Follow the evolution of my real emotions as I learn to accept the fact that I am gay in a traditional household. My emotions are still a work-in-progress because I still struggle to accept myself, yet the fact that I no longer reject my sexuality is proof that I am a survivor of the heteronormative society around me.
Four years old and naive, I planted a kiss on the lips of my best friend Lindsey before we parted ways onto our separate buses: Goodbye until the next morning of kindergarten. She was just my best friend until Dylan, a boy much larger and much older, said kisses between girls were meant only for the cheek. Seven years old and uneasy, I let my dolls hold hands but only under the hood of the pink convertible so that my mother and father would not see: Just days prior, at the office of the doctor, they suggested conversion therapy — a simple change of attitude — to the transgender man and woman, whose relationship gained national speculation. Ten years old and nervous, I watched Paris By Night, a Vietnamese musical production, with my parents. I would pay attention only to the women in traditional ao dai although I still forced myself to stare at the men in tailored suits because I had to avoid suspicion from my mother and father, the very people who suggested conversion therapy to a transgender couple just a few years before.
Thirteen years old and terrified, I panicked when my cousin Minh asked whether I had a boyfriend or girlfriend because I worried that I had looked queer even though I grew my nails, straightened my hair, and wore lipstick. Earlier that day, Co Tuyet confessed her disappointment because she had just received a letter from Minh, who would much rather kiss boys than girls. Sixteen years old and ashamed, I dated a college boy Chuks because he went to a military college, he was pre-med, and he could drive a car. I would have never admitted my gratitude that the dates were nothing more scandalous than watching The Secret Life of Pets and sharing a cup of Sweet Frog because my family adored him more than anyone I could ever love. Nineteen years old and insecure, I now watch Ellen Degeneres, Kristen McKenzie, and Demi Burnett but I still use headphones and shield my phone screen. I scribble notes into a journal to convince myself that my parents would be tolerant and welcoming — forgiving even — but I still remember the scars on my wrist from petty debates over Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi.
Nineteen years old, I have survived pain in the form of naiveness, uneasiness, fear, shame, and insecurity, and yet I cannot wait to finally feel proud of both the rock on my hand and the wife on my arm. I dream of a morning during which I wake to my wife planting a kiss on my lips, to memorizing the scatter of her freckles before memorizing the color of her eyes, to bracing the bed frame as our bulldog — or maybe even our child — hops onto the mattress. I dream not of pancakes in bed but of coffee on the porch, accompanied by the sunrise of pink and orange and followed by the chaos of pantsuits and blouses. Maybe I will drape a white coat around my shoulders and maybe my wife will prepare a stack of report cards. I dream of holding hands with the woman whom I love without stares from children at the bus stop or parents of our kin. I have survived pain in so many forms that it would be fruitless to not live my dreams in every form.