Liam Chen

Mental health, like many, has always been an elusive topic growing up. Being raised in Los Angeles by Taiwanese immigrants, I was always bouncing between Asian and Western culture. Trying to navigate those spaces and have a balance between those identities was only a distraction for a deeper struggle I faced. I am a transgender man.

For as long as I can remember, I always went through life seeing myself as boy, or now, a man. I dreamt as man. I envisioned my life as man. My birthday wishes were always to wake up as a man. That little voice inside my head? A man. I just never had the knowledge, resources, or words to express my experiences. This confusion and cultural messages I received about mental health was ultimately suppressed as I entered elementary school. Presenting myself in boyish clothes were only met with “that’s not appropriate,” “you would look cuter in a dress,” “girls shouldn’t act like that,” and my personal favorite, “it’s only a phase.” I didn’t know back then, but how I dressed was how I expressed myself and a cry for help. Unfortunately, it was just a lost cry for help. I gave up on this dream due to fear and the negative messages surrounding the LGBTQIA community. I preoccupied myself with my Taiwanese American identity and blamed my self-hatred on that one identity. I was suffocating under the pressure and messages to behave a certain way and achieve a certain level of success. I saw college as a way to escape and explore what I want and who I want to be.

As a first-generation college student, I was completely lost on where to even begin the process of applying to schools. However, my determination to leave home forced me to do my own research and motivated me to do well in school. As I entered undergrad with the mindset that I would immediately “find myself” and figure out what I wanted to do, I was met with complete disappointment. Instead, I just put more pressure on myself to answer the questions brewing inside. I wouldn’t find the answers to the questions I was so desperately trying to answer until the last quarter of my last year in undergrad.

It was the last quarter and I was graduating in a couple weeks. Everything seemed to have lined up as I was closing this chapter of my life. I found a major that I loved, enjoyed all that university life had to offer, I was traveling every week of the quarter, I lined up a job after graduation, and I was graduating. Then it just hit me out of nowhere. The timing felt right to finally accept that I am transgender. Everything after that realization fell into place and a huge relief was lift. I scrambled to get appointments lined up to start transitioning hormonally. My first shot was a day before graduation, June 15, 2018.

And here I am now, 24 years old, living my dream, thriving, traveling, and eating tons of amazing food along the way. In Asian culture, it seems as mental health problems are synonymous with “weakness.” I’m sure like other fellow Asians, the message that weakness is not to be accepted was hammered into our mindset. However, I strive every day to break this toxic message and remind myself to be kinder to others and myself. There is no shame in seeking help. We shouldn’t feel guilty about our wants and needs. And we shouldn’t have to go through those experiences alone.

Asian Mental Health Collective