My beliefs do not come from within myself but rather from a life in a world which opposes me.
I’m not sure when it started. Maybe a year ago when I finally found a word to describe my gender. Maybe a few months ago when I began to engage critically with the concept of capitalism as a sure fact of the world. Maybe it was last June, when I spoke to a room full of high school teachers regarding the importance of gender inclusivity in school. Maybe during the teach­-in, when I spoke very summarily on the experience of being queer and trans and a person of color all at once.

But really, I do know. It started years ago, when people attributed my academic success to my race. It started when I was told I needed to find a girlfriend to take to school dances. It started when cars of people would drive by and yell “Faggot!” at me and my friends in high school. It started when I was told to identify as white on college application forms. 

My radicalism​—and there can be no weaker word to describe the way I see myself and the world around me​—birthed itself through the experiences of 20 years of life. My sense of critical deconstructionism represents more to me than a political stance—it is a weapon and the best and most reliable tool I have for self­-preservation.    Because I live in a world which constantly reminds me that I should not exist, that I am an anomaly and that I need to fit within prescribed boxes, every action I take, every decision I make, represents more than an individual incident but instead a political statement. 

When I introduce myself as agender and explain that I use any and all pronouns interchangeably, I am describing not just a self­-identification but an act of revolt against the very institution of gender itself. But when I am forced to use a men’s bathroom or a men’s locker room, I am undermining myself and my beliefs, submitting to a system which I cannot make submit to me. 

When I check “Asian” and not “white” on the college enrollment form, I am making a statement about the manner in which I am racialized on a daily basis; I am not perceived as white, and therefore I am not treated as such. However, growing up in a white household has distanced me entirely from the culture of Asian Americans. 

I am a radical merely through the fact of my existence. Because my life is a political event, my body as a politicized space is a reality whether I want it to be or not. I am a radical through process of elimination. If I am not a man, am not a woman, am not white and yet also not ‘fully’ Asian, am not straight and yet unable to define my sexuality with words that rely on the existence of a gender binary, I am forced to exist in a liminal space. 

I am a radical as a means of self­-reassurance. Even if I do not fit into the boxes prescribed to me, I can make my own. Radicalism frees me and my ability to explore my own identity, unbound by the circumstances of my birth.  

When I forecast such extremes as the eventual abolition of gender and the inevitable death of capitalism, I do so with the utmost certainty. Because I know there is no other option. I am not the first radical, and I will not be the last. The world, as hegemonically patriarchal and capitalist as it is, produced me and my beliefs, and I am trying my hardest to change what I can and pass on a world just a little bit better than the one that was given to me. Progress engenders radicalism which engenders progress—a cycle of violent ideological death and rebirth towards a better life for everyone.    

My beliefs and experiences directly inform one another. I don’t simply have a political stance or set of opinions—radicalism is quite literally a lifestyle of discontent with the system but optimism for the future. There are more of us every day, an unjust society creating revolutionaries like antibodies designed to fight a virus. I do not doubt that one day we will win

Paul Cheng is a member of the Class of 2017.