Catcalls of NYC street art

CAT-CALLING IT OUT


Growing up in New York City, I’ve been dealing with catcalling for a long time. Even before I was 15, I remember men whispering at me and my friends in cars. I didn’t feel like there was a good way to respond to it. I felt silenced by these comments — I’d just keep walking. I forced myself to believe it was OK for someone to call out, “Hey, beautiful” on the streets even though I felt uncomfortable.

As a freshman in college, I was given an assignment to immerse myself in something and then document it in on social media. The project, Catcalls of NYC, gave me the opportunity to respond to catcalling in a different way.

I came up with the idea to actually chalk the words of catcallers on sidewalks and post them on Instagram, creating a collage of different catcalls. The most troubling part of catcalling is that people say they’re just words, or that it’s a compliment. I wanted to take those actual words and show people it’s not just words — they have a really big impact when you’re walking down the street.

At first I was writing about my own and my friends’ experiences. Slowly, people would find my account and message me their experiences to write down on the streets of NYC. Right after the #MeToo movement in December 2017, my account went viral and grew from 900 to 10,000 followers overnight. It’s then that I realized a lot of people care about this and a lot of people need to share their story.

Catcalls of NYC has become such a huge part of my identity. It’s made me grow to be really unapologetic in condemning all forms of harassment and discrimination in the public space. I found the power to say “I don’t feel OK with that.”

It’s unbelievable to see the plethora of stories people open up about. They are looking to be believed and to be heard. If you’re an empathetic person, you’re reading their stories and trying to respond in a way that makes them feel supported — but it’s hard to read more than one story at a time and set boundaries. I’ve learned to cope by taking breaks, as well as by assembling a team to build this community and continue the conversation online and offline.

I’ve found that a great place for dialogue, especially in NYC, is on the street. When you’re chalking, a lot of people stop to see what you’re writing and to talk to you. It’s something special because normally nobody ever stops for anything here. It’s important to build community, but it’s a rare thing since people in NYC don’t often talk to each other.

A few days ago, I talked to a guy who mentioned how he used to catcall with his friend. They were practicing how to flirt, and it was a way for them to bond. He thought seeing the words chalked on the street was disgusting, and never wanted people to go around saying those things.

Having conversation is such an important tool both on social media and also on our streets. If someone is genuinely asking, “Sorry, I don’t understand, I would’ve thought this was a compliment, but please explain,” that’s where the change can come from too. I’m learning how to engage allies who have room to change and grow. Before, I was so strong in believing, “Well this is harassment, you should understand it immediately.” But we don’t talk enough to those people who are maybe somewhere in the middle and learning. In the end, we are all learning.

A green neon heart with dollar bills inside

TALKING MONEY WITH LOVE


Going into the relationship, I think we both had a good idea of how the other person thought about money. My boyfriend and I went to middle school together, and both grew up in lower income backgrounds as first-generation students. We reconnected after college and have been seeing each other for almost three years now. When you’re going into a relationship with somebody, an explicit “values talk” may not necessarily come up, but you’re definitely on the lookout for what their values are and what they invest their money in. Coming from a similar background really set the tone for us, so from the very beginning I found we were compatible in our values.

Our relationship started off very slow and mindful, and we did not cut any corners. He and I previously discussed that we hadn’t learned how to communicate properly in past relationships, and we hadn’t had good examples. We knew that whatever we had been doing didn’t work. This is the healthiest, most vocal relationship I’ve had, and it definitely started out the hardest simply because we were so worried about doing everything right. Honestly at first, it did not feel natural to constantly be so open and vulnerable. But I think that’s what geared us up to have a very “unnatural” talk about finances.

It started off with our income disparity. I come from a very prideful family — we don’t talk about money and we don’t take “handouts,” so I grew up not accepting big gifts or shows of money. In the beginning of our relationship, he was very honest about the fact that he was making more money than he’d basically ever seen in his life. It was very new to him, and he never bragged about it, but I most definitely watched what he did with that money. The first thing he ever did was pay off all of his college loans and then send money to his mother, so I knew his priorities were straight. When he moved into a sleek Nolita apartment — 2BR/2BA between him and his roommate, brand-new appliances, washer and dryer — I thought to myself, “I don’t even know if we’re ever gonna be able to live together if these are what your standards are.” But even still, he was attached to his values from before all of this and kept money-saving habits like meal prepping, so I was able to be a part of that with him.

