This post originally appeared on Bustle.
By Sarana Tien
“Where were you when you heard that Trump won?” the student asked, half to his desk, half to me. I glanced over at the teacher, wondering whether I should answer the question. While working as a high school teaching assistant in Laon, France, I’ve learned that students will sometimes ask one thing and mean another, especially because English isn’t their native language.
“Who?” He frowned, still trying to find the right word.
“How?” I asked.
“Yes, how.” He nodded vigorously. “How were you?”
I paused for a moment, trying to remember the class’s general English abilities. Recalling that they’d asked me about primary elections, police brutality, and gun control a month earlier, I decided that I didn’t need to mince my words.
“I actually cried for a good 10 or 20 minutes,” I said, flashing back to that Wednesday morning when I’d woken up, checked my phone, and then sobbed until I couldn’t breathe.
A wave of sympathy washed through the room, leaving distress written across the faces of the 15- and 16-year-old students. “Why?” another kid asked.
I took a deep breath. “Well, I’m actually Chinese-American, so my parents are immigrants, and he’s against immigration. I’m a person of color, and he doesn’t like people of color. I’m also a woman, and he’s a misogynist. And…”
I hesitated for a moment. Before the election, the only people who’d known that I was queer were my close college friends, and I’d never needed to actually come out to them. After the election, I’d come out on Facebook and my personal blog, but I still hadn’t come out to anyone in-person.
Growing up as a Chinese-American and a female-presenting woman, those two aspects of my identity had always been visible — whereas my sexuality was something that could easily be hidden, especially because I was afraid of how people would react to it. Besides, if straight people didn’t have to announce their sexuality to the world, why should I? But in that moment, I decided I was done with letting fear win. Now more than ever, minority voices matter, and I wouldn’t let bigotry silence me.
“I’m gay, and he basically hates gay people,” I finished.
It felt oddly freeing, confessing something that I’d realized and then kept hidden from the world for two years. Perhaps even more liberating was the fact that not a single person in the classroom seemed shocked.
“So you don’t have a chance,” the teacher said.
I shrugged. I was fortunate enough to be living in France, far from the election chaos and aftermath of subsequent hate crimes, but as a minority, my future under the President-elect — or my lack of a future — wasn’t exactly something I wanted to dwell on. The only thing I knew for certain was that distance and time zones had left me utterly removed from not just my friends, but also the political situation in America. I felt helpless. I wanted to do something, to make my voice heard from 4,000 miles away.
Two days later, two of my American friends and I finalized last-minute plans to attend the Paris Against Trump protest. None of us had ever participated in a protest before, but where was a better place to start than France, land of baguettes and strikes?
Late-lunch pizzas and quiches in hand, we joined the assembling crowd and started marching in the streets, where we were flanked by armored, armed gendarmerie equipped with guns and riot shields. Nearly 500 of us — white people, people of color, the LGBTQ community, children on shoulders, students, parents, old people with canes, and even dogs — protested for three hours, winding our way through the Parisian streets, past the Eiffel Tower.
Although most of us were American, a good number of French people and international citizens were scattered throughout the crowd as well. I found myself so swept up in the spirit of solidarity, activism, and hope that I started chanting with them (something utterly unusual for someone who used to be so shy that two teachers once argued whether I was a “low talker” or a “no talker”).
The protest, a call to action to douse the flames of white supremacy, filled me with a conflicting mix of emotions. It hurt to even have to say seemingly obvious lines such as, “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here” and, “Black Lives Matter.” But, as words like, “Love, not hate, makes American great” and, “This is what democracy looks like” filled the air, I realized that, in a strange way, something tragic and shameful had given birth to something beautiful and powerful and unifying.
When women started shouting, “My body, my choice!” and men chimed in with, “Their body, their choice!” or, “Her body, her choice!” I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and pride that I started to tear up. That spirit of feminism, coupled with the fact that white people were holding signs like, “White people, we did this,” and, “White silence is white violence,” made me think back to when I’d shrugged in response to the teacher saying that I didn’t have a chance.
She’s wrong. I do stand a chance. As a queer, first-generation Chinese-American woman, someone who embodies nearly everything Trump stands against, I’ll do anything I can to make my voice heard over the next four years. I’m done with being treated as an object, with being expected to be quiet and submissive. If men expect me to be a wishbone, something to be snapped into pieces at their command, then I will shatter myself into jagged edges that draw blood. I’m done with living in the shadows, with being forced into the closet. If conservatives think that homosexuality is a sin, then I will thrive in hell and befriend the devil. If society believes that I’m a model minority, then I will scream until they understand that I am more than a doll with an accent.
And in the future, if my students continue to ask the heteronormative question of, “Do you have a boyfriend?” I won’t stop at “No.” Instead, as long as I feel like the class offers a safe space, I’ll fight back by adding, “I’m actually gay.” My identity is not something to be taken from me — and in a way, I’m protesting by coming out for those who can’t.
I’ve never been a loud person, much less a talkative one, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t speak up. I have a voice, and it’s time that I start using it. Since one of the high schools I work at is letting me plan my own conversation classes, I aim to turn the more fluent English students into blooming social justice babies by the end of the year. After an election engulfed in racism, ableism, misogyny, homophobia, and religious discrimination, the world needs more people who will understand feminism, heteronormativity, and intersectionality.
Whether through teaching, coming out, or speaking up, I’ll fight however I can. Thanks to President-elect Donald Trump, I’ve fully stepped out of the closet — and there’s no shutting the doors now.
Images: Sarena Tien