The Empathy Revolution Must Start Now


While I didn’t know anybody personally that was attacked at Orlando, what had happened left a mark within me, and I’ve only recently started to scratch the surface and question it. That nagging itch which spurred my silence for so long is now finding an increasing irritation that those around me, including myself, are seemingly gradually starting to move on from it all. I’m talking about how we all posted our sorrow in solidarity #prayfororlando during the first week, and for the most part, are now back to the regular routine of our busy lives. And hey, no big deal. That’s life. Tragedies come and go. The world keeps on spinning. We all move on.

But the fight isn’t over. The battle between love and hate continues on so long as their is discrimination on our streets.

As the country becomes more accepting (gay marriage), some become more radical. Hate crimes that end in death are unreported, out of fear of being attacked. Minority transgender women are frequent targets. Read more on Hate Crime reports and stats here.

“Unfortunately, we just have to accept the fact that stigma based on sexual orientation is still widespread,” Mr. Herek, expert on anti-gay violence said. “Overcoming those prejudices is a lot of work.”

I breathe a heavy sigh.

What can we do to stand up to the fight and show our support, always, continuously and forever?

It’s taken me this long to process and write the whole spectrum of my feels. Better late than never.

A Moment for Silence

I was in Taiwan when I woke up to a full newsfeed about the shooting and what had transpired at Pulse in Orlando. I remember the feeling of numbness the first few hours of reading blocks of text. I remember my mom speaking out loud in front of the TV “See! Now you know, you should never go to those type of clubs, ok ?” I ignored her and just sat staring out the window, unable to respond or even consider starting a conversation with “How do you feel about this?”

I’m not too wary of the different nuances and displays of grief, but for me, the best I could describe my reaction was an overwhelming sense of disbelief which soon translated into an utter silence of hopelessness. I suppose I feared for humanity that day.

And it wasn’t so much that I acted indifferent to what had happened. I reacted. But there was this sort of numbing disconnect that I could only describe as the sensation of what happens when you burn your tongue from drinking hot soup too quickly. You check in every minute or so by tonguing your palate to see if you’ve got your nerve endings back. Shit, nope. Damn this still feels so weird! It’s only when you forget about it for awhile, it’s only when you leave your tongue alone to recover in its own time, it’s only by letting go, accepting it as it is, do you finally regain your ability to feel again.

For the past 3 years since I’ve been living in Asia, I would get these sound bite reports of violence in numbers with cold-hearted facts. “X amount wounded at Y public place on Z time of day” another hate crime for the books. Over time, I trained myself to be desensitized to it all. I was living in China then. There were deaths that were happening every day probably, but no media here to hype that up. There was a part of me that thought if I couldn’t live it, breathe it, see it, then I couldn’t feel it. If I couldn’t feel it, then I didn’t have to believe it. This allowed me to carry on my agenda as if my opinion over world matters didn’t matter. Call me a shithead but I think this is just human behavior.

But Orlando was different. This was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States and the nation’s worst terror attack since 9/11. This was a deliberate attack of intent against those of the LGBTQ community within their safe haven, the physical space where they sought refuge, connection, and freedom to be nothing other than their authentic selves. This was an act of terrorism that will stain the history books and leave an imprint among communities all over the world. For those who face oppression or discrimination on a day to day basis, this was the event that will finally spur attention from the nation for an answer and a proper response.

The Orlando shooting was a hit on humanity and what it means to be different and also one of the same.

Intuitively, I knew this. And then the questions that began ringing in my subconscious shouted back “What does this mean to me? What does this mean for us all?”

A day after the attack, I attended a vigil held in our gay-friendly streets in Taipei to pray for Orlando in solidarity. I was one of the first to arrive. I spoke to the two gay men who organized the event and found out they were expats from Orlando. We all have freedom to grieve in our own different ways. But here are two grown men who admitted they spent much time crying in spontaneous spurts throughout the day. The x degree of separation is small within the gay Latino community. Unlike the rest of us, they had been to Pulse before. Unlike the rest of us who had received our news in generic soundbites, they had to see on Facebook their own friends tagging the victims who had passed with sincere RIPs and heartfelt goodbyes. This was getting more real. And I began to place my numb tongue against my palate to suppress the wave of emotion that was starting to rise from my chest.

