AAPI LGBTQ Pride: I’m Hiding the Best of Me

Phiengtavanh was born in Vientiane, Laos in 1981; her family immigrated to the U.S when she was 4 years old to escape communism.  She is the eldest sibling with two younger sisters, and a brother. She grew up in North Minneapolis.  At age 17, she enlisted in the military for personal and professional goals; and pursued college at Saint Cloud State University while continuing her service to the MN Army National Guard.  In summer of 2005, she was placed on a  “stop lost” for a deployment to Iraq with the 134th Red Bulls Brigade Support Battalion.  She honorably served over 10 years in the military and took pride in her duties as the Human Resources Specialist.

My name is Phiengtavanh and I am a lesbian
Yes I said it
Not only am I gay
I’m many things and I don’t want you to just remember me as being a gay person
Or the characteristic stereo types
That were supposed to be embedded by social media
Or society that this is how we should be
For those that know me and who has not, well
I’m 32
I’m a veteran
I’m a current student
I’m a daughter, a sister, an aunt
I’m a step-parent
And I have a loving partner
And yes I am also a pet owner, I have a little puppy, he’s a Chiweenie
Being is gay is just a part of who I am
It doesn’t really define the whole me
So when I look back at my previous years
I was hiding the best of me when I’m not who I am
So being a lesbian completes the whole identity of me


IMG_3714Phiengtavanh is currently living in Ramsey County – employed as the data entry specialist to the Family Health Division of Ramsey County Public Health and working part-time as a Private Charter Screener for G2 Secured Staff.  In her spare time, she continues to enjoy time with family and friends while participating in various events with the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.  Phiengtavanh is one of the recipients of the Minnesota 25 Veterans’ Voices Award in 2013 for her accomplishment within her community and society.

Celebrate June PRIDE Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI LGBTQ PRIDE Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI LGBTQ and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


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AAPI Heritage Month: I was Out, Proud, and Did Not Care what I Had to Lose

Guinness World Records largest human rainbow held in Philippines from Polytechnic University – Source: noypicollections.blogspot.com

I am a queer, Filipina womyn of color. I was born and raised 17 years of my life in the Philippines and migrated to the United States in 1999. During my college years in 2002, I realized I was attracted to womyn and identified as a lesbian. Having the language, such as the word lesbian enabled me to talk and explore my sexuality and humanity.

In my time, the Filipino culture at large considers being LGBTQ or homosexual a taboo and was not talked about, and religiously considered a SIN. At the same time, we are also accepting of the Gay (men) community such as gay men fixing our hair and beauty or butt of the joke. There is also the notion of, “If it’s not in my family then it’s okay.” The Philippines was colonized by Spain from 1521-1898 that lead to the introduction of Catholicism. I too was Catholic and I had to denounce my religion because it doesn’t match with my values and have done harm to my humanity and relationships.

I realized that to fully embrace my sexuality, I had to prepare myself to accept that I will lose my family, my Filipino community, and my religion in the limbo. I was out, proud and did not care what I had to lose. Those who care will be there from the start or join you when they’ve grown up spiritually and realize they’ve pushed you out for ignorant reasons.  

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Further critically reflecting and exploring my sexuality, I have realized that this attraction started when I was in sixth grade. Ms. U was my English teacher and I always sought her attention. I was happy to see her and I volunteered with whatever she needed help with. I had a huge crush on her. Then my sophomore year, I felt the same way with my neighbor that was seven years older than me. Besides the physical attraction I was attracted to her fierceness as a womyn. A womyn with her own car, professional image, serious attitude and stature, and not caring of what people think about her. That was admirable to me and I was just happy and content to look at her from a far. Junior year, I attended a martial arts club called PHICKAJU (Philippine Combat Karate Judo) and there was a senior student that was so talented with her martial arts skills. It was the same feelings and attractions. No sexual thoughts involved, just being around the presence of these womyn made me happy and tugging at the strings of my heart. Through these past years, learning about my sexuality lead to the realizations of my humanity and these previous experiences and emotions towards womyn.