I hit a really bad rough spot in my finances one year after my graduation when my second student loan was activated. I’d not signed up for electronic billing, so they were sending paper bills to my home in Virginia. Months later I came home to about $800 of bills. I knew that waiting would hurt my credit score with the amount of time that had already passed, so I wiped my bank account, including a lot of my savings. I was an anxious mess. The ever-present tension I felt with New York City lifestyle and my income and class started seeping into other places in my life.

My anxiety persisted until one day he asked me about my wellbeing. We’d agreed that when one of us asks if the other is okay, we owe it to our relationship to be very honest. I was so embarrassed, I was crying, but I told him I’d wiped my bank account and I honestly didn’t know how I was gonna eat that week. I had -$32 to my name because I’d overdrawn my account. He never asked me if he could send me money, because he knew I’d tell him no, but he Venmo’d me $200 for the month saying, “Pay me back when you can — I’ll never ask you to. This is just to make sure that you eat, and I would love to feed you too as much as possible.” I declined the request, and he kept sending it to me, until he eventually was like, “Will you please take this money? It would make me feel better.” So I did, and of course I eventually paid him back, because money comes and money goes.

We got more comfortable having explicit conversations. We started planning our very first trip together, which I think was a nice look into future planning as well. I really appreciated that he actually cared about getting the cheapest flight, but also making sure it wasn’t a red eye that would leave us dead; getting a nice AirBnB but making sure we were getting a wonderful experience for the amount of money that we paid, rather than just balling out. He’s always been able to see everything from every angle and keep a lot of his core values present. It eventually got to the point where I started asking about his thoughts on investing, cryptocurrency, and getting out of debt. I felt very comfortable having those conversations only because of how much I admired his values and the way he truly weighs every option. He gave me deep talks and great advice about all of that.

These honest insights into each other’s values are what lead up to deciding this is someone I’d like to live with — someone I like being teammates with. He wanted Manhattan and I wanted Brooklyn, so we settled on Williamsburg. We were honest about our max budgets and priorities. Once we found the perfect place, we roughly estimated equitable rent proportions based on our post-tax incomes and other bills, like my crushing student debt. Having these talks every step of the way has been such a worthwhile exercise, and we still do check-ins to make sure neither of us feel stretched too thin. We’re just starting our financial journey together, and it’s nice to see the mindfulness we practiced from the very beginning still be present in our relationship.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Grafitti of colorful hearts

GROWING OUT OF HEARTBREAK


I realized I was gay in middle/high school, but didn’t have the vocabulary or experience to define it. It wasn’t until my junior or senior year of college that I came out. Overall the journey has been incredible. I feel very fortunate that I live in a city where I can express myself openly and authentically. I’m surrounded by people who support and encourage that.

It wasn’t always like that, though. J* was the first woman I seriously dated after coming out. I had joined Her and Tinder when I first came out, because it was a way to kind of explore at a distance. I could match and talk with people without feeling overwhelmed or intimidated by approaching them in real life. I had met up with a few people, but it never really went past a few dates. After graduating college and moving back home, I downloaded OkCupid. J was my first and only OkCupid date up until that point. When we met I still had self-doubt and nervousness around my inexperience. To add onto that, I was living with my family in my hometown, so my dating life was nonexistent. She made me feel validated and safe — I felt that, as I was getting to know her, I was getting to know myself too. We spent a lot of time together in the beginning. Our personalities were similar, we had good chemistry, and she had a studio apartment, which made it easier. I was falling in love for the first time, and someone was falling in love with me! Before that it was hard to imagine that I was even capable of feeling this way. Looking back, I don’t think I would have done anything differently.

