• Writer Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen pens a letter to her younger self about feminism and the other isms her future self embraces. (Getty Images)
Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen wasn’t always a vegan or a feminist or proud of her Vietnamese heritage. In this letter to her younger self, she braces her teenage self for the transformations to come.
By
Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

7 Mar 2017 - 12:55 PM  UPDATED 7 Mar 2017 - 1:00 PM

I am writing to you from 2017, a time you probably can’t even fathom, since you’re still in high school and can’t see beyond the looming dread of the HSC (which, by the way, you will do fine in, and you will get into the course you want – so don’t stress too much, but probably don’t keep talking to that boy from Perth on MSN all throughout Year 12, because he’s a loser and you can and will do better).

You may be surprised to learn that 28-year-old you is a lot of things you didn’t think you’d turn out to be. For one, that pescetarian thing you started when you were 14? That turned into you being vegetarian, and then…well, remember how you always said vegans were “too extreme” and you’d never be that person? Surprise! You are that person.

Also, you are a feminist! This is probably a big shock to you, but it shouldn’t be, because the bones of it are already there in you. You care about inequality and want to make the world a better place, and you are fed up by the racism that surrounds you. But you also make jokes about women and kitchens, and you talk about “equality, not women overtaking men”, and you say “I’m not a feminist, but…” One day, you will realise that all injustices are interconnected, and you will look back on this in horror.

A letter to all the women who refused to give up
To all the women who keep charging forward, who never give up despite all that is thrown at them. You are the women who have shaped me.

When you go to university, listen when people try to explain why feminism is crucial. They don’t have to do that, but they do, and you should appreciate it instead of making fun of them behind their backs. You’ll be in their shoes one day, calling people out on their shit, and you will understand their frustration. You can be better right now. You must be.

Women are great. I think you know that in principle, but you don’t always act like it. You know how you keep describing yourself as “one of the boys” or “not like other girls”? That’s pretty crap, because it means you think you’re better than other girls, or that there’s something wrong with being a girl – but being a woman is something to be proud of. I know it’s tempting to compete with and compare yourself to girls instead of being friends with them, but there will come a time when you’ll gravitate much more naturally towards befriending women, and you will be so much happier for it.

Right now, you think boys don’t like you, but you really shouldn’t worry about them or what they think. You won’t kiss anyone until you’re 18, and it will take longer still for you to have sex – which, by the way, will be one of the biggest challenges you’ll face when you realise that for you it’s painful, but you will overcome it, and you will be so proud. Your first boyfriend will be a jerk. Don’t let him belittle you. Your second relationship will last five years and he will remain your closest friend after you break up. Be kind to him and to yourself.

Be better to yourself. Your weight will fluctuate over the years, and your anxiety and depression will never go away, and you will struggle for a while with alcohol.

I know you can’t imagine ever wanting to have sex with anyone you don’t love, but after that breakup, you will experiment, and you will come to resent the fact that you ever tried to police any other woman’s sex life. That time will be instrumental in helping you figure out who and what you are.

Speaking of which, remember that poster of Sarah Michelle Gellar you had on your wall when you were 11, even though you don’t watch Buffy, and you told yourself it was just because you wished you looked like her? Or when, in Year 8, you got flustered whenever you saw that Year 11 girl walking down the corridors, and you thought about her a lot but you didn’t know what it meant? Spoiler: those were totally crushes, and you are queer as hell. You’re not going to admit it to yourself for a long time, but start getting comfortable with it, girl, because it ain’t going anywhere. Your parents will be much more accepting than you think. Everything will be okay.

It’s going to take a while for you to figure out what you’re “doing with yourself”. You’re going to work a bunch of jobs you don’t really like and feel like giving up entirely, but then a series of strange events – including getting fired from what you think is your dream job – is going to land you on a national newspaper column, and by 27, you’re going to be writing as a career, even though a lot of your extended family isn’t going to understand what that means. Your journey will be bumpy, but you’ll get there, and you’ll pinch yourself every day.

Be better to yourself. Your weight will fluctuate over the years, and your anxiety and depression will never go away, and you will struggle for a while with alcohol – which is unimaginable right now, as you don’t drink at all – but remember to be your own best friend. Don’t hurt yourself so much. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid.

Also, you are a feminist! This is probably a big shock to you, but it shouldn’t be, because the bones of it are already there in you.

Be better to your parents. At 23, you’ll move to Melbourne, just like you’ve wanted since you were 10, and you will miss them. Right now, you think they’re stuck in their old Vietnamese ways, that their rules are crushing, but they’re as scared as you are. You’ll understand one day.

You will understand because there will come a day when you will be so proud of being Vietnamese. Instead of erasing it like you do now, when you finally “make it” as a writer, you are going to start using your full name, including the Vietnamese name you tried so hard to conceal to appease your white peers. You are going to meet so many wonderful people of colour, and build the best support networks through sharing your lived experiences. You don’t realise it now, but that was always exactly what you needed.

Giselle, right now, you think your heritage doesn’t mean much – you’ll come to realise it means everything.

Lots of love,

Giselle

Celebrate all the wonderful women in your life on International Women's Day with a movie from our 'Fearless Females' collection, like Venus And Serena, available to watch now on SBS On Demand.

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