Gui Trang (VNM), scenic painter/waitress, New York

“I was 15 when I arrived in New York. I stayed with my aunt and uncle who already lived here and went to the cheapest catholic all-girl school in Brooklyn. There were five other Asian and a few white kids in this school, all the others were either black or Latino. It was a ghetto high school, but it was an awesome environment to be in.

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I started a blog about my life in New York. I did it for me, but it became quite popular in Saigon amongst the kids at the boom of internet in Vietnam. In this blog I wrote openly about being gay. My mom, who’s a high school teacher in Vietnam, was told about my blog and when she and my father checked it they called me up and said: ‘This isn’t funny, we’ve spoiled you too much and now you’re off following trends. We’re getting you a ticket home right away!’ I convinced them to give me time to prove I wasn’t a shitty person. I understood their concern, though. In Vietnam, being gay is a big deal. There is a lot of social pressure. My mom wanted to quit her job to take care of me until I become straight again, which sounded ridiculous. I had something to prove to them. Not sure what, since I was still the same person but I was determined to show them I had my life under control.

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Luckily for me, my aunt and uncle were OK with the fact. They lived in NY, so they knew homosexuality existed and they could put it in place. It’s not a freakin’ crime, you know! Earning back my parents’ trust has been an incredible journey, though. Besides being gay, I had tattoos and piercings and dyed my hair. On top of that, I wanted to study arts. Can you imagine? In Vietnam that’s a recipe for going straight to hell!

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But I went for it anyway: I got better grades in school, got a scholarship, did some exhibitions, went into theatre, studied set design, moved on to scenic painting and started working in restaurants to support myself. My parents turned around as well, they started to have respect for me again. Of course they have no idea what I’m doing – what the hell is scenic painting, really? – But they support me. Since they’ve seen that I can make a living for myself, they’re even proud of me. Last time they visited they even met my girlfriend and they loved her. Can you believe it?”

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