I was blindsided by the breakup. She never mentioned that she was unhappy, or that she wasn’t feeling as invested in the relationship. One night she just said she wasn’t physically attracted to me and she wanted to break up. Her reasons didn’t make sense and rather than talk about it, it felt like she’d made a decision without even talking to me.

Looking back, though, there were definitely signs that she wasn’t the person for me. I felt very self-conscious around her. She liked to tease me, but sometimes it was hard to see the line between playful banter and just downright being mean. I didn’t feel like I was myself and I didn’t feel like I could be myself. A lot of my effort wasn’t matched. While the circumstances of the breakup sucked, in hindsight it needed to happen. I think I was so caught up in it being my first serious relationship, and having that person I could always turn to. It was hard to look back after the fact and realize that I was unhappy, and that I wasn’t myself. But this realization is the main reason why I moved on.

For the first time in my life, I’m out, single, and out of my mom’s house. I feel more secure in myself and my identity than ever before. I have a lot to offer, and I know what I want — and, more importantly, what I deserve. I’m dating and looking forward to meeting new people again. I’m making more plans with friends, going out more, and just making myself open to new experiences. I even have a new album coming out this week!

Despite my heartbreak with J, I’m glad it happened because I learned so much about what I want and need in love. I definitely still have a lot to learn, but I’m at the best possible place with myself right now, and I can’t wait to see where that takes me.

Find Kaitlin’s music on Spotify, and follow the band on Twitter for updates!

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Desk with computer

SPEAKING UP THE LADDER


When I graduated three years ago, I think I just didn’t know what kind of roles I really wanted as my first steps.

I’d come to college to study Communications and thought that I was going to work in PR even though I had no idea what that meant. I did an internship in the PR world and that’s when I realized I really couldn’t do PR. I’d also interned in network television and had felt like the TV industry was a little bit too slow-paced for me and more importantly, there just wasn’t the diversity I wanted to see in the industry I chose to work in. I wanted to go into tech — though I’d done internships in the industry, it was hard to break into. I was looking at anything from Sales Coordinator, Marketing Coordinator, to Recruiting Coordinator, and trying to cast a wide net.

It was definitely a hard summer for myself because throughout college, I always made sure that I was working very hard to be at the top no matter what I was doing, whether it was in student activities or at an internship. To be hit with endless rejections throughout summer right after graduation was just a huge reality check for myself, and it honestly forced me to start from square one and reevaluate what I really wanted to do.

Ironically, an opportunity came through NYU by August. An office was looking for marketing and social media help, and so… I don’t want to call it an act of desperation because I was really levelheaded going into it, but I needed to start making an income. I ended up accepting the role and I absolutely did not like my experience there. It was primarily due to a toxic work culture, not being as fast-paced as I wanted it to be, and not feeling challenged in my day-to-day responsibilities. I immediately felt like it wasn’t a good fit, but instead of quitting or not giving them a shot, I did decide to stick around for a whole year. I decided to look at the positives and think about the things that did make me happy in the role.

Despite my negative experiences over that year, I left feeling like I’d learned so much more about myself. I clearly know what I like and don’t like about my work environments and ultimately, it helped me as I interviewed at other places. Even though it was a marketing role, I did find little hidden gems here and there that would help me as I decided to pivot into recruiting.

I always wanted to stay in touch with my university in some capacity. My experience at NYU was incredible, and despite the student loans, to this day I am grateful for the opportunities I was afforded because of my education. That was one of the reasons why I had taken the role at NYU — because I was curious about higher education and wanted to see if that could be a career for myself. I love working with students and with universities.

As I was researching roles for myself, I realized that campus and university recruiting are roles that exist within the greater recruiting umbrella. I realized some of the largest tech companies I’d even interviewed right after graduation had university recruiting roles.

I used my work at NYU to get me to where I am today. I said that I was still responsible for interviewing and hiring interns for the office and that experience made me hungry for a formal recruiting environment.

Two weeks after I finished up at NYU, in August 2017, I started at my current company as a Recruiting Coordinator. In my second time interviewing for these tech companies, I was very laser focused on getting a recruiting coordinator role. That was the biggest difference between 2016 and 2017, that I actually had an idea of what I wanted and where I wanted to be. I interviewed at all the same places, if not more. Ultimately, I chose an opportunity in a mid-sized tech company that aligned best with my interests.

