A city road sunset

LOVING WITH NO BOUNDARIES


I’ve experienced both sides of being in a long-distance relationship living in and out of New York City. Leaving and returning to the city has definitely made me appreciate it in a different way, but it also taught me how to be more honest and communicative in my relationship.

When I first moved to Venice a year ago for a short-term job opportunity, my partner, Denise*, and I had been dating for almost four years and had just moved in together. We met during our last years in college in NYC and since Denise had been in investment banking for two years and two years in private equity, the time we’d always had together was limited. Typically, we chatted for half an hour before bed and hung out on the weekends. Realistically, she’d have to work on many projects during the weekend, so it was mostly Saturday night or part of Sundays.

When we started living together, it was really nice to see each other more. But, after a while, we realized we were no longer spending quality time together. We had to start scheduling dates to really catch up. I always thought when you start living with someone, you’d spend more personal time with them. Yet, it is easy to take the relationship for granted since that person is always present. Scheduling quality time for each other really helped us communicate and build the foundation for when we went long-distance. It’s not like we didn’t care for each other, but more so we needed to be open in managing realistic expectations given our different schedules.

We also learned that we needed to be open with our pet peeves. In the beginning of a relationship, you don’t want to bring certain things up. You try to be easy going. Over time, you either blow up or you learn to talk about. There are times we blew up and now we learn to talk about it before it gets to that point. We needed to come to a certain medium since we are both living in a shared space. Even if it’s small and random like “stop taking my pillows” or “don’t leave the toothbrush there!”

When I first moved to Italy a year ago, it was really sad. But, what made it easy was Denise visiting me the first month and then again the second. The times she stayed were also really long both during the holidays. Spending those long amounts of quality time never really made me feel like we were never apart. And when I returned back to NYC, we resumed the cadence of scheduling date nights and making time for each other.

Now, Denise has moved abroad for grad school and it has been tough. Yet, we still manage to keep in touch with Whatsapp and Google Voice. We try our best to be mindful of each other’s schedules given the six-hour time difference. Normally, I wake up at 6 AM and go to bed at 10 PM. So, I’ll do a half run in the morning, come home, shower, catch her on the phone, but then go to work. We occasionally message during the day but we understand it is hard since I’m working full-time and she’s settling in a new city.

Now being on the other side of the long-distance relationship, I can empathize more of how Denise felt when I first left NYC. I remember the first time I slept in our bed there was all this empty space and it felt odd. When I told her how I felt, she mentioned that’s how she felt the first night I wasn’t there. I never realized what she was experiencing when I moved to Italy since my first night there was a flood and all I could think about was how to carry my luggage in knee deep water when Venice flooded the first night I was there.

My mind was pre-occupied with a lot and it was a distraction to feeling lonely. Being back in New York has helped me be more thankful to my friend group and support system to get me through this period. Being able to count on a group of people who’ve known you for 7+ years is truly invaluable. I also realize what it takes to be communicative in a relationship being on both sides of the distance.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

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.

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.

Seats in front of a stage

PAINTING A NEW STORY


Storytelling was my escape, especially growing up in a harsh environment in Houston, Texas. I wasn’t very proud of my circumstances. On a role model level, the men in my life all did things I didn’t stand for or represent. With that, I had always used storytelling as a way to escape to other characters or perspectives. In 6th grade, I realized I wanted to be an actor and from then I saw something that could get me out of my current circumstances. I ran with it through middle school, high school, and college to study drama.

Once I graduated, I realized I was trying too hard to fit into a traditional mold, a cookie-cutter lifestyle that was not designed for me. I needed to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to survive. The only way I thought to thrive and survive, to get through this transition, cope with the 2016 election, and not to conform to the lines of being a starving artist with no back-up plan, was with some spiritual connectedness with my deceased father.

I lost my father when I was 5 years old, but I wasn’t able to properly mourn for him until I was an adult. When I turned 23 and I was reaching 24, it was a scary moment because my father didn’t make it to 24. To give more background, he was a prominent gangster rapper in the Austin, Houston area. I began suddenly inheriting what he left behind for me over the course of the last two and half years. And so when I graduated college, I wrote and performed a one-man autobiographical show called Baba and Me in honor of my father.

