Interview conducted by Sophia Delrosario via Instagram DMs.
Welcome to your interview with ZENERATIONS! We appreciate your willingness to share your story with the world. Let’s start off with a simple introduction. Tell us about yourself, like your age, grade, school, favorite subject, etc.
My name is Eric Nguyen. I currently attend McNair Academic High School as a freshman, and I am 15 years old. For some hobbies, I’d say art and fashion are things that are woven into my everyday life, whether I realize it or not, and they play a significant role in my persona.
Gender ambiguity is being largely portrayed in fashion today, with icons like Harry Styles and Timothee Chalamet dressing in ruffle blouses and floral prints. Men are getting more comfortable with incorporating feminine aspects and being fluid with their dressing style – what articles of clothing, jewelry, and overall aesthetics do you rely on to achieve this gender fluidity?
I think that it’s a great thing that many influential figures have delved into the topic of gender fluidity through their expressive fashion. Like the icons you have mentioned, my style tends to attract towards a more unisex type of style. For me, I usually wear a lot of women clothes actually, whether it’d be a crop top or feminine jewelry, and I would mismatch those with more masculine pieces. Though I think clothes plays a big role in expressing my gender fluidity, I also rely on my personality a lot. Gender fluidity is more than dressing like a boy and/or girl; it is also about being open minded and accepting to new unorthodox ideas that will only diversify and help evolve the society around us in the future.
Do you have any fashion icons or celebrities that you look up to in order to cultivate your looks and outfits?
Some fashion icons that really help me really cultivate my looks are Rihanna, Timothee Chalamet, Virgil Abloh, Taehyung, and @coco_pinkprincess on Instagram. A lot of my style is also influenced by modern street style in Asia, especially Korea.
Okay, so you mentioned being interested in art! What types of art do you specify in (digital art, painting, sketches, etc), and how do you feel it helps you express your identity?
So as a freshmen at McNair, I am enrolled in the Jersey City Arts Program (VPA). For me, I tend to stick to the realm of fine arts, pertaining mediums such as painting and drawing. Art has helped me polish and convey ideas that are waiting to inspire others; in addition, art has helped me ground myself and really look at what my self values truly are. And I think the beautiful thing about art, is that art not only helps the artist convey their identity but it also helps those who are admiring it. Many interpretations can be pertained in one single piece.
If you’re uncomfortable with any of these questions or feel sensitive to the topic, feel free to let me know and refrain from answering. What sexuality do you identify as? What made you come to the realization?
I identify as bisexual. For me, I never really had to question myself with these topics. From a really young age, I wore skirts and heels as if they were normal for a little boy, though at that time I didn’t know explicitly that I was bisexual. I’ve always knew that I liked boys and girls, and I knew that nothing really could change that even if I wanted it to. In addition, during my elementary school years I got to explore myself a little bit more. Being exposed to the media has actually played a large role in my identity.
How has your sexual orientation impacted your life, both positively and negatively? How has it made you into the person you are today?
My sexuality, of course, has impacted my life greatly both negatively and positively. Coming from a reserved Asian family, expressing unorthodox ideas that weren’t taught to them by their parents can be challenging. Instead of being taught by their family when they were young, a lot of parents rely on media to help them understand today’s youth. And of course, there will always be a social stigma and a preconceived opinion towards members of the LGBTQ+ group that can be found on the media, whether that prejudice inflicted towards that certain group stems from their religion, etc.
I, personally, have faced a lot of homophobia growing up that has led to lots of trauma in my childhood, and even now, entering high school I still hear offensive slurs. And I think that once society continues to use words that degrade others, it will only become normalized; words such as the ‘f slurs’ are tossed around as joke on a daily basis. Though many use it not in the context in which they want to purposely hurt others, there is still a lot of meaning and dark history embedded into those slurs. Not only with LGTBQ+ groups, races suffer from this too. For example, one common word being the ‘n-word’; though many people say it’s just a joke and that they aren’t trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, words like that were used to degrade and dehumanize groups of people.
What social issues and communities do you advocate for (such as the LGBT+ community, feminism, etc.) ?
I personally advocate for anyone who wants to express themselves no matter what religion, race, or sexuality you are. Recently there was an incident, where one of my very close friends, whom I’ve known since elementary school, officially identified as trans. He received a lot of backlash from it from his “friends.” Of course sitting there and doing was nothing wasn’t the options so I asked for the screenshot of the text to raise awareness to how harmful messages and slurs stemming from transphobia/homophobia can be. Because I posted those screenshots, I too received backlash from people, as they think that I am personally trying to ruin their lives. However, it’s honestly the opposite. You shouldn’t be belittled for trying to express yourself.
You’re an Asian-American, specifically Vietnamese teen living in our generation! As a person of color, what positive, uplifting experiences have you had regarding your ethnicity, and what negative and possibly discriminatory experiences have you had?
As an Asian-American, culture is something that plays a large role in my life, as it has helped me be more open minded and understanding. Another thing would have to be the increasing appreciation for Asians and their food and culture. I think that spread of ideas originating from that of Asian countries is a good thing for our generation, as it only diversifies our way of thinking and our overall image. However, being an Asian-American can have its downsides. One experience that I have personally faced is a lot of inherent racism. Normalization of racism inflicted among Asians is only spreading, and people don’t realize the danger of it; a lot of it can be commonly found on trending apps such as tiktok and a lot of songs heard today.
Have you encountered any racism and xenophobia because of the recent coronavirus pandemic?
Definitely, with all the stigma against Asians in the media and press due to the coronavirus, racism inflicted towards Asians is only growing. Subtle actions such as moving away when an Asian person coughs, or avoiding Asian-owned businesses can be very harmful. Walking around with my friends in NY before quarantine, I always felt like as if we were being stared at.
How do you, as a bisexual, fluid-dressing, advocate for many communities, and person of color, feel that we are breaking through the barriers of minorities similar to you? Do you feel like we are making progress, and if so, what more can we do as the youth to amplify our voices?
I think today’s youth are definitely breaking barriers at an outstandingly young age. Having access to the media has given those who want a voice an outlet to spread their ideas. Instagram by far has been one of the most powerful and effective ways for youth to amplify their voices, whether it be through commenting on a post, or reposting something on their stories. To move even farther and make even more progress than we already have, I think that we have to get the pass the idea that we will be scared of backlash. Where there is hope there are always hardships, and backlash is a small hurdle to jump pass to really be heard and recognized.