In this episode, host Calan Breckon unpacks some of the questions around intersectionality with guest Owin Pierson and the work he does as a mental health and Asian American Pacific Islander advocate.
Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression and we must consider everything and anything that can marginalise people ranging from gender, race, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc.
Today’s episode is sponsored by The Silva Ultramind System
Follow Owin: @owinpierson
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All right. Welcome to Gay Men Going Deeper, a podcast about personal development, mental health and sexuality. Today, I’m your host, Calan Breckon and I am joined by special guest Owin Pierson. Owin is a queer Asian American content creator that uses he/him pronouns, receiving his BA in psychology from George Mason University. Owin focuses his work on mental health, the G B T Q I A plus community and the Asian-American Pacific Islander advocacy.
He also is full-time lifestyle and travel influencer who currently is nomadic but usually can be found in either LA or New York. Today we are gonna be talking all about intersectionality and mental health and I’m super excited to unpack this topic. So for those of you who don’t know, intersectionality is the acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression and we must consider everything and anything that can marginalize people ranging from gender,
race, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, et cetera. So intersectionality is basically kind of the meeting place of multiple experiences, discrimination and oppression. For example, being gay and a BIPOC person. So there’s two communities that have been discriminated against historically and then that is found in one individual. So with that being said, I’m super excited to welcome Owin to the show.
Thanks so much for joining me Owin. Yeah, Thank you so much for having me into a lovely introduction. I just realized that my shirt matches your eyes, so I love it. It’s so fun. So pretty. Yeah, yeah, yeah. For those, For those watching on video, go check us out on YouTube. You can see I have to be clear of that.
Yes. My shirt is green. His eyes are green, I believe. Yes, yes they are. Thank you for the introduction and for having me. It’s, I think it’s so important. I love that you mentioned intersectionality first with my being BIPOC being queer, I think there’s so many people that can relate to different parts of the queer experience, but we sometimes often forget that there’s so many more facets of us and our journey with coming out and being open and figuring out who we are in this world.
So I’m very humbled and grateful to be here to represent my minority. Yes. But there’s always obviously so many more out there. Yes. Need that representation. So honored to represent my view. Oh good. Yes. And I’ve actually done this kind of like talk before with, it was community inclusion with Raymond and it was indigenous kind of community inclusion,
so that was that focus. So I’m glad that we can do this here with you today. So how about you Go ahead. I did, I did a little intro, but how about you go ahead and tell people about yourself cuz you have such a background. I know that you’ve worked with, you know, students in middle school and youth and that kind of work.
So you have a big history. So go and tell everybody you know What you Yeah, so I, I grew up on the east coast of the United States and Northern Virginia DC area. Born and raised there, the oldest of three boys. My mom is Japanese, my dad is American white, Caucasian. And I grew up in a very religious environment,
Christian denomination, very strict environment. But also it kind of pushed me into just with the biracial dichotomy and with a super religious dichotomy and just growing up in that environment, it kind of pushed me to really have to grow up really fast and have to be a leader in my own rights like I was before I came out, I was a youth pastor for six years to youth ministry for middle school,
high school students. I did a lot of youth development programs. I also worked with special needs kids specifically on the autism spectrum for four years while doing my undergrad for psychology. Just a, a pre plethora of that. But I also had a like really love for photography. Like photography was, it was kind of my journal in a way like before it was popular but also maybe this might be aging myself,
but I used zenga in my space a lot and I would like write vlogs and just share my life in that way. And it really resonated I feel like with a lot of people in the mental health space. Before it was really called mental health advocacy or before anything really was talked about in a way that wasn’t taboo. I kind of just shared my life as someone who was just figuring it out in that environment.
So graduated in George Mason University, the degree in psychology and then kind of from there kind of figuring out like why did I get this degree? You know, at first it was because I was just kind of lost in figuring out who I was with my identity, specifically with my sexual identity and just also where I belonged in the spaces that I felt didn’t have a space for me.
So fast track, I was about to go to grad school by, I dropped out after one semester to pursue photography but also social media and marketing in it before influencer was a word I really kind of tapped into it early on. YouTube specifically, there were a lot of YouTubers I resonated with that were also, I think from my perspective in the closet.
And then the years later down the road when they came out I was correct that I had this sense of community with them. Like oh I could sense that they were trying to be themselves in a world that was not letting them be, but they were finding their own communities online. And I also did that with my photography. I found pockets of spaces where people supported me for just being me.
It wasn’t about my identity as an Asian-American or whatever else I was a part of. So it helped me have a safer space to eventually come out on social media. And from there that’s kind of when my career took off and I did more photography for different companies and YouTubers and then, yeah, it’s kind of long-winded answer, but I really enjoyed the journey of social media was sharing organically through photo and storytelling and then I’ve had people finding my page and my places of sharing and then they would follow and wanna know more about me.