I traveled to London, other parts of Europe, Cuba, West Africa, and my hometown with this performance, and spoke to brown and black youth communities similar to what I grew up within. Through this journey, I realized I was no longer ashamed of my background and I could be unapologetically black and authentic. I was finally leading not with my best self, but my whole self.

I’ve always been pro-Black, which means believing in black liberation and going against the stereotypes of the African-American community in the US. Me embracing my full self as well as my other ethnicities has separated me from the construct of Blackness — my mother is French and Native American from her family history, my father African American. For me to address my family history helped me understand myself better and to share the truth of my story.

Even though I’m not an immigrant, I’ve had this mindset of achieving the American Dream since no one was going to hand me an opportunity because of the class and racial gap I grew up in. With me supporting my mother and siblings, trying to pursuing acting was a burden. Thankfully, I’ve been able to use my entrepreneurial and leadership skills to be more confident in journey.

This is the dialogue and narrative I create to many of the youth I mentor and speak to — they need to be proactive in their career journeys because the system is designed to lead them straight into mass incarceration.

In grad school, I decided to research student perspectives on activism, education, and opportunity. I am now applying to residencies to take the project to the next level and reach more students and stakeholders — i.e. principals, parents — to address opportunity gaps in public education. My hope is to create a dialogue and action around this topic.

I’m also working on a recording mixed tape and a performance sponsored by the Houston Arts Alliance to target 15-20 year olds in urban settings to create conversation on gun violence control, specifically in the city of Houston and the state of Texas.

My hope is to to add to the artists from diverse backgrounds who are painting new pictures, and to be a contributor to that table, whether I’m bringing the fried chicken or the silverware to the cookout. I want to play my part in the best way I know how.

If you want to learn more of his work, see Robert’s website!

Stick figures made of rocks, one giving a heart to the other

DOES SLOW AND STEADY WIN THE RACE?


We started dating around Valentine’s Day 2018. I never understood why our culture says men have to buy the gifts — teddy bears, milk chocolate not dark chocolate, fresh flowers. She was my best friend, I didn’t feel like I had to live up to the expectations associated with the holiday. I felt like I could define what we made of the holiday.

The real problems came when I started to overthink things. I overthink everything. It was hard for me to keep it together since I was so stressed out. I was just starting a new job and she was in her first year of grad school, so there was a lot going on in both of our lives.

When we got together our personalities matched up, but that changed later. I knew this person before our relationship, and I had this expectation they were going to be the same once we got together.

Right from the beginning, I thought we were going to be together forever. I had this image in my head of the perfect girl and I played out scenarios in my head. I rushed right into things from the start, and I was caught off guard when she felt differently.

She felt pressure. I guess she wanted to get to know me better in terms of our relationship first. I rushed into things, and there was no way to hit reset.

The breakup wasn’t abrupt because I was so concerned with ending it the right way and not coming off as the jerk. It felt like a slow slap on the face when I came closer to ending things. Emotionally, I was still hung up on her even though I knew it wouldn’t work.

We tried to be friends right after. I just assumed it would be easy to jump right back into it. I realized that didn’t feel right either. As much as friends are there for you they are not going to be there as constantly as someone as you are in a relationship.

There is no such thing as “The Dumper” or “The Dumpee.” There is a lot of sadness leaving behind a deep connection. It felt like my world was ending and there was no one at the other end of the phone to comfort me through the pain.

Couple walking out of their wedding

WE DO


When I was younger, I’d ask my dad, “How did you propose to mom?” He’d always say, “We didn’t propose, we just talked about it,” and I would respond, “How could you not propose?” Then the same thing happened to me.

I didn’t get a proposal and I didn’t get an engagement ring. It wasn’t very climactic ⁠— we just had a series of conversations. We talked about what if and then decided to. We got married on the second anniversary of our first date. Our families didn’t come, it was just our friends at Brooklyn City Hall. It was lovely.

We had met two years before. I was spending the summer in my hometown in Brazil, bored, trying to pass time when I saw that he and I were 94% compatible on OkCupid. His message was so nice, he was so handsome, and I thought, “There’s no way.” I was sure he was a catfish.
When he asked me out, I told him we’d just have to wait until I came back to New York, and we kept talking every single day.

