I would like to share my story of learning about the LGBTQIA+ community - I can’t believe how naive and uninformed I was in my youth! While growing up in Korea, I had scant awareness of the LGBTQIA+ community, although while working in my small wholesale clothing line, I periodically encountered men in the business who struck me as a bit feminine, and I didn’t give it much more thought beyond that. Even upon moving to New York City 30 years ago, while learning English, I didn't even know the word "gay." That gradually changed when I started working at an American-owned hair salon in the West Village as a manicurist. There, I met many gay people, both clients and co-workers, although I couldn't help but wonder why they identified as gay and why they didn't marry people of opposite genders. Looking back, it makes me laugh at how sadly naive I was at the time. No one explained to me the reasons for or process behind someone being gay or non-binary. I mistakenly thought something was wrong with them - Lol! One day, my coworker took me to the Pride Parade, and it was a jaw-dropping moment for me because I had never witnessed such an event before.
It was through my time working at the West Village salon that I received proper education on the LGBTQIA+ world, accompanied by lots of laughter due to my honest lack of knowledge. They opened their hearts and patiently explained every single detail about their world to me. One of them even took me on tours to gay clubs, which proved to be quite entertaining and informative.
Then I had two gay roommates, and one of them was kicked out by his parents when he was in high school. I couldn't understand why. Shouldn't parents accept their children for who they are, no matter what? Where is the unconditional love for their children? They let their children navigate the world without parental guidance, and this struck me as cold and unfair.
A great thing about being a manicurist is that I get to have one-on-one conversations with clients. We talk about everything, from dating to marriage and even divorce. I had a client who was transgender, and I developed a close friendship with her. She opened up to me about her experience, and it made me understand that people don't become gay; they are born that way. She shared that she had always felt like a woman on the inside.
When I entered the world of photo shoots, I witnessed numerous creative and talented people who were an important part of the fashion community – designers, photographers, stylists, models, makeup artists and hair stylists. I have had the privilege of meeting many people from different gender identities, and I believe they should not be labeled or segregated solely based on their chosen gender. At the end of the day, we are all human beings. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn and immerse myself in the LGBTQIA+ community, and it has been one of the most valuable life lessons I have had during my time in the US.
Working closely with people within the LGBTQIA+ community has been truly rewarding!