And that kind of gave me more of a comfort and safe space to come out. I came out like 22, 23 years old so a little later in life. But for me felt like the perfect time because I was actually confident in first coming out with myself. So yeah. Okay. Well there you kind of answered one of the questions that I did have is I wanted take it back to when you were doing the,
you know, back to the kind of super religious background and the youth pastor and working there. That was obviously before you came out. And so what was the experience that you had? And you also grew up, I believe you were kind of like the only Japanese white mixed in the area you grew up and you were kinda like, Oh In my,
in my school environment, yes, in my church environment there were other mixed race Asian backgrounds. But in my school environment, which is my consistent environment, there was not many of us at all. Especially in the younger demographics of elementary to high school. Okay. And actually after my first year in freshman year of high school, ninth grade, for those who don’t know American school,
I was severely bullied for being, this is when I was in the closet, I was severely bullied for being Asian. Like I would just, I remember one person in the hallway like he handed me like this little gift bag, little brown gift bag. And inside of it was like a bunch of like floss and he was like, here’s some new sunglasses for your eyes.
And it was like the most like gut wrenching like feeling ever cuz it was like just so out of, out of nowhere I didn’t know this person but him and his friends I guess were planning this like waiting for me to come out of one class. And then it was just really devastating to have that happen in an environment that you’re, you think is safe.
So it was like looking back, it was like, oh it was like a joke. They were like laughing. It was funny. But thinking of it now it’s like if that happened now it’s like I feel like social media would blow it up and things would happen differently. But I also know that that probably does still happen today with kids that don’t have community or friends or family that support them.
And back then no one knew I was gay. So it’s like I was already terrified about that part of my life to share. So to have people so openly attack something that I can’t change with my skin color, with how I look, it pushed me even deeper into the closet of like not feeling safe at all and just being terrified in anxiety ridden.
So I actually decided to homeschool myself after that year. Like I kind of just dropped it outta high school. I found a program online and my parents they, they just saw me as like this really, you know, I’m the oldest of three so they always saw me as this confident, like clear-minded optimistic person that knows what he is doing. So when I told them I found this program and I didn’t mention the bullying,
they knew I was bullied before but nothing that severe And they were like, you know like if you wanna do this, it’s school. Because I also was like, well now I can focus more on youth ministry and youth group activities and I can help more at church. And for them that was like, oh yes, we love that. Like we want you to do that because that’ll lead you to doing more things for your future family with a woman.
You know, like having that mindset in general. So it kind of pushed me to homeschool myself. So I was always very like self-driven in that sense. And then I worked part-time and then also did youth group part-time as a LE youth group leader. I was a start at age 16, 17, so I was still fairly young but again people just always saw me as this mature leader person.
So bringing in the intersectionality here, there’s like even more because you are closeted and you’re in a religious setting so there’s obviously gonna be discrimination there and oppression there. And then you’re like the only kid in school who’s mixed race so there’s discrimination there and you just, and then putting all of that together in one pot and doing these using, how did you navigate and what was your experience going through all the,
all of that navigating all these different versions of where discrimination and impression was coming from? Right. I mean I think back then there wasn’t as much online to like really research or find solace for support in, I did have like a couple friends in my church community, church community that really did support me. But you know they, they weren’t, you know,
queer Asian mixed race. They weren’t exactly who I was. So it’s hard to balance. And back then also therapy wasn’t something that in my at least upbringing community was something that was seen as normal or natural or something you could do. But also we grew up pretty much like middle lower class so we didn’t have the funds to do things like that. You know,
we would quickly be like, oh go pray it away or just write about it or you know, talk to a church elder or something like that. So there was never like that space of like no, like this is something for your mental health to help. And I quickly kind of realized that and that’s one reason I did study psychology cuz I didn’t see anywhere in mainstream media like on tv,
movies, commercials. I also didn’t see in my school environment or my church environment really leaders or people willing to do the work to help make a difference for people like me. Cuz I was like, if I’m feeling like this or I’m going through this or people think it’s okay to bully or attack people like me, I’m sure it’s happening in more communities or more spaces.
So for me it was, it took a long time. I didn’t automatically like realize right away like how to help myself. Like unfortunately I did like struggle with depression and there were many moments where like, you know, I thought it would be my last day or I just had all these really suicidal ideations as a kid and it was a very dark time like and I look back at that kid that Owen that and I was like,
I wish someone was there to like just help him or support him. And I also like realized like I leaned into like my faith a lot like even though I’m not religious now because that was something that was so ingrained in me for my parents and you know when you’re a kid you want to please your parents, you want them to be proud of you.
So that was something I did lean into like my faith and just, it kind of just pushed myself to be very independent in that way. And that kind of honestly built my, my social media platform or presence, whatever you want to call it. It because I was so open and vulnerable with my photography with my sharings online that it helped build what I have now because people know that I’m this like emotional but like in a way that’s not victimizing myself but really showcasing like this is a part of my upbringing but also a part of the intersections that make me queer Asian American religious upbringing.
Like these are all things that people also struggle with. So I think knowing that other people could resonate with small parts of me helped the whole picture feel a little bit more hopeful where that it’s like eventually I could get to a space where I could get help, I could get support but there’s a lot of start times for sure. Yeah. So first I’m gonna ask,
can you mute your phone? It just keeps going off if that’s possible. I think we, I dunno why it’s doing that. I’m like The everybody watches. We also don’t edit our edit our podcast. Oh my gosh, I’m sorry to everyone. Yeah I don’t know how to do that. I’m like the least tech savvy person in the world. That’s okay.
