What are your pronouns?
Where do you work?
Well until recently I was working full-time as an Admin Assistant at ACLU of Northern California, but now I am fun-employed. [laughs]
Do you have any hobbies or special interests / what do you do for fun?
I definitely read a lot of books. I think now that I’m out of school, I have a lot of time to read for leisure again, and I enjoy doing that. But other than that, I like to watch anime, I like eating, and I used to be into photography too but I haven’t really done it for a while. Some day I’d like to get back into it.
How do you handle the issue of pronouns and being gendered when interacting with strangers / mixed company / etc?
I think nowadays I’m trying to get more in the habit of introducing myself with my pronouns, just because I feel like it’s something I want to normalize. But I’ve found that, especially if I’m in a new environment and I don’t really know the people there, I feel kind of nervous about being the only person to talk about it. I don’t want to really attract too much attention to myself, as someone who’s not cisgender in the company of all cisgender people. So it’s kind of difficult for me because I feel like usually if I don’t say anything, people will just mis-gender me as “she,” and then I feel like over time I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with that, so I feel like nowadays I will try to find a moment to say something. So it might not even be until the end of a conversation where I’ll just be like, “Hey, I’m actually not a woman, so I’d appreciate it if you don’t use ‘miss’” or something like that. I think most of the time it’s gone okay, but I’ve had a few situations where it’s someone who is just really confused by the use of “they” pronouns, or just seems like they don’t understand but they’re not willing to ask questions about it. So it [feels] like, Oh, I know you don’t really get it, or you don’t maybe see the importance the way that I do. But then I don’t really feel that comfortable pushing it.
What word(s) would you use to describe your identity?
I guess I consider myself non-binary and trans. I consider myself broadly queer, but more specifically on the asexual spectrum, and demi- or pan-romantic. And I guess in other aspects I consider myself second-generation Chinese-American, someone with invisible disabilities, grew up upper middle-class, and someone who has education privilege.
Are there ways that you dress / act / speak / etc. to specifically make a statement to others about your identity? Why?
There are situations where I’ll actually wear a shirt that makes it very clear that I’m trans. I’ll wear a shirt with a trans flag on it that was from Norcal T-Camp that I went to many years ago, or I might even wear a shirt that has my pronouns on it. I think it’s just that once in a while I get tired of being mis-gendered, and I try to figure out ways to send that message without having to keep explicitly telling people over and over. Other than that, I guess I generally dress in a way that’s considered tomboy-ish or androgynous, and that’s one of my ways of just trying to express my gender identity and also my queerness at the same time. Once in a while I’ll wear stuff related to disability, or have a shirt that’s about Asian-American Studies at the university I went to. So those are ways that I express other things that I care about, and things that I feel are relevant.
I feel that I don’t come off as being particularly strange where I live; I have a lot of leeway to express myself. I think though that it can be kind of funny – I was talking to someone who grew up in the rural South, and they were saying that when they present the way they do gender-wise down there, they’re more likely to get seen as a “sir” or “he/him,” but here they’re a lot more likely to get mis-gendered as “she” because people perceive that as being within the realm of what a woman would dress as. So even gender nonconformity here, I feel like it gets perceived in ways that people maybe are well-meaning with it, but it could actually be not what the person was going for. There’s times where I feel like even if I did something, like cut my hair or wore certain clothes, I feel like I get perceived as being maybe a lesbian or something, which is not really what I’m trying to achieve. But then I haven’t really figured out what to do that would actually get me to be perceived as non-binary, because I realize given just the way that people are socialized just to see two gender roles, it’s really hard to figure out. That kind of feels like uncharted territory. I don’t know what specific things I could use that would signify my gender identity to people without me just having to actually spell that out.
How early on did you know or suspect that you did not identify within the binary?
I was probably like 17 when I figured it out. I think for me my period of questioning was really short, and that was just because I first found out about non-binary by reading stuff online. Then later, after Wikipedia which is not really the best educational source, I talked to people on Tumblr and in the Gay-Straight Alliance that I was part of in high school. So for me I think it was just a pretty quick turnover, and then I figured out, Oh, I don’t think “girl” is the best fit, something else actually feels better for me. And so I think for most of my life, I didn’t really question it, I just kind of felt like, Okay, I’m a girl, whatever. I think part of it was [that] I was both kind of a tomboy but then I also liked a lot of the traditional feminine things, so that kind of prevented me from questioning it as much. Because I just felt like, Well there’s still kind of room in here for me. Where I grew up, at least, being into masculine things, even if you were perceived as a girl, was socially acceptable for the most part. So it’s not like I had any reason to feel like I wasn’t what people thought I was.
