Finding my identity after high school

Drawing+by++Narkary+Neang

Drawing by Narkary Neang

Kristin Lam

When I first started questioning my sexuality as a junior at Bear Creek, I tried to push it to the back of my mind. I did not want to acknowledge my feelings for a female friend or reflect on the admiration crushes I had on girls before.

I thought I could never live a life my family or I could be proud of if I was anything but straight and feminine.

While the process has not been easy or simple, I do not believe that anymore. I am a visibly queer, gender nonconforming Asian-American woman and wear my heart on my sleeve. I talk about my girlfriend with family all the time now at age 21.

Four or five years ago, I gradually let myself think about what I had written off as girl crushes. Instead of friendly affection or wishes to be like certain girls and women, I realized I had romantic feelings for them and wanted to be with them.

I expressed this conclusion aloud for the first time inside of a Japanese Buddhist temple during a retreat. Before we went to sleep, a boy told our group about his romantic feelings for another boy. I shared that I similarly saw myself someday loving a woman.

When I came out to friends from high school the summer after graduation, I used the same phrase. They usually asked if that meant I was bisexual because I kind of dated a boy before. I replied “yeah,” thinking that seemed accurate.

In college, getting involved with the LGBTQ community at first excited and terrified me. I did not personally know any LGBTQ people before and had a limited understanding of gender and sexuality.

At the Pride Center’s opening reception, I only talked to the student staff who helped me sign up for the mentorship program. Thankfully, through that I met my mentor, a queer Asian woman who was confident and happy in her own skin. I asked her so many questions, including how to flirt with girls and how to go about coming out to family.

I told my mom around Thanksgiving and my dad before I started second semester that I saw myself someday loving a woman. My mom told me she did not want life to be harder for me, but she did her best to understand. My dad told me he wanted me to be happy, but it strained our relationship.

Back at college, I connected with supportive queer friends I could not have dreamed of in high school. I thought all LGBTQ people were white as a kid, but found people like me in the Queer and Asian chapter.

I regularly attended the Bi/Pan meetups cleverly scheduled bi-weekly. I cut my hair short and for the first time loved styling it. I started trying out gender-neutral and masculine clothing, seeing what felt right.

Instead of bisexual, I found queer or gay described my romantic and sexual orientation better. I never was genuinely attracted to boys like that and realized I had only picked boys to crush on because they seemed nice. Women and non-binary people give me butterflies men never have.

My hair has only gotten shorter to the point where I pay for a men’s cut and my wardrobe includes clothes from the men’s and boy’s section. Yes, I get misgendered and public restrooms confrontations make me anxious, but I feel like myself presenting this way. Although I did not know the term gender nonconforming in high school, it fits my gender expression now.

If you told me five years ago I would be so open about these identities, I would not have believed you. I am grateful and privileged to be able to share these parts of me at work, at home, with friends and on social media.

Sometimes questions or comments from family members and relatives are unintentionally hurtful, but I recognize they are overall seeking to understand and support me.

This summer, my heart felt full when my nonbinary girlfriend met an aunt and cousins at Obon, a Japanese Buddhist festival. Their family dog already likes my girlfriend more than me after we dog sat him one weekend.

My sister respects my girlfriend’s they/them pronouns and tells them embarrassing stories about me over video chat. My mom checks-in to hear how they are doing.

After we had an seven-dish dinner at a Chinese restaurant, I could not help but laugh when my dad asked my girlfriend if they wanted ice cream for dessert. In that moment with my dad, mom, sister and girlfriend, I could not have felt more content.