When You Feel Overwhelmed, Morally Manage

In today’s political environment, being queer can feel bad.  Whether it is consuming Bud Light as a form of protest or monitoring every point of entry at a gay establishment, constant vigilance takes a toll on our lives.  Empirical evidence corroborates the aforementioned with an estimated 40% of Asian American queer youth seriously considering suicide in the past year.  Clearly, we are encountering a seismic problem.

One solution is moral management!  Coined by Professor and Sociologist Anthony Ocampo, moral management is a framework of employing strategies to maintain a pretense of respectability despite unacceptable life preferences that may fray key relationships.  This process is especially aligned with the experiences of queer second-generation Americans, but is applicable to a broad spectrum of difference.

As an Asian American lesbian, I engage in behaviors that can be construed as deviant, yet have staved off overt criticism from family through moral management.  Accordingly, here are three simple approaches to moral management.


Identify Your Moral Deficits

The first step to moral management is to conduct an inventory of antisocial behavior that you engage in.  Identification and isolation of said qualities is foundational.  Although some people are aware of behaviors that can be interpreted as “sinful,” others may not be so attuned to their challenging proclivities.  One helpful tactic is to locate a bigoted, perpetually inebriated uncle who is engaged in a pyramid scheme as his primary form of income.  Articulate your thoughts excluding niceties such as food and weather.  Monitor his reaction as a litmus test of what he considers repugnant.

Once you identify your anti-social behavior, label it.  Examples include, but are not limited to: “Homosexuality,” “Voluntary Childlessness,” “Non-Monogamy,” and “Believing Effective Altruism is Ineffective.”


Inventory Cultural and Social Currency

Once you have identified your moral deficits, the next step is to take stock of the cultural values that are admired within your familial, organizational, and societal contexts.  How do the aforementioned values materialize?  Some common examples include wealth, career success, and/or building equity through homeownership.  In my Vietnamese American context, one popular practice is rearing children and documenting the process through several holiday cards printed at Walgreens on Christmas Eve.  I suggest prioritizing 1-2 of the most revered forms of cultural and social currency.

From here, develop a diversion plan that obfuscates delinquency with exceptional respectability and familiar rituals.  The key here is to distract the main players of your home culture from the moral incongruence of your identity.  For example, I engaged in the processes of getting married and having a wedding.  I categorized both projects as Vietnamese American acceptable.  In one specific case, I invested in authentic Vietnamese caterers at my wedding to incept the memory of aromatic sauces and pandan waffles.  It proved to be an effective tactic.  To date, few people comment on witnessing two women get married, but they enjoyed the spiciness of the satay.

Obfuscation plans do not have to be costly or time intensive.  For example, one impactful practice I employ is utilizing self-deprecating humor that affords me the ability to tell the first “fag joke” before my inebriated uncle does.

The machinations of antisocial obfuscation are plentiful and it can be challenging to know where to start.  Here, we provide a chart:

Fig 1. Obfuscation Plan for Deprioritizing Childrearing

(click to enlarge image)
(click to enlarge image)


Manage the Feelings That Come with Moral Management

Occasionally, in moving through moral management, we may take steps backwards.  For example, you may find yourself living an upstanding monogamous life only to one day desire fucking a bunch of people, ghosting them, and/or drawing lines on a chart without the use of a ruler.  How did I become gay, but not queer?  You may wonder.

The feelings of disenchantment and the constant questioning of who did I become, is this who I really am, am I functionally depressed? are normal parts of the process.  This is often because we are building the plane while crashing it.  Consequently, the flattening of our identities into social acceptability can take a toll and lead to burnout.  Thus, it’s imperative to manage the moral management.  The idea is to not solve for the emptiness that you feel, but to fill it.  Although tactics may differ from person to person, common management strategies include fostering dogs and listening to hundreds of podcast episodes about the meaning of happiness through the lens of stoicism.

In addition, consulting with a friend is helpful.  In my situation, I relayed my moral quandaries to a close confidante.  “You sound like a straight-person experiencing a midlife crisis,” she reflected back to me.  I thought, this normative life is exactly what I wanted in the first place, so what was the problem?  I am a good person.  My mom thinks so.  My uncle really doesn’t care nor acknowledge me.  I am a good person?

Moral management is a key strategy to surviving and thriving, especially for minoritized populations.  With these three strategies in mind, you may be able to communicate with your extended family members and productively contribute to society without major incident.


Invisible Hooves

But I’d learned a thing or two from the cow, learned about things pretending to be other things.