And I don’t think I had really what I recognized as dysphoria at first, I think it was just I was distressed because I had puberty pretty early, and I felt like, Oh, somehow my body is making me become a woman, even though this is not something I feel ready for or that I consented to. And later I was introduced to cosplaying [and] the possibility of binding my chest, and I thought, you know what, I’m just going to do this for cosplay. But then later on I realized, no actually, I like how this looks, I like how this feels, this is something I’d want to do more of the time. And I think, now looking back, that’s probably a sign that I wasn’t cis. I remember there was a time when I was like 8 or something and I asked my mom if she ever just thought about what it would be like if she was a boy instead, and she just [said], “No.” I just kind of forgot about it and moved on, but now I’m thinking, Oh, maybe that wasn’t something that everyone experienced, maybe it was just something I thought about because I wasn’t a girl after all.
Do you think anything about the way you were raised or where you grew up affected how you drew conclusions about your identity?
I feel for one thing that I probably would’ve figured it out earlier if I had grown up in a more queer and trans friendly environment. Because even though I did grow up in the Bay area I felt like where I lived, which was for most of my childhood Cupertino, felt very suburban. It was mostly Asian immigrants, and mostly upper middle-class and people who were pretty socially conservative. I didn’t even really encounter any gay people who were out, let alone people who were transgender and queer. So I don’t really feel like I had exposure, and I feel like if I had known it was possible to be trans, I probably would’ve figured it out a lot earlier. But because I didn’t really have any real people to look to at that time, I feel like that’s why it took all the way until the end of high school. Just because I happened to come across that information, and I knew some peers who didn’t really come out until later, like college, because that was where they finally got to talk to people and explore. But I still feel fortunate that I had managed to figure it out earlier. But I think that if my environment had been more affirming, I would’ve been out a lot earlier, and I would’ve figured it out probably in middle school.
Can you give any examples of misconceptions people have about those who identify outside the binary? Have you personally dealt with them?
I guess one thing is that I feel like people don’t take it as seriously as being a binary trans person sometimes. I feel like they see it as being sort of a phase, or people making a political statement. Which I guess to some extent, yeah, your identities are politicized, but I guess people seeing it as more, “Oh this is just a way to show you’re subversive and not conforming.” And I don’t necessarily feel like it’s a choice to that extent for everyone. For a lot of people this feels like the thing that feels best for them, and it’s not like they intentionally want to be like that. But I think one thing that irks me is that – there was a time when I told people that I was okay with “they” and “he” pronouns, just because I was trying to emphasize that I didn’t want to be called “she.” I am okay with “he,” it’s just not the best. But I noticed that people were a lot faster to correct themselves to “he” all of a sudden, and I was telling them “they” first because that was the one I wanted them to use, but people just kind of heard the “he” and went with that. And it felt like, oh now they think I’m a trans guy, and they were a lot more willing to just correct themselves or feel less urgency to when it came to gendering me as a guy, but strangely enough I felt like all that time when I was saying I had “they” pronouns, people didn’t really care, or they didn’t really seem to see it as being as significant as being a trans guy. So I think they just didn’t really take it as seriously needing to use the right pronouns.
In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation?
I feel like gender identity is something that really comes up a lot more in life, because I feel like people are really socialized from a young age to gender people, and that really shapes their perceptions. Like even if you went to see a newborn baby or something, depending on whether that baby is deemed a boy or a girl, people make different kinds of comments. I’ve been told people [say] how “he’s such a lady’s man,” about some young boy, but that feels like it’s sort of a combination of a gender and also imposing a sexuality onto that kid. But I feel like gender comes up a lot, because even just when I go out to eat, I have to brace myself, because I know that the wait staff are trained to be polite and they’ve been taught they should use “sir” or “ma’am” and I’m usually going to get “ma’am”ed. And I feel like that comes up in ways that my sexual orientation really doesn’t. It just isn’t really relevant unless I’m with a partner, and even then – at least where I live, I feel like it’s kind of a non-issue for people to have a same-gendered partner, so that’s not really that much of an issue for me.
But I feel like with my gender it really affects my daily experience of life, because I always have to show them my gender on forms, when I go to the doctor… It can be more difficult trying to find an affirming provider, trying to make sure that they’re talking to me in a way that feels like they’re really seeing me as who I am, and trying to figure out healthcare. I need to have things like hormones covered, and I’m thankful that right now I’m not able to be discriminated against by insurance companies, but I know that’s a thing that people have dealt with. Even just going to the bathroom when there’s only two gendered bathroom options is really stressful for me, because I feel like I usually go to the women’s because I know people won’t question my presence there, and it’s the safer choice physically. Going to the men’s bathroom probably feels just a little bit better for me in terms of my gender identity, but I’m usually afraid to go there because I’m afraid someone’s going to get upset at me, or attack me for it. So I feel that gender ends up being more something that people perceive me as, and that really shapes my experience a lot.