Is it on your computer? Yeah. Okay, well then hopefully you just won’t get that many more messages or emails. Okay. So taking this back, so for you was leaving high school and the bullying that was going on there, was it like running away from that discrimination in order to push yourself into these other religious areas but then over there were you being faced with these you know,
kind of beliefs about homosexuality and did you know you were gay at that point or was that something you were also struggling with at that point and you knew or that’s something you realized much later? No, for I knew I was gay or at least my mind different from a very young age like grade school. Like I would just have feelings for other guys in my class and I was always super close to all the girls but I didn’t have like those desires or anything like that that other guys would talk about.
Like oh yeah, like I wanna hold her hand or kiss her. Like you always felt very much like they were, my sisters are just really good friends. So there was definitely like moments, I think even like preschool, kindergarten where there were like these kids that like these boys were like bullying some of the girls but like in a playful manner, like just like talking about their clothes or how girly they are.
Something like kiddish like that. And then I remember had to crush on one them I was like, oh he’s really cute. Like I was like, I like him, I wanna hold his hand like everyone’s talking about. And at one point like they were like, like taunting one of the girls and like I stood up for her and they like when the boys started crying and like ran away cause I stood up to her and I remember feeling guilty.
I was like, oh but like now he’s not gonna like me. And then like as I got older, like more moments and things like that happened where I would you know, have feel mixed feelings and stuff. But I was told and taught in my religious community like that being gay is wrong as a sin, like we’re meant to be a man and woman.
So I was taught these very strict rules for my parents and church community and just everyone kind of agreed to it without really questioning it. So I had that in the back of my mind obviously too. So I knew from a young age but as far as like the bullying and the pushing going out of school context to focus on myself and religion, it was definitely like a running away mentality.
Definitely not wanting to face it because I was scared that if I dealt with this or made it a bigger deal then me being gay would come out as well from all that because there definitely were instances of bullying where people would say, you know, slur queer gay slurs or like really, you know, bigotry things. So that happened as well. It wasn’t like one instance,
it was a mold tool. So it definitely pushed me to like change my environment for sure. So what was the big catalyst through all of this? Like what was the moment that you’re like okay I’m gonna go into mental health. Was it the history that you had with being the youth pastor and working in that that you were like, you know what,
I really wanna work in this direction. And then how did you kind of take off into the mental health world? Yeah, that’s a good question. I feel I’ve always had such a passion for kids. Like I love kids. Like one of the things I really wanna do is I wanna be a dad one day and I want to, I just love the energy and the pureness of kids and how much they’re willing to learn and it’s just like,
it really helps with the whole nature verse nurture conversation too, right? It’s like, like where are kids taught that there’s this much hate for PE a group of people, Where is this taught? It’s when you see a kid they’re so pure and innocent. I don’t think it’s something that we’re born with this hatred and stuff, at least from my opinion.
So I think for me when I was working with kids, like I really was hands on. Like I would take them out for lunch or BBA or or hang out with them and I would make sure that when we had activities, like even if we went to like the movies or even if we had like a night in where we had like discussion and talking or whatever,
I would make make it a point to like talk to each kid individually. Granted there was around 15 to 30 kids at a time and depending, so I just really tried to make time for each individual kid and I saw how much that meant to them and it made me realize like oh I wish I also had this context as well for me and all the safe spaces that I needed to have sharing ins because I did have older figures who did help me but I could never share fully.
So for me, for having so many kids share their, you know, deepest darkest pains or struggles was very humbling to me. But also made me realize like I don’t have the resources or actual knowledge of how to help them long term or how to get them out of this abuse that they’re in or this tricky situation that they don’t know how to talk to their parents or their school.
Like really intense stuff where people would share their, their biggest struggles with their mental health or just livelihood almost. So it put a lot of pressure on me as a youth pastor to really be there for so many kids. So that burnt out was burnout out was really intense as well because I was putting so much of my time into all the people I was working with like you know,
I was doing full-time school also full-time youth pastorship full-time working with my job for special needs kids. So I was constantly giving to so many people and I think if anyone isn’t a job or a community that like is about working with people you, you know, it drains you at the end of the day and you need time to recoup or re rebuild your energy.
So I think in that moment it’s just like I really had this desire to learn more. Like I wanted to like help in a bigger capacity. I didn’t want to just be the nice guy that people felt they could talk to or listen to. I wanted to have the actual credentials or at least more education on how to do it. So that pushed me for sure.
And then for my own I guess selfish desires, like I really wanted to understand my sexuality like am I actually gay? Like who, like what does this mean to be gay? Like you know, someone who’s queer closet in a religious context, you don’t really have conversations at all except in your own head or what you find online for the validity of it or the acceptance or the affirmation you need.
Whereas other kids are talking about their crushes or their relationships or things in such an open and free and safe space that it really messes with your psyche and who you are as a person. So I just really needed that time to dive into mental health and then figure out how to share that on my own time. I really like how you said you kind of wanted more credentials because as you were talking and I was,
I was thinking about it, I wasn’t raised religious but I do know a lot of people who are have those mentors in that realm and I just can’t help but feel like the same. Like I would want those people in those positions to have credentials not just through whatever church or religion that they’re with, but like for those people if they’re gonna be working in those capacities,
they have to learn the knowledge for everybody, not just their points of view. And I really appreciate that you actually were like I need to know more about this because then that opened you up to your journey and being like, huh, okay well I’ve learned a lot about myself and then now you can turn around and help people on not just the religious frontier of it but you have that history in order to inform also the,
you know, working through being part of the lgbtq i community. So I wanna ask, I’m very curious being that you worked so much with kids and so much with youth, have you seen or did you see the effects of social media nowadays on their mental health and like how do you think that affected them and how do you think it’s affecting people now?