Recruiting coordinator is more of a general role. I wasn’t working directly with university or campus recruiting, but I felt that it was a great role for me to understand the ins and outs of recruiting in a coordinator and support capacity. I was in that role for 10-11 months. Before my one year at my current company, I was given the opportunity to interview for a new role, and I was promoted to University Recruiter.

I laid the groundwork early. Two weeks into my coordinator role, I already had an idea of where I ultimately wanted to be, which was on the campus team. And for context, while I was interviewing for recruiting coordinator roles, I was also interviewing for campus recruiting coordinator roles, because some tech companies will separate those organizations. Obviously, I just took the regular recruiting coordinator position, but during training, I already got coffee with the campus recruiting manager and told her that this was an area of interest to me. I let her know that even though I was so new, I was just so interested and eager to know more, and once I fully ramped up, I wanted to see if there were ways to support the team or assist with side projects here or there. I definitely sounded over eager at the time, because the manager told me to sort of chill and take a step back, and master my day-to-day responsibilities first. Then she told me to reach out after and see what I could do. So listened to her, and I mastered my role in a month — I really owned it, and I loved the position, and I enjoyed the team. I was able to show that I not only mastered the show that I had, but I was hungry for something more. I always made it clear not only to my manager, but to other leads as well, that I was ultimately interested in becoming a campus recruiter. I think that’s why I am where I am today.

Be loud is my best advice. In my internship period, at Zumper, I was working on a small team of 7. Up to working on a team of 7 for a company of thousands. Despite the drastic differences in company size, the most important thing I had to do was to not be afraid to speak up when appropriate, especially when it includes advocating, both for yourself and for other people. I think being loud is a really important thing and it’s helped me to be where I am today.

Person doing yoga on a mountain

BENDING TOWARDS IMPERFECTION


For six years, I’ve suffered from living with the confines of an anorexic and alcoholic mind. What I learned most recently from my recovery through addiction is that it’s only through long time periods that we fall closer and closer to our most authentic self.

Since being 18, I’ve had many rock bottoms and many instances where I’ve bent over backwards to people please that it has broken me. When I graduated high school, I took a year off to devote to mental health and pursue an intensive yoga teacher training. Through this experience, I learned a lot about the sutras and the history of yoga. The main premise I took away is that the relationship to our yoga mats is a microcosm to our relationship to life. Our body stores all our trauma, emotion, fear and the inner manifests to our physical. For me, I was very flexible physically, especially in my back since I was a dancer growing up. But, it also reflected my constant need to bend over backwards to people please. I didn’t even know who I was anymore since I tried to feel validated and approved by pleasing others. I always tried to make people happy, which could come off to be inauthentic.

On the surface I seemed fine. I was going out, doing well in school, and had many friends. But, I was really struggling with alcoholism. I was having debilitating panic attacks, anxiety, and this turned into suicidality. Living just felt unbearable knowing I always had to please people. I just remember one night blacking out and waking up in a psych ward. I had nothing except being surrounded by four empty white walls. I was alone with myself for a week. My priorities were shifted to recognizing I’m worthy just because I’m alive. I don’t need any external forces to prove my worth. I’m worthy since I have a beating heart.

At my first recovery meeting, I met my sponsor who was seven years older than me and 5 years more somber. New York is such an over-stimulating city, but I’m learning how to surrender to the thoughts of being a perfectionist or comparison. Through my sobriety, gradually over time, the attachment to grades and perfection has lessened and my anxiety is slowly gone. As part of my daily practice, I regularly go to yoga and focus on meditation and prayer. I also make it a point to see my friends and build out concrete social time, whether it is to get a meal or just hang out. Building connections and creating a strong support system is important to my mental health. My relationships are my biggest priority and I’m constantly checking in with how can I practice more acts of kindness to the people I care about.

