What Pride Means to Me
With my wife Sabrena in the Paris metro in 2022
1993: I am 8 years old. I am a scared little autistic girl who felt in my bones that there was something strange about me. Was it my obsessive, hyper-fixation on the things that interested me? My intense feelings? Or that I felt I had to lie every time the other girls shared the lists of ‘boys they liked’? I often felt like a child who had so much to say, but no words at all. The words that people used with very young female children did not feel right. ‘What boy do you like?’ ‘What kind of man do you think you’ll marry?’ ‘When you grow up and have a family…’
None of that ever felt right. I didn’t have the words. Instead, I said things like ‘I will never marry!’ Which made people laugh. Of course you will, they said, you will meet a nice boy and you will marry him. ‘I don’t like boys!’ That made people laugh even more. No one believes what children have to say unless they fit a script. I didn’t have any of the right scripts.
I did not know any queer people; the only time I ever heard about gay folks or trans folks was on the media, in a derogatory manner. I was about to use the Internet for the first time, and that would change my (whole) life. The first thing I do when I go on the Internet is to look up whether or not women lived together abroad. I find a lot of information about not telling anyone in the military that you are queer. I go on IRC and message a stranger and ask, ‘how does it work?’
I don’t feel guilty in church the next day. I just feel like I know the biggest secret of the universe, like there’s a name for people like me, other than pervert. But I worry about the logistics. How will I find a wife? I imagined I would have to fall off the face of the universe and disappear forever to even do that.
I spend the next six years at school writing stories about stowing away, disappearing off the face of the universe, sneaking off to start a new life as someone else.
2003: I am 18 years old. I have dated both boys and girls. Sometimes, at the same time. I give myself an arbitrary deadline. I want to decide at the end of high school which I prefer. I know that ‘bi’ exists and that’s what I thought I was, but it didn’t feel like me. I decide I want to start university with.. certainty. All I know is that boys are straightforward and easy, and girls are not. I know deep down I never choose the easy, because that rarely interests me, and I know I am at the fork in the road where nothing is going to be easy from now on.
2013: I am 28 years old. I have a 4 year old dog, Cookie. We live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My first long term girlfriend got her for me, or with me, I’m not sure. ‘If we ever break up you’re going to have to take her,’ she says. I have just been diagnosed with a terrible autoimmune disease, and she has to drive me and Cookie 350 kilometers to take me home. I’ve had to move home after years of ‘gallivanting’ all around the world, as my family would say, and I am learning to be at home and be at peace for the first time. I am out. I am going to live in Singapore for the first time as an out queer adult and single person. I am alternately sick and alternately learning how to be single again. I am sicker than I think. I go out with a different woman every week and I feel like I can be more openly queer at home than I ever imagined, but I also feel an impending doom: I was tired.
Tired of running the race with a potato sack tied to my foot. Tired, generally. I do the unthinkable: I move out of my parents' home within months of getting back. You’re not supposed to do that until you marry (a man). “You don’t want to be here when I am dating all these women, do you?” I imagine myself saying. I think I say something to that effect, but dialed back. I am always dialed back at home. I can be ‘a gay’, but I should be proper. I can be ‘a lesbian’, but I should be successful. As long as I am successful, people are fine with me being queer and autistic. But it should always be in that order. I am reckless with the hearts of the women who apparently love me in this time, because I don’t feel like I deserve to be loved.
2023: I am 38 years old. I now live in San Francisco with my wife, Sabrena. Our dog Cookie is 14 years old. Mila, the large tortoiseshell cat we adopted when we got here, is 17. I have the queerest, most autistic life I can imagine, here. Three days into Pride month, I’ve already met and spent time with mostly queer people. They have lives, careers, families. Like me, they also came here from somewhere else to live their queerest, and sometimes most autistic, lives. From Montana. From Sarawak. From Singapore. From Taiwan. From China. For many people like us, California is a refuge. I have been here for five years now. It makes me sad that a country where neither of us have citizenship recognized our marriage, and gave us the ability to exist, survive and thrive, in spite of our sexuality, when our own countries tell us we are broken. And I am proud that our state gives us the opportunity to live our lives, as our most queer, most autistic selves.
But when I brush up against elements of my old life, I am annoyed. I don’t believe I should wait for gay men to have their rights first and then advocate for other’s. I don’t believe trans people should wait their turn in line to stop being discriminated against, especially in this time of trans genocide. I don’t find it acceptable to have government officer shout that my marriage is not recognized in Singapore, when just last year I helped to review a form for another government that said Person A and Person B instead of “Husband” and “Wife”. Friends from home say I am now too loud, too American, too… different. It’s probably true. I no longer have it in me to allow another person, institution, organization or government to pretend that I should not exist. I don’t have it in me to be okay with not having any rights anymore, either.
We’re here and we’re queer, we’re also very autistic (which is related) and we are very tired. I am very glad, however, that I did not have to disappear off the face of the universe to find a wife. Take that, 1993.