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The Best of Both Worlds

3 September 2016

To a demographically niche tween in 2006, Hannah Montana was singlehandedly the most groundbreaking show for representation. Because of a lack of role models actually like me on TV, I found myself clinging to loud, White women. Poor diversity means that a child of Billy Ray Cyrus can be considered a radical character in a market saturated with straight, White men. The sitcom revolves around a regular all-American girl, Miley, who is secretly an international pop sensation. It is renowned for its humour, heart and casting of a 31-year-old man to play Miley’s teen brother. I resonated with the show because I too was balancing two conflicting polar identities. On the show, Miley would always say “I’m Hannah Montana” and in this article, I’m saying “I’m gay and Asian”.

Gay Asians (popularised as ‘Gaysians’) fall under the sociological umbrella of intersectionality. The oversimplified definition, if you aren’t aware, is: being two or more minorities. For example, a woman of colour does not have the same experience as a White woman or a male person of colour. She is at the ‘intersection’ and therefore has a unique perspective on the world. Growing up, there was only one other person in my life that wore the same ethnic queer shoes. We’ll call him Quan.

I met Quan in Year Seven – just when I was getting pubes but still sleeping in my parents’ bed. He had this bubbly, genuine excitement for life which is usually repressed in straight men because enjoying things means you enjoy sucking dick. Our natural flamboyancy meant that we became fast and thick friends. We would spend lunch after lunch shovelling greasy café barbeque sausages down our throats before getting a seat in the library for “studying” (gossiping about the straights). Being Gaysian was never a topic of discussion though. We didn’t have the understanding or maturity but it felt right knowing I had a friend that was the same. He even went to go see Hannah Montana: The Movie with me when nobody else would. We walked into the Highpoint shopping centre cinema, which was teaming with nine-year-old White girls and their weirdly attractive dads. Two cackling gay Asian teens should have felt alien and uncomfortable – but we didn’t. I loved it for the pseudo representation/borderline country music. I think Quan just liked it because we got to spend time together.

As with most teenage friendships, sausage induced acne and jealousy started to emerge. It was 2012, which meant that the rise of Glee suddenly made being diverse trendy. I couldn’t help but feel threatened by him. We were incredibly similar demographically but Quan was the skinnier, smarter and therefore more liked one. My ugly personality couldn’t handle the idea of competing with him. Our friendship went from sausage to sour when he accidentally snobbed me on the 408 bus. My ego took this as an act of war – our very own insecure Hiroshima bomb – so I started stonewalling him. He asked to meet in the hallway during lunch to talk about everything that went down. Being the hurt 16-year-old drama queen, I showed up, told him to turn around and bolted straight in the opposite direction like a Looney Toons character. I thought I was running away from the competition but I was actually running away from the first real friend I had.

We didn’t talk for a year and a half. I graduated, got into my dream course, dated cute boys and finally started living the life I was waiting for in high school. Quan on the other hand got lost in the new shift, got swept up into a pyramid scheme and ended up choosing a university path reluctantly. I thought that I would enjoy the tables turning but I felt nothing but regret. I hated playing the race card or being the only friend who constantly had to come out. I hated being too Asian for White gay people and too gay for straight Asian people. I hated the fact that my immigrant mum had sacrificed everything for me but I could never give her the family she wanted or be able to tell her that because my Vietnamese was bad. And most of all, I hated not having someone who was going through all the same things to talk about it with. Not even a blonde Miley Cyrus could help.

Almost three years after that fight, I ran into him at a mutual friend’s party. At this point, we were adults and cordial but not actual friends who could talk. Like most places, we were the only Gaysians in the room. I couldn’t help but remember the cinema, the movie and how it used to be so different. My two dollar Aldi wine was chugging my throat and we were coming face to face. I told him about this guy I was dating with an ugly Instagram and he just instantly got it. We fell right back into place like a 2010 Miley Cyrus taking her wig off on the silver screen. I didn’t properly apologise then, so I’ll do it now. I’m sorry that I took time away from us. That I wasn’t there for help and support. That I hurt you. I’m a lucky Gaysian to have you – so for the rest of your life, you’ve got me.

No matter where you are, school or work, when you’re an incredibly niche minority, you will get this recurring, lonely feeling of being the only one, even if you’re with your friends and family. But I promise you that there will be other people like you. At least one who you can share and gossip with. They might not be a sausage eating best friend. But you will have someone that understands the absolute core of your identities that not everyone can experience. You might not have a Taylor Swift squad but sometimes, just Quan is enough. So hold on to them. In the meantime, there’s always Hannah Montana reruns.