Image source: https://www.aps.org/programs/international/
~5 min read
First – I am gay
Am I gay? Many of us don’t ask this enough, or even think about our own gender identity. My upbringing in a hyper-cis-heteronormative society created a perpetual oppression on my true gender identity. My sex assigned at birth is female and I am raised as a girl/ daughter/ woman. But I often feel uncomfortable about my gender, I often feel under the pressure and the need to pretend to be feminine and heterosexual to fit into the gendered expectations of the society. I recalled asking my mother “why don’t I have a penis?” when I was five; falling in love with a female classmate in (an all-girls) high school but I was “not allowed” to; forcing myself to date a man in college… I hated myself and my feelings, I was afraid of myself, I struggled to be myself. I already had internalized homophobia.
Gender to many people is binary (two strict categories) – girl or boy, man or woman. A gender binary system expects gender identity to align with the sex assigned at birth and gender expressions or roles to fit traditional expectations. But the truth is gender is a social construct, meaning gender is a product of society. No one needs to be locked into fixed gender categories. Any individual is free to identify their gender as they see fit. To some, gender is a spectrum, to others, gender is a multiverse of infinite expressions.
Living with societal, institutional, cultural, and familial pressures, I wasn’t allowed to explore how I truly feel about my gender until I completely extracted myself from my family/ hometown and moved to the States for my PhD. Then, I was dating a woman, but “Oh, we are just best friends.” Till my Asian-American roommate told me, “It’s totally fine to be lesbian here!” My unfamiliarity in a LGBTQIA+ friendly environment made me feel uncomfortable being lesbian at first. Fast forward, working through my internalized homophobia and gender dysphoria, I am now openly queer, and this liberation is the best feeling ever. In terms of gender, I describe myself as non-binary, gender nonconforming, and gender fluid. These are the words that I feel the most comfortable with, at least for now. Feeling true to myself about my gender is constant introspective work. Finding the words to express how I feel about my gender is an endless learning curve. It is a continuous journey of self-realization. I am still evolving.
Then – Oh, you are gay
Accepting myself for who I am is one of the first big steps. Now, letting people into my life and living in a society that (maybe) accepts who I am is another challenge. I often wonder if there is a college degree on navigating internationally as a queer person. But no, that’s just called life.
In the US – I met my now wife in the States. When we decided to get married in 2020 (pandemic-style), we soon learnt that same-sex marriage laws differ in different States. Despite federal recognition of same-sex marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015)), certain states, including North Carolina where we used to live, still have statutory or constitutional bans on marriage for same-sex couples and/or other types of unions. So, to avoid potential problems on whether and to what extent same-sex marriages were recognized by federal and state agencies, which could affect our future mobility, we chose to get married in the District of Columbia.
Moving to Sweden – As I started seeing light at the end of my long PhD tunnel, one of my main concerns when thinking what’s next after PhD was: Not all countries recognize same-sex marriages. While planning to move abroad, we need to know about marriage (in)equality around the world. The international mobility as same-sex married couple is another windy road. While everyone’s career journey is tumultuous enough, this adds another layer of complication. Yet it is also one of the top few boxes to check on my already long list of considerations before applying for any position. Fortunately, marriage and migration laws in Sweden are relatively queer-friendly, though I could only speak for myself. I also learnt that LGBTQIA+ person can seek asylum in Sweden. I could apply for and was approved of a spousal visa for my wife. I had all the blessings I could possibly ask for – my personal experience at Migrationsverket was (auspiciously) free of LGBTQIA+ related obstacles. I am aware that it was also my privileges of having a full-time employment (one-year postdoctoral contract) at an established academic institution, supportive new supervisor and HR personnel, the financial ability to pay the processing fees (SEK 1500/ person x 2) at Migrationsverket, possibly my wife’s and my citizenships… With all the stars aligned in the universe, our migration experience was smooth sailing. I’m immensely grateful and I take all these as learning opportunities though I would never replicate this experience at our next destination.
Moving to Singapore next – I have some obligations to relocate back to Singapore after my postdoc. And that is my greatest fear that is due to come in 2 years. As highlighted above: Not all countries recognize same-sex marriages. Singapore is one of the many. We haven’t quite figure out how to strategize our move. As we will be seen as separate individuals in Singapore despite our marriage, one realistic possibility is for my wife to find some form of employment and be on a work visa for her to live long term in the country. Or just be another American tourist in Singapore, which means she will only have 90 days as a visitor for each entry. But she is my wife, why is she treated like a random unknown stranger?
Last – We are gay
If I can give any words of advice for my dear LGBTQIA+ folks who are considering to adventure and experience living around the world with your partner,
- Remember, I am re-emphasizing: not all countries recognize same-sex marriages. Choose your destinations extra carefully.
- Gather support from your local/ international LGBTQIA+ centers or social networks.
- Don’t let anything stop you from living your life.
I am a huge podcast nerd. Below are some of my favourite podcast recommendations on LGBTQIA+/gender-related topics. Click to listen and learn more!
-Podcast links to TED Radio Hour – The Biology of Sex, Gender Reveal podcast – Jo Krishnakumar, Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness – How Queer is the Animal Kingdom? and How Grateful Are We To Live Beyond The Gender Binary?
P.S. I am writing my next blog post on being a queer person in STEM. Stay tuned!
Queer | Vegan | Scientist studying aging | Exploring writing | Curious about everything