As a journalist, one of the things that I enjoy most is lending a voice to those that need to be heard. Often times, that mean for minorities like myself.

Growing up as a gay Asian man, I learned early on that I needed to empower myself to stand up in a world where I was unusual. As an ultra-sensitive individual, my differences became obvious to me at the age of six, when I realized how naturally I gravitated toward girls rather than boys for companions. I chose dolls over robots, and played the long haired princess during make-believe games.

While I was never seriously bullied for my more feminine tendencies, I always made sure my behaviors didn’t cross any heterosexual normative lines. Although I enjoyed the company of my girlfriends, I always lined up with the boys during team competitions. I was fully aware of the need to play by heterosexual rules.

But as I entered adolescence, I was teased for my soft tone of voice, my feminine behavior and my choice in friends. Offensive slurs like “sissy” or “gay” started to circulate around me. As much as I tried to avoid direct conflict, my decision to ignore my male peers only encouraged them to pick on me.

I realized the only way to stop the bullying was to speak up for myself. Expecting others to intervene on my behalf would only give them more reasons to challenge me.

I started to defend myself by reasoning with bullies, while still avoiding to fall into superficial altercations. Whenever a group of them circled around me and began to imitate the way I speak and wave my hands, instead of physically pushing them away, I would try to use a very girly tone to confront them by asking why they wouldn’t leave me alone. After failing to irritate me as they wished, they would then just give up and go away. Gradually, I built up the confidence to speak for myself, eventually cultivating a passion for helping other minorities facing similar situations of bullying and discrimination.

But turning that passion into something tangible I can do was not simple. Throughout high school and college, I tried many different things—and writing was the one way that eventually became my way of helping myself and others.

Even though I had always possessed a love for writing, I wasn’t particularly good at it. One of the most frequent comments that I received for my writing assignments during college was “redundancy,” since several of my professors all think that repeating myself in writing was one of my biggest weaknesses.

In order to improve my writing skills, I started reading all kinds of writers’ work every day. It helped me build up vocabulary and acquire more sophisticated writing techniques over time. During this time, my readings drew me to journalism, where people used their skills with words to bring attention on stories that would not otherwise be told, and craft narratives to change people’s mindsets about injustices. To steer myself towards that direction, I decided to devote myself fully to journalism by attending the Master of Journalism program at Temple University in 2011, and that proved to be the life-changing moment for me.

With close to no experience in journalism, my dream was immediately put to the test when I took my first class. I could still vividly recall how I stared blankly at the big C on my first assignment for the reporting and writing class, thinking I may have overestimated my own potential to become a real journalist. My lack of practical experience and language proficiency made me doubt time and time again whether I had chosen a path that wasn’t meant for me.

Whenever I began to doubt myself, I went back to my place of inspiration: making those who don’t have a voice heard. As time went on, I gradually developed the skill set needed to survive the journalism program, and it was through all my assignments, mentors, and experiences that I was able to hone my skills as a journalist. I began to look for ways to build a connection between my skills and my homosexual identity, because I believe words can be powerful when the issue at heart is up front and close to the writer. Several freelance opportunities came my way and I was fortunate enough to write about LGBTQ issues that are so dear to me.

From marriage equality to gay men living with HIV, I was not only able to address these issues with a new perspective, but also had the privilege to speak up for my community, one that’s often misrepresented in the mainstream media. Even though the actual impact of my writing is hard to measure, those experiences helped me realize how to harness the power of journalism, and kept inspiring me to keep going down this path.

These days, I no longer focus solely on LGBTQ issues as a journalist, but the valuable experiences I accumulated certainly help me to become a better writer, a more sophisticated storyteller and hopefully a more qualified member of the media.

I know all too well that I have a lot to learn, especially from those in the industry I look up to. But my larger goal, and what will help me persevere, is that I firmly believe I am lending a voice to those who need to be heard.

(Feature photo from William Yang)

 

William Yang

William is a freelance writer and photographer based in Taiwan, with a passion for human rights and storytelling. He holds a Master of Journalism degree from Temple University, and has extensive experiences interning at global NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Mercy Corps.