Living away from home for college in a different faraway land where people are of a different culture and speak a different language changed a lot of things about me. I learnt a lot of new things, gained good experiences, made a food of myself, and made friends and enemies. It was all bittersweet but one thing I didn’t realize: I lost my love for people, faith in humanity. It isn’t until recently that I found out that sad change within myself.
My life was um … well, let’s just say, easy till high school graduation. What I did during high school was coordinated with some kind of formula and outcomes could be easily calculated. Yeah, I passed it easily and with good grades. Well, it was what came afterward that was so random or vague and required lots of leaps in the dark. I decided not to attend any local college but to go study in the US at a liberal arts school. Burma has only 2 years of high school and, while most high school graduates would go straight to college, I had to take almost 2 gap years preparing for college.
For pre-collegiate studies and preparations, I had to go live in another town with my dad’s sisters. Mean ladies, VERY mean! They would hide anything that could make for a late night snack because I choose not to eat breakfast. They could not provide transportation, and they would criticize me for taking a taxi rather than the bus on rainy days. They would sneak up at my door to listen to my phone conversations with my mom or my friends. Once, one of them barged into my room at 1:30am to make sure I finish reading the user manual for a microwave oven by the next morning. I started one previous morning using the microwave that had been sitting in their kitchen for a couple years or so (because they were too scared to press buttons with English words on them) and the timer stopped working. Yeah, I got the blame and had to read the manual. I was later told I should thank them that I got a chance to read the manual. Whaaaaaa?
About one and a half years of that before I finally got admitted to college and could go.
College isn’t the best of all places. I’d applied to 12 places – got admitted to 2 and could only afford the one at the bottom of my preference list. It didn’t seem like a bad place at first. Well, it isn’t a bad place. I just came to feel less at home as I got further into the academic year. I got treated with attitudes like, “This is how we live here. You do the same or you’re nothing.” I’m a hot-head. I won’t conform and I’d go out of my way to be unique and/or extraordinary. I wear traditional sarongs to class. Fellow Burmese students (some of them) laugh at me. White folks call it a “man-skirt”. I paid no mind.
I came out also some time early in the second semester and I saw how much anti-gay sentiment there was all over the world. The 2012 US presidential election was starting up and there was publicized discriminatory speech all over the place. My family said they accept me, they still say so but I could see all the hostile sentiments toward me that they were trying to hide.
The music I listened to started to change. My first class at school was about Richard Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde“. I started listening to the extremely dark and dissonant Prelude to Act I of that opera with a passion. The closing aria from that opera the “Liebestod” – I hated it in that it was so beautiful and loved it in that it kind of talked about finding love and happiness in death. I started crying to the old show tunes of Judy Garland. No more Disney happily-ever-after for me! In pop music, I used to love the romantic ballads of Celine Dion and Michael Jackson’s positive songs about humanity, but those days were over. I resorted to the dark stuff from P!nk, Rihanna, Ke$ha and Lady Gaga. And at one point, I started to admire Chris Crocker so much and couldn’t get enough of him. (Everybody from the gay community would know Chris Crocker, oui? And, no, idolizing him isn’t necessarily a bad thing.) I still like him now.
Trying to get into a relationship or even trying to date have been disasters and I stopped caring. Straight crushes, gay people already in relationships, ill-advising girls (either intentionally or unintentionally) and people who find me overbearing never helped.