My sexual orientation – I mean in some ways it’s related to my gender identity because I feel like people define their sexual orientation in relation to their gender. Like if you’re a man who likes men then you’d probably say that you’re gay. Whereas I guess for me because I’m pan and I’m attracted to people of all genders, that it doesn’t have as much of a direct relation, but I feel like if I was only attracted to one gender, I would define that based on what my gender identity is. So I feel like they are connected in that way, and I know that also people’s lived experience of gender can affect how they identify sexually too. I’ve heard talk from other people who medically transitioned that even taking hormones can affect who they were attracted to. There’s some people who’ve actually changed what orientation they identify as after they’ve taken hormones, because they ended up being attracted more to people with [different] gender presentation than they used to.
How do you feel represented in media and society at large?
I feel like there’s almost no representation I like. I just feel like when there is some non-binary representation, which is really rare, it usually is something like cartoons, like Steven Universe or something, and then when it comes to actually seeing real people, I can’t really think of [any] off the top of my head. The only things I can think of are just fictional characters who are not in live action. And I think it’s even harder when I’m trying to look for Asian-American trans or queer representation at all. I feel like I only ever encounter it in the occasional indie film that I see at a film festival, but not at all in the mainstream. I feel like even just seeing cisgender heterosexual Asian-Americans is rare for me, aside from them being side characters or being in really stereotyped roles. So I feel like there’s no one who really represents my experience at all in mainstream media, and I feel like I have to turn to other things like web comics or things that people create for themselves in order to find something I can really relate to on multiple levels.
What improvements would you like to see happen inside your communities, and in society at large?
One thing that has been frustrating to me in the queer communities that I’ve been in is that I feel like there’s almost this norm of people using social justice and abstract language in order to talk about conflicts that come up. I feel like it becomes so abstracted sometimes that I don’t understand what’s actually happening, and that’s frustrating for me. And then I feel like it’s really hard for me to perceive what I should do, or what to really think about it, when everything’s been talked about in really high-level terms. I feel like sometimes it even gets used to [the] point that it obscures. Like for instance I’ve heard almost every leftist queer couple I know, when there’s a breakup, they always use the word “abuse” at some point. And I don’t really know at that point if all these relationships have been abusive in some way, which could very well be, or if it’s just that people are using that language. I don’t know what purpose it serves for people, but it just becomes sort of a more “who can use the language first” and “who can be the woke person here.” And that frustrates me, because I really want to be able to believe people who have survived abuse. Sometimes both parties are saying the other was abusive, and if abuse is about power dynamics, then I can’t really tell just from you saying that what was really happening. Even just when people have some sort of interpersonal conflict and then I’m just like, Well maybe something shitty was happening there, but maybe it wasn’t what you were saying it was?
And I guess one thing that also frustrates me is that I feel like people haven’t really made it a priority to make their events accessible to people with disabilities. On one hand I can understand, yeah, almost all the houses in Oakland have stairs. I see that. People need housing. So I don’t really fault anyone for having to live somewhere that isn’t necessarily accessible. But when people plan events outside of the home, and they choose venues that aren’t accessible, and they don’t put information about things that they’re offering… They don’t say if the bathrooms are wheelchair accessible, they don’t always say if it’s going to be low-scent or if there’s going to be ASL interpretation; or often if they do mention these things it’s, “Contact us if you need any accommodations.” And I feel like that just puts the onus on whoever might need that level of access that able-bodied people don’t. That’s tiring, and it shouldn’t be their job, and it kind of just shows that you’re more of a second thought or it’s not a priority for people with disabilities to be there, because they’re treating it like this is something that’s optional, like a bonus. I don’t think it’s limited to queer communities necessarily, but I just feel like because I’m part of those I just notice it more, because I feel like people are trying to be conscious about a lot of different kinds of oppression. But this is something where I find this continually missing a lot of the time, and I’m more surprised when people actually do a good job with their accessibility, rather than when they do a poor job.
Could you tell me about an experience or moment in your life that was very impactful for you? It can be in regards to your identity, or not.