Being in service of love has grounded me and constantly reminds me to come back to my truest self. The other night I was feeling down after studying in the library for hours. I decided to go to a recovery meeting where I made such beautiful connections. I then went on a date with myself to a little Thai restaurant, wrote in my journal, and ordered Pad Thai. At one point, the waitress came over and told me she never saw someone with such radiant energy. To hear someone say that reminds me to continue accessing the inner light within, knowing all battles are worth it.

*Name changed to protect her privacy.

Person on a street corner underneath aboveground subway tracks

NEW YORK MY WAY


Last year, I found myself crying over missing out on the cherry blossoms at the Botanic Garden. By the time I found the opportunity to go, they weren’t blooming anymore. It seemed silly, but it wasn’t about the flowers — it was my whole relationship with New York City.

I had never been to New York until I moved here for college. Everything was so fresh and new and dazzling. I wanted to experience everything I couldn’t in my home country: world-famous attractions like the Met, smaller wonders like 24-hour dollar pizza, and absolutely everything in between. The idea of nonstop entertainment was dizzying — at any moment, I could be doing something new, something exciting, something life-changing.

Which meant that every moment I didn’t do something life-changing felt like a waste.I started stressing out at my own downtime, whether or not I needed it. Taking a nap in between classes, scrolling through social media before bed, watching Netflix on weekends — all I could think was I could be doing something greater. When friends and family would visit, they’d make comments like, “It must be amazing to just be able to go to Central Park every day.” I’d feel so guilty for not taking advantage of that.

Today, I haven’t been to Central Park in probably two years, and I’ve accepted that that’s okay. I can’t live my life in New York as if I’m a tourist all the time. I have a full-time job to do, an apartment to clean, errands to run, just like anyone living anywhere else. I thought I was taking New York for granted by not running around checking off items on a bucket list — but really, I’m showing my love to this city every day by sticking around and building a life in it.

I still feel anxious sometimes, late on Sunday nights when I’ve spent most of the weekend at home. But I try to put that energy into something positive — instead of beating myself up over it, I plan something new for the next week. The cherry blossoms will be here next year, and so will I.

Student behind a stack of books

MEET ME AT THE END OF THE APP


I always have a plan A, B, and C. It’s the perfectionist in me. But none of my plans worked post-graduation.

I hated my job to say the least. I wasn’t happy with what I was doing day-to-day and the work was overwhelming. It felt like being a cog in a machine.

It wasn’t long until I decided I wanted to pursue grad school. Yet, I never expected the process of applying to be emotionally draining. I was constantly dealing with rejection and looking for motivation to start the whole process over.

It was time-consuming but also soul searching. Some of my application essays were asking a lot from me. “How have the influences in your life shaped you? How will you pursue your life’s calling?” These were such tough questions since I was still figuring out what I really wanted to do.

I spent an entire summer reflecting, reading my childhood journals, and talking to friends and family to finally put pen to paper. But, crafting my overall story informed me how to then tackle all my general applications. It gave me the confidence to believe in what I was pursuing. I had finally discovered what the world is asking from me rather than what I think I wanted from it.

Surprisingly, the application process helped me not become attached to a particular school or career, but trust the universe will decide what is best for me and my path. The essay that was the easiest to write was the one that worked out. I left no thought in trying to craft a masterpiece and wrote from my heart. I put my most authentic self to paper and came to find the answer of who I was and what I wanted in life.

I felt liberated from caring what my parents wanted or what I thought I needed to do. What mattered most was finding the story of who I was NOW, rather than the future I was forcing happen. Having the time and space to reflect helped me embrace the plan I never imagined exist.

I’ll be starting grad school part-time in the spring and continuing to work full-time. I’m really excited to kick start this next chapter but I’m mostly relieved and grateful to discover the voice I had held within.

Green juice

COULD I DO HEALTH WITHOUT THE LITTLE GREEN JUICE?


Redefining New Year’s resolutions is really important to me. It’s not about juice cleanses and diets. We live in a culture that can make great things like group fitness, eating healthy or yoga unhealthy. Looking at the New Year, I love the idea of starting all over, but I don’t like “New Year, new you.” We don’t need to be “new” — we should already think we are enough.