Because taking intersectionality, like it’s all over the place now so like everybody can do anything to anybody now. So how would that that affect the students and the kids that you worked with and how did you see that going down? No, yeah that’s that I feel like there’s so many paradigms there and so many connections for sure. Like because for for context like for youth group activities or things like we would do like such fun activities but also like deeper activities to help build character development or bonds and stuff.
So for me to invite high school middle school kids to these activities every week on Friday nights, like a lot of times like they just want to like do nothing, right? They want to stay home, they want to hang out with their friends outside of the church. So at first I would like do phone calls or like text messages back when social media really wasn’t a big thing.
But then around that time Snapchat and Instagram really blew up and Instagram stories blew up. So it was the attention rate of every kid and everyone was so much smaller. So I had to like switch my way of communication with all these students and kids of oh I can’t just call them anymore, they’re not gonna pick up, they have anxiety for that. Or I can’t just show at their house and like pick them up like now I need to figure out how to contact them on social media.
So I would switch my conversations to Snapchat, to Instagram to help kind of meet at their level or meet where they’re at but also realize that it just changed the dynamic of how like close and intimate you felt with your friends and with peers and stuff. So I really feel like social media in general has changed the dynamic of communication and how much we value each other’s time because it’s so easy to get in touch with someone but then it’s also so easy to like shut everyone out.
And now that I work in specifically with so many nonprofits and companies in the mental health space where for example like because I am an intersection of queer and Asian American, a lot of brands want that check mark. They want that notoriety or that desire to like like oh we f we fulfilled a box, right? That they used me. And that’s unfortunate but also as a token I had to kind of step into that because all I saw with my peers of other influencers was white cis people or people who didn’t really look like me or who,
especially in the gay world, like there’s so many intersections in the gay community where like you know people on dating apps in the gay community only want like a specific look or they don’t feel like they’re valued enough because they don’t look a certain way. And I feel like a lot of kids are very aware of that too. Like they see social media and they see how many,
how much of their friends or other people who might have more privileges than them or might have a whole different life cuz we never know what’s going on behind the scenes. Like I try not to ever judge and just be open-minded but a lot of these kids have their I element insecurity. So if you see so many people every day at such an alarming rate posting their lives,
it’s gonna affect you in a dramatic way of looking at your own self and the inters like introspection of like your life is gonna really almost numb you out and burn you out. And I saw that a lot with the, the kids like they were just tired or they didn’t feel like they’re doing enough and it’s a lot of pressure for sure. So how did you like tackle that topic with the kids of being like,
okay, social media has all these great things but it also has these negative impacts. What were ways that you worked with them being like okay this is healthy, this is not so healthy, this is how you can improve your mood, this is how you can, you know, what are those kinds of tips and things that you had? I mean really it just like building genuine connection.
Like not really telling them but listening to them like and that’s something I learned in doing therapy classes or just from going to therapy as well. I realized like a lot of times we all just wanna be heard and that was what I needed as a kid as well. I just wanted to be heard and seen and validated and loved. And a lot of kids don’t get that in their home environments or even school so it really wasn’t like I’m gonna fix your problems,
I’m gonna do everything for you. Like that was not the right healthy method cuz I saw how that worked for other people and it didn’t create a long term healing or help or support. So really what I did was just lean into their their like their, their highlights or what made them special. Like I created three program different programs in our youth group.
One was called Looking Back, it was kind of funny, we called it Blaze but none of us smoked but it was like a sports event and we would do like athletic stuff like we would do capture flag, we do basketball, volleyball or just create a whole like event about around physical activity. And a lot of the boys and girls loved that. But also when we did a more like intimate night we called it c4,
which is another funny reference but it was like an explosion of like truth, it was supposed to be like a time to like just sit down and like either watch a movie or a show and like talk about it or have a a reading from a book or some sort of quote or something. And that’s a thing too like I was even in a religious context of my church community,
like I really only share things I believed in. I really truly tried not to push any of the context of the religion that I was totally not for. So I really focused on more of the values and characteristics that I felt like made someone into a better person or made someone to someone who wanted to actively help make the world a better place re regardless of God or whatever else you wanna call it.
So we’d always do activities that really dive deeper into discussions where each person got to share about it and we did smaller groups of discussion and bigger groups so it really tried to create a safe space of having those discussions and then we’d have another night where it’s like a big community event where everyone was together. So I just listened to each of the kids and like with my team we were just like really dive deeper into what they wanted and ultimately just listening was really makes the biggest difference.
I feel Listening is definitely a huge thing sometimes that’s often for me and my therapist that’s like all I’m like I just want you to be my cheerleader. I just want you to listen to me and pay attention. I’m curious because you have done so much work with youth and in social media such a huge present on social media. Do you see any ways that you think we can improve the way that people use social media or especially how we allow students or kids use social media or how it’s used in general just with the population?
I mean I’m definitely no expert in all that and I see especially like on TikTok or the new app called Be Real, it’s like these new spaces that have blown up in the last few years have really shifted the desire for people to be heard and seen but almost in an unhealthy toxic way where it’s like are they just doing it because they want the fame or the spotlight but then it’s like do they really know what that entails or they do really know like what they are standing up for.