I was soon given a sign to carry over my shoulder. On it, the words LOVE IS STRONGER THAN HATE. We all needed to see it to believe it.

I carried the sign the best way I could, with intention of being proudly seen. At the same time, I still had a lot of questioning doubt towards my identity and the numbing feeling I had inside of being unable to have any sort of emotional release.

Living in Mainland China the past 2 years didn’t allow me much space to celebrate my sexuality or provide sanctuary to be my authentic self. Consequently, I had harbored a bit of insecurity about how to identify and what it means to be proud and recognized as queer for a very long time. Yet here I am, for the first time ever, in a circle of around 30 people who came out on an 8 PM Thursday night to support one another. This was the first time I saw so many people within the gay community all at once. Most of them looked just like me. Just a bunch of nervous misfits who stared at everyone else in curiosity.

When it came time to talk openly within the circle about “how we are feeling,” four gay men spoke up and addressed their vulnerabilities with palpable emotion. I had goosebumps and a hot sensation rise up to my throat. And then came the “Anyone else?” and the very long awkward uncomfortable silence that followed…

I looked up and all the women were looking down their feet. We only hada handful of lesbians, a few allies, and 2 Korean tourists who joined in our huddle with their cameras out in curiosity with a “where’s the performance?” look on their faces. My heart raced. I felt so much pressure to dissolve the dead air. My throat constricted. My internal voice was saying“You’re an imposter carrying a sign!”

Where are my words when I need them? What do I stand for?

The guy in charge moved on and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The gay men of color and the Latino gay men who had lived in Orlando went down on their knees in a praying gesture in front of the candles we had placed on the floor.

As much as I love powerful acts of vulnerability, I couldn’t bear to watch and take part. How can I relate with all those who are crying in front of me right now? I was scared of how I would react if I kept on staring or rather afraid of what it would mean if I couldn’t react at all. And as I walked away from the dissolving circle, I began to form a story in my head that my unprocessed reaction is a reflection of my inability to (want to) understand.

It’s easier to walk away from your feelings. Let it fester for awhile…

A Moment to Stand Up

Since that day, I’ve been thinking about what it means to empathize. What it means to be part of the LGBTQ community. What it means to be an ally. What it means to grieve. What it means to take action and give power to my own voice if I could do it all over again.

One week later, and I’m in San Francisco. A lot within me has changed since then. In juxtaposition to my quiet and confused negligence to response, I‘ve spent two glorious weeks striving to be aware of my privilege and educating myself on the culture of modern day sexual orientation. I discover soon that I am blessed to be in a very embracing city where the norm is to be different and to say “partner” in lieu of “boyfriend/girlfriend” no matter how you identify. #solidarity. I find myself growing increasingly confident talking about my sexuality, whether it is in front of my Uber driver or speaking about shame in front of 25 strangers in my Intro to OM class. A lot of chats with trans folk, gays, lesbians, and allies. Visits to the Castro, PRIDE in SF, special MILK screening and open panel discussion with wholehearted passionate activists, walking LGBT Art & Activist tour, also Queer on 4th dancing and just being myself. I plan on visiting the GLBT Museum and diving into the archives. And going on a Wild SF Tour at the Castro to understand more about the social movements and how it shaped SF; how feminists, Latinos, artists and activists have fought, and continue to fight, to preserve its history.

Environment really does make the difference and by surrounding myself with a nonjudgemental crew, I feel a bit more secure in who I am (becoming) and just relieved to be speaking the same language.

Big Sigh of Release…

The truth is I love all people. Regardless of race, sex, age, I can find myself eager to connect with anyone, genderfluid or not. I like all the colors in the rainbow, all of the M&M’s and Skittles, and everything in between. It’s only been a recent conscientious development I have chosen for myself in naturally gravitating towards those of the same sex. Yet, like Alyssa Jones from Chasing Amy, self-claimed lesbian who falls for a guy (Ben Affleck nonetheless..) I could feel just as justified in being with a man so long as I got there on my own terms.

Lesbians may question why I even both speaking with men at a bar. Straight men may feel threatened when my attention drifts and I flirt with women. Meanwhile, I just find myself intrigued to get to know people of all genders (he, she, they) and the way everyone views the world. But I can at least attest to this — I am growing increasingly mindful to the going-on’s of my heart and headspace when it comes to raw palpable attraction; and at this time of my life I find it beating harder to uncover the subtle mystery of the introverted bookworm (Belle) and get into the chaotic mess of the badass bitch Meg. It’s an honest feeling that stems from a natural place from within, so why go against it?

