A holistic career coach on managing coronavirus-induced stress and anxiety

Late last night, a friend called.

“So,” he began with an exhale. “My last day at work is tomorrow. We’ve all been laid off indefinitely.” With the recent news, the small marketing agency where he worked as a graphic designer was anticipating a serious hit in business — so they decided to get ahead of it.

He’s not alone. Experts are estimating 3.5 million jobs in the US alone could be lost in a COVID-19 recession, with severance payouts unlikely. For those working for low wages in retail or hospitality, the future is even more murky. And then there are those of us confined inside — freelancers who once relied on public spaces, office-goers now working remotely — forced to navigate a lessening work load and staying sane in close quarters.

SEE ALSO: It’s okay to not be okay.

Holistic career and mind-set coach Amina AlTai claims it’s only natural to feel as though various areas of your life are in disarray as a response to heightened anxiety. AlTai left corporate America after developing two autoimmune diseases to study the mind, body and career connection, eventually devising a curriculum that supports career and physical health. Not only does AlTai believe COVID-19 will go down as “one of the most challenging, fear-inducing moments in human history,” but she acknowledges it’s also particularly trying for those already experiencing professional conflict, or general financial stress.

Whether you’re in a state of panic, are struggling to self-motivate or maintain your overall well-being, surviving this period of uncertainty with your mental health in tact will mean expecting the unexpected. Thankfully, AlTai claims there are numerous resources available, as well as steps you can take to effectively manage whatever you’re experiencing mentally, emotionally and professionally amid the hysteria. Read on for various COVID-19-catalyzed contexts you and how to best handle them knowing we will all pull through – together.

What to do if you’re spiraling

First and foremost, remember to breathe. Breath work is incredible powerful in supporting the nervous system when we’re feeling stressed. The sympathetic nervous system prepares our body to react to stress (“fight or flight”) and the parasympathetic helps us recover from stress (“rest and digest”). Deep breaths help to restore your nervous system from fight/flight to rest/digest.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by panic, place your feet flat on the floor and connect to your physical body — check in and see where these feelings reside for you.

Once you’re checked, remind yourself that this moment is temporary. Everything we’re experiencing is transient. Remind yourself that you are safe and that this moment will soon pass.

Next, substitute thoughts of fear. In each challenging moment where you are connecting to a fear thought, choose a new thought to better support you. What empowering and supportive thought can you choose to lean into instead of this fear thought? Learn to continually redirect your mind, and you can restore your body to a more even keel.

What to do to manage general anxiety

When we’re anxious or stressed our bodies produce a cascade of hormones from adrenaline to cortisol to other stress hormones designed to help take flight from stressful stimuli. When we are in that state of stress for too long, it can negatively impact our hormones and entire systems. Meditation supports our bodies coming back to that rest and digest space.

Journaling can be a powerful practice to get out of your head, become really conscious of your thoughts and how they’re impacting our current reality by putting them on a page.

Moving our bodies can also really support us in processing difficult emotions. What we are experiencing in our minds can manifest as physical symptoms in the body so it’s paramount that we’re processing those emotions — and movement is a similarly incredible way to process as well as come out of your heads and into your body. Turn to YouTube for a yoga or workout video, or go for a walk.

What to do if you think you might lose your job

The current climate is tenuous and many people are finding themselves out of work or with reduced hours that impacts their budgets and lives, dramatically. Generally, having a contingency budget is important for these moments, with a good rule of thumb to have six months of savings set aside in case there is a crisis like the one we’re faced with today. If you feel like unemployment may be coming your way, take steps now to powerfully prepare. Update your resume and your LinkedIn, start having conversations with people you trust about new opportunities and reach out to recruiters who can be powerful advocates for you.

What to do to stay productive

When it comes to optimizing productivity while working from home, first and foremost, it’s important to set an intention for the day to steer your efforts. Working from home can be distracting. We are often surrounded by people and things we love, which can cause us to deviate from the work at hand.

Ground into the day with an intention such as, “I’m powerfully present for the work I do.” If you stray from that intention, gently invite yourself to come back without judgement.