In 2002, my sister ousted me to my mother that was still in the Philippines. She added additional versions and stories that were not true. Stuff that enraged my mother to not accept me. At that time, I didn’t have the chance to tell her my story, my truth… my very personal experience and dignity that no one else have the right to tell. In 2009, I welcomed my mom to live with me and I was able to tell her my side of the story. She told me that, “No matter what you’re still my daughter.” Four of my siblings are accepting of me, one of my brother even told me that, “I already knew you were a long time ago.” I chuckled and jokingly said, “You mean I’m the only one who did not know I was gay?,” but this was with an all honest statement.

In 2008, I joined the Military to see the world and for it’s benefits and opportunities, but now I’m in a process of understanding this experience, politics and my role. At that time, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy (DADT) was alive and was the suffocation on what’s left of our, my human emotions and rights. Being in the military, you sign up your being, mind, body and transform yourself to act and be the defense and offense for government, nation and people. Regardless how much I embraced my lesbian sexuality, I felt that I had no choice but to go back into the closet because of my fear of the “what ifs”? What if I lose my job, benefits, home, citizenship, what if I can no longer take care of my family, and what if I can’t get a job elsewhere if I got reported and discharged with dishonor?” With this policy, very few selected people knew of my sexuality, because I didn’t feel safe and limited my friendships within military and my environment in San Antonio; which was made up with large military bases. Then in 2011, DADT was repealed after all the hardwork of ex-military members, family, friends, activists, and some politicians. DADT has been an oppressive policy led by homophobic, religious conservatives and their dehumanizing agenda. This has caused me struggles and barriers to find acceptance of who I am by being Out as a civilian then as an active duty service member, having to silence my dignity and go back into the closet for three years. I thought a lot about what freedom meant, because the values of protecting and serving the US are based on freedom, but I still did not feel free. I saw my family and friends who are LGBTQ, not free from from violence and discrimination, especially if they were Asian and from Communities of Color and Indigenous people. They suffered more harshly due to institutionalized homophobia, transphobia, classism and racism. A part of me was still in the closet, traumatized with the situation, and constantly battling with myself on how I should act and be. These type of violent policies does an excellent job of making us and our community police each other and how we, specifically how I should act and feel as a person. I definitely couldn’t show simple acts of affection or introduction of my partner of 3 years to anyone.

2012 Twin Cities Pride March

2012 Twin Cities Pride March

The 2012 election was the very first time I voted, and my first time marching in Minnesota’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer pride parade. Being our Commander in Chief is President Obama, I felt so liberated and powerful holding a sign that said, “Obama Pride, LGBT for Obama.”

I learned that VISIBILITY is key, and when more people empathize with our stories, experiences and struggles, more people will understand us and shift away from oppressive and conservative belief and policy.

Having to constantly come Out, constantly struggle internally and externally, constantly learning, constantly embracing the self, constantly critical thinking, constantly advocating, constantly staying involved in activism and community, constantly being informed and educating. These are some of the “CONSISTENCY” that I go through being a queer, Filipina womyn of color.


 

2015 - Marching in solidarity with Baltimore in Minneapolis Rise Up and Shut It Down.

2015 – Marching in solidarity with Baltimore in Minneapolis Rise Up and Shut It Down.

Maica is a veteran of the United States Air Force and a new MN resident. She is a full-time student studying Biomedical Engineering and transitioning from a military into civilian life. She is also rooting herself into the world of activism and social justice.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com

 


 

 

AAPI Heritage Month: I Don’t Have to Be Out to Create Change

Studying abroad experience in Minnesota, the U.S., starting from 2011, has given me countless opportunities to find myself. It was a random place for me at the beginning. I did not have proper research on the school nor the area. I was too excited to start my ‘American Dream’ in the U.S. and the place did not matter. I loved the nature, the weather, people, and their warm hospitality. Literally, I was enjoying ‘Minnesotan Nice’ welcoming as an international student from Korea.

Since English was my second language, I had to put triple efforts to follow the class while double majoring in International Relations and Gender & Women’s Studies. Each time, I challenged myself to get out of the comfort zone, which means I took classes to learn and grow myself. I was sometimes overwhelmed at the class when everyone could understand the American jokes, but not me. Even the humor based on the American culture was what I had to learn. Luckily, I met one Hmong gay friend at the Gender & Women’s Studies. He has provided me unconditional love, caring, and offering as if I have known him for a long time. He treated me as a person, regardless of my backgrounds, including my Korean nationality.

