Before I tell you about my lessons as a young gay man in San Francisco, let me tell you a little bit about my life.
I was born and raised in Ho Chi Minh City—a.k.a Saigon—Vietnam, I lived there throughout my childhood and most of my teenage years. Shortly after my 17th birthday, I packed my bags and moved my life to San Francisco.
Being gay in Vietnam is not the most glamorous of lives to live. I remember growing up hearing my family and neighbors constantly yelling out homophobic slurs and jokes. While I do not blame them for being raised in an entirely different culture and time, it did limit my courage to be myself.
My first day in San Francisco— August 6th, 2013—felt like coming home. It was the first time in my life I felt like I could be myself without fear. And now, a few weeks away from my fourth year anniversary of being here, I have been able to be myself, but it did come with a few lessons.
“No Fats, No Femmes, No Asians.”
Yes, this is real. (And regular, not rare.)
Similar to the majority of the gay population in San Francisco, I use Grindr, Jack’d, Scruff… just to mention a few. The amount of melanin in my skin has never been a concern in my life until I moved to San Francisco. I never thought the day would come when my race would be a prerequisite to my potential of being a fellow gay’s friend or partner.
Seeing other men sending me messages saying “Sorry not into Asians” definitely took a toll on my confidence. On top of that, there is a preconceived notion that all Asian men are passive...and reside on the bottom bunk. When I learned about this stereotype, I bursted out laughing because I know that it is not true for me at all.
During my first semester of college, I decided that I would start growing out my hair. It was something I have always wanted to do, and it was also a way for me to rebel against my dad who gave me the worst haircuts possible throughout my early teenage years. After almost 3 years of growing it out, it has gotten quite long.
I learned a lot about myself from growing my hair. I learned to be patient; hair does not grow inches in a day. I learned to empathize with others who, too, have long hair. I also learned that having long hair automatically categorized me as “femme.”
This made me realize just how fragile being “masculine” is.
This was definitely a challenge on my dating life. The men in my life, who asked me:
“When are you going to cut your hair off? Short hair would look manlier on you” within 20 minutes into our first date. Let me also tell you about Ian, who throughout the three months we were dating would not stop tell me how much he would like me to shave my head off. Not to mention the many times men have told me via online dating apps that I would appeal more to them if I chop my hair off.
Facing rejection and being called “femme" has become a regular event in my life. I do not have a problem with it, as I cannot change what one thinks of me and I no longer have the desire to please everyone. If anything, growing out my hair has taught me to recognize beauty in all spectrum of sexuality and to go beyond what is considered “masculine" and “feminine.”
Be who you are, but be cognizant that some people will mirror their own insecurities onto you.
I moved to the city with the idea that I can be whoever I want to be. Almost 4 years later, I still believe in that idea, but I also learned that I will get judged for it.
Living in a “No Fats. No Femmes. No Asians” world has taught me to love myself...even if all the odds are against me. This is the best lesson San Francisco has taught me: I will be judged for being a little different, and that people will never stop calling me out for it, but it does not matter because I have the power to see the beauty within myself and no one can ever take it away from me.
Tin Dinh is a designer based in San Francisco. He is also the Creative Director of Bob Cut Mag, who has a passion to bring people together through his work.