Sarah, 19, Brooklyn, NY

In Japan, if you have tattoos you’re in the mafia. When I saw my grandmother in Japan I had to cover mine up because she’d reject me as part of the family. I also couldn’t tell my grandmother I was gay. Having tattoos and being gay and going to art school? She’d be like, “What are you doing with your life?”

I’m half Japanese and half white. When I’m in America I feel more Japanese, but when I go to Japan I feel really white. It’s strange because I don’t really have a home. My mom has lived in America for 30 years but says she views her time here as an extended vacation. I asked her if she wants to move back to Japan, but she said she’s too old at this point. She’s basically cut off ties with my dad, so I told her she should do what she wants.

I was born and raised in Minnesota, but I didn’t really speak English until I was five. Now English is my primary language. I think in English. I dream in English. My Japanese is slowly fading.

My father doesn’t speak Japanese and my mom’s English is pretty bad. Growing up, I’d talk to my mother in Japanese and my father in English. We were rarely able to communicate as a group.

I’m really tight with my mom, and she’s awesome. Now I don’t really talk to my dad. His personality and my personality don’t get along well. I haven’t talked to my dad about being gay because we don’t talk, but I think he knows.

My mom knows and she understands and is awesome. In emails she told me, “I accept who you are, blah blah blah.” But a month ago she asked me, “Are you having gender troubles? Do you want to convert genders? Is it because of your father? Do you want to be a man?” And I told her, “It’s okay, I like being a girl, relax.” I had to calm her down a little bit.

I don’t think I officially ever came out. It was more of a gradual process. Straight kids don’t have to announce their sexuality, so I don’t think I should have to either. My junior year of high school I went to Oxbow, an arts program in California that has students from all over the country. I guess it was that classic coming-of-age experience for me. It was the first time I was independent and I had to figure out how to live. After that I started being more open about being gay.

Since I moved to New York I started being part of the queer community more. My roommate Mars and I started going to concerts, shows, fundraisers and political things a couple nights a week — whatever was happening. Minnesota has a queer community, but it’s not as visible and accessible as in New York.

I definitely chose my college based on location and the whole experience of living in New York, including the queer scene. I applied to the Cooper Union when I was a senior in high school and was rejected, so instead I went to the School of Visual Arts, but I figured I’d apply a second time to Cooper Union as a transfer student. I didn’t expect to get in, but I did. I was really surprised.

I’m going to be studying fine arts and visual arts in general. I don’t really know what I want to do career-wise, but I’ll figure it out along the way. When I grow up I want to be relevant.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Brooklyn, NY, 2012
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