I am Proud

Cookies and Cream

This piece is for the storytelling event at Haverford, which was later presented at the SARHE Symposium.

I can’t imagine just under a year ago, I just graduated from high school. THE Hanoi-Amsterdam school, one of the most selective and the most prestigious high schools in Vietnam. Oh boy! I was so proud when I found out I got accepted to the school.

I was alone in my parents’ room playing online games while they were away at work. Now don’t question why I was in my parents’ room instead of my own room. It’s the thrill of doing something forbidden exactly where it is forbidden. I felt like Adam eating the apple. I felt like Walter White making meth in his school’s chemistry lab. I felt like a North Vietnamese befriending an American in the Vietnam War.

“The results are out!”, Giang, a friend of mine from middle school, called me. She urged me to quit playing games, to get out of bed and check the results out. I never like being urged. That feeling when my mom urged me to come out of my bedroom for dinner. Or that feeling when I get honked at in the middle of the traffic jam. Yeah no one likes that feeling…But for once in my life, having been urged, I felt a rush of adrenaline through my body. And then relief. And then excitement.

Flash forward to several months after. I excelled at school. I made a lot of friends. But I felt something different. Standing in place of the excitement that just 4 months earlier forced me out of bed was the fear that I carried through the rest of high school.

I feared that I was gay.

***


My family loved watching Prison Break. For those of you who don’t know, it’s an American television series about a guy trying to break away from the prison. We would gather together in the living room and watch the show every Tuesday night. My dad loves action movies. He likes action movie actors. He liked Wentworth Miller, the star of Prison Break. And then in 2013, Wentworth came out as gay. “What a shame!”, my father said. My sister agreed.

Eighteen years I lived in Vietnam, I’ve travelled up and down the country. I went to Da Nang, a coastal city in central Vietnam, which used to be a French colonial port. I went to Ho Chi Minh city, the city where Americans lost. Not once did I see a gay couple on the street. Not once did I hear people discussing this issue. And every time when I hear people using the word “gay,” I feel like the world in front of me is like “Whoosh!” (I don’t know how to describe it in words, I will use my hands instead). It’s like when you’re day dreaming in class and your teacher calls on you and you’re like “Shit!”. They know. They know. They know. Every time I heard people using the word “gay”, it was used as an insult.

Nobody’s every taught me what to feel when I feel isolated. Nobody’s ever taught me what to do when I don’t know what to do. So I was afraid that I was gay. I didn’t want to be something that I know nothing about. There were nights when I would stay up thinking about this. There were times when I would look into the mirror but could not say it to myself.

***


Things changed when I came to Haverford. I was proud. I was the first person in my family to attend college. I was the first person in my entire extended family to go abroad. I was the first person in my family to come to a place where there are actually gay guys in sight. (ok now if you’re a gay guy here at Haverford, you might disagree with me). But to a gay guy from a conservative part of Vietnam, Haverford seems pretty gay.

Okay so with my inappropriate sense of humor, I got a date with a guy. We went to Lunt café. We had orgasm there. I’m sorry.  We had oreogasm there. It’s a fancy name for cookies and cream smoothie. You have the black from the cookies, the white from the cream. And bada bing, bada boom, they get blended together to create this spectacular drink called Oreogasm. So anyway, so I got oreogasm from the barista and started drinking it from the straw. I didn’t realize that to drink it faster you gotta suck on the straw harder. Instead. I tilted the glass… I got orgasm on all my clothes. On my first date. I was inexperienced. we never spoke again.

But it was great. At least I found someone who also likes cookies and cream. At least I found someone who is also gay. And I started to feel like I was part of something. I started to tell the secret that i had been holding onto to myself. And then to Franny. To Yifan. To friends. To people. Now even though I haven’t really talked to my family about this, I was able to talk to myself the secret that I previously could not talk to myself. And I won’t let it define or confine me anymore.

2 months later. I met my boyfriend here. so I’m a Vietnamese guy. And Ironically, he’s an American who can speak French. So we can role-play all those Vietnam War and French-Indochina war colonialism stuff. I mean I was more experienced. We dated for 7 months. It was great to feel something that I was afraid to feel. It was great to feel something that is real.

***


The journey to Haverford is a journey of pride. Not the kind of pride that forced me out of bed when I was playing video games. But the pride of being able to take a step outside my parents’ room, outside my city, outside my country, a step towards my identity. This time, the pride I feel is different.