The name calling in the schoolyard never really stopped as I grew up.

On so many occasions children would repeatedly call out “dingle, dingle, dingle” at me over, and over again until I would burst out crying. They did this for no other reason than because it was an easily associable rhyme. I’m sure now that I’ve grown up that most of these people would never even realise the impact this could have had. They were just kids being kids, and I can never really hold it against anyone because that’s just what kids do. Regardless, I wished so badly to change my name.

As I grew up the name calling continued but changed in focus. “Dangly Dingli”, “Dingli’s danglies”, and “Dingleberry” became the names I would later be associated with. As my hair developed its curls, this name calling continued and worsened. Why? It was hilarious to these children that my testicle focused nicknames could also work well with my physical appearance: a head of hair that looked like pubic hair.

I would constantly keep trying to style my hair with an “emo” fringe, but could never maintain the appearance. The sheer frizziness of my hair always resulted in it puffing up just two hours later. As a result, I would always wear a hat outdoors; I even maintained wearing them when completely in the shade. This continued right up to the point of leaving high school at age 16.

I never spoke to the few friends I had at the time about this or even my family. I had felt like it was out of line for me to even contemplate standing up for myself at any point in time.

Racism

When I was 10, my family sent me to a Catholic all-boys school at the request of my grandfather. It was a very well regarded school at the time among working class Australian families as they promoted their strong musical, dramatic arts, and sports programs. They also had a very strong sense of community involvement where the students donated a lot of their time to community programs and were very much appreciated especially by older members of the community.

On my first day, I remember being so proud of myself for starting there. My parents talked it up to the point where I felt like nothing would ever stop me from becoming who I should become. I never really knew who I wanted to be but I was happy to accept that my parents had a plan for me.

Not long into the first year at this school, the bullying started once more. This time it wasn’t just my name; It was my heritage. The children who I rode the train into school with would constantly target me because my mother was Asian. I was never targeted for anything other than who I was.

I hated myself more than ever and started to do things like try and push my family away. I wanted to be nowhere near my mother when she took me anywhere. I didn’t want to be seen with her. I didn’t want to be Asian. I wanted to be what I thought was “normal.”

One day when I was being dropped off to school around the age of 13, I remember yelling at my mother. “Stop it, you’re embarrassing me!” All she had done was try to drive me closer to my classroom so that I wouldn’t have to walk as far. I was embarrassed because she loved me.

The older I grew, the more other kids would point out to me that my mother was Asian. Strangely enough, it was never really directed at me but it had always affected me like it was.

My father

My father was an odd kind of strict. He was strict when it was convenient, and non-caring at all other times.

My father came from a completely different age. He was 48 years old when I was born. This was really reflected our differences in perspective. He was from a time when women were meant to stay in the kitchen, men were meant to go out and work, and children were supposed to blindly appreciate and accept anything that was put before them even if our moral compass pointed us in different directions.

I remember begging my father to play with me constantly. I wanted so badly to be able to (and yes I know how cliche this is) go outside and throw a ball with him… go outside and do anything with him.

It was all very “Cats in the Cradle”.

My father was very conservative. He worked long hours every day, leaving home when it was dark and arriving just before it was time for me to go to bed. He did all of this to save as much money as he could.

I can’t deny that we were financially stable as I was growing up. We had a nice home, and we never had to stress about little things like buying clothes or when we could enjoy treats like eating out at restaurants. The problem, for me, was that all of this financial stability came at the cost of missing out on having my father around.

After arriving home from work, he would ignore us and go straight into his home office to work on whatever project it was that he felt like working on. He’d usually stay there until about 10 PM before going to bed. He never wanted to know how I was doing with school, or what things I was interested in, or even how my day was.

It all felt very lonely.

Academia

Three of my cousins and my eldest sister all performed exceptionally well throughout school and university, and all became engineers. They were all about 20 years older than I was, so with all of their accomplishments, it was incredibly easy for me to be compared to them. I grew up in their shadows.

My father would say, “Your sister this, your cousin that,” whenever I tried and struggled to learn about things. I always felt like I needed to become them.

I generally did pretty well in school. Up until around the ninth grade, I was basically a “straight A” student. I got called a nerd a lot by my peers, but of all the things I was bullied about, this one never got under my skin. I wore it like some kind of badge.