As far as navigating across the gender binary, you could find me some days wearing makeup skipping in a sundress and other days rocking out my tomboy charm in basketball shorts and a snapback. I speak in the language of giggles and burps all within the same sentence of “How you doin”?

For people who like to categorize, perhaps I could fall into the spectrum of non-normative heteroflexible, straight but not narrow, bisexual, lesbian in denial, questioning/queer, or pansexual. Or what the eff do I know. Like most people who just want to be allowed to be the most authentic version of themselves, does it really make a difference? Sexual orientation is a spectrum, and is not binary. So really, does it matter?

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” — DR SUESS

To embrace queer and own it wholeheartedly, we need to be kind to ourselves.

It’s not about what you want, but protecting your right to have.

So now that I am a bit more clear and confident about my place in terms of my sexuality, I’d like to imagine what my response would be at the night of the vigil held in Taiwan for Orlando. What I would have said standing in this awkwardly silent support circle and raising my voice with purpose and intent.

I would have painted the story of growing up lost and confused…

What it was like to live in small white suburban New Jersey and not feeling it at all when it comes to hormones and developing boy crushes at the same time as my other peers, not having any support or a clue for opening up to my preferences. Being pressured to believe I needed to have sex with boys at a certain time, when to be honest, it wasn’t all that fun.

I wish I could have described the confusion and shame I had waking up to dreams about girls, and the soul-crushing denial I faced as I refused to act on my feelings out of fear. Understanding that the consequences of being“slightly gay…wait am I gay?…oh shit, I’m gay” meant harder work than being “normal” and having to deal with shakesof disapproval amongst family back home. I was unable to live my authentic and free self for so long, until one day I said enough was enough. At the age of 26, I came out online via Medium, as gay for my online identity. Right now, at 27, here I (would be) coming out again in person as my offline self in front of an audience. And I couldn’t be more proud.

I would have articulated my current frustration…

For me, Orlando was more than just a mass shooting that is rooted from homophobia. The anger that resonates within me now is the rippling effect of what it means for those across the nation that remain in the closet. I fear for those who have an inkling of doubt about their sexuality and may see this act of violence as more reason to be swept in denial, more reason to reject themselves as they truly are. I fear that one act of hate can oftentimes speak louder than words of love. Like bang bang, you’re dead. For those who don’t have a support group and are facing their identity on their own in a more radically opinionated circle (Conservative Christian Right Wing), how do they face and stand up for their truth?

And lastly, I would have ended on my hopes…

What gives me hope for humanity is to see more acts of love, more freedom of expression, more strength by numbers. Like Harvey Milk would say “Your must Come Out.” What gives me hope is PRIDE where we have more folks coming together to wave their mystical unicorn swords and bubble blasters in the air, more young allies in booty shorts caught in glitter running around with their rainbow flags, more elderly in their old jean jackets with sharpied “Born this Way” on their backs, more trans folks and drags who come out and truly look as they feel — thriving in existence.

What gives me hope is to see how our unique community can come together to combine our strengths and talents to give voice and justice for those who deserve every right for equality and happiness. Shall we all choose to openly support one another, we can rise in numbers and see how the tide of Gay Power can provide nourishment for us all who celebrate identity. Imagine blissful rain pouring down on arid dry neglected lands. Imagine a huge rainbow as it overtakes the sky. Love can overcome Hate.

Less talks with the words “better than” and more of “as you are” please.

Finally, I’d conclude with…

“I love myself as I am. And I love you as you are. And this is the most powerful silent revolution ever”

Mic drop and all.

A Moment to Be Seen

I’ve realized all of a sudden from just being around community and talking about social justice issues that your voice and your story is incredibly powerful. Nothing is as strong as being authentic and having the right to celebrate it. By challenging yourself to embrace your own authentic freedom of expression, you are granting others strength and acceptance to do the same.

Beyond just bloody murder and talks of homophobia and xenophobia, beyond the talks of stricter gun policy, is a moment for the broader LGBT movement and for society to really consider how to unite as one and accept people fully and unconditionally in their present qualities and preferences.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer says, “We will not be defined by the act of a cowardly hater. We will be defined by how we respond, how we treat each other, and this community has already stepped up to do that.”

