On the outside, Van and An (the names have been changed) are two girls studying at the same university. Van is 21, An is a year older and in her final year. Those who don’t know them or aren’t in their close circle won’t know that Van is lesbian and An identifies herself as bisexual.
Only a few selected friends too actually know that the two are in a relationship. This is a common situation in Vietnam. Because the young generation is more welcoming and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, people come out to their friends first, rather than their parents and relatives in fear of judgment.
In celebration of Pride Month, Vietcetera chats with An and Van to know more about their love story as well as to delve deeper into the life of an LGBTQ+ couple in a country that still largely embraces conservatism and old-school traditions.
Have you two come out yet?
Van: I have come out with my friends for around six years. They were all very accepting of me. Nothing changed among us even after they knew of my sexual orientation. They made me feel comfortable with who I am. However, my family doesn't know yet.
With An, she’s more reserved than I am. Only her close or mutual friends of ours know about this.
How did you know each other?
Van: My girlfriend and I first met through a club at our university. We joined the club in the same year. She is also one of my first friends here. Since then, I began having feelings for her. At first, I thought she was straight, so I decided not to go for it and remained friends until last year. We got closer and talked a lot more. We discovered so much about each other, and then we eventually just admitted that we liked each other.
What does this relationship mean to you?
Van: I have had romantic relationships before An. But to be honest, at the moment, I feel happier than ever because I have never loved and been loved like this. Maybe it's because I have grown over time. Although there are times when we argue, we are learning to be more patient, more understanding, and more motivated to change for the better. An is someone with who I can feel comfortable showing aspects of myself that I have never shared with others.
An: I always appreciate and feel lucky to be in this relationship. Van assures me that there will always be someone here for me, no matter what. Whenever I am happy or sad, I immediately want to tell Van first. There is a quote I have come across that feels true to us: “Choose the one who always feels great to have you even though you are not the best.”
Can you share why you haven't come out to your parents yet?
Van: I made a promise to myself to come out to my parents when I was 20 years old. But now, one year later and I haven't told them yet. There are many reasons why I haven't felt genuinely confident to say to them. My relationship with my parents isn't in a great state right now. I also think that they are not ready for the big news, though I guess they have doubts and picked up a few hints here and there.
I also have LGBTQ+ friends, some of whom have come out to their parents. I envy them for having the guts and parents who love them for who they are, and I pity myself for not having the same support system. This is probably the saddest thing about being a lesbian — not being able to tell the closest people you live with who you really are.
As a lesbian couple, have you ever received discrimination from people?
An: Luckily, we haven't received any adverse reactions from outsiders. However, in public places, we don't feel comfortable enough to show affection to each other, especially when we see older people. Not that we are embarrassed or afraid of judgment. Instead, we don't feel safe enough to display affection in public.
Do you think Vietnamese are open to LGBTQ+ couples?
Van: In Vietnam, younger generations have begun to have more positive and broader views on the LGBTQ+ community. For example, some celebrities have come out and received support from the public. Unfortunately, I still occasionally encounter some negative opinions about our community.
What were the toughest challenges you’ve had to go through?
Van: We thankfully haven’t encountered huge hurdles yet. If I’m being honest, not coming out yet to our parents brings some advantages. For example, we can come to each other's house without my parents' doubting or questioning.
However, seeing straight couples being very open to each other’s parents and getting that love and support is sometimes painful to bear. We cannot do that yet, and I feel pretty disappointed by that fact.
What do you hope about society's views in the future about LGBTQ+ couples?
Van & An: We hope everyone can help create an environment where all couples like us can feel safe and comfortable being together.