But doesn’t that go back to everybody just wants to be seen and heard Exactly they do but on the what intent, right? Like what, what value are you putting into that desire? Is it because you care so much about a specific topic like sustainability or fast fashion or you know, animals or whatever it is? You know, there’s so many topics that we’re all passionate about and that’s why I also love social media is it brings about so many advocates and spaces for people to find community And that’s something that helped save my life.
Like finding a community of travel photographers, finding a community of queer people, like for me like that was so not found in northern Virginia of people that my creative kind of people. So I think on that end it’s like really leaning into that and I feel like the people that are most successful in it are having boundaries with their social media, with their phones,
making sure that you know they are offline as much as they’re online. Because really the most work that I do is offline. Like as much as like online it’s like, oh this Owen is doing this, this and this. Like so much of the work is behind the scenes and with people in person and on the phone and building connections that way. And I think that’s really the balance is like getting back to our roots of it all.
And I feel like the pandemic is really what pushed a lot of people too sure openly about what they struggle with or what they’re going through. Even for me too, like it kept me from like staying home too. So I had to really dive deeper into my mental health state and also what I wanted to put out there too. Like you know, not just doing things for the next check or just doing things cuz everyone else is doing it,
which is what trends really kind of inspire and push in mainstream media and on social media. So I think really it’s, it’s just dependent on each individual that has a desire to either make a change or make a splash in the, in the in the world or if they wanna be a part of something bigger, like how they support that. And obviously there’s all the hate out there too,
like social media has a lot of trolls and hate comments and people that are so quick to write something on social media that I guarantee you they would never say in person to your face, you know, and it’s, it happens time and time again to me and to so many of my other content creator, influencer advocate friends. And it’s unfortunate that right now so many people have to share those hate comments and those things to get notice of who their identities.
You know like it’s like almost that’s what goes viral now is sharing the hate to counteract who you are as an individual. And from my personal perspective I don’t think that’s healthy cuz as an individual you’re still human and you have this heart that hurts and heals and feels things. So even though it’s like I want to help everyone else in my community and especially like the trans community,
like I really support all my trans friends and family too that really are struggling and there’s just so much hate right now in America for them. But it’s like, it’s so sad for me as a, as a queer person to see them having to share to hate comments they get in order for their posts to go viral or for their message to be seen.
Yeah As like proof it happens, this is the proof that it happens and then that’s why Yeah, exactly. I hear and I hear what you’re saying cuz we started this podcast during the like at the very beginning of the pandemic and that we just kept, you know, having it grow but as it grew definitely we, we don’t get as much as we used to but they definitely still come in and I think the ones we get are more pointed now.
So how, I’m very curious cuz I know how we deal with it, but how do you deal with that because your platform, I would you know, venture to say that you have a much larger platform so how do you deal with it when it’s coming your way or how did you deal with it when it first started and did your like growing up youth kind of inform that and then how do you deal with it now that you’ve been through so much Of it?
Right. I mean there’s nothing moments where like I would succumb to it and like feel it and like just read it for too much and like look at all the comments and would really hurt me and affect me as a person. Because for me it’s like here I am as someone who is presenting as this person on social media and showing my best self but also my vulnerable self on social media with a platform that has whatever amount of number.
It’s like if I’m doing this so confidently and showing myself I can I my heart and like mind goes to all the people that don’t have that safe space or don’t have that community or that support offline or that page or whatever you wanna call it. Like my mind immediately goes to them and that it always affects me in that way. And that’s why sometimes I’m like hesitant about sharing political things but for me I think it’s so necessary,
it’s so important to do that because it helps create the conversation of how to handle that offline and online. There are definitely moments where I’ll, so I just ignore it. Like I’ll sometimes take screenshots of it and send it to my close friends and like just laugh at them with it cause it’s like, it’s like are you okay? Like and your point,
it’s like it doesn’t matter. Like honestly sometimes what I really think of is is think of it as is like people hurt, people hurt people and a lot of hurt people just really don’t like seeing other people shining bright or other people, you know doing their, their life the best that they can and it’s a more reflection themselves. And that’s kind of what I taught the youth I worked with and taught myself and use my space.
It’s like I don’t really get tap into that energy. My energy and my page is really focused on light and kindness and support and there’s not really time for me anyway to lean into it. But when I did, especially during the stop age and hate movement last year, early in March, you know there was a lot of hate that happened and it was just for me to see like people who looked like me getting killed for just being me.
You know, it just sparked a lot of earlier childhood traumas or moments. So I spoke up and when I spoke up like a lot of people resonated with it. And then what I did was like, you know, I, I called out brands and I called out people cause I didn’t want it to be like another BLM moment where people just post something on their grid and that’s it.
So I was like, if you’re gonna post something saying stop Asian hate, then I want to see you do the work as well. Like I want, we can talk about it more offline, we can discuss it. I want to see more representation of Asian Americans or API people in your community, in your workspace on your campaigns and if you don’t then don’t then take me off your PR list.