My roommate left me to live with someone else down the hall some time during second semester also. I had to go into counselling because I started to suffer from loneliness, stress and depression. (No, he was never my partner of any kind – just to clarify, because a therapist once asked me if we were “partners”. But I did love him deeply, platonicly.) Meanwhile, I was falling behind schoolwork and I got a withdrawal from one of my classes with mental health reasons. Oh yeah, I almost killed myself – TWICE! My academic advisor and a French professor saved me by personally reaching out to me, and Whitney Houston helped with her song “Miracle“. Oh, and by the way, I rang the Trevor Project once, in the middle of the night. It wasn’t very helpful. A sleepy-sounding guy answered from the other side and the line wasn’t clear and, yeah, things were slow. I’m sure the hotline works well for a lot of people, it just didn’t for me. But when when Whitney sang, “How could I throw away a miracle?” my heart just melt and I realized I can’t be gone – not yet. She was singing about loving and valuing oneself. She couldn’t do it very well herself, and all this was going on in March – only a tad bit after she’d left us. So I decided I can and will carry on …
Well, who would want to stay at a school where you’ve almost tried to kill yourself – not just once. I started searching for schools to transfer to in the midst of all the stress and depression. (Meanwhile in the Eastern hemisphere, my Asian parents were complaining about my Bs not being As. I was kind of glad at that point that they were Bs and not Ds. My GPA’s still in the 3.1-3.3 range at the end of the year, which is way higher than what I’d expected.) As I started to see in other schools what my school doesn’t have, I started to hate it more. I was furious that I had to be there in the first place. I felt, simply put, pigeonholed. I was going to apply to 10+ schools, just to make sure I could get out, but the paperwork got overloaded and I had to settle for 5. But it was careful school research and I was happy with my decisions. I got admitted to 2 schools out of the 5. Still, I can’t transfer to either because I don’t have enough money. I’m still outraged that after such epic attempts, I should have to go back to the same school for Fall 2012.
Now, I’m back home for the summer. Yes, I’m with my family but still I can’t be happy. We’d moved into a new place. My sister is in a different town doing her pre-collegiate studies, like I did. And both my parents work in the morning and in the evening – to pay for college for me and my sister. They don’t even cook anymore. They rest in the afternoon and all they do is try to “spend time” with me – when they actually preach how I should live my life. Other friends and relatives have also been closing in on me since they know that I came out.
So what happened? I CAME TO HATE ALL OF HUMANITY.
I have been belligerent. I keep an I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude with anyone and express is explicitly. Despite that, I hold a grudge against anybody who goes against my will. I’m rude, I’m mean and I’m selfish. I’ve let my ego get the better of me: it’s ME, ME, ME, ME all the time! Just look at what I write about on this blog and the kind of language I use.
Recently, I ran into an old friend in town. She doesn’t know much about my personal life although she’s been hearing things, but she’s always open with me. Several minutes after talking, we wrapped up our conversation and her last remark, “Wow, you’ve become very offensive.” And she said that in some somber tone.
The other day, I got into some commenting battle on Facebook with a friend back from college. I posted an angry statement about the first world Western nations trying to exploit third world Eastern and Middle-Eastern nations for resources and political reasons. She was telling me to dig deeper into the subject and not to stereotype. It was some benign conversation although I am rude (as always). And along the way, she said, “Love people, Han Zaw.”
It finally hit me what I’d been missing in my life: LOVE.
I stopped getting it from others the moment my obsession with my ego started and I stopped giving it out. And all the way, I didn’t realize how much I’ve been hungry for love, how much I’ve been needing it. But, come to think of it, it wasn’t as though people weren’t giving away love. It was all around me all the time:
There was this white guy from a different school I applied to that would always smile, cheer me up and talk of positive things. (And I’d been seeing white males as bad people.) There was a senior from class of 2012 (whom I won’t be seeing again very easily) who, despite being a busy senior, would always willingly talk to me and take me for rides without ever asking for gas money. There was the school’s chaplain who appreciated my positivity from earlier in the academic year and would invite me to every spiritual event and welcomed me to church services I never went to. There was a group of students who were planning to start a Buddhist interest group that invited me to join them because I had studied Buddhism, which seems so distant in my life right now. There was this Indian girl from Chicago with whom I would do my nails, talk about feminism and pretend to be father from time to time (because I wear sarongs and use talcum powder, just like her dad). There was also my roommate who even after moving away would check in on me regularly and watch me cry while he sits next to me. And my family here are probably just taking their time to my outward and forceful expressions of my identity as a member of the LGBT community. I know they still love me.
All these people love me. Yes, there are still those who hate me – and yeah, I kinda hate them, too. But, anyways, I need to start to and I have to … love again. “Everybody’s gonna love today, gonna love today, gonna love today … La-di-da-di-boom” #MIKA Oh wait, that song talks about loving “me”, gosh!