Steven Tran is a law student at Hofstra University, School of Law in New York. Steven is a former 1L representative of APALSA at Hofstra.
I own a rice maker. There is a 25-pound bag of rice to accompany it. I use chopsticks to flip my chicken nuggets, and yes, there are towels on the seats in my car. As I have discovered my own identity outside the labels and stereotypes prescribed to me, I slowly realize I cannot escape my 'Asianness.' And even then, I find that being Vietnamese American is still very foreign idea.
I grew up in a strict household, where conversation was almost nonexistent. Even within the family, we had images to protect. I never felt like I could let my guard down, let alone have an honest discussion where I shared weaknesses and fears I had as a child. This was and continues to be my definition of family.
I knew I was different for as long as I can remember. I knew I was not 'one of the guys.' I played with the girls on the school playground. When I entered middle school, my 'different' found a name: gay. Even though I was the smart, nice, quiet Asian in my class, I realized that being labeled 'gay' was not socially acceptable. If my friends could not accept 'gay,' I knew my family would not either. So I hid my thoughts, withdrawing further into myself. Fast forward to high school, and I found myself in the darkest of depressions. Being Vietnamese and gay? The combination could not exist.
As a result, I 'shed' my Vietnamese identity, and spent four years of my undergrad interning and advocating for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. I toyed with the ideas of 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity and expression,' and when I graduated, I did so as a queer, transgender Vietnamese individual.
I came out to my parents in a letter. I let them know that the son they dropped off freshman year was not the same person they would meet at graduation. When I went to see them after they arrived in town, I expected the worst. I got more than I ever imagined. This was going to be the first time my parents would see me being honest to myself. I was sharing all of who I was, leaving myself vulnerable to them for the first time. I was nervous-imagine Mothra-sized butterflies, beating their wings against every corner of my stomach.
How did my parents respond? I was a monster. I was not their son. Even though I got this far, how could they bear to look at me? I left in tears and in complete disbelief of the words my parents spoke. I have not spoken to my father since. My relationship with my mom is strained, completely changed from what it used to be.
Having just started law school, I am re-discovering my Vietnamese identity, fitting it nicely alongside my transgender identity. As much as I have advocated for the LGBT community, I feel a barrier-a fear-of speaking about the LGBT 'taboo' within the Asian American community. Just how do you bring it up? I want to ask: where are the other LGBT Asian Americans? Do they even exist? How are we advocating for them? I have no idea how to reconcile who I am with my own family. How many others out there experience the same thing?
Our diverse community includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members who remain minorities even within our community. I hope that as we give back, we use our skills and our education to break down the walls of silence surrounding LGBT issues-issues that affects the entire Asian American community.