I don’t wanna work with you anymore. And then I, when I did that it resonated with like for example Instagram and that’s when they reposted my video on their Stop Asian hate guide on social media. And then that blew up and it was really cool to see like my face like as part of like this movement to like help stop Asian hate and be,
you know, change makers. But on the flip side is when I that posted like I got so much hate from that. Like I got more hate from that than I had anything I ever posted online. And there was no like filter or support really for that. It was just people threatening to like contact my family, people threatening to find me, people like saying,
oh here we go again like a gay Asian. Like it’s just a token. Like it’s not even, he’s not even, he doesn’t even look that Asian, he’s B, he’s biracial. So just, you know, people nitpicking at that and it really just made me realize like there’s just so much hate in the world. So like I’m not gonna like succumb to it and like be a part of that narrative anymore.
I’ll stand up for what’s right but I’m not gonna put my whole life’s work into trying to talk to people who don’t listen. Like listening is like if they’re gonna, if they’re gonna just have a different opinion on me, like that’s one thing like we can discuss about it but if you’re gonna be so focused on the hate, I think that’s not valuable of our time and I think our time is the most precious thing in the world.
You know, time is so short, you know the thing, another thing that really pushed me to senate up for mental health is like I had two really close friends in my church that I grew up with. They were the same age as me and they both passed away the same year. One from a car accident and one from a drug overdose. And it was really devastating to have that happen cuz they looked like me and they were like my friends.
But also what happened was before both those incidences happened, they both reached out to me to hang out or talk and stuff. But I was depressed and anxious in my own world with my own life so I didn’t respond in time before what happened. So that really changed my whole life too and it made me realize like how valuable time is and how much space we need to hold for like kindness and love for the people in our lives because we never know what’s going on behind the scenes.
Like no one knew what I was going through and why I didn’t talk back. But also we never know what’s on the other side and social media helped us connect, you know, but at the same time it can help help us disconnect too. And that’s something that I try to teach the youth I work with or the spaces I am in. So you,
you touched upon the Asian American Pacific Islander advocacy work. Can you tell me more about that? What, what kind of work are you doing now around that to continue the conversation? I have different like speaking engagements with like different schools or like organizations where I just show up and like do q and As or talk to the youth and like figure out what they wanna do to help create more of like conversations on the work I do like as a queer content creator in general,
it’s like with the Asian American title on top of it, it’s like you kind of realize that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. So I’ve worked with like different non-profits that bring about like statistics and analytics also about what’s happening in like the public opinion of Asian Americans. Like do we feel like it’s actually represented in mainstream media or in spaces that they happen to be in?
Do we, do we actually think that people are tokenizing us or is there actual more space and like actual percentages of businesses and campaigns like having Asian Americans on their platforms for campaigns. And that’s something I really lean into as well when I do work is I try to make sure to see like are they having other people besides me? Am I, am I the only Asian American a part of this PR trip or this work or this conversation?
Like if there’s more diversity then I’m like okay let’s, I’m okay with that, I want to do that. So it’s really in those small moments of like determining like your value because as a queer Asian American, there’s not many of us yet in these spaces and I’m very grateful that I am feeling space but I know that it’s not just for me to feel space,
like I don’t wanna be alone on this journey. Yeah. So the more times I see other people who look like me who, who are on the same journey as me, like I really try to lean into them and we are very collaborative in the things we do and just, it’s really cool to see other people who are succeeding in their spaces to have their voices heard because I can only represent so many people,
you know, there’s so many more out there that need that representation. So yeah, it’s just like a lot of that I’m also, you know, trying to do, also writing a book about like my life and diving deeper into that narrative of growing up in the church environment as a closeted queer Asian American. So that’s something that’s wor in the works and yeah,
just a lot of things like that. So speaking about that actually can you take us back to that experience of like being in the church and then not coming up until you were 22, 23 and like why that journey took you so long? Pardon me? If you knew like you had the inklings, why did that journey take you so long? A lot of fear and just like the scarce feeling,
the scared feeling of like once I come out like I can’t go back, it’s like then everyone in my life is gonna see me for this. It was very much that mentality of like coming out on the east coast for example, like it was such a big deal to come out to each of my friends and family members. Like, and some were positive,
like all my friends were positive but my family’s coming out experience for me was not positive at all. So it’s like that was very difficult and I kind of suspected that based on my upbringing with my family and my church is like they would clearly make, you know, end to endos and comments and like the, the church that they joined, you know I was born into this church,
I didn’t join it but the church my parents joined like clearly states their, their decisions and views on homosexuality in the queer community. So I already knew how difficult it would be. So for me, I want, and this is an important message I think for all youth who are struggling with this or figuring it out for themselves is like you have to put yourself in a safe space first to want to be there and like have the resources and financial support and friendship support to get out of any situation you’re in.
That’s intense. And for me also like what kept me from coming out so long was the youth I worked with, I cared so much about all of them. Like I really put my own self care in my mental health on the back burner, which I don’t suggest to anyone, but I really did put myself second cuz I didn’t value myself or my life at all.
So I really focused on creating a better life for all the youth I worked with and I wanted them to be happy. And I had two younger brothers too so it just like, I was so focused on my advocacy work in the church that I didn’t really decide to come out until I mentioned my two friends passed away and then I dropped outta grad school and that pushed me to move to the west coast to LA to pursue photography and pursue a different life with like less than a month notice to everyone in my life because I was just so burnt out from everything and I needed to finally be myself and like see what that was.