One of the things that came to mind was I was just thinking about a previous workplace; I used to work at my university’s International Office, and actually that was a workplace I really enjoyed a lot. I felt like people were supportive, really friendly, there was no such thing as asking a stupid question, and people were always there to learn and help each other, even if it was outside of their specific job role. And I think one thing that was really significant to me was my supervisor – at one point I finally got comfortable enough to correct her about my pronouns, and she immediately [said], “Oh, I wish you had told me earlier.” Even though she was cisgender she really got it. And she just [said], “It must be really frustrating for you to always have to be correcting people and having people mis-gender you all the time,” and then she went, without me having to ask her to do it, and started telling other co-workers about my pronouns, and making sure that they knew. And I noticed then afterward that people started to correct themselves, and I was like, Wow, this is just a step beyond what I would’ve expected anyone to do. Usually I feel like I have to just tell each person and keep trying. It seemed like they all could see now that it was something important, and I feel like I saw that change happen pretty quickly, so I was just like, Wow.
Could you give me an example of something difficult that occurred in your life how you dealt with it? It can be in regards to your identity, or not.
I just feel like there’s so many different things that I can think of. [laughs] Well one thing that was really rough on me was when I first told my parents that I was interested in taking testosterone, and they really took it badly. I thought at that point since they knew I was non-binary, [that] they were supportive for the most part even though they didn’t say much about it; but they were immediately just like, “No, this is a terrible decision, you’re gonna destroy your body, you’re gonna regret this.” And at first I was just kind of shocked, but I was still thinking, Maybe they just need some time to come around and I can give them more resources and that would help. And I continued without telling them. I went to my university’s health center, and I initiated the process to get hormones, because I was still really curious about it, and I really wanted to try it, even if I ended up going off hormones like a year later. And because it was an informed consent model there, it actually was pretty quick for me to get hormones.
But only like a day after I got the prescription and I filled it through my university’s health center, my mom found out about it, because I was under her health insurance and she had been checking the account at that time. She saw that prescription and saw the authorization, and she flipped out. My parents immediately [said], “We’re gonna come up to college and talk to you about this.” I came out of my apartment and they had me sit in the car with them, and we had this really uncomfortable conversation where they were telling me how this was a terrible decision, I wasn’t mature enough to make this decision, and I was going to ruin and destroy myself and that I was hurting them. My mom was bringing up how she was having stomach issues because she was stressed about it, and my parents were pressuring me and insisting in any way possible, “No you can’t do this, you need to stop.” At some point they even said that they would pull me out of school in order to stop me from taking hormones. I was super shaken up by it because I didn’t expect them to react that badly, and for them to make such extreme threats. I was super depressed about it, but then I started thinking, Oh okay, I need to make plans in case.
I started talking to a social worker at my school’s health center just trying to see what options were there if I wanted to become financially independent from my parents.
Because I felt like well, the choice I was being given by my parents was either wait until you’re completely independent and then you can do what you want, or you just have to stop now. I felt like, Well, I don’t want to have to wait until I’m out of college and financially independent before I can do that. I feel like it’s something that’s important for me to do earlier. So I thought, Oh I need to figure out a way I can do this. So either I’d have to go behind their back for a while, or I’d have to find out a way to convince them to be okay with it, or if worse comes to worst then I need to cut ties with them. So I had started talking to the social worker, and I was pretty freaked out by it, because as she was talking to me I realized that was going to be really hard. The cost of living and tuition and everything is so expensive there, and having to work and also maintain a school workload was going to be really difficult. And I was scared because I’d never had to do that much work and also try to take a full course load at the same time. So I was just not confident that I would be able to do that.
So then I also started reaching out to people I knew through the queer student boards and stuff and talking about my situation and trying to see if people had resources or suggestions, and someone did connect me to this doctor they knew who had prescribed a lot of hormones for trans patients before. I spoke to him, because he was also of Chinese descent. So I knew my parents would probably be more receptive to talking to someone who was of their same ethnic background and who could speak the language, and with an MD. He said he was willing to talk to my parents. I brought it up to my parents as a suggestion, but my mom, she refused to do it. She [said], “No, I’m not willing to do a phone conversation, we’d have to do it in person,” and he’s in San Francisco, and she insisted it was too far. So I felt like it was her way of avoiding it because she didn’t want to talk to anyone who had any positive view toward medical transition. I tried also researching and looking at a lot of academic databases, and I found a lot of research articles about people’s well-being before and after they transitioned. Most of the research was about surgery and not hormones, and there were also a few articles about how important social support is, and having trans youth thrive.
