20-Something Swag

(forever young, sometimes broke, and always snarky)

Month: February, 2014

An Open Letter to Gov. Jan Brewer

Dear Governor Brewer:

I grew up in Arizona. I was one of the only girls of color I knew who wasn’t born either in Arizona or the U.S. I was adopted, when my family lived in another state–Washington of all places. Moving from a community accustomed to international adoption to Arizona brought with it some very hurtful experiences, hurt compounded by the passing of Senate Bill 1070 a few years ago. (My brown skin still smarts from that, Governor.) I currently reside in Oregon, and have lived in the U.K. multiple times. And while you will probably be able to discern from the following sentiments that I am more culturally attuned to the Pacific Northwest, I still think of Arizona as home in many senses. Sunday afternoon I was boutique browsing with a friend–candle smelling, as Oregonian yuppies sometimes do–and I smelled a candled scented as prickly pear blossom and mesquite. Oh, Governor, it was the most lovely thing. I was transported to the desert in the evening, when the cacti bloom. I passed the candle to my friend, stating, “This. This smells like home.” She asked me, “Kohleun, how did you ever leave?” “Well,” I said, “the current legistration just legalized private fireworks use, so the entire state might go up in flames at any moment.”

You see, Governor, I did leave. I have left Arizona several times, and unless there are some big changes in the near future, I will keep leaving. There are a couple verses in the bible that say homosexuality is a sin, and others people use to support this belief. A big problem with that is, and there are many problems with that, I grew up believing that to be a “sin” a certain act or thought had to be a choice, a desire one could will away. A lot of folks, specifically Christians but others, too, would like to tell you that being gay or lesbian–having sexual and emotional attractions to a person of the same sex–is a choice. But let’s shoot straight here, Governor Brewer. You’re an educated woman. You’ve been a lot of places, and have met people different from yourself. Do you honestly think that a person would choose, in this century or any preceding, an orientation that almost guarantees they will be bullied, told they are going to burn in eternal torment, that their sex life is like having sex with an animal, that somehow God and all the rest of us have to learn how to love them despite their sexuality? 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying being gay in America is unlivable. That’s like saying being a woman of color in America is unlivable, and I know that it’s not. But I am saying that being queer in America is safer and more humanized than it used to be, but it could stand to be so much better. Until all humans are treated as equals, it’s not good enough. LGBTQ persons should be free to express themselves, to embrace who they are and to foster supportive communities, outwardly. Because they choose to like themselves. I have faced many reasons not to like myself, not to like being Asian or a girl. Anyone who has experienced childhood knows what I’m talking about. Now I enjoy being a woman, whatever that means, though it brought me heartache as a young adult growing up in ConservAmerica. I do this because I identify with a long history of pain and second-class citizenship, but also with talented writers and politicians, activists and artists, who I admire, and who help me be more okay with being me. Queer people, just like any other people, have made those contributions, too, and no matter how they identify, they have a right to living into that history, even if that means exchanging stories at the Historically Disenfranchised Table. That’s where I’ll be sitting, because I want to share those stories.

I know that you are contemplating approving the recently passed Senate Bill 1062, which states that governing authorities cannot interfere with an individual’s exercise of religion. I’m grateful for religious freedom, freedom to put what I believe (or don’t believe) into action. But I challenge you, and others, to look at the implications of this definition: “Exercise of religion” means the PRACTICE OR OBSERVANCE OF RELIGION, INCLUDING THE ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.

Governor, when I was a kid, we listened to Adventures in Odyssey. Maybe you’re familiar with it? It’s a children’s radio series that Focus on the Family puts out. And while I bristle a little at many of the organization’s values, one line from an episode has stuck with me for over twenty years now. “We don’t serve your kind here.” That was something a white cafe owner said to a black would-be-patron, who wanted to get lunch with his friend. Has anyone ever said that to you? Has anyone ever called you a certain “kind”? Like a breed of dog? It is more degrading than if they just came out and called you a monster or freak. Have you ever been considered a monster in your own community? Has someone ever refused you service or kindness based on the most personal aspects of yourself? If they have, you might be able to understand the implications this has on minorities and queer folk in Arizona.

If the government can’t even serve as a buffer to the “ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief,” how can we be saved from Jim Crow 2.0? Because, did you know? Racism had many religious arguments backing it. How can we be saved from religion-inspired hate crimes? And, Governor Brewer–Jan–how can we stop the death, and the fear, and the hurt, and the loss?

Being refused building your own Fro Yo on McClintock & Elliot isn’t that big of a deal if we’re just talking Fro Yo. But the burrowing sense of self-hatred and dehumanization that accompanies those discriminations is a big deal, the biggest. Frankly, I don’t care if a shop owner is uncomfortable doing business with a queer person or a person that messes with their dreams of ethnic cleansing and a New Jerusalem. Because they would enjoy the money, and people are dying, Jan. They’re still beaten to death in dark streets or driven so far to a feeling of worthlessness and despair that they kill themselves. And I just want that to be done now. I’m tired of losing friends and friends of friends. I’m weary of losing people I’ve never met to causes other than the powers of aging.