It was like running away to find a safe space and you had until that point been playing the distractor game of like just gonna distract myself with all these things to keep busy so that I don’t actually have to think about this. Bring it back to intersectionality. Do you think your experience was compounded because of the, your religious background but also your Japanese background with the religious background?
Cuz I know that it can be quite homophobic in those areas specifically did that inform, cuz you said in your church specifically it had a lot more, you know, Asian or mixed people there and did you think that had an effect on it? Yeah, there was definitely a lot of deeper history rooted there. Like the church’s format was very Korean focused and I don’t know if you know about the history between Korean and Japan,
like there’s a lot of just intense drama there and like just with history of like what happened in the war. So I think interesting it’s, it’s sad to say but, but like because the church was Korean focused, they really made their Japanese members aka and my mom having to kind of do more indemnity and work harder, like literally having to tie more money for the church.
And also Japanese culture is very like respectful, quiet, like respect your elders, do what you’re told, don’t have an opinion outside of what’s already shared from like the leaders or the group you’re in or your parents. So, So there’s another layer of discrimination there that I didn’t even know about because it was Korean based and not Japanese based. So there’s that other layer on top of it.
So now you’re coming out of here being like, well damn I gotta be perfect now. I can’t come outta here being gay and this and all these other things because these people will eat me alive. Yeah. And I remember being told like I don’t believe this is like the Korean perspective of just the Korean church perspective I was in, but I remember kids telling me,
and again I think kids are taught from their parents or their, their environments, but I remember being at a summer camp and I’m half Japanese, half white, so I’m a little hairy, like I have hairy legs. I started growing hair like when I was like 11 or 12 and like can’t control it. I remember being like on the basketball court and this one Korean kid came up to me and was like,
he’s like, you know why the Koreans or the leaders of this church, it’s cuz we don’t have hair on our, we’re we’re not, it’s, it means we’re pure blood. It’s, it’s like you are mixed blood like you’re dirty. And I was like literally just like in shock like not only was I getting bullied in school environments but also church environments for just being who I was.
So I just, that made me realize also like this church is not it for me. Like these people are not what they say they are. They’re not doing what the actual lessons of this church or their principles. Like it’s very much hypocritical And for me it was like why am I putting all my time effort into this organization that one doesn’t support me for being gay but also is racist as,
as fuck is so racist. It’s like what the heck? Like that’s not okay. You know? So I think the intersections of it all was very much embedded in being Japanese cuz Japanese people are very respectful and focused on humility and I think that’s a beautiful thing. But also think there’s a time and place to share your boundaries in what you deserve. Cuz I mean everyone I talk to for example loves Japanese culture.
Like they’re like they Multiple times I love Japan. I never heard one person say they went to Japan and had a horrible time. No one has said that to me ever. And everyone’s always like, my dream vacation is Japan and it’s because the culture there is so family rooted and beautiful in that sense. So I think there’s a lot of good goodness in there.
But the homophobia is really intense too. I actually did a post early this year in the summer because I was very just angry with Japan because they, they publicly announced that they’re, they’d denounced like homosexuality and they don’t believe in same sex marriage, excuse me, like publicly saying that. And it was like all over the news and stuff and that really just rubb me the wrong way.
So I did a post saying like being Japanese and gay is okay and like it did, a lot of people resonated with that and it was just like, for me it’s like that’s another just layer. It’s like I’m out now. But like being out in Japanese is not okay because if you’re a tourist in Japan for example, if you’re, if you’re clearly white or mixed race or don’t look Japanese and you’re in a queer space or you’re like with your,
your partner or something like that, like they’re not gonna like judge you or like say anything. But if you are Japanese and you’re doing that, they’re not okay with that. Like, it’s like just like they think it’s like a disgrace to their culture and to their society. So it’s like if you want to be gay, sure, but if you’re a Japanese and gay,
that’s not okay. And that’s something that’s very deeply rooted in their culture unfortunately. And that’s, you know, it’s the same as religious indoctrination, it’s cultural indoctrination because this is what our culture believes that, you know, and all cultures are different all around the world. So when you came out at 22, 23, how did that then change your whole perspective on your mental health and the work that you were doing in mental health and how did that push you forward to doing the work you do now?
It was just the most liberating and freeing experience for me. It brought friends and chosen family that I never thought I would have. I have family that like are Filipino that have like really taken me in. Like I was too poor one year to go back home for Thanksgiving. I didn’t really want to go back. So my friend Maria, she’s from Hawaii and all her Filipino friends moved to the mainland on the west coast.
So they invited me to San Diego to have Thanksgiving and I’m the only Japanese gay guy there and they’re all Filipino but they welcomed me and like they didn’t focus on that at all. They were just, they’re more impressed that I was an influencer. They’re like Wow, that’s so cool. You know, like, or they just wanted to know who I was as a person and,
and it just really was so natural and it was the first time in a long time where I had a chosen family experience besides in LA where I had a lot of my best friends where it wasn’t a big deal to be gay and I could just talk about it normally in conversation without any like judgment or needing to explain myself like I had to back home.