So I sent a lot of these articles to my parents, and my dad, he said that he had read them, but my mom just insisted that she hadn’t seen any of them. And later on when I would bring up these things to her she’d just [say], “It’s too distressing for me. I can’t read it.” So I feel like she was avoiding it because she felt like it was just too painful for her. And I feel like even to this day my mom isn’t really supportive of it. I ended up taking hormones, after I kind of negotiated a compromise with my parents; I’ll stop and wait half a year, and during that time, that’s for you to be able to learn more and be able to become more comfortable with this idea, and think about it some more. And at the end of that period my mom was still like, “I don’t feel like I’m ready, I have enough information, I don’t think this is safe, I don’t think you’re ready to make this decision.” She even said she thought I wouldn’t be mature enough to make that decision until I was in my 40s. And that’s just way too late, I can’t wait that long. And I feel like even then she’d still be like, “You’re not really mature enough to make these important decisions.” So at that point I held firm and took the risk; let’s see if she would do anything now that I’m telling her what I’m going to do. And thankfully she didn’t try and stop me at that point.
My parents were still kind of showing that they didn’t approve of it. I used to bring back invoices from medical appointments and stuff because my mom needed to submit it to her employer’s insurance, but then I brought home some sheets from blood tests I had to do, and my mom would get really upset about it, and say, “We wouldn’t have to do all these labs if you weren’t trying to transition.” It was just really stressful, and I feel like I ended up just avoiding the topic with my parents as much as possible just to try and keep the peace. At least I was able to keep taking hormones for the last few years thanks to that, but I still don’t really feel like my parents are fully behind it. I think my dad has come around more than my mom. He was the first one to try to use gender neutral language for me, but my mom, even now she refuses to use “they/them” pronouns for me, and I’ve realized it’s been more than four years since I first started asking her. She’s insisting at this point that her way of “respecting my gender” is her just not using pronouns at all. Like she would just use my name, but then when she did mess up it was always as “she,” and she wouldn’t apologize or correct herself then. So it just really felt like she was just avoiding it no matter what. Her discomfort trumped whatever discomfort I felt from it. I’m kind of worried too, because she never used to care about politics, but now she’s paying attention and voting according to conservative voting guides. So I feel almost like she, as I’ve gone on, has become more on the opposite side to me.
Who in your life do you feel you can trust or depend on?
I feel like I have a few friends who I can really trust and depend on. I don’t make friends really easily, but when I do, I have friends for a long time. So I have some friends from as far back as elementary and middle school who I’m still in touch with, and I feel like they’re really the people who I look to if I need emotional support, or just if something happens and I need advice. Or even sometimes if I want to go hang out with them or something and need a ride, those are the people who I would talk to. And I guess to a limited extent I can still count on my dad and my mom a little bit too. I just feel like I was pretty close to them growing up, and even now there’s certain things I know, like, emergency happens, these are the people I can still count on to do something. They can be there. And if I were to need financial support, they are people that I could ask that of and they would probably agree. But I just feel like my trust in them has been broken somewhat, but I feel like they’re still people I look to as kind of back-up or in certain kind of situations where I might feel uncomfortable asking a friend to do something, that I feel like my parents are still people I would ask for help.
How has your identity played a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?
Let’s see. I guess one thing is it does limit my dating pool somewhat, because I’m not really willing to date a cisgender and heterosexual guy. So I feel like that cuts off a lot of the pool, and then there’s a lot of girls who I feel like are either only attracted to men, or only attracted to women, so that’s not really an option for me either. I feel like I’ve had the most luck with dating other transgender people and people who are pan or bi. And I think my being on the asexual spectrum comes up a lot more as an issue in the relationships, because I feel like past partners that I’ve had have felt frustrated, or – they’ve had more desire for me than I’ve had for them. They wanted me to be sexually attracted to them, and I think they also, because of their own insecurities about their appearance and desirability, felt like there was something wrong with me, or [I wasn’t] trying hard enough because [I wasn’t] showing sexual attraction to [them].
So I feel like that’s something more difficult for me to figure out. Trying to express to people: I still really care about you, I like you a lot, it’s just for me I can’t really make myself feel sexual desire the way a lot of people can. It could happen, if I get to know you long enough, but it’s just not a guarantee. It’s hard. For people, feeling sexually desired is a really important part of the relationship.
