Two students at Colorado State University reflect on breaking and following convention. In Taylor Coulter’s case, a social work major, it came naturally with the freedom for her to explore from an early age. Until recent years, the other student found that they were performing to follow convention, putting pressure on them and their relationship with their sister. Listen to these students talk about their journeys using the media player above, or read their conversation below.
Taylor Coulter: Breaking convention. What’s expected of you? Do you follow that? Talk about a time when you adhered to or strayed from that. To what effect?
Anonymous: I think the way that I have grown up and been socialized from an early age I never really learned to break convention and so any time I do, that’s really new for me. I think from the time I was in elementary school, definitely sort of like back in the 90s, there was the model minority myth and everything. And so it was definitely, “Oh, you’re so good at math and English,” and all that. And so all I really knew in life was kind of following rules and getting good grades, and yeah — kind of, like, obeying the system.
I think it’s only in recent years that I’ve learned to kind of stray a bit from what’s expected of me, in undergrad when I started taking classes in sociology and ethnic studies, really started exploring race.
It wasn’t until I graduated however that I really started thinking about gender identity. For a long time after that I was kind of stuck in like, “Oh! I am male. What does healthy Asian American masculinities look like?” But it wasn’t until a few years later that I really started questioning the whole paradigm of binary gender and everything and looking for ways to transgress it or play with it.
Taylor: Mhm. You’re saying just within like the most couple recent years is when you really started to break that and that was the first time really in your life? So I feel like I’m kind of opposite of you in the expectation because I didn’t really have a like a certain expectation — you know, I feel like I’ve been breaking convention my whole life.
My most basic example would be being like a young child and wanting to dress like a boy and hanging out with the boys and do boy stuff. And I’ve kind of stuck with that up until now. I’m aware of how that was breaking the convention even though I’ve done it.
It came with some bullying as a kid of, “She looks like a boy! Is she a boy?” Or people assuming my sexuality before I even knew what my sexuality was and all of that.
Anonymous: Well do you feel like at home, at school, in the environments that you grew up in you had supportive folks who opened that space to do so?
Taylor: I’d say the environment in which I grew up in was not necessarily a supportive one but not a caring one to where it was, “You need to do this, this, and this.” It was a very, like, “Do whatever you want!” So not in a positive or really in a negative sense.
Anonymous: How did that feel to you as you were growing up? Did you feel like that was just freedom to–
Taylor: So in some ways it felt very free and it was nice to explore myself, but in other ways it would have been kind of nice for someone to have been like, “Hey, this is what’s up, and I want to know more about you and like what you’re going through and stuff. And just know that whatever you do, I’m here to support you, or however you choose to be.”
Anonymous: Yeah, I think in some ways, some similarities in my life. Because I think after a while there was kind like of a shuffling in and out of, I guess, parental figures in terms of my dad leaving and then a new partner coming in for my mother.
And so it was very much at the time trying to figure out the balance between sometimes feeling there was a lot of pressure on me especially to perform a really like gendered older brother role for my sister and kind of serve as like a secondary means of like discipline or reinforcement on my sister, which I mean — I dunno — I performed it. And I think that did put a rift between us for quite a while that we’ve only recently started being able to break down. But yeah, at other times like definitely feeling sort of like an absence, and in that absence having to like figure things out from myself to a degree.
Taylor: Has that changed at all with your parental figures? Or have you not really had that conversation?
Anonymous: To some degree yes. I think as they’ve all gotten older and we’ve all had time apart as well as time together in sort of a different relationship context we’ve been able to cool off and re-approach things. I think there have just been like small moments where I’ve been able to reconnect with folks bit by bit. There’s still times where I do feel that gap — I dunno. It feels like more progress than I could have hoped for at like 13 or 15 or whatever.
Taylor: Yeah. Can you talk more about your relationship with your sister and maybe how that’s changed, when you lived under the same roof and how you don’t anymore? Do you see that maybe she is breaking convention in any way similarly to how you did after?
Anonymous: With my sister actually, she’s been like really supportive, I think now that our relationship has changed. When I started sort of exploring my gender identity and everything she was one of the first folks I came out to and yeah! She was supportive and wasn’t completely in the know with everything that was going on but it was cool just hanging out with her in LA, where she lives now and like talk through things a little bit and feel like our relationship had changed in a way that felt like we were leaning on each other more.
Taylor: That’s awesome! I’m really glad to hear that that’s how that went down.
Anonymous: How about with you? Do you have any siblings?
Taylor: Yeah, I’ve got one younger sister and she’s always been very accepting of me and it’s never been really an issue. But, again, it wasn’t very like, “Let me learn about this so that I can better know you.” It’s never been like a, “Oh, you’re excluded.” But it’s never been an inclusive, I guess is the best way to describe that.
So sometimes I’ll explain things to her and she’ll try and understand. Like the last conversation I can think of is “they, them, theirs” pronouns. I don’t identify with those pronouns but I was trying to explain to her what that means and what that looks like.
I remember at first, she was like, “You can tell me about that all day long and I’m never gonna get it.” And I was just like, “Oh, no! You’re gonna get it!” So I sat there and talked her through it.
Produced and facilitated by Sara Hayden
Recorded in Fort Collins, Colo.
Date of recording March 31, 2016
Special thanks to Colorado State University’s Asian Pacific American Cultural Center and GLBTQQA Resource Center
Music: Fallen Tree – Acoustic Guitar Instrumental “Remastered” by The Tinkerbell Effect
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Let’s Talk Story is a program where you’re invited to share an anecdote from your lived experiences in the form of a live conversation, short oral history, or written essay. The goal is to keep a record that connects the past to the present, and bring our stories to life. Participate here.