Meet 25-year old Korean American Dustin Sohn… and his adorable dog Kai!
Born to immigrants, Dustin grew up in predominantly white America, where he conceded that being an ethnic minority contributed significantly to his insecurities. When he started experiencing same-sex attractions during his preteen years, the combination of being both Asian and gay proved to be extra challenging for him.
Just like most of us, Dustin was initially unable to come to terms with his sexuality. For a decade, he struggled with it, trying hard to overcome that side of him by pushing himself to excel in all aspects of his life as a way of proving his worth.
‘I felt like I had to impress academically, with my art, with my internships, with my job, with my physical appearance, etc. just to cushion the blow if I got rejected for being gay.’
His strong drive to succeed stemming from his personal insecurities certainly shines through. Despite his young age, he has already clocked up some impressive achievements on his resume such as interning in the Art department of the Hollywood film ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ and working for Grammy-winning artist John Legend. His impressive physique also serves as a further testament to his highly driven nature.
But beneath that driven exterior was someone who was filled with shame and insecurities. It wasn’t till he started college at the Rhode Island School of Design where Dustin majored in illustration and film did he finally acknowledge the fact that he was gay. Looking back, Dustin reflects that:
As mentally damaging as it was to grow up that way, it was extremely motivating. It is a lot to take on for a kid. I eventually came to realise that I didn’t need to prove myself to anyone or earn anyone’s respect. I just needed to accept myself.
And accept himself he has. Dustin photographs himself amongst picturesque settings, often times showcasing his physique, to document his physical and mental journey. His beautiful photos of nature also reflect his occasional need to escape from the stressful environment of the city and being around people.
Currently working as a production designer and photographer, Dustin also hopes to transition into acting and screenwriting. The photo below is a culmination of his creativity and artistry.
After years of hiding in the closet in shame, Dustin has finally stepped out into the light to embrace life as an openly gay man. Dustin has very kindly agreed to share his coming out story with us so read on to find out more about how he eventually came to terms with himself!
- How was your first coming out experience like?
The first time I even addressed my sexual orientation was when I unexpectedly fell into my first relationship. I was 20. I was in college on the east coast. I called my parents on the west coast one evening and I straight up told them, “I have a boyfriend.” I was extremely nervous, but at the same time I kind of knew how they would react: my mom would get overwhelmed and maybe cry a little (and she did), and my dad would be disappointed and get uncomfortable (and he was) but there was no way they could hate me. And if the phone call were to nosedive and crash, I could just hang up and not talk to them for a while. Though my mom was upset and didn’t understand it, she ended the conversation with, “you could kill someone and I wouldn’t love you any less.” And despite the implication that homosexuality was a sin, I found that really sweet of her. I had no idea how my sister would react because I remember her expressing some homophobia when we were young kids, but she was the best and accepted it without a second of hesitation.
2. What was your most memorable coming out experience so far?
We live in a society where straight people have social dominance. Straight is almost void of even being a sexual orientation because it is the “norm”; it is to the point where strangers who don’t know any better will always assume everyone they meet are straight (unless there’s some sort of stereotypical give away) so the coming out process never really ends. That being said, a more recent memorable coming out experience was when I was walking down a public plaza with a female friend and a homeless(?) man commented on how lucky I was to be with such a “pretty lady”. Out of frustration I turned to him and straight-up yelled “I’M GAY.” It was very liberating not to care about how anyone would react and just keep on walking. People need to be courteous and stop assuming everyone is straight. In fact, people should stop assuming anyone else’s sexual orientation at all.
3. How is your family coping with it?
I am blessed to have such a supportive immediate and extended family. They are my safety net. My father got over his disappointment in two seconds and now we are closer than we’ve ever been. It surprises me how liberal and openly compassionate he is. I can even speak openly about my homosexuality to my most Christian, conservative cousins and they don’t have an ounce of judgment about it. We all just want to feel normal.
4. What advice do you have for gay people still hiding in the closet?
Society tries to manipulate and control every aspect of our lives by playing our insecurities and keeping us in a state of self-doubt. It tries to tell you what to wear, how to act, how to live, who to love and who to hate. And if you’re in the closet, it wants you to stay there. We have to learn how to shut all those outside voices up and take ownership of ourselves. Don’t be afraid to live your truth, even if it deviates from the norm. Be who you are and don’t apologize for it. You don’t need anyone’s approval to exist on this earth. Society ain’t shit.
5. Now that gay marriage is legalised in America, do you see yourself getting married one day?
Honestly, not really. I’m open to falling in love but at this point in my life, love and marriage isn’t something I actively seek nor does it really interest me. I love that the gay community is gaining social acceptance, but I personally see the concept of marriage as an antiquated institution and another societal expectation (and you know how I feel about social pressure). We can boil the purpose of our existence down to finding companionship, mating and then dying but I refuse to live out that formula just because society expects it from me. Doing anything just because society expects it is no longer a good enough reason for me to do anything. If I get married one day, great. If not, then great. But I truly believe with all my heart there are more ways to be fulfilled in life than marriage and having offspring. You just have to find out what that is on your own.
6. What do you think is the biggest misconception straight people have about the gay community?
Gay isn’t a perversion. Transgender isn’t a perversion. Just because something deviates from your definition of normal doesn’t make it abnormal or wrong. Don’t focus on the labels and the “otherness” and just focus on the soul of the people you interact with. It’s called empathy. If you have a heart and a brain, and you’re not a serial killer, you have empathy.
7. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Self-love is arguably the most important love of all and the hardest to achieve. I started working out furiously because I thought it would be the solution to my insecurities but all I did was change myself to fit into society’s mold. I still relied on others for validation and I just ended up with an eating disorder. I see now how much control society had on me because of my self-doubt and self-hate. Your DNA and your soul is unlike anyone else’s on this earth and you deserve to be proud of it regardless of what you look like, how you were born, or where you are in life. I don’t know if it’s possible for us to completely free ourselves from society’s grip but we should always question, challenge and resist what harms our ability to love others and ourselves.
Once again, we would like to thank Dustin for sharing his story with us.
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