Source: www.kqcf.org - Korea Queer Festival

Source: http://www.kqcf.org – Korea Queer Festival

One day I shared my uneasiness of having Korean community on campus with him. I told him that being Korean is an obstacle to figure out my sexuality. I came to the U.S. to be free from the stereotype of being Korean. However, I could not even walk by the LGBT center on campus, concerned of being judged by other Koreans. After my minor complaint, my gay friend replied, “For me, I wish I had my own nationality like you. Even though I was born and raised in the U.S., I got questioned a lot on where I am from. The U.S. is my home country but I guess I am not fully accepted to the community here.” I have never thought about what I have considered as an obstacle could be a desire for someone. After the conversation with him on nationality and navigating my sexual identity, I realized that I have used my nationality as an excuse to stay with the majority.

Recently, starting from January 2015, I moved back to Korea. Honestly, if I had a chance to stay legally, I would have stayed longer in the U.S. However, having an F-1, a degree seeking visa; therefore, it did not give me many options other than studying to get a degree and getting an internship experience related with my major up to 1 year. As the memories with my friends in the U.S. are fading out, I felt uncomfortable to stay in my HOME country. As one Chinese American who I got to know in Korea recently said, I was too Americanized to live in Korea. Christianity is what I cannot erase in my life, even though I want to. I grew up with Sunday schools, Jesus summer and winter camps, and religious family background. I feel frustrated with this, the ultimate answer is always in God’s hand, no matter if it is about friendship, financial problems, etc. When I was young, around 16 years old, I was told from the preaching that being homosexual is not what Christians do. I wanted to have community where I was accepted. Since I knew I cannot avoid my family and people from the church, I decided to bury the questions about sexuality which only left me confused. I pretended to be the type of good daughter and kind girl they won’t outcast.

 

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/lesbian-kiss-korean-drama-sparks-debate-025213890.html - An episode of Seonam Girls High School Investigators

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/lesbian-kiss-korean-drama-sparks-debate-025213890.html – An episode of Seonam Girls High School Investigators

Korea is one of the countries where fashion trends change quickly. It is totally acceptable for girls having short hair and wear gender neutral clothing. However, traditional gender roles and the expectations from the society are harsh to girls, at the same time. My short hair has never given me the embarrassment or confusion on my sexual or gender identity in my life. Regardless of the length of my hair or the way I dress up, I accept and love myself as I am, being a lesbian. One day, I was on the Seoul metro heading to a dinner appointment with a lesbian couple (who I met at the English Conversation group), I was wearing olive colored pair of jeans, a light brown round neck sweatshirts, a black coat, and a navy beanie, with a little makeup on my face. After a while, I noticed a heterosexual couple whispering some words while glancing at me. Eventually it turned out that I looked like a gay guy who was too girly for them. As a woman, I don’t want to conform to the ideas of how I should look to prove to society that I am a woman, their ideas of a woman, which is to fit into a traditional dress code of wearing skirts, high heels, and putting a heavy makeup. Instead of spending their time hating and enforcing ignorance, they should focus on loving one another and accepting people’s differences. However, I cannot deny that I was hurt and felt insecure just like when I was young and attending church.

It is true that homosexuality does not match with a traditional marriage and a lifestyle in Korea. Especially when you live in a country in the condition of armistice, maintaining the military force matters and the birth rates. Naturally, homosexuality has become a target to conservative groups, who justify their actions of threatening and discrimination against sexual minorities.

There are still many steps and revolutions needed in Korea to work together to conquer hate with love and acceptance. As the first step of showing the visibility of sexual minorities in Korea to others, I started to volunteer at the Korea Queer Culture Festival (KQCF) as a translator and an interpreter. Even though I am not able to be Out to the community where I presently live, I will not let that stop me from forming a community where people build up solidarity in working towards love and acceptance.

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I was born in Germany and spent most of my life in Korea. Even though I grew up in Korea surrounded by people with the same ethnicity, being born in a different country rather than Korea has helped me to have interests in communication, nationality, and the meaning of life as the second generation. I moved to Minnesota in 2011 seeking my undergraduate degree in Management. After I realized my desire to study in the fields of social and behavioral sciences, while navigating my own sexual identity, I chose to double major in International Relations and Gender & Women’s Studies. Observing the immigration law between the U.S. and Korea, I did not have a choice but to terminate my visa as being an international student and move back to my country.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com