Another really important tool for working from home is having a dedicated workspace. Oftentimes, if we’re not set up for it, we’re working from the kitchen table or sofa — it doesn’t set the most professional backdrop if you’re on video calls, either. Set up a room or corner in your home that is dedicated to work and is streamlined to only have the tools you need to show up fully for your job. Ensure you have privacy if you can, and need it.

Define integrity for yourself. What does integrity look like for you with your work? What do you need to do or to accomplish to feel like you’re doing great work? Defining that at the upfront allows us to map towards and ensure we’re doing what we say we’re going to when we’re in the comfort of our own home. You can share those goals with your manager or they can simply be for you so that you know you’re tracking.

What to do to if your relationship is faltering

Stress and anxiety are contagious and all areas of our lives are connected. If we are anxious about losing our jobs, it’s going to put additional stress and pressure on our wallets and relationships, unless we are incredibly mindful. If you’re in partnership, work with your partner to design a contingency plan and budget that you both feel aligned on. Getting clear on the plan and they taking aligned action is the best way to honor each other and move forward in a healthy way, or try the general anxiety-relievers above as a partnership to facilitate closeness.

What to do to maintain your mental health

Creating a routine and a schedule is paramount now. If you used to start your day with meditation and a workout, try and maintain that routine but with modifications for working out at home. It’s important to lean into a new normal and to create some routine around it to balance our wellbeing. Lean into meditation to support anxiety and stress. This simple act can help you reset your stress hormones and feel more grounded in these tenuous times.

Set up regular FaceTime or Zoom calls with your friends and family so you see them and engage with them beyond a voice call. That interfacing is so important right now when we can’t reach out and touch people. Community and relationships during this social distancing period is so important in supporting safety and connection.

For more ways to work through fear and anxiety, you can refer to Amina Altai’s worksheet here.

I’ll never forget what I learned from my first fashion week

Even though I’m much more of a Charlotte, I was excited to have my Carrie Bradshaw moment.

City life hasn’t exactly been part of my everyday; I grew up in Upstate New York and graduated from college in Vermont. Though, through many facets, New York City has always served as a source of inspiration for my future both career wise and personally. The fashion, music, culture, and people; I’m into it all. Seriously, what’s better than New York?

Sex And The City Fashion GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

When given the opportunity to cover New York Fashion Week: Men’s for Very Good Light, I jumped at the chance. I immediately called my friend Shannan and asked if I could borrow her Balenciaga bag and crash at her place in Williamsburg for a few nights (obviously I have my priorities in order). The day before it was time to begin coverage I did what any local New Yorker would do, I grabbed an iced latte with oat milk and headed to Heyday for a customized facial. Hydrated and glowing, I was ready to take on my first Fashion Week experience.

SEE ALSO: At Tom Ford, grooming is a rite of passage

My first stop of the day was New York Men’s Day. There, twelve different designers showed their latest fall presentations. I put on a brave face and tried to introduce myself to as many people as possible. I graduated with a degree in public relations and couldn’t stop thinking of my old professors drilling the importance of networking and making a good first impression. It’s like… we get it. While everything ran smoothly, I found myself feeling stuck in my head with the start of the day. It was all right in front of me. Everything I pictured Fashion Week, this industry, and the people involved in it to be. Most people were friendly, though there were certainly some exceptions.

We’re all just Andy’s trying to make it, right?


Who knew one word could possess so much tone from a 19-year old fashion intern?

I was overwhelmed initially, but as the day went on I reminded myself of why I wanted to do this in the first place. The experience was something I wanted for myself, to say that I did, and did well. No, not everyone was like Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada.” People smiled at me, made conversation, and wanted to know who I was and what I was about. We’re all just Andy’s trying to make it, right?

No matter where you’re from, what you identify as, fashion and beauty are ways for us to express ourselves and stand out.

The next stop was ASOS. Walking in, ‘The Way Life Goes (Remix)’ was blasting so I instantly felt right at home. The British e-tailer has been my one-stop-shop for modern, affordable fashion for some time now. You need the newest gear? They got you. Obviously I was psyched to be there and see what was new from the brand. Embracing diversity and inclusivity, ASOS’ AW 18 presentation represented exactly what I admire about our generations appreciation for fashion and beauty – it’s for everyone. Featuring models of different races, backgrounds, and sizes, I was able to meet others who, like me, were just really excited to be there.

