I was born in South Korea but my childhood memories were filled with the transitions of landscapes from different homes in Seoul, Ohio and Minnesota. Mapping out the timeline of my childhood moves would result in an obscure contemporary art piece. Having lived between these two worlds, I like to say that I am 1.5 generation American.
My family’s dedication was the one constant in the different locations. It was partially the reason we moved back and forth so often. After my dad got his Ph.D in physics at Ohio State, he moved back to Korea in order to start his career. However, it was important to my family that my sister and I stay to learn English and become citizens of the United States. During this time, we moved with our grandparents into a small, bursting house where extended family came together to work extra shifts in the factories to support my sister and me.
Our family wanted to ensure their children had a stronger foundation to build on. They were not just living for themselves, they were also putting down roots so the next generation could thrive.
However, coming to terms with who I was would be difficult to explain to my loved ones. Having a fresh start far from my spread-out roots in Ohio, Minnesota, Korea, and Illinois, I finally found the opportunity to transition into my true self when I moved to Washington. Microsoft offered me a supportive work environment. Friends and colleagues helped me move into my new life. Finally, I was able to live my life genuinely as the woman I had always known myself to be.
Another important support system: the law. Of all the places I’ve lived, Washington was were I felt most comfortable putting down roots as the transgender woman I am. Part of that is because for 11 years, Washington has had a law that protects transgender people like me from being discriminated against in public places, like businesses.
“My mother not only learned what it meant to be transgender, she became a powerful ally in the struggle faced by other Koreans.”
For now, that is. Currently, there is a concerted effort from opponents of equality to put these non-discrimination protections on the chopping block. It’s a ballot measure called I-1552, and if it passes, some of the laws that have protected me for more than a decade would be repealed.
That would be devastating for me and other transgender people, and would really make me reconsider my choice to put down roots in Washington. Fortunately, I’m confident that Washingtonians will reject this hateful ballot initiative. I’ve lived here a while, and I know the state that I call home to be a welcoming, accepting place.
I also know that even when people aren’t welcoming or accepting at first, they certainly can change. All they need sometimes is information about who transgender people are and what our lives are like. I learned that when I came out to my mother who still lives in Seoul.
“Educating a parent is a complex process even without the geographic distance across the Pacific Ocean. My mom didn’t have the luxury of numerous resources around her to pull from and help her understand, nor did I have the means to help gather the information for her.”
Educating a parent is a complex process even without the geographic distance across the Pacific Ocean. My mom didn’t have the luxury of numerous resources around her to pull from and help her understand, nor did I have the means to help gather the information for her.
Fortunately, I had a friend, Clara Yoon, who was planning to tour Korea to bring the message of love and acceptance throughout the country. She was able to bring this information directly to my mother. My mother not only learned what it meant to be transgender, she became a powerful ally in the struggle faced by other Koreans—even participating in a viral video that showed her giving hugs to a number of people who had no supportive family.
My family and I are still separated by distance. Yet, they remain close in my thoughts as I, in turn, support my mom in her quest of becoming a more active ally while spreading acceptance, understanding and love to those in need.
I will always value being a part of multiple, diverse worlds. I treasure the opportunity to share all the pieces of who I am—and that includes speaking out against the disastrous effort to repeal Washington’s transgender non-discrimination protections. You can join me by signing up to support Washington Won’t Discriminate’s Decline to Sign I-1552 campaign.
Proponents of I-1552 are collecting the signatures right now that they’ll need to put I-1552 on the ballot this fall, so there’s no time to waste.