So it just really grew my heart to be open to new people and be open to the people in my life I haven’t met yet that I know are waiting for me to experience love with them. And it’s like, that’s a beautiful thing cuz regardless of my upbringing, it’s like I know there was a lot of love and like my parents meant, well some people in the church meant well like the,
the work I did with the youth, it was all like for a good intent but the organization is corrupt and that the leaders are corrupt and it’s like you’re just on a sinking ship and it’s better to build roots somewhere else where you can really build something more holistic and pure and intentional then try to stay in those negative dark environments that really could care less if you’re there as long,
only if you’re focusing on their cause and their principles. So yeah, I think since coming out it’s just been, been so humbling and like beautiful cuz my, I mean whatever, like whatever happens with my career, my life, like for me it’s like I’ve gotten emails or people coming to me in person or just like little moments or comments where people share like the,
I help them come out or I’m helping them figure out their identity and their religious context and their queer space and their Asian American identity, whatever identity they recognize with or they’re like, I also struggle with anxiety and depression and thank you for sharing that. Thank you for making me not go cr I think I’m crazy or not think that it’s insane to have these isolating thoughts or these moments of,
you know, just pure s and whatever intersection happens. Like for me it’s like such a pure like beautiful moment where like, it’s like, okay, like my main goal in all this was I don’t want anyone to ever feel like how I felt as a kid. I don’t want everyone to anyone, anyone to ever feel like there’s no one there for them.
So to be on the other side where it’s like I can be maybe someone small in their chapter to help them in their moment and their journey, Like for me it’s like that’s all I cared about and it’s, it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have social media. If I didn’t come out in the way I did, maybe it would’ve happened in a different context,
I don’t know. But I’m just grateful that I did it the way I did because it’s, there’s this a lot of healing that’s been for me personally, but also for the people that may resonate with me. And I think that that is the big positive side of social media is that all of these people around the world now have access to seeing people and interacting with people who have that shared story and that shared interaction of like,
Oh, I’ve went through the same thing or went through something very similar and it’s, you don’t have to wait for TV to show you now. Cuz Hollywood takes forever in generations to change and a lot of money’s there. And so on social media, you can find whoever you want. And there is so many amazing, beautiful people out there that you can resonate with and go,
Oh my God, okay, I’m gonna go in this direction. And that opens that door. And I think that that’s also why the younger generations, I have a lot of like hope for the younger generation. I thought my generation was changing things, but like even more so now, I just look at the younger generations and I’m like, Oh, like I’m so grateful that you are all just coming to the table and looking at people as people and just like conversing.
And it’s not about all this old bullshit or crap that we used to have and the indoctrinations of the older generations. It’s like we’re breaking those stereotypes, we’re breaking those links and going, No, we need to create something new because obviously it’s not been working. Exactly. And I, I just hope that like we can build more bridges for each other to like not be like ostracized one group or the other.
It’s like really, let’s build a community and like let’s all unlearn and relearn behaviors and lessons to like get there together. Cuz it’s like, I feel like hate just builds more hate too. So it’s just, it’s super exciting to see the future like focused on building hopefully more inclusive environments and spaces for all sorts of facets of what makes people people. I agree.
It’s like it’s exciting times and it’s like there’s so much more work to be done. But I think also that’s why I’m grateful for the social media space is cuz like you said, like mainstream media takes so much longer to change and grow. But for us, like we can make that movement and change now and we can be in those spaces now and brands and people and so many facets of the world are like really paying attention to social media now and what it,
how it affects everyone’s daily habits in life. So I think that’s why it’s a double edged sword as well. But there are good creators and people out there that are trying to do it with intent. But it’s like, just for my thing is like if you want to, I always, this is one of the biggest questions I get, like, how can I be an influencer?
How can I be a content creator? Like what does it take? And I always tell people like, Don’t do it for your mental health. Don’t do it unless you have a good therapist. Don’t do it. Yeah. I’m not a big Instagram user. I’m like, if I absolutely have to, I do it, but like I hate it.
Yeah. But I’m saying if it, if it brings you joy, if you love it, if you, it doesn’t take away from you but give you something, then I think step into it more. Because the only thing that is really gonna help is social media is gonna help you really discover who you are and what your desires and self are. So really lean into loving yourself first and who you are as a person,
because that’s gonna be the unique part of you that’s shared to the world, that makes you different, that makes you unique and special. But if you don’t know what that is, you’re just gonna fall flat into what’s happening around you and it’s not gonna feel like conducive to your mental health or your growth. Oh yeah. And I always tell people to curate their Instagram and to curate their social media because it’s,
the algorithm will feed you what you’re looking at and what you are tapping on. So if you want to move away from the things that make you feel bad about yourself, like I know, you know, for a while there it was like all these like guys who looked a certain way and I’m just like, I’m never gonna look like that. And like it made me feel bad.
And so then I had to actively go into my social media and go and dig and find things that made me happy and joyful. And then all of a sudden my algorithm started to change so that it was like, you know, Huskies doing stupid things and like fun things that brought me joy. And now when I go on I get to enjoy the experience that I have instead of feeling bad about what I’m looking at.
So, but that’s a conscious effort people have to, to make in regards to their social media and that’s very important. Well I want to thank you so much for joining me, Owen. Where can people find out more about you if they wanna look you Up? Yes, thank you so much for having me. You can find me in all social media platforms at Owen Pearson and I always tell people to spell my name correctly.
If you take the eyes out of my name, I become my own person. So that’s just a little cheesy thing cuz it’s hard to spell my name. Yeah. But yeah, thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure. You’re very welcome. And we’re gonna have all your details in the show notes for people to link up so it’ll all be there.
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