Confessions of a Bitter, Oppressed Child
By Anita Mean, UW Senior
Since 2011, I have been a semi-closeted bisexual questioning their sexuality while also being a divergent, first-generation college student of Southeast Asian refugee parents. Saying all of this is such an annoying mouthful but necessary in understanding how I continue to grapple with what I consider to be my personality in such a world I feel does not make space for people like me.
I had already “failed” life by not being born neurotypical. I was born with a condition called congenital hydrocephalus, which interrupts the typical flow of cerebrospinal fluid in all of our brains to properly cleanse the plaque that tends to build up. The only “cure” was to get surgery, and I had to get it if I wanted to live past the age of 3. With this in consideration, my parents already had so much to undertake in raising such a disabled child.
In the combination of emotional trauma my parents have experienced from involuntarily leaving their homeland and the difficulty of having to raise me, they developed a very paranoid sense of the outside world. As a result, I was kept sheltered in the house for a great deal of my childhood and young adult life. It was not until this year, when my mom could finally trust me to drive by myself, that I could feel that I had some autonomy over my life.
Fulfilling my need for autonomy is something that continue to struggle with. In addition to being sheltered in my home, my parents handled everything for me. They only wanted me to focus on academics. Although they never pushed me to get the best grades, I felt I needed to excel in order for them to not feel disappointed in me. Excel, I did but in terms of practical skill, I am useless — or so my mom tells me when she is in a bad mood. My strengths only lie within the academic world: a world in which my parents will never understand no matter how much I wish they did. If they did, I think they would appreciate me more. I will always be a thinker, and they will always be doers.
For the longest time, I kept the exploration of my own gender and sexual identity on the backburner of my mind. I was only 11 when I figured out that I was bisexual. Up until now, I had not realized such label held so much weight, especially for person who is of Southeast Asian descent like me. The few LGBTQ+ representations in Cambodia and Vietnam come in the form of entertainment and is biased towards AMAB (assigned male at birth) people. Everyone else was and continues to be invisible. This realization hit me as I am the next eldest cousin in the family gradually approaching the age at which I was to be traditionally wedded to an AMAB person and conceiving offspring. However, this traditional life is not what I desire. I can only ever see myself being there for my girlfriend (whom is also of Southeast Asian descent) through her gender-affirming transition into the outside world.
I can confidently say that my curiosity regarding the nature of oppression and how it works to fuel many functions of the outside world has been both a poison and antidote to my mental health. A poison of jadedness and an antidote of enlightenment taken simultaneously in the journey of uncertainty that we constantly face in our lives as we all approach our deathbeds. In such chaos, writing always helps me make sense of it all.
Many thanks to sociology and psychology student Anita for sharing this article in our Summer Blog Project! Stay tuned for more narratives! If you would like to contribute a story regarding Asian mental health, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.