the following is an interview with my friend connie as part of my home project. i met connie through a friend when she moved to boston several years ago, though she has moved back to her home state of north carolina since giving this interview. connie is an amazing artist among other things, and you can view and purchase her work on etsy. content note: the following conversation discusses trauma around sexual abuse.
What’s your name and where in the world are we?
My name is Connie and we’re at the pond in Jamaica Plain in Boston, Massachusetts.
Do you have a place you consider a home of origin?
I was born and raised in North Carolina.
What do you think and feel when you think about that home?
I’m from a really small town of 3,000 people. If you look at the census data for my town there’s only 50 Asian people there and I’m related to or know all of them. When I think of the place where I grew up I think of being in the woods and wandering around outside by myself and feeling uncomfortable and different everywhere I went. That can be a really othering feeling, especially when you’re young.
When I think of my home of origin I don’t really think about where I grew up. I think about where I went to college in Greensboro, because that’s where I felt comfortable for the first time in my life. It was where I first met other people who I could really connect with.
Can you describe what you found when you got to college, if that’s what you think of as your home of origin?
I think the biggest thing for me was being able to sleep and feel safe when I was sleeping which was completely different for me, and made it really hard for me to return back to where I grew up. I think everything about me feeling comfortable and at home and everything that made me like North Carolina stemmed from me being able to sleep at night.
Tell me about your search for home since then — what have you sought to create in the spaces you’ve been?
Finding places that I feel comfortable has been hard for me. Home for me is anywhere where I can just be authentically myself. A house or where I’m staying is isn’t the biggest part. The biggest part of what makes a home to me is a place where I can feel safe. Where I don’t feel scared or feel like I can’t be authentically myself.
My partner Richard is one of the first people who I can be around and feel like I’m by myself (laughs). I’m an only child, I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up, I was and am a big geek, I played World of Warcraft and online roleplaying games, and I have always felt most comfortable when I’m completely by myself. It’s been interesting for me to find a partner who I can feel like I’m by myself when I’m around him. I don’t feel anxiety about being around another person, I feel fine. I feel okay still. I’m so grateful to have Vincent, my dog, in my life. There have been moments where I’m going through dark times or depression, and I wouldn’t even go outside if it hadn’t been for walking Vincent. That feeling of needing somebody who also needs me. A reason to go outside and walk and get out of my mind has been helpful for me in feeling at home wherever I am.
I’m hearing you talk a lot about safety, comfort, and being authentic. What does a space look like that makes you feel those ways?
I can tell you what it doesn’t look like. When I was growing up, I went through years of sexual abuse. Sleeping has been the biggest thing for me. The older I get the worse it is. You’d think I would be getting better, but I’m not. This past winter my partner and I were staying at my parents house, and their house is really small, so we were staying in the shed on a mattress. I couldn’t fucking sleep. I was shaking and crying and I couldn’t sleep. That’s the opposite of what a home is. It’s where I grew up, it’s where my family is, but it’s not a home for me because I don’t feel safe there.
Part of me feeling at home with Richard is is him not making me talk about what I’m feeling, but instead being like, hey do you want to go for a walk? I can know logically in my brain that I’m safe, I’m an adult now, I’m not an eight year old kid. I can know that but still feel scared and vulnerable. When I’m put back into a shitty situation, it makes me feel that same way again. Not being able to sleep was something I dealt with all through middle school and high school, every night. Crying and shaking, feeling scared, and feeling like I couldn’t tell anyone about it.
When I’m somewhere I feel safe, it’s so easy for me to fall asleep. Anybody who hasn’t gone through that might not think about what a beautiful thing it is to be able to fall asleep and not feel like something horrible is going to happen to you. For me personally that’s like one of the biggest thing about what home looks like. I can fall asleep and be vulnerable and it’s gonna be okay.
Sounds like a lot of what you’re seeking in home is sanctuary and healing from trauma. I’m really glad you have Richard and Vincent wherever you go.
I mean Vincent’s basically useless as a protection dog (laughs) but the healing part is real.
I know you’re in a transition of moving back to your home state of North Carolina after several years in Boston. It sounds like the place is secondary to the other things that make up home for you. When you picture your life either in the near or distant future, what is your home like?
In some ways my home’s gonna stay the same because my home is wherever I am, and where I feel safe. Now it’s wherever my partner is and wherever Vincent is too. Richard and I want to buy a house in North Carolina. I’m gonna finally have a place where I don’t have to worry about stuff anymore. I don’t have to worry about strangers walking into my house because I don’t own it, I don’t have to worry about where I’m gonna live the next month or the next year, I’m not gonna have to worry about getting kicked out of where I’ve made my home. That’s the next level of feeling safe and having even less anxiety about being at home because it’ll be a place that I own.