That first semester we were only seeing each other once a week because that’s all our schedules could allow for. I remember being in class, nervous out of my mind, waiting for him to text me back. My stomach was in knots, I was deranged, and it was so distracting ⁠— I still remember telling my roommate, “I can’t do homework because I’m thinking about this guy.” It was my first relationship and I wasn’t used to that feeling.

We ended up having the talk pretty early on and he met my parents that December.

One night that winter we went to see a movie and had a very frustrating experience. We were waiting in line and ended up not having seats for the show we wanted to see, so we had to wait an hour for the next one. We were in Times Square trying to find somewhere to sit, so it was crowded and cold and miserable.

But eventually it all worked out and we had a great time. I remember being on the subway platform on the way back home thinking the evening had started so shitty but we still had so much fun together. His company is so great and he’s the kind of person who’s always trying to make me feel better. Something clicked and I thought, whatever problems we have, we can work on them together. There has never been a deal breaker.

Previously, I’d had very long crushes on guys but the few times it would actually work out, I would find something wrong. I think it was a kind of self-sabotage, or maybe I was just extremely particular.

With David, it’s a true partnership. Even with the small things. When I’m too tired to do the dishes even though he cooked and I should be doing the dishes, he does them. He scratches my back, I scratch his. I can always count on him in a way that I can’t with anyone else.

Even if we’re not really doing anything — if he’s playing a game and I’m reading a book, and we’re not engaging necessarily — we just have a good time together.

Some people talk about monogamy and marriage as if belonging to someone is a restricting thing. I think it’s a very comforting thing to have someone that at the end of the day can be there for you, no matter what.

He was my first relationship and will hopefully be the last.

Red sky lanterns with Chinese characters

YEAR OF THE PIG


“Come on, Johanna, you don’t need to take an entire day off just to booze up.”

That’s what a college professor said to me without skipping a beat when I asked if I could have the day off to celebrate Chinese New Year.

I laughed it off, and silently walked away from the white-dominated classroom, confused as to why a holiday I looked forward to every year seemed to hold as much bearing as National Cheese Day, while everyone else got designated days off for Easter, Rosh Hashanah, and Christmas.

I haven’t been home for Chinese New Year since 2012. Between midterms, a busy schedule at work and a comedown from the holiday season, it has just never worked out that I had the days off to fly to Vancouver for a celebration so close to my heart.

Even though it was just my mom and I before my stepdad entered the picture, we’ve always celebrated the holiday surrounded by the warmth of family, even though none of them ended up being blood related. Dishes would be prepared in multiples of eight – a homonym for the word “fortune” or “wealth” in Chinese – with certain dishes considered lucky always making an appearance on the spread.

Aunties and uncles would often be seen whispering in corners of the room, an open secret that indicated they were packing last minute red envelopes based on how many kids made it to dinner that night, a comical allusion to when I’d rush to complete school assignments moments before the bell. They would then move around the room, wishing “gong hay fat choy” to the younger generation as they handed out two red envelopes per couple. Single mothers or divorcees would still hand out a second, insisting, “this is from uncle.” Every year, without fail, I’d forget the four-worded blessings to say back, and my mom would have to whisper them in my ear.

My favorite part was always after everyone has left for the night. My mom and I would be halfway through cleaning up when she’d announce, “Let’s finish this later,” and we’d bundle up before getting into the car to drive to the temple. Parking was scarce and the air was thin from the incense smoke. My eyes would tear up almost immediately and I’d cough — my history of allergic asthma tainting what would otherwise be a perfect night. I’d follow my mom from shrine to shrine, lighting incense and praying at the different alters. I didn’t have a particularly religious upbringing so I didn’t always know what to pray. Instead, I followed her movements and thought of my family and the ancestors I never knew and hoped that would bring us just as much luck in the New Year.

If I could have done it over again, I would have been more patient to learn the customs and traditions so deeply ingrained in my blood. I would have insisted to my mom that I would one day leave this place, and one day, I wouldn’t be able to look to my neighbors, my coworkers, my friends and my family to carry on the traditions of our people. I would have skipped the moment in my childhood where I pretended I didn’t know Chinese and wanted nothing to do with my culture, all in a bid to be liked by the “cool white girls.”

But I can’t do it over, and instead will cherish every moment with my family when I become one of the nearly 3 billion people around the world who travel home for Chinese New Year this February 5th.

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.