It is more important than ever for to stay informed of the going-ons in the LGBT civil rights movement, past-present-future. It is imperative to acknowledge that suffering and violence had been happening for decades now and acts of violence continue to plague marginalized communities every passing day that goes by without proper legislation. It begins with the right attitude and it ends with acceptance. All of this takes tremendous power of compassion and empathy.

Most people who do not recognize their privilege cannot begin to question or comprehend the daily struggle of how dehumanizing it means to be discriminated against. Most of us do not have to walk the streets alone shadowed by fear of being harassed or attacked against. Most of us do not have to live with the looks and double glances, the backlashes that are rooted from cultural conditioning. All of this subtle to direct nuances of misunderstanding only inhibit pain for those who struggle to be true to who they are. I’m starting the conversation about the marginalized transgender community that often gets neglected and removed from the conversation when it comes to the acronym LGBT.

During PRIDE in SF, I was hit on by more heterosexual men than women. And among those wolves prowling at the gay bar , I would get pick up lines that start “Where are you (really) from?” “Are you Korean. I’m only asking because I love Asians” and I marvel at the power of looks and first impressions that plague our society still in the 21st century. This is just one taste, one fraction of understanding, of what it must feel like to face prejudice and judgement every day from just walking in and out of the bathroom.

While I will recognize that I do not understand nor can I 100% empathize with the life of trans folk living in a heteronormative society, I fully acknowledge the resilience of their spirit and pray that one day there will be more representation, more respect, more safety and protection. This goes beyond talks of future gun control. This is beyond just settling for legalizing gay marriage, (which by the way is just a celebratory win for those who don’t have to question the gender binary). I’m talking about a cultural paradigm shift in how we see the world. I’m talking about acceptance. I’m talking about equality.

How long will it take for everyone to be treated with respect and recognition by law enforcement, social service agencies and the legal system? How much more blood needs to be shed to make a point?

I started this reflection piece to understand what it means to empathize. Empathy is a communication superpower. Increased empathy deepens our connection and allows us all to be seen and heard. Rooted within this connection for people rests this warm fuzzy feeling in my heart.

When we see things that discomfort us, don’t look away.

I’m trying to rise above social conditioning and plunge into understanding. There is tremendous growth in that yellow area of discomfort. Green is “Standing away from the precipice”. Red is “Oh shit I’m falling over a cliff”. Yellow…that’s where I want to be. “Right near the edge, looking at the views and expanding my threshold of discomfort to a new reality of awe”

I practiced eye gazing the other day with 3 strangers. It was amazing and I encourage others to do it to practice vulnerability and connection. If we all practice eye gazing with strangers more often and bypass the initial vulnerable shock of being seen, we can finally see each other as we are. The cloak of all the layers of “i am this way because of my xyz past” is shed, the tattoos, physical scars are removed from the stereotype, and for a beautiful instant that culminates at the twinkling of the eyes, you finally see it; a little bit of you staring right back.

Please be present with others emotions and recognize that we are all human and can all be united for our similarities as well as our differences. Violence is happening still regardless of whether we are in tune to it. Regardless of whether we see it or notice it, it’s still MATTERS to do something about it. Among our united power of fighting for humanity, our moral obligation rests in considering the following questions:

  • How can we empathize with those regardless of how we identify?
  • How can we all join in compassion, unity, respect, and one love for each other and ourselves?
  • How can we use our privilege, our voice, skills, insight, left brain/right brain, and stand up against hate?
  • How can we start to value the uniqueness of one’s character instead of being intimidated by our inability to understand what lies underneath the surface?
  • How do we go beyond the current status quo of silent passive support (beyond hashtags) and raise our voices?
  • How can we provide more equal opportunities to those who desperately seek it?

We live in a beautiful world where there are more people who are constantly defining themselves and their preferences. There is tremendous power to that. It’s time we go beyond looking away, freezing up, and cowering in silence and shame. It’s time to stand for something. It’s time to rise and be the community you want to see.

I recruit you to embrace equality, empathy, and compassion as daily practices while you move forward in life.

The Empathy Revolution Must Start Now.

Thank you for listening,

Tiff Lin