The one question I’m asking everyone is, in what ways are you making and seeking home and in what ways have you found home?
I think you can live in a place without it necessarily being your home. Part of finding home is finding a space where you can be yourself, and finding people you can be yourself around. When we stayed at my parents’ house in North Carolina last winter, I remember thinking, I can’t wait to go home. Part of finding a home is finding other places where you can feel safe and supported and feel like you can be authentically yourself without having anxiety about it. When we first moved here, part of making this into a home was trying to find other people that we could really connect with.
One of the first ways I did that was going out by myself when you were playing at Queeraoke. You invited me to a party at your house, and so the first thing Richard and I did socially was go to that party. And there we met Rachel and Guillermo, another queer-woman/straight-guy couple who have a dog (laughs). It was through this series of coincidences we made this place a little more of a home.
I’m so touched to have just been a conduit in that. That’s really sweet. Thanks for sharing so much with me in this interview. Is there more you’d like to share?
When we first moved to Boston we moved to East Boston, which is mostly Latinx. The first day Richard, who is white, went to work, he came home and said, I was the only white person on the train and and it felt kind of weird. And I said, okay imagine having that feeling all the time, no matter where you are. That’s how I’ve felt as a mixed race person. I grew up in a a predominantly white area so I felt different because I’m not white and I didn’t look like everybody else. Then in college, I went to study in China and felt the exact same way.
My mom’s family were refugees in the late 40’s, so my mom was the first person in our family to be born in Taiwan instead of China. Before my mom was centuries of people who were all born in China and all had these cultural similarities in their lives. Then there’s this complete disconnect. I’m the first person in this long line of women whose first language is not Chinese. Culture wise, I’ve always felt like an outsider no matter where I am. It’s just something I’m hyper aware of. I’m not sure if other people experience this too — other children of immigrants born in the united states or who immigrated to the united states at a young age — a feeling like no matter where I go I’m never in my ancestral home because I don’t really have one that’s one isolated place.
Do you feel like your ancestry informs what you seek out in home?
It was recently Tomb Sweeping day, Qingming Jie ( 清明节 ), the day Chinese people go to pay respects to their ancestors and take care of graves and leave flowers and burn hell money. Taiwan celebrates that April 5th and I called my mom that day. It’s heavy thinking about how there are people in my family who are doing that for me, and I don’t have the means to go to their graves and talk to them. For me it’s been a constant search of where I fit in, of what things am I allowed to claim as my own, and what can I not claim?
Not very simple questions that have beginnings or ends, I imagine.
Yeah. Like when Richard and I get married, I want to wear a traditional Chinese dress and headdress, and then it’s like, is that okay? I didn’t grow up in China, my mother didn’t grow up in China, she grew up in Taiwan. But everyone before her and me in this long line of women would have had that. Does it just stop at me? It’s a lot of heavy questions that are hard to answer.
I hope you end up feeling you can do whatever feels right in your gut.
Yeah. That’s kind of where I’ve gotten recently. Like, whatever, I’m just gonna do what feels right for me. I was talking to my mom on Tomb Sweeping Day and I said, what should I do? She said, you could write a letter to your grandparents and burn it. It doesn’t matter where you are, the smoke’s still gonna rise. It doesn’t matter that I’m not there.
How do you feel like your relationship with your mom impacts the way you think of your ancestral home and your relationship to that kind of spiritual home?
I think my relationship with my mom has a huge impact on how I feel about my ancestors and the Chinese part of my heritage. When I was younger, I wasn’t very close with my mom, and I wasn’t very close with my Chinese heritage because I wanted to be like everybody else. Probably a lot of little kids sit in front of a mirror and cry, ‘why can’t I be like everybody else! Why do I have to look different? Why do I have to dress different? Why am I like this?’
My mom is someone who doesn’t talk about herself at all unless you ask her the right questions. There were a lot of things I never knew about my mom or my family until my twenties. I had no idea how my family came to the united states, I just knew that we’re here now. I didn’t know the stories of how my family ended up in Taiwan, how they had to take a boat from China because my grandfather was in the Nationalist Army and they lost the war. As I grew closer to my mom I grew closer to my roots. I started realizing that everything that has happened has led to me being here, and if anything had been different, I might not be here, or I might be a different person. I think of it like we carry all of our ancestors inside of us in a physical, literal way, and also in a way you can’t really see. All of these traditions have led up to me being the way that I am because the way that you’re raised as a child affects way you raise your kids. All of these different personalities and cultural traditions have culminated in my mother and then culminated in myself.