Photo by Jiroe on Unsplash

It’s a common joke among the Asian American diaspora that we don’t know the word for “proud” in our mother tongue because our parents never said it to us. In truth, I don’t think Korean has an exact translation of “proud.” Sure, you could say that it’s “자랑스럽다.” Lots of parents will pat you on the back after an awards ceremony and tell you that exact word, but it doesn’t mean “proud,” a more literal translation would be “brag-worthy.”

Another word comes to mind, “자부심,” which can be translated as “pride,” but comes off more as “arrogance” or “self-conceit.” It’s that type of “pride” that puts yourself on a pedestal, that makes yourself too high-status to bow to others. A healthy amount of 자부심 is of course good (you shouldn’t be a door mat), but it isn’t “pride” in that same uplifting, fluttering way. Because the other options weren’t to my taste, I’ve decided to choose “자존감” as the translation for this piece’s title, which is close to “self-respect” or “dignity.” There’s a slim but significant difference between arrogance and dignity. Arrogance comes from a place of unworthiness. Dignity is earned.

On my screen is a flurry of rainbows, a parade of colorful flags, and countless companies changing their logos to match the theme of the month. Every once in a while, I announce to my friends that it’s “gay month,” and that it should give me the agency to do as I please: eat anything I want, buy anything I want, and frolic if I so desire (although I haven’t ever).

Honestly, I haven’t ever attended a pride parade, nor have I ever worn anything rainbow, nor have I ever donned the magenta-lavender-violet hues of the bisexual flag. Growing up in the deep South, and living with the internalized homophobia weighted on my shoulders from a conservative household (and diasporic culture), I never had the chance to (and I never wanted to) let the flags fly and show myself to the world. Even now, I struggle with telling others about my sexuality. I’ve only really come out in-person to a couple of close friends. The rest, I tell through writing. My parents still don’t know, and I plan to keep it well-hidden for the foreseeable future. And to any new people I meet along the way, it’s just a part of my identity that I don’t really share, and one that I don’t readily expose on the outside. So a part of me wants to go on marches and be proud of who I am, but another part of me stays inside. It’s fear.

I’m thinking about my first “gay experience,” when I gawked at men on the Internet (SFW) while under the guise of “just wanting to be like them.” I remember asking out a girl in middle school to somehow “prove” that I was heterosexual. I was one of the only Asians in my school, I didn’t also need to be one of the only openly gay kids — there’s only so much discrimination a teenager can handle. But, I also remember the internal turmoil I went through when I started actually having feelings for a girl in high school. All the while, I started to not understand why people bounded their attraction to others based on gender, “can’t you just love anyone and everyone?” was a thought I often had.

I sleep-talk, and usually, I wake myself up while doing so. The words escape my mouth right as my consciousness returns, and before I can shut up, my dream thoughts are already in the air. One night, my eyes burst open as I screamed “I’M A BISEXUAL!” into the still night of my house, and when my sentience returned, I put both of my hands over my mouth and fell back asleep. That was the first time I came out. The grasshoppers outside stopped chirping just for a second. But even after coming out to myself, I continued to deny the truth for more than five years.

Dear 20-somethings in the LGBTQ+ community, we are still so young… or at least I am. I’ve come to realize that I’m so inexperienced with the dating sphere, that I can’t tell the difference between a person who wants commitment and a fuckboi who wants a one-night stand. I jump into the thought of love at first sight. I feel like I need to make hasty decisions despite the fact that we haven’t even met yet. I’ve (embarrassingly) confessed only a few days after talking to someone. I’ve hung myself dry and spent countless sleepless nights thinking about these men who are probably sound asleep. I’ve had high expectations and seen them torn down. Some flutter down like leaves in autumn and others crash like a baby bird trying to fly. Denial bars experience, and I’m now keenly aware of that.

This pride month, I’ve been thinking a lot about myself, what with post-graduation plans, and COVID still ruining my life, and saying goodbye to friends, and moving to a different country. It’s been a lot of soul searching, and as the final day of the month draws near, I can’t help but begin to reflect on what I feel proud of, what gives me the “right” to be included in all of this fanfare. In fact, I gaslight myself all the time like this. I discriminate myself sometimes more than others do.

I’m not actually “proud” during pride month. I don’t march, I don’t change my profile picture, I don’t do anything different other than treating myself to some frivolous spending. But for those of you who may be wondering “what we have to be proud about,” pride isn’t only about confetti, parades, and rainbows. It isn’t only about identity either. For many queer people, their queerness is not something they’re proud of (I’m one of them). But what we can be proud of is the gumption we had to keep going, the stamina to fight our internal struggles, and the courage to not stay in hiding for all of our lives. The dignity we’ve built up all throughout our lives.

Today, I’m proud of how far I’ve come. Despite all those years of denying who I really was, and despite all the self-hate I’ve brewed within myself, I’m slowly beginning to shed those scars. Slowly, but persistently.

There’s no rainbow without rain. And through the many tears that have run down my cheeks this month, the sun shines through, casting spectrums onto the surface.

오늘 하루도 흘러가겠지 | today will pass too | yale ’21 |