The Lightbulb

I remember my first crush on a boy. I was 7. I had written him a love letter, put it in on his desk before recess ended, and watched as he walked back into class towards the clumsily folded paper on his desk. He picked it up, came over to my desk and tapped me on the shoulder. After catching my eye, he then proceeded to walk towards the bin, rip up the letter, and toss it in, along with my crumpled 7-year-old heart.

I remember my first crush on a girl. I was 10. She came to school with a newly cut fringe; I felt my cheeks turn red. I thought she looked amazing, especially when she tied the rest of her hair up into a ponytail for sports period. I went home and imagined us holding hands. I came to school the next day and never looked her in the eye again.

I didn’t hear of bi-erasure until well after I realized I was bisexual. It was like a rusty light bulb flickering at 2 in the morning, obtuse in its dirty orange glow, and omitting flickers of burnt red heat that smell like crap. Despite my initial discomfort with the term, it helped me conceptualize my difference, and subsequently articulate it to others. It helped me understand why 10-year-old me would hide my first crush on a girl.

Growing up I fit palpably into the image curated for me: the youngest daughter of a proud Vietnamese father. Enriched by our migrant community made up of refugees from the Vietnam War, the cultural pressure to do well at school and present myself in a perfect manner was not unfamiliar to myself, or any of my Vietnamese friends. I think the first time I registered disappointment from my father was when I decided to pursue creative writing. However, not long after noticing the grimace spread across my father’s face, it soon disappeared. He realized that my passion for writing formed a creative bond between us. After moving to Australia and taking up work in a factory, my father spent much of his time writing about his refugee experience. Through the scratch of a pen his experiences became memories, enabling my father to make a kind of reluctant peace with his past. My father and I share this need for catharsis.

As I grew older and began to evolve as an individual, my writing followed suit. In my teen years, I wrote short stories which often featured primarily white characters. This was a product of my social and literary environment. It was all I recognized and knew how to write. I projected my voice through those characters already familiar to, and represented in, the literary world. As I began to look inward, I started writing characters which not only reflected my interior, but my exterior as well; Vietnamese girls. Subsequently, without recognizing the root of their formation, I began to write queer characters.

But where does my identity disappear to when I have to play the role of the dutiful daughter? My love for my parents has certainly never wavered, despite knowing they would disown me if I ever dated someone non-male. I swept my bisexuality under the rug, only allowing it to resurface as I began to open up in spaces I felt comfortable and safe. Allowing myself to express my identity was the best decision I ever made. It feels as though I have slid into place; this is my life. Yet, it is a life that I cannot share with the people closest to me, so I write for catharsis.

I can only wish that I had the privilege to confide in my parents. It would be easy to say that they are bad parents, that they are evil. And although sometimes I may feel as though this is true, I then remember the social and cultural values which underscore the lives of refugee parents: the need to be close-knit, the need to stay close to home, the need to cling onto old-world values. Their mixed history creates a constant push and pull between understanding and ignorance, and in their eyes, family values and parental obedience are often equated equally. 

Being the good Vietnamese daughter my father wants means not being able to let him know about my bisexuality. This is not only an emotional concern, but also one of safety. What then do I do when my father, who shares my love for writing, asks to see one of my pieces? I lose the ability to share our most significant common thread. I lose it not only in the conglomeration of mish-mashed Vietnamese-English words spoken to one another, but also in the invisible space between us. The more I become sure of my sexuality, the more I realize how far I have strayed from the image of the daughter he keeps in his mind. I become more ashamed for not being a part of the family unit; “a crack in the vase.”

Through all of this, I’m left confused. I am sitting here waiting for the Vietnamese version of Janelle Monae, of Frank Ocean, of Freddie Mercury—someone to show me how they did it—how they prevailed amidst the pressure imposed upon them by their communities. Until then, I don’t know who to look to, to figure this all out. I don’t know how to become visible.

Intersectionality is a beautiful thing. It is narrative. It is story. It is connection. However, intersectionality also augments my individual reality. It acts as an erratic signal constantly flashing across my mind, filling my everyday interactions with a sense of social panic and dread. To make peace with my cultural identity, is to make sense of this other, seemingly bipartite aspect of my identity, my sexuality. I visualize my bisexuality as different chapters of my life enmeshed together, all at once. Like a movie in my mind with too many plot twists, it is a constantly changing process. Yet few moments of clarity continue to nurture personal growth. I see light bulbs sizzling, cracking open to reveal the full color which lies beneath their plastic shells. I see this and I want to turn on all the lightbulbs in my house.

A (W)hole New World

To depict with accuracy what purchasing my first vibrator was like, I recommend that readers obtain some type of music device and listen to ‘A Whole New World’ as performed by Lea Salonga and Brad Kane, for its contents are integral to today’s topic.

I had been toying with the idea of buying a vibrator for months, years even. Having one time come so close to ordering a dildo online in the shape of Sailor Moon’s Cutie Moon Rod, I opted instead for a pair of white platform shoes. Eighteen year-old me had not yet felt the full wrath of a libido thrust upon her. The closest feeling was the thrill of arriving at university and not having to wear a kilt and blazer to school every day.

Fast-forward to three weeks ago. I entered the store with enthusiasm, a titillating sense of badassery accompanying me along with a wallet full of cash and an unraveling composure. Simply being inside the store was arousing on its own. The store’s squeaky-clean glass windows juxtaposed the seediness of other sex shops I had visited. I stared in awe at the sunlight streaming through like a heavenly beam onto a table of assorted cock rings. I expected a middle-aged man with a wiry beard and beer belly to look at me with disdain. I would then valiantly retort, “That’s right! I’m a young Asian woman in a sex shop! Screw your normative gender expectations!”

Instead, I was greeted with the firm smile of a frizzy-haired woman behind the register, a purple leash fitted loosely around her hand—the same purple as the shop’s sign. The other end was clipped to the collar of a chocolate brown dog who pattered towards me panting, tongue outstretched as I got my bearings, nodding and smiling sheepishly. I began to scan the merchandise, quickly deducing that the front of the store was beginner’s play. I marched with great gusto to the back, where a black velvet-lined wall showcased a series of phallic objects with circular bulges. I studied them quietly. It didn’t take me long to realize I was looking at the butt stuff.

I snapped back around, finally settling on a gentler, pink wall with an array of less intimidating toys delicately sprawled across a glass table. An older customer stood reading the back of a box while rocking a stroller back and forth. An infant in a yellow beanie slept peacefully inside.

I wasn’t there for very long. I chose a member from the pink wall that didn’t seem too overwhelming and took my purchase to the counter. With a dull face, the shopkeeper scanned and packaged it. I had prepared myself for judgmental looks and being handed a pamphlet with the words YOU’RE GOING TO HELL lambasted on the front, there was nothing of the sort. Instead, she handed me my bag and picked up her phone, turning to take snaps of her dog.

I recommend that readers now press play on their listening device. I rushed home, and once in my room, ripped the box to shreds. My hands fumbled as I opened my new toy in my own private space. There was something so completely foreign about this moment, yet the toy and the moment were mine. All mine.

A whole new world.

Yes, I am the Jasmine in this situation. And my Aladdin? My new, hot pink friend Emilia, with 12 different vibration settings.