Writes of Passage: Johnny Trinh
This will hurt. I know it’s hurting right now. I know it hurt yesterday. And I know that none of this makes sense. Breathe just a little longer— inhale, exhale— just one breath after another. Please, just keep breathing, because it gets better. Life will change, you will grow, they will grow (I know, I know), but you’ll get to see Paris in the summer... and you will fall in Love.
You’ll also fall out of love, but that’s the way it goes.
So, that note you wrote? In the back of your book- the one you thought no one would see, the one you don’t even remember writing because you were too busy being silenced, too busy being obedient, too busy wiping up broken, bruised, bleeding skin.
Well, Mr. E (no pun intended) sees it, posts it anonymously on the blackboard, and for the first time in your life, you feel like someone takes notice. You will apologize because it’s all you know how to do. You heart will race, you will fight back the tears, but you will let him share it with the class. Everyone will know exactly who wrote it, but they won’t make fun. They’ll listen. They’ll grow- just a tiny bit. You will want to die a little bit less... and you’ll discover what hope is.
Things will get worse. Dented lockers etched with profanity, and 10-minute walks to your car while your own personal chorus screams “Fag” every step of the way. But you will laugh, because this is nothing compared to being thrown out naked in the cold, dark street. This doesn’t top being beaten and ignored when no one else can/wants to deal with your “drama.” All of this just thickens your skin and opens your heart a bit more, and teaches you that when you grow up, you want to help people not feel like you do right now.
Then you, with the oh-so-popular mushroom haircut and the giant glasses— rocking the “Harry Potter” look way before your time (if he was Asian). You, who hides in the oversized high school uniform because mom wanted to buy it once, and thought you’d grow. You’ll get a haircut, new glasses, clothes that fit. But most importantly, you’ll get cast as a fairy—THE FAIRY— Puck, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. You’ll strip down and wear nothing but a loincloth. You’ll paint your body, and run, and flip, and sing. You’ll discover your voice. For the first time, you notice how you can silence a crowd. The fear goes away, and you discover power.
You write a play about a boy who dies. By now you’ve started to realize what dying will do to the people you love. You begrudgingly admit that you love them too much to die on them… but you haven’t quite figured out that you should live because you love yourself... or that you should love yourself.
Anyway, so you write this play and you win an award, only to have your play vivisected by the woman who teaches you what breath is. Her name is D, and you follow her. You follow her to university, and study at her feet. You follow her to theatre school and abandon your false dreams of medicine. She lets you roll on the floor, dress in drag, and teaches you that, “You could be a romantic lead, you just need to get over yourself and out from under that dark cloud that isn’t doing anything for anyone”. She teaches you that breath is life, and that every single moment you breathe, that you share this air with someone else, and that they change, and that you change.
You also get yourself outet, nationally, in the Toronto Star because you thought your family didn’t read that paper. In the photo, you’ll be looking at flowers with your fiancé (I said you fall in love). You’ll tell the world that you like diamonds and love, while your soon to be ex-fiancé (I did say you fall out of love, too) talks about equality, and human rights. You were kidding, he was not. Good you.
Fast forward again...
You write another play and you win another award. Then you put on a festival where you bring lots of people who share and talk about their carved up notebooks. It’s the first festival of its kind in a place where no one realized that they would listen. And you realize that ten years have flown by, and now you’re teaching. Teaching people that it gets better. Helping people learn how to breathe, how to speak, how to sing.
Most of all, you realize that life is nothing like you ever expected it to be. You end up in the most unlikely places, and meet the most amazing people. You build a family of friends. People who want to see you, and will call, and that overwhelming loneliness that you feel? Yeah, it’s not overwhelming. It just goes away. Thank God for that.
You will experience so much more, but I’m not going to give away any more. If you’re reading this, and forget everything that you’ve read thus far… just refer back to this wee synopsis:
Hold onto your breath, but don’t hold it.
Discover that when skin touches skin, it doesn’t need to bleed. It’s amazing.
You have a voice. Use it. Change lives.
Love yourself, no really, say it right now: “I love me.” And mean it. Say it every day until you start to cry, and keep saying it until you stop crying, and then teach other people to say it.
Love hope because it will keep you going until you realize-
It gets better.
There are people who love you.
I love you.
Thank you for being.
Johnny Trinh works in communications, and student programming at the University of Waterloo, Canada. He is equally a theatre artist who focuses his creations on queer issues, and giving a voice to those who don’t have one.
Read more letters in our National Coming Out Day section on Gay.com.