“This is my first modeling presentation,” said Trey Campbell, ASOS Plus Men’s Insider. “I’m from North Carolina originally, I just want to give hugs and show everyone love here. Let’s be happy.”

No matter where you’re from, what you identify as, fashion and beauty are ways for us to express ourselves and stand out. My Off-White belt and vintage Doc Martens acted as my armor that day. No, I didn’t need them, but they helped me feel like me, which is a feeling I’m trying everyday to accept and love more.

Finishing up the night, I attended the Willy Chavarria and Ovadia and Sons runways where I met my favorite model, the iconic baby, and literally physically bumped into 21 Savage (I really wish I could have asked him if he moisturizes his face tats). All in all, the day was something I’ll remember forever.

Happy Sex And The City GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

My doubts if I was “New York enough” or “fashion enough” went out the door when I just focused on being myself and having fun. Cheesy? A little. Still, I’m proud for stepping out of my comfort zone and going after something I’ve dreamt of doing.

I hope Carrie would be proud.

These Sikh Americans are paving a way for diversity in sports

Back in 2014, Darsh Singh stepped onto the NCAA court as the first-ever Sikh American basketball player the league had ever seen.

It wasn’t easy. Clad in a turban, he was targeted, experiencing his fair share of racism. At games, people would tell him to “go back to his country,” cut his hair, or take off his turban. But he persisted, petitioning to the NCAA to allow him to wear his turban, a vital part of him and his religion. The league determined it was okay, and he started playing for Trinity University with a matching turban tied around his head.

SEE ALSO: What turbans mean for Sikh American men

Which is when the real battle began. In the crowd there was jeering. On social media, racist comments that mistook him for Muslim. Someone made a meme with the caption: Nobody at school wants to guard Muhammad, he’s too explosive.

But through negativity came a social media movement that bubbled up. People started tweeting out #BeLikeDarsh, celebrating him and diversity. His friends came out to write against hate.

“I know this guy and his name’s not ‘Muhammad,’ wrote Darsh’s friend, Greg Worthington. “He’s not Arab, he’s Punjabi. He’s not even Muslim, he’s a Sikh. His name is Darsh Singh and he’s a US citizen, born and bred. That jersey he’s wearing in this pic, it currently sits in a Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC because he made US history as the NCAA’s first turbaned Sikh-American basketball player for Trinity University in my hometown of San Antonio.”

While there has been positivity that came from this ordeal, it’s troubling to think that a lack of diversity in sports would lead to such ignorance. Which comes to the bigger issue at hand: There needs to be more diversity in sports.

But it doesn’t necessarily start and end with athletes, rather, translates to sports fans, coaches, agents, and more, who determine who should and shouldn’t be on their teams. Countless articles have pointed out how there’s a lack of people of color in decision-making positions. An article in the Bleacher Report summed up how all major league sports were egregiously lacking diversity with their coaches. We know by now that having a diverse array of men and women is essential to bringing fair opportunities to all types of people.

Which is perhaps why we, as American sports fans, don’t see many players who don’t fit that archetype of a “traditional” athlete in major league sports. There are few exceptions, like the Brooklyn Nets’ Jeremy Lin, one of the NBA’s only Asian Americans on its roster. Or the LA Chargers’ Younghoe Koo, one of the NFL’s only Asian American players. These men, like Darsh, face many setbacks with racism, skepticism and blatant hatred, following their every move.

We wanted to celebrate more diversity in sports and asked three Sikh Americans athletes to talk about their experiences. We hope that the more we normalize diverse guys, the less hateful the sports world will be.

For more information on Sikh Americans, check out WeAreSikhs.org for a wealth of resources.  