I am not a begging woman, Jan. I am a spitfire with Quaker leanings, who does not bow or doff her metaphorical hat to titles and offices, because we are all human. We’re both human, you and I. And I beg you, I beg you as one human to another, please don’t sign SB1062. My religious conviction, the deepest conviction I have running through my veins, compels me to plead for the rights of my fellow human being.


Kohleun A.

Valentine’s Day 2014: In Which I Bite the Hand that Feeds Me (strong language)

Last week, in preparation for the upcoming international love day, a fellow floral designer and I familiarized ourselves with the shop’s updated website. We scrolled through the monochromatic images in pinkscale—images of recipe-designed roses, lilies, and you guessed it, more roses and lilies. We noticed quite a startling tag line under many of these order-online arrangements. With a little fire blaze, it read, “Send & Score.” Score what, exactly? we wondered. We explored the naïve possibilities first: true love? Lifelong bliss? Someone who really understands you and values you for you? It had to be. Nope. What does it mean in our cultural discourse to “score” in the world of dating and flower-plying? Why, land a shallow but hot lay, of course. That’s right, folks, for 59.95, you can send a lovely bouquet of red on pink and receive sexual favors in return. Or, at the very least, stay out of the dog house. Whatever that metaphor is supposed to imply. . .

But wait, there’s more. I don’t always listen to the radio, but when I do, it’s exactly when floods of adverts for jewelry companies try to convince me that if I—presumably a man trying to woo a woman—“want to show her how much I really love her,” I will buy her a highly discounted diamond, starting at only 299.99. Gulp. But I’ve gotta do it by February 14, or my love is void and I’m screwed (or not screwed, as the case may be). Double-gulp. Because love is a carbon sediment the wholesaler could discount only because they hired someone to risk their life to gorge it out of a mountain somewhere in Africa to fund wars between humans who also have people who love them. Don’t get me wrong, I like small sparkly things, but aren’t parts of the diamond biz a bit paradoxical? What kind of thought goes into buying “cheap” conflict diamonds for love? Flower buying can be problematic on its own level. The majority of customers I see or talk to ordering Valentine’s flowers express to me that they are giving this gift out of obligation, social expectation, or the fear that without this particular gesture they “won’t get some,” or more dramatically, their relationship is at a risk. And I say, fuck that noise.


I’ve noticed people can get pretty defensive about Valentine’s Day and blame skepticism like mine on singleness or never receiving flowers or diamonds in the past. Nope. Don’t project on me. That’s not the only reason to be critical of plying (mostly women) significant others with expensive gifts as surrogates for love. In fact, positive experiences with relationships make me even more critical of Valentine’s Day fever. I figure, gifts given without obligation or contingencies, even if they are flowers, are wonderful expressions of affection and kindness. I love flowers. But when affectionate gestures become a means of getting something back, maintaining your stereotypical gender status, or to “score” in one way or another, you’re buying into the ancient practice of paying for sex, or whatever. Yay. And on top of that, you’re paying for sex and pretending it’s a gesture of love, which is dumb. Just call a spade a spade, folks. If we’re going to legalize prostitution in all 50 states, why limit it to a day that was once reserved for expressing affection? And we really ought to regulate that profession in that case, while we’re at it.

The hagiography of the historical Saint Valentine is a bit spotty; historians aren’t even 100% sure who the true Saint Valentine was. But basically, he illicitly joined Christian couples in marriage when being a Christian and helping Christians was outlawed under Claudius II ages ago. So, please, tell me, how on God’s green earth we got from working towards marriage equality (the third century edition) and creating sanctuary for a couple’s right to state a commitment, to spending millions of dollars on rings and chocolates and flowers and balloons and lingerie and hotel rooms and fancy dinners? And all for what? To save a relationship, as if a relationship that relies on a dozen red roses isn’t already doomed? To prove you’re a man? To prove you’re a woman? To prove our love?

Rather than turning Valentine’s Day into a flaming hoop of shit we have to jump through year after year, hows about we let it be a day, a day of being more aware of how we love people, even. Why don’t we mark the day by creating a safe space for people to express love just as they are, to whomever they love? Whatever happened to a hug? Or a phone call? Call me a romantic if you will, but why can’t the ways we express love every single day—whether to family, friends, or significant others—be good enough for Valentine’s Day? Or, maybe the problem is that we all need to step up our game. Maybe we all suck at love. Of course I’ve shot back a text like, “Oh, sorry you had a rough day, honey, but I’m really struggling with inserting this invisible zipper.” I know I’m not always as supportive or affectionate or present as I should be. But that’s probably why I have, like, a huge thing for people who show kindness, patience, and empathy. Because we all need to find a home in that, don’t we, especially on a day when much is expected of us.