I’ve had a partner who, even though she considered herself to be on the asexual spectrum, I guess still needed me to show more sexual desire [toward] her. I think for her she just felt frustrated knowing that I had had a partner in the past who I had felt sexual attraction to, and so she felt like, “Oh I’m not good enough, I’m not pretty enough.” I think it was just really hard for me because I had gone into the relationship thinking, Oh this is gonna go better because we’re both on the ace spectrum and so there won’t be as much expectation of this, but then realizing, Oh no, it’s still important for me to be going through the motions. Still demonstrating – I guess behaving in a way as though I’m sexually attracted, even though I’m not. And it was just really stressful for me because I felt like even though I’m trying to reassure her [that] it’s not like I don’t like her, [as if] she’s not attractive, but I felt like I was not able to do a good enough job of that. It just felt really frustrating. I thought, Oh, maybe if I wasn’t ace this at least would be easier, either for me to figure out early on [that] maybe this isn’t gonna work, or at least for me to be able to develop that attraction and be able to act upon that and be able to make her feel like she was desired. I felt like I couldn’t really do that.
Sometimes I feel like with relationships that I might just be better off looking for someone who wants more of a platonic realm kind of relationship just because those are the most important things to me. Having that emotional bond with someone and being able to talk to them and spend time together. Stuff that is more traditionally romantic or sexual isn’t really that important to me. So I’m realizing there’s not a lot of people out there who are looking only for that kind of relationship, so if I were able to be with someone who is looking for someone similar, it would work out better.
Are you able to find adequate medical care?
Yeah, I think I’ve been fortunate. I’m part of this Facebook group, Bay Area Gender-Affirming Service Providers, so that’s a pretty useful place for me to ask for references. Through that I was able to find a primary care doctor who was at least familiar with binary trans people, if not non-binary, so I felt like that was good. They are already familiar with prescribing hormones, and they’re not being gatekeep-y about it. That was also helpful because they didn’t use too many gendered terms. Doing things like a papsmear, which was really important to me, just to feel like, Oh okay, it’s not like they’re going to talk about me like a woman during this. It helps me to feel comfortable during these procedures that otherwise may be kind of invasive. I changed insurance recently, so now I’m in the middle of looking for a new provider, but similarly I still have those online resources and people I can ask for information. I’m feeling pretty comfortable about that right now, just knowing that there’s a pretty big center right here in Oakland. They have a department that focuses on trans health, so there should be a decent amount of doctors for me to choose from, and so I’m feeling pretty good about that.
I’ve visited a few different trans-competent providers in SF before, back when I was still looking for a primary care provider on my previous insurance, and I felt like I had a pretty good experience with most of them. There was one, the UCSF Center for Excellence in Trans Health or something, they have a pretty long waiting list, so that one took more than half a year for me to get that appointment. So I think it just depends, like for the lesser known ones, there’s a much shorter wait. But I think it’s just knowing where to ask, and once you have that kind of social network, than it’s pretty easy I think. But other than that it’s just not well advertised out there, so it’s hard to find.
How has your view of yourself changed since you were younger?
I guess one of the most significant things was that I just stopped seeing myself as a girl. I feel like that – seeing myself as non-binary – has been significant, because suddenly it felt like something I’m consciously choosing, and consciously identifying as. As opposed to something that I kind of just accepted as other people labeling me as, and [just thinking], Oh okay, I’ll go with this. I feel like also another thing that changed a lot for me was how I saw myself racially. I think because I grew up in a neighborhood where I was part of the racial majority, I didn’t really think about it a lot growing up, aside from just more Asian cultural things that people talk about. But then once I got to college, even though I went to Berkeley and that was still a pretty large Asian-American population, I think for the first time I really encountered being a minority, and being very conscious that I was being seen that way. And the kind of discomfort I felt to be suddenly realizing in academic spaces that as a non-white person I hadn’t been socialized to feel like my voice mattered that much, or to feel like I had entitlement, almost, to take up space.
That was sort of a really rude wake-up call. Also just encountering times when people would perceive me as a tourist or being an international student. I think there’s stuff I have to unpack around why I had a negative reaction to it, but it’s also realizing, Oh, I’m being seen as a foreigner in ways that I didn’t really anticipate. Because I felt, I belong here too, I was born here, I’ve lived here all my life. I always had felt more the American aspect than the Chinese aspect of Chinese-American. But I think just growing up has made me realize I’m also in this weird position where I don’t have white privilege, but at the same time I have it a lot better than other people of color often times. Just because I’m perceived as being non-threatening, close enough to whiteness, and able to serve as kind of a diversity token in some situations. Especially because I was in the humanities and social sciences side of things, I ended up usually being part of the minority. Even in workspaces that I’ve been in, I’ve been one of the few non-white people there and it’s been really jarring for me and uncomfortable. I don’t like where I grew up, so I always thought I would go somewhere with different demographics, but now [I was] realizing, Oh, I actually do need to be part of a sizeable enough group of at least people of color, not necessarily Asian-Americans. I do feel like there’s certain things that I feel uncomfortable talking about, or just feel like the onus gets put on me to kind of push forward more of a racial justice lens, and I don’t really want to have to always be the one doing that.
