To Wake Up Proud

Johnson Huynh 1

Take both strands in your hands.

On my wrist, there are two bracelets. One is made of tattered leather. If you place your nose close enough, you can catch the salty ocean breeze that’s yet to fade away. Indentations of the Peruvian Nazca Lines are etched into it, a small keepsake of my brother. It’s difficult to tie in the morning because the ends of its strings are hideously frayed, so I always fumble around for a few seconds in a Chinese Finger-Trap trying to position the strings just right. Despite all that effort, the bracelet only barely manages to sit on my wrist as it slides up and down my arm in an attempt to fall off.

The other one is my Pride bracelet, bound together with colorful, vibrant yarn. Unlike my Nazca Lines, this one is infinitely easier to weave into me. I put it on first, after I wipe away the sleep in my eyes. I bought it off of the Internet a little bit before heading to Mexico. Since then, I wear it every day. This small rainbow bracelet became my coat of arms, always with me. Shining so beautifully for something made of strings.

Lift one thread higher than the other

Being a gay man means a lot of different things especially during June, Pride Month. One of which, quite commonly, is guilt. There’s a pervasive desire to be “normal” some days; maybe then I wouldn’t have to feel so ashamed of being queer. Then I wouldn’t have to hide myself from my friends. This sense of disconnection carries over to making friends as well. Although I do speak a fair amount of Spanish, it often isn’t enough to truly be immersed in the conversation. There are little bits and pieces lost in translation. Couple that with the pressure to act “macho” in order to fit in and I find myself in a culture that I can’t integrate myself into nor one that I feel comfortable with.

It was definitely hard the first couple of days, trying to get accustomed to how men should act without losing the femininity that I’ve learned to be comfortable with. I learned to restrain my emotions more, to be seen as gruff yet stoic. Make a dumb joke about my “ex-girlfriend”. Laugh when other guys participate in “locker-room talk”. It wasn’t me at all, but it was convenient. It made me feel like one of the guys!

However, masks of convenience fall apart slowly. I came back to my room exhausted, tired from the pretending that I had to do on a daily basis. And for what? I didn’t feel any more comfortable. I felt like I lost a bit of myself every day, never getting the chance to tell someone who I really am. Every passing day became another missed opportunity to let myself be vulnerable. Every second was a memento of how I longed to be understood. “But as long as I have fun”, I thought, “then maybe all this hiding will be worth it”. Yet again I say, masks of convenience crumble.

My friends from work invited me to go dancing one night. And I just had to say yes, didn’t I?

Johnson Huynh 2
Part of the gang at last!

Cross both of the threads to make an “X”. With your dominant hand, pull the longer strand down into the loop.

Cigarette smoke crawled across the indigo dance floor, raspily grasping its way towards us as we swung our arms to the thumping sounds of Reggaeton in the air. After a long week of work, it felt as though I had the chance to really connect with some of the people I’ve met here in Mexico. I was happy and included. Sure I may not have been me, but who cares if I had friends. At that moment, I thought that I could have given up everything to not be alone. I would have even traded in my sexuality.

Suddenly, I snapped back to reality as I looked around to all the couples with their arms around each other, their faces were etched with a loving smile. The Reggaeton morphed into a slower, more intimate piece. Everyone partnered up. As for me, I was left alone. I was reminded of a burnt out love that existed then — a lifetime ago. Embers choked me while their ashes swirled around, sucking all the air out of me. It crept closer to say I would always be alone.

In an instant, I was alienated. There I was, the only gay person in the entire room while men tenderly spun their female partners. Calmly, I backed away from my friends and headed towards the door. Within a few minutes, an Uber was called. In a few more minutes, I was standing in front of my host family’s door. My finger lingered on the buzzer for just a few seconds. Just for a few fleeting moments as my eyes watered up; my vision clouded over.

Breathe in. Breathe out

In Mexico, people don’t shy away from physical contact. Both men and women pull you in for an embrace or a kiss on the cheek, respectively. It is the hugs with my own gender that make me the most lonely because I always wonder what it’d be like to hold on for just a second longer or what it’d be like for people to understand me. It’s hard. Being miles away from my queer friends who could comfort me on these types of things as well as being in another deeply religious country where coming out could turn everyone against you.

I didn’t sleep well that night, if at all, since thoughts stormed through my head. They writhed in my loneliness, in my fear that no one here would ever understand me. A toss here and a turn there didn’t do much for me. But I woke up the next morning to the sound of my alarm rattling.

My arm reached over to turn it off. In the process of doing so, I saw my bracelets once more. Despite everything, I never took my Pride bracelet off nor my leather one. They still clung onto me just like they did earlier in the day. And I found myself again. I remembered that I shouldn’t be afraid of loving the way I do. No, I should be proud. There are some things that you should not part with: those you love and those who love you. These affirmations are your glaives, your polearms. You walk out your front door, assured. Knowing that even if no one may understand you, you’ve at least understood yourself.

You have to tell yourself everyday that you are not a monster. That even when the world denies your existence, or even tries to remove it, you have to fight back. Wake up in the morning. Tell yourself that you deserve to love again. Trust that one day, you will find it. Find your own bracelet to tie.


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Johnson Hyunh Bio Photo

Johnson Huynh is a rising sophomore studying Mechanical Engineering. This summer, he is working with a team to develop a drone that can 3D print onto any surface in Aguascalientes, Mexico.