Campus Life

I Was The Token Man And I Had to Leave

Forget third wheeling—I was the spare in the trunk.

10589 img token man
A cartoon of the "Anonymous Man," juxtaposed against the identities of his former friend group he was sidelined from.

You (the reader) have seen the memes, I bet. Of sneaky school photographers casually snapping pics of minorities to highlight diversity websites and pamphlets. The classic—if goofy—example of being tokenized. I thought that wouldn’t happen to me. In fact, I even conform to traditional stereotypes—Asian, male, computer science and math double major, among other things that would deanonymize me. So how did that happen? Strange circumstances and bad luck.

See, within The Group (henceforth referred to as “you,”) I was the only man. This wasn’t and certainly isn’t an inherent problem. But I think, all else equal, it set the stage for everything that followed, most of which you honestly probably haven’t recognized, even now. Still, this isn’t an angry indictment of ignorance, more so a matter-of-fact record of events. I never confronted any of you about it, so if you read this…thanks for sticking around.

Firstly, I’m somewhat convinced that you saw me as the weird-but-nice outsider man. Maybe not that weird, and maybe not that much of an outsider, but together it was enough to form a barrier that always stayed up. I was just that “guy” who wasn’t where he was “supposed” to be, hidden away. The guy who would understandably be the last in the loop but the first to share in an attempt to bond. Well, actually, I stopped sharing. I’m not trying to look at this through a “quid pro quo” lens, but I was literally scared of confiding in you about a life-altering medical situation. I figured you would think it's TMI, which hurt. It hurt so much that I went public with it before you overheard it elsewhere, so I didn’t have to tell you face-to-face. So what was the point?

If you’re reading this, I’m genuinely curious if you ever thought about this whole dynamic. Here’s a concrete example for the readers: Ring Delivery 2023. Sophomore year, we all dressed up and did our cute little rounds taking pictures. I don’t blame you for not seeing what went wrong because the evidence kind of obfuscates it. I still go to my Google Drive and look at the pictures I saved. It looks like harmony: pictures of us as a group, pictures of you all, and so on, smiling with closed fists, showing off thousands of dollars in pretty cylinders of metal. 

But that’s precisely the problem. Dig a bit deeper, and there were a few pictures with me and you all, but tons of pictures of just you all. I was auxiliary. The extra dude on the side and/or back of a picture—I’m tall by MIT standards, by the way—but not a core member. See, if I were actually integrated into The Group, you all would’ve taken more pictures with me beyond the obligatory ones. There would’ve been photos of me with various strict subsets of The Group, photos that you initiated because you actually wanted photos of me. If I was anything other than the outer layer of The Group, we would’ve had cute, organic candids, not just the glitzy professional Instagram photos everyone took at those booths. 

OK, maybe you think this example is stupid, but I think Ring Delivery photos are a great way to analyze this type of thing. For the record, I don’t think you would ever actually crop me out from a photo and post it. That would be horrific. Rather, I was mentally cropped out and compartmentalized in a strange moment of mental groupthink that just…happened.

Again, I don’t hate anyone involved, but you all wore me down. You go on various self-defined girls’ trips, some big, some small. Now, I understand maybe not getting invited to go to, say, East Asia with The Group during IAP. But why do you plan little day trips and then toss me half-hearted half-invites that I’m supposed to decline? Is a four-hour time block with me too little return on investment (ROI) for your weekend? Maybe even negative ROI? 

By the way, whenever I wanted to tag along, I’d catch a hesitant glance on all your faces, and half the time I’d walk it back. I usually said I was busy. Letting you know now I wasn’t busy most of the time, I just wanted to save you guilt. I tried giving you the benefit of the doubt—maybe my repeated “neverminds!” made it seem like I wasn’t interested. But that can’t be true. Because until the very end, I always faithfully circled back to The Group, just to get bombarded with more pseudo-rejections. I’m not sure why I did.

I never was honest, and what was the point? The one time I semi-officially left The Group in my junior fall, three of you guys threw an intervention with this weird, weird interview of sorts. I was eager to get things off my chest, but as I gently expressed concerns, I caught strange looks of guilt, sadness, and confusion on your faces. Genuinely, how were you confused?  If that’s how you reacted to the homeopathic-level dilution of the truth, how the hell could I say everything I actually wanted to? I couldn’t—that’s what this article is for. Because the one thing I would hate more than this dynamic (again, hating the situation, not the people involved) is being fake-included in The Group because I was whining about it. But honestly, I wouldn’t mind if they reached out now to talk about it. A post-mortem, if you will.

There’s more. Remember that one time you booked an entire birthday party in the Cheney Room, which is reserved for women and gender minorities? The birthday party you invited me, a man, too? You fixed it in the end when someone pointed it out, but that, too, is a perfect microcosm of what happened: accidental, nonmalicious exclusion. That whole little incident, while easily resolved, made me feel uneasy as you partied at the new venue. Like, after realizing the issue, you all messaged (things to the effect of) “oh unfort.” I know that's just your default way of communicating “oops,” but I often wonder if I should’ve just left so you didn’t have to settle on that “unfortunate” second-choice venue. The inferior venue you almost forgot you needed because of a guy

So, here’s to my 10-month anniversary of leaving the group. Because you bet I’m going to be a main character during my graduation pictures next year. I will not be the male-photographer-friend-you-feel-bad-for-so-you-take-a-few-pictures-with-him again. I’ll be an actual core member of Another Group. I’m finally going to be more valued than just some dude.