Growing up as a teenager, I struggled with OCD, anxiety, depression and anorexia. I worked with many mental health professionals to pull myself out of it but found myself becoming obsessed with being healthy.

When I was in school as an undergrad studying applied psych, I started thinking what tangible tools can I provide to mental wellbeing. There’s fitness, yoga, and eating healthy, but something I realized is that we don’t approach these tools in a healthy way. We think we’re not working out enough if we’re not burning calories, or we shouldn’t eat carbs.

I founded my nonprofit, F. I. T. 4 All, with the mission of bringing free fitness classes to various locations in New York City. It doesn’t need to be expensive or extravagant, but we do need to talk about what wellness means to the communities we are delivering these programs to. We need to support individuals in honoring intuition for what fitness feels for them, personally. My background in applied psych and nutrition studies helps me tackle the issue and figure out the best way to integrate wellness into our lives.

F. I. T. 4 All is a project I’m passionate about — it gives me energy and makes me happy. But when it begins to wear me out, I will take a step back. I need to prioritize my own self-care, and it took me a long time to accept this. I’m still a grad student and I need to take my boards this summer to certify. I’m still teaching a few fitness classes a week for money.

It’s all about setting boundaries for myself, like only checking emails on certain days, for example, or listening to podcasts like “Good Life Project” when I have spare time.

This January, I want to help people set resolutions that are sustainable and body positive, and implement them in a way that is not too serious. I want people to start by realizing they are already enough, and these tools help them bring a better vision of themselves.

It starts with loving yourself.

Join F. I. T 4 All January 19 for a free community event that will include fun panels, movement classes, food and honest discussions. For more information, click here.

Bedsheets

TO HAVE SEX, OR TO NOT HAVE SEX?


When I was 19 years old, I was coming out of a super rough place in my life. I think I needed structure, and I found structure and a level of family in the church.

I also think I was easily persuaded. I hadn’t had much structure in my life because of a rough family upbringing, so whatever they said, I was like, okay, this is what I believe.
The bible says not to have sex before marriage, and at the time, I believed I wanted to wait until marriage and it was the “right” way to do things.

It talks about how when a man and a woman come together, they become one. They teach that if you’re becoming one with all these people, it’s not necessarily a good thing, and at the time, it made sense to me that having sex with multiple people and sharing your energy with them and becoming attached was not healthy.

It honestly wasn’t a sexual thing. It was more about my own personal relationship with God and my relationship with myself.

I didn’t go on a single date in these six years. I didn’t masturbate at all. It was just not something I thought about. There were definitely people I was attracted to in that time that I didn’t act on. And the guys that did try to talk to me, as soon as I told them I was celibate — radio silence.

That taught me that my worth isn’t found in what a man thinks of me. My worth is found in what I think of myself, and I didn’t want any outside influence messing with my self-esteem.

Being celibate became a good way of figuring out who I was, and what I wanted, which was positive. But part of it had nothing to do with religion, it was just me wanting to protect myself — and that’s when it became an extreme.

I was trying so hard to create a stable environment for myself, and thought that if I had no men in my life, I wouldn’t have to deal with any chaos. Like, I just came from all this chaos, and then I went into this other extreme that was stability.

The first person I had sex with after that period was also the last person I had sex with before I became celibate. I met up with him randomly six years later, and it just happened. It wasn’t planned out.

Not immediately, but afterwards, I felt this extreme regret, like why did I do that? For me, it was super devastating — I had waited six years to have sex, I wanted the next time to be something that mattered. I think I only talked to him one time after that.

I didn’t have sex again after that for at least another year.

Eventually, I started questioning what I believed, and sex was another area that made me wonder, do I need to wait until marriage? Probably not.

I think my problem when I was younger was that I thought everything was black and white. I was either really really wild or saintly. I think now, I’m learning the beauty of the in-between — there doesn’t have to be any sex, but there doesn’t have to not be any sex. I can feel how I feel without feeling ashamed.

I’m still at a place where I’m questioning what I believe. I question the bible and how we interpret it and what that means in my life, but I know God is real for me. I think if I wanted to pray everyday again and continue to have sex, I can be just as close to God as I was before.