My focus started to change around the time I hit puberty. While I didn’t start having an interest in girls just yet, I did start having an interest in gaming. I was embarrassed to admit it, but I suffered from gaming addiction. I had a constant need to collect the next whatever from the games I was playing. I needed to get my character levels up so that I could be the strongest player on that server. I played games for incredibly unhealthy periods where on weekdays I would start at maybe 6 AM before school up til to leaving home at 7:30 AM. When I returned home, the routine would start immediately at 4:30 PM and continue up until 10 PM when I would go to sleep before school. Occasionally on weekends I would follow a similar routine, starting my gaming at 6 AM but not finishing until 1 or 2 in the morning. To me, this was fine.

In the ninth grade, I received my first ever grade that was not an A. It was a tremendous D+. That result had brought my overall grade down to a C-. It was an interesting grade to receive. I don’t know how it happened or why, but to this day I have no recollection of ever hearing about the exam I was going to take prior to taking it.

When my father found out, he was furious. He screamed at me as hard as he could “do you know what a C means? It means you weren’t trying hard enough!”. I admit it, I wasn’t trying hard enough and to this day I wish I had tried harder.

I was then banned from the internet, and could only use it at times acceptable to my father which usually ended up being when he was home on the weekends. At all other times, the plug for the modem was hidden away in his desk.

I used to sneakily take out the plug and use the internet regardless. I figured that if my father wasn’t going to hide it properly, then I may as well feed that addiction. I continued gaming online until one night when he caught me. He blew his top, looked me in the eye, and said nothing while he took the modem and walked with it to the garage. Then came the noises.

Bang. Bang. Bang. I will never be able to forget the sounds that were made every time his hammer made contact with that device.

I went downstairs into the garage to see the modem lying on his workbench in pieces. From that point onwards I had to rely on a library that was a 30-minute drive away. My mother would only ever take me there on the weekend, and I had no other method of transportation because we lived in an area that effectively had no viable public transport options.

My grades only slipped further.

Girls

Both of my parents had this belief that girls were detrimental to a boy’s ability to focus. Looking back, I understand the concerns they had, but their approach had always left me feeling like a total outcast.

I was forbidden to leave the home because of two reasons:

  • Some serial paedophile rapist would abduct me and rape me before gruesomely murdering me, and
  • I would meet a girl and fall in love before getting her pregnant and ruining all chances of becoming whatever it was they wanted me to become

Around age 14 I had a bit of a mental breakdown where my parents gave in a little and began letting me do small things like travel into the city unaccompanied and spend a day out of the home.

If I ever returned home without having told them in advance exactly where I went and who I went there with, my mother would never believe what I would say. “You were seeing a girl, weren’t you!”

Needless to say, there weren’t many girls in my life growing up. Exiting school and entering university, I found it so hard to talk to women even in a casual friendship setting. I sometimes still do.

Engagement

I started my first “serious” relationship when I was about 19. At the time, she seemed like the perfect girl for me; she was quiet and socially awkward, and there seemed to be a connection between us.

There were a number of immediate warning signs that I chose to ignore when we began dating. The first of which came when I met her mother. In an oddly old-fashioned sort of way, I was seated in their dining room for interrogation. Questions like “What are your intentions with my daughter?” and “what if you want to go party and she doesn’t?”. As the interrogation progressed things became oddly more specific. I answered as honestly as I could, and this seemed to impress. Little did I realise, but my attitude of reclusion and lack of self-confidence is what made me seem appealing as a suitor.

The relationship turned sour fairly quickly. My (ex)-girlfriend started showing signs of control and abuse fairly early on. There were a number of my friends at the time who tried to bring this up with me. I told them that they didn’t understand and insisted that this was what I wanted.

At first, it was just small things like her not liking swearing. My time spent at school had helped me form the habit of swearing unattractively. Fair enough, I thought. I tried my hardest to stop. There was one occasion that I had sworn by accident, and I still remember the way it felt when she hit me across the hand. I had never been hit by someone I was romantically involved with before. It was an incredibly uncomfortable experience.

My initial reaction to this wasn’t anything along the lines of “don’t hit me”, but rather “I’m sorry, please forgive me for saying shit.” In retrospect, I wish it never happened the way it did. This opened up a whole new world between us where it was no longer a taboo thought that she could hit me when she disapproved of something I did.

Carry on one and a half years, and we were driving together to go to some event. Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” was on the radio and I was singing along to it.

I’mma blow off my money and don’t give two shits, I’m on the floor, floor

That was the line I sang while driving on a highway before receiving what I remember as being the swiftest, hardest slap I had ever received in my life. I was in total shock and disbelief that a song lyric could cause a reaction like that. My response to that was that I apologised. I felt like I was the one who did something wrong.