I also just feel this discomfort, even sometimes in queer spaces, when it’s almost all white people, and I feel really deeply uncomfortable. But I don’t know how to bring that up because I feel like people might react defensively. I don’t really know how I would approach it in a way that can also bring in people for having a solution or working toward something better. It’s hard to find places where I feel like I fully belong, just because I don’t really feel like I fit in with broad Asian-American spaces or Chinese-American spaces. But then going into queer spaces – unless they’re specifically QTPOC spaces, then sometimes I just feel out of place. I’ve talked to a friend about how they feel sometimes when they go to a mostly white gay space; they feel sort of offended that people aren’t attracted to them, this sense of not being desirable, or they’re being fetishized. So I feel like there’s that feeling too sometimes.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I’d want to tell my younger self that it’s okay to slow down a bit more, and to take breaks. I feel like my younger self pushed myself really hard. I was super stressed out about school. Because I grew up in a very academically competitive school district, I felt like I had to be performing at the highest all the time. I always felt like I [had] to get all As, and I [had] to get into a “good college,” and that was super stressful for me. I feel like it really took a toll on my mental health and my physical health, and my self-esteem. And looking back, I would’ve wanted to tell myself that it was okay to slow down, and it was okay to mess up; that it was more important to learn from those things, rather than just being so perfectionistic all the time. I think if I had had more time to think about it I would’ve put more time into hobbies and other passions that I had, and not concentrated so single-mindedly on doing well in school. I think that I lost out on years of my childhood because of that. I feel like looking back I would’ve wanted that time to maybe reflect more on things I wanted to do, or what I wanted to be, and I think I would’ve probably made different decisions. Even just about what I went to school for, or where I went to school. I don’t necessarily feel unhappy about where I’ve ended up now, but I could’ve just taken some more time. I don’t think I had to push myself and overwork myself so much. I could’ve just taken more time to be a kid.
What are your concerns for the future?
One thing I’m worried about is my future career; what I’m going to end up doing. I feel like every time I start a new job is super stressful, which is a normal thing, but still, I feel like I don’t really know too clearly what I want to do in the future. I do know I have some interest in doing social work or counseling, and I think, What if I’m not good at it? I feel like I don’t want to be responsible for harming someone else’s life. Also just feeling like I don’t really want to go to grad school, but what if I have to? I guess I just worry sometimes about my financial stability, just knowing that I’m not going to be doing anything lucrative. I’ve been very adamant about wanting to be independent and not fall back on my parents’ privilege, but I know they’re still very eager to help, and they wish that I would take their money. But I don’t want to because I feel like there’s strings attached. I also just feel like I want to find something that’s really fulfilling for me, and not overly stressful to the point that I burn out. But trying to figure out what that is, it’s difficult. I feel like I can only find out by trying things and seeing what works.
I guess I worry a lot about housing, because I feel like it was a pretty stressful series of months just for me to finally get to this place, and I just feel like every time looking for housing has been super stressful. Looking for ads all the time, and having to do interviews, and then not getting chosen, and I feel like it’s more pressure almost than job interviews. It’s just been really stressful, especially seeing how rents are going up around here. I feel like it’s always on my mind even if it’s not about my housing situation. Thinking about other people I know who are getting priced out and getting displaced from the Bay, and knowing that some of my friends who haven’t graduated yet or just graduated are staying with parents or something because they really can’t afford to do anything else. That’s constantly on my mind because I feel like the whole population here is changing, especially because of the whole finance and tech influx into San Francisco and the south Bay. I feel like has really changed the characters of the neighborhoods that I’ve known, and it’s really deeply unsettling for me. I guess it’s hard for me to feel like I can put down roots or feel like there’s a home because I feel like in the end I could very well also get displaced, and it doesn’t feel like even the people who have been here a long time get to stay here. So I feel like there’s a lot of transience in my life now, and part of it is exciting – just trying to figure out what I’m going to do with my life next – but a lot of it is also just kind of scary unknown. And I feel like I’m pretty pessimistic so I don’t have a lot to look forward to. [laughs]
What do you look forward to in the future?
I guess one thing I’m looking forward to is some of my friends moving back to the area. One of my close friends went to New York for this rotation program, like an internship but full-time, and she’s trying out different departments within a company. So she’s in New York City, and I have some other friends who are in different places for grad school. Then one who went to go teach English in Japan, and he’s really been enjoying that, so he ended up extending that for several years. I just feel like all of these friends are really important people to me, so I’m just looking forward to them coming back here and I can see them again. [laughs]
What have been the important frustrations in your life, and the most important successes?
