No Strings Attached
By Vivien Whyte (she/her)
A few weeks ago I told Sam that I’d write a piece about being a lil queer gal from Aotearoa living in Vietnam for two months. Before I left, I felt sure that two months would be enough time to find my *insert nails emoji* family and explore the queer scene overseas. In fact, I was excited to see what it would be like. Not only because I was sure it would pop off, but because for the first time nearly everyone else would also be South East Asian. But for many reasons I can’t quite pin, I am now writing two months later having been distinctly unsuccessful.
I’ve bumped shoulders with a few of my sisters and brothers, sought out gay bars and partied here and there. Yet I am quite sure that I definitely missed the brightest and most vibrant parts of the queer community. More than that, I definitely missed the community and getting in with the crowd. The more underground a community, the more it pops off - so I guess at least I know it pops the fuck off. Despite my ill-luck, it’s provided me the opportunity to reflect on a lot anyways.
My coming out of the closet was nothing dramatic or scary. Bar the classic baby gay stumbles, it felt really natural. I took any and all challenges in my stride. Thinking that they just came with the territory. I never stopped twice to think that, perhaps, certain intersections of my identity had become tangled and were tripping me up. Until now. Being in a new country and meeting new people, I’ve discovered the freedom to just be. Just be a body with no strings attached. No attachment to a “straight me” (let’s be honest, that never existed). No attachment to what it means to live where I live, do what I do and know who I know. No attachment to old flings. No attachment to my family 9,000 kilometres away. Even no attachment to the plethora of hair colours I’ve rocked over the years. Because all of these things, like every other facet in our lives, define and add weight/pressure/substance to our queer identity and experience.
It’s been a chance to amalgamate the different masks I’m used to wearing in Auckland. Even around different groups of queer people I’m a different person. Let alone my family members and other people who know me.
From what I can tell, queerness in Vietnam is a mixed bag. Like Aotearoa, colonisation dealt the ultimate fuck you to queer identity and the lasting impacts still affect social attitudes today. On the other hand, Vietnam sticks out in South East Asia as somewhere that’s open to homosexuality and travelling around I never felt that being queer would mean being unsafe. The place I interned at had a massive pride flag on the wall. My gay spidey sense popped off a few times a day. And the first time I booked a massage with my girl friend, we accidentally booked a couples massage for ourselves.
Safe to say, I was feeling confident in being open all the time and with that came a chance to be more confident in my identity than I ever had in Aotearoa. It was a chance to be courageous. No strings attached means there’s no chance to get tangled up in who you are. Meeting backpackers and locals alike made me realise how much of my identity, and queer identity in particular, I regulate for the sake of other people. How many strings I had attached to my being.
Distance definitely gives you perspective. Feeling free of the strings made me realise, more than ever, how many there were. Coming back to Aotearoa, I’m not sure how my perspective will change again. Will I look at the strings attached to me in a new light? Or will I start to feel like a marionette? Being a positive person, I’m leaning on the former. Unpacking who you are and how you sit with your queer identity is both a stress and a joy of being in our 20s, and I’m excited to continue down this windy rainbow road.