My sense of self-worth was at an all-time low. I no longer knew who I really was or even who I wanted to be anymore. All I felt I was capable of doing was conforming to this idealistic view that seemed a common trait between my ex and my parents.

I continued to date her for another year and a half, seeing her whenever I could which was usually only one or two times a week due to it being a 45-minute drive between us. Every time I would drive home, I would have strong thoughts about driving my car straight into a tree at high speed. I grew increasingly reckless. I’d drive on dark, winding roads at high speeds with my vision blurred from the tears I had to keep wiping away. I always thought I could never be the ideal person for someone who, for whatever reason, I believed I owed so much to. I’m grateful I never gave in to those sentiments of engaging my demons. This was the lowest point of my life.

Fast-forward to my fourth birthday with her, and she told me she would leave me if I didn’t buy her a ring. I so desperately did not want to be alone. I felt like I wasn’t good enough for anyone. That same day I went out and had ordered a custom engagement ring that I had designed myself. The ring was beautiful and cost me most of my money.

On receiving the ring, there was one thing she cared about: Instagram.

The most important thing for my ex was to share the ring on Instagram. Not me, not our “love”, but a ring which I thought would make no difference to our love had seemingly made all of the difference.

It wasn’t even one month after the engagement that my father stepped in and broke us up for me. It was the weakest I had ever felt. In a situation where I had no control, my father stepped in and took the control back for me. It was the greatest relief I had had in as long as I could remember.

Bisexuality

As a teenager at an all-boys Catholic school, I regularly found myself crushing of a few of the boys in my classes. Some were really sweet to me, others incredibly handsome. Because of the setting and my upbringing, I believed it was wrong to have these feelings.

My father would regularly yell at the television and talk with disgust over newspaper articles he was reading because he had a strong belief that the Australian Greens political party was pushing what he referred to as the “gay agenda” and that it was destroying morality within society and teaching children to show disrespect to each other.

Every single time one of these rants happened, I recall the feelings that filled my chest. They always followed the same pattern:

  1. Disappointment that the same conversation was about to start
  2. Anger that the conversation was happening
  3. Sadness that the conversation continued to happen
  4. An emptiness that the conversation had happened

I am one of those people who never came out to their parents due to fear of their disapproval. I didn’t want to be the son who made them, as parents, look like they failed in their duties of making me fit into this image of a married man with 2 or 3 children. On a number of occasions, I was yelled at for listening to music I enjoyed. The power pop genre as performed by Zolof the Rock and Roll Destroyer was apparently too gay for me to listen to loudly in his house.

That feeling of emptiness never really went away. As I entered adulthood, my feelings towards men remained and I had longed for some while for someone to make a move on me.

It never happened.

At the back of my mind remained the question, “what could my life have been if I had felt accepted earlier on in life?”

As an adult, I experienced intimacy with another male for the first time. It was with the love and support of my partner that we had a threesome with another man off Grindr.

“What if I don’t really like men?” I kept asking my partner. She kept affirming I would never know unless I tried.

I was incredibly nervous throughout the experience but at the end of it all, I had this large feeling of relief flood my body. For the first time in my life, I started to fully understand who I was.

I wanted to be myself.

During an argument with my father, I revealed true self to him for the first time. I no longer cared what his opinion on the matter may be. I only cared that he knew. I was 28 years old.

Regaining control

You might notice that for all of the stories I have told in this article there is a common theme present. I felt a strong lack of control over my own life. My partner has been a godsend because she has always encouraged me with a loving heart and an open mind.

When we started dating, she recognised that I had strong problems with anxiety and depression. This led to me taking the nerve-wracking step of visiting a psychiatrist and psychologist for the first time. While I still don’t 100% believe that the medication is necessarily good for me, I have found my moods to be much more stable. The consistency in my feelings has allowed me to love my partner and children fully.

I have since been working on my self-acceptance, and as part of this, I am trying my hardest to teach my children the same thing. It would pain my heart terribly if they had to experience these feelings of low self-worth and loneliness because they didn’t know how to deal with so many situations in their lives.

There is so much potential that can be achieved by encouraging people to follow their hearts and ignore the haters.

A lot of the content in this article hasn’t been expressed to a lot of people in my life. It’s always been hard for me to open up publicly, but reflecting on the past and planning my future is how I want to help accept myself.

Thank you for reading my story.

Written by

Dad. Software engineer. Lover of technology and design thinking. I'm available for freelance. Email me at christopher@dingli.com.au

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