Well, the ones that are on my mind recently are more work-related and learning in workplaces how to be a lot more proactive and explicit when I’m communicating with my coworkers. Especially if I’m working on something that is the same thing that they’re working on. I’ve had a coworker who [asked], “Could you let me know every time you work on this thing?” Because it was a shared project. And before I didn’t really think it was necessary – it seemed unlikely she’d be working on it that day.
But then it turned out she did like to know, just more as a courtesy and for her to adjust her workflow, so I think that was something important for me to learn. I shouldn’t just assume anything. I should be better about communicating and checking in with people. I feel like that is something I really want to work on outside the workforce as well, just everywhere in my life. Also learning that sometimes there are power hierarchies that I’m not aware of. I think that was something that I ran into a lot in my previous workplace. There was a certain hierarchy or certain authority that I should be going through before I did things, and I wasn’t really used to that, because the workplace I had before then was a lot less hierarchical. Just getting used to that and realizing I may not necessarily agree with this chain of command or how things are being decided here, but there are situations where maybe that’s not a battle I should fight, and I should just try to better understand the lay of the land and be able to work in operation with their standards.
I guess also it’s just been frustrating to realize, even with people that I care a lot about, sometimes it’s hard to get people to understand, or to keep trying on things that are important to me. An example would be my parents around my gender, but I think also that came up in a previous romantic relationship I had. Realizing, you know, even if we love each other a lot, it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to feel like you can keep trying, keep wanting to talk about conflicts. So I felt like, sometimes even if people care a lot about each other, they’re not always both in the same place in terms of how far they’re willing to keep trying on it. I guess that’s been a teaching moment for me just because before I used to be really angry and upset and felt like it was unfair, but I think now I can be more compassionate about it. I can understand why they felt that way, and understand why they didn’t want to keep going, even though for me I felt like I had probably a different investment in it than they did.
One thing I felt like was successful has been in the music realm. I like to sing as a hobby, and I just kind of started out putting pretty shitty covers on Youtube and stuff. But over years of doing it I got to improve a lot in my singing. I was mostly self-taught, and just getting to connect with people who had a similar hobby. We all liked to sing stuff that was originally made with vocaloid software (music that was using software instead of actual human vocals). But we would make covers of it by singing, and then I just really enjoyed getting to know people and making some friends in that community. I think that was part of how I ended up getting roped into auditioning for an acapella group when I was in college. I was in that group and singing Japanese and English songs. It was really enjoyable, and helpful to get used to being able to sing in front of an audience, but also be part of a group, which helped with the anxiety. So I felt really proud of being able to do that, and I felt like it was a really fun experience even if we weren’t one of the highest skill acapella groups. I felt like it was still really useful for me to be able to learn better how to sing in a group, and sing in front of people.
I’m also just happy that I was able to graduate early, and be able to get a job and work for the most part right after I graduated. I feel like that was something I was really anxious about, and then realizing work wasn’t as bad as I thought and I actually really enjoyed one of the jobs that I had. It was also kind of a revelation for me to find that I enjoyed that kind of public and customer interaction of that job, because I’m super introverted and socially anxious. So I didn’t really think that it would be something that I would like, but I ended up really enjoying that job a lot. I felt like that really helped me to feel like there was more possibilities in the future and [to not be] scared of doing that kind of job.
Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice?
I don’t know if I have a philosophy. I think that’s something that I’m still trying to figure out in therapy – I was talking a lot with my therapist about things that I felt like were flaws about myself, or that I disliked about myself. So I’m actually trying to learn how to have a new set of values, which is something that feels really significant and really upends everything that I’ve taken for granted. So far in my life it’s always honesty and transparency have been really important to me. I’ve always wanted to know what’s going on, I want people to present as much behind what’s going on as possible. I feel like it’s really important to me to be authentic when I’m talking to people, and not hiding things from them. I feel like I’m just wrestling with how to keep that, but also maybe change it in some ways. I want to be more compassionate too. Like say friends ask for feedback on some writing or art that they’ve produced, I want to be able to be kind to them even while being honest about what I think. Also just being able to be really empathetic and thinking about what other people are experiencing first before I say something, because I think no matter how well-intentioned it is, it matters more to me what my impact is. So if I can, in some way, minimize some of the harm that might be done to someone else by me saying something, I really want to try and do that while at the same time feeling like I still have my integrity and feeling like I’m telling them what I really think and feel. So I’m trying to work on being kinder, but at the same time still being very clear in my communication.