I don’t have sex with a bunch of people now, but I can choose my partners because I like the person and I can feel good about it. I don’t have to feel like my self-esteem is based on someone else. I’m glad I took the time to get to know myself more.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

A rainbow painted on a person's wrist

MOM? DAD? IT’S ME…


The word “gay” didn’t come into my vocabulary until I was in the 5th grade. I’ve always liked boys, but as a kid, you don’t really talk about stuff like that. You think everyone has cooties. When I understood what that word meant, I realized I fall into that category.

In middle school, I sat my parents down and said I’m a homosexual. My dad said you’re too young to understand this, and my mom agreed with him.

Life goes on, high school comes around and there were more dances and stuff like that, and who I’m going to ask to these things floats around in the air. My parents would always suggest I bring one of my best friends — always female.

I had to come out again, like hey can you not be stupid? Can we just acknowledge that this is a thing? They responded, and said that’s not normal.

In college, I was like, again, homosexual! I think by that point they kind of gave up, and dropped the topic.

The catalyst was when my extended family found out. My parents had always told me not to tell anyone else, but as a proud, queer individual, I’ve never tried to hide my existence. I posted a picture on Facebook, and when my extended family found out, my parents got involved and we got into a multitude of arguments about it.

It was coming to the beginning of summer, school was letting out for college and they said, I don’t know if you should come back to Virginia. We don’t really want to see you.

I said, fine, so I’ll just stay in New York, that’s my only option. I asked my parents if they were still going to support me financially, and they said, I don’t know.

That was a big panic moment in my life. I didn’t expect that to happen. I didn’t have a financial plan. The following semester of college was already paid for upfront, but I didn’t have an internship or a paying job, I had a bank account but not enough savings to make it through the summer.

I think a big portion of their anger was due to the fact that I’m one of three male kids, and coming from a traditionally Chinese family, there are a lot of expectations. One of my older brothers, the middle child, passed away when I was just two, and my oldest brother really isn’t fulfilling what is required of a male heir. A lot of the expectations fell onto me.

Coming from a traditionally Chinese background also made it harder on me since there’s a big emphasis on family. You’re never ready to hear that your family doesn’t love you, and a big part of the coming out process is acknowledging that they might tell you they don’t love you anymore, and you exit without a family.

Luckily, I had a really great support group here. I had a network of queer friends, and I told them this happened to me, I need a place to stay, I need action items, I need an internship or a job that pays. They were really good, they all sent me a bunch of links and people to talk to. I managed to find an internship that paid and it was enough to cover housing and food.

Around mid-summer, my parents and I began talking again, and even though it was just constant arguing, at least we were having better conversation. They apologized and admitted it wasn’t right of them.

They eventually came up for my birthday and we met, we talked. They apologized for not being supportive amid the backlash from my extended family, but said they were still not supportive of me as a gay individual.

This was a few years ago, and my relationship with my parents is much better now. My mom and I are probably closer than my dad and I. For a while, none of them wanted to talk about it — it was a taboo topic, but my mom’s a lot better about it now and doesn’t cringe when it comes up. My dad doesn’t really talk about it too much — he won’t make rude comments anymore which is nice but it’s not something that he asks about.

After this ordeal, I made a very conscious effort to bring up my sexual orientation more to make them more comfortable with the topic. If they ask me about how my day was, I’ll talk about the date I went on with a guy.

A lot of the time, they ask if we can stop talking about it, or let me know they aren’t comfortable with it. But every time we talk about my brother, we talk about his girlfriend, so why can’t I talk about the same thing? Why should this be any different? It took a lot of time and patience, but they’re a lot better about it now.

When it comes to mom and dad, I hope others in my position can understand it takes a lot of time and patience. It doesn’t happen overnight. The biggest thing that changed the course of our relationship was that they realized if they don’t love me now, they might not get a chance to love me later.

I hope one day they’ll choose to attend my wedding — and not just be there, but go through the motions and be excited for my big day. I don’t think they’re there yet, but I hope one day they can be.