Samrath Singh, 17, varsity baseball player, South Jersey Elite

(Photo courtesy Samrath Singh)

Growing up as a Sikh is a blessing in and of itself. I have always enjoyed being outside and playing sports. It was difficult at times to play both baseball and wear a turban. I have been discriminated against because of my appearance, especially because I choose to only wear my turban while playing and not a baseball cap. I do this because I am proud of my religion and my faith and should I wear a cap, I would be uncomfortable and feel I would be hiding what defines me as a person, which is my turban. Being one of the only athletes who was Sikh was hard at first but once I grew close to my teammates, I never felt that I was different. Most of the people I have played baseball have known me from a very early age and by now we have a mutual respect for each other.  

Since I play baseball, which is not a contact sport, my turban is never really an issue. I am always conscious of my turban but I don’t think that I have to take extra care of my turban. When I play recreational basketball, I make sure to be aware of others to make sure that my turban doesn’t get hit, but sometimes it is inevitable. If it was an accident, then I don’t have a problem.  

I have been discriminated against because of my appearance, especially because I choose to only wear my turban while playing and not a baseball cap.

I notice people staring all the time. I also understand when they stare, they are not trying to be rude but actually are curious. For example, when I was playing the Perfect Game tournament in Georgia this summer, I sensed many of my opponents and viewers staring at me. I have been asked questions before, and I have learned to respond with patience. I used to get angry when people asked me questions because I thought Sikhism was widely known. Now, I understand that not very many people actually have been educated about Sikhism and it is my responsibility to change that.

I have felt moments where it was more difficult being a Sikh American in sports. Because of my turban and my appearance I have been asked if I was in the right sport. I have also been asked if I should be playing cricket instead. In fact, there was once a time where an umpire insisted that I definitely played cricket even when I told him multiple times that I did not. This happened during the game! I’ve also been called names such as a “terrorist” and other slurs but I try not to let those degrading comments affect me. Also, because I am a Sikh in sports, I feel that I have to prove I belong. I feel confident in my abilities and in how much I have grown as a player, and hopefully others respect me for that.

I think that there aren’t more Sikh American professional athletes because there is a large focus on academics within the Sikh community. Sikh parents might be wary of letting their children pursue sports because they believe that a high level of education is necessary. Taking on a lot of athletic responsibility risks lower grades and a shifted focus from studies. My parents, however, encourage the importance of a balance between both sports and education.

I have been on the varsity team since I was a sophomore and now I am starting my senior year. Throughout my life, I have played on various travel teams but this past summer I played on a showcase team called the South Jersey Elite. We traveled to Georgia for the 17u Perfect Game tournament and for other tournaments such as Diamond Nation tournaments in Flemington, New Jersey. I am continuing to play with them this fall. After this past summer season, I committed to play D1 college baseball at Boston College which is in the ACC.

I hope to inspire other young Sikhs to pursue their passion in sports.  I want to show that it’s possible to excel in many areas through hard work and perseverance.

Monty Khela, 19, basketball, Case Western Reserve University

(Photo courtesy Monty Khela)

Growing up, I noticed that the sports field was dominated by other races. I felt it really wasn’t for Asians, for reasons as our physique and just wasn’t something Asians pursued since they wouldn’t be successful. Many of our Sikh American students lack confidence as well as support from their families/community [at an early age].  Lack of confidence begins early on kids begin to feel that they are not talented and do not fit in the sports which comes from peers and the community. Some parents do not support their kids as they know they will face many challenges along the way. The dream never evolves.

Ever since I was in 5th grade, I wanted to play basketball. I asked my parents if I could join the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). They were not aware of AAU and found out more about it.  I tried out and made the team.  From that point, my basketball career began. And being the only Sikh American on my teams, I faced many challenges and obstacles. Being a minority in sports, one has to work extra hard to be given an equal opportunity. With my father’s support, I continued to play and gained the confidence I have today to pursue my dreams. I was taught to balance my education and passion. Without keeping stellar grades, I was not allowed to play. This taught me responsibility and time management skills. I managed to keep my grades up and was able to play. I also faced problems along the way and learned some very important lessons in life.  My father taught me to stand up for yourself and what you believe. Without his support, I would have quit. Being Sikh, I learned to do no wrong to others and if anyone does wrong to you, stand up for yourself. 

 I would like to be a role model for young Sikh Americans that have a desire and dream to play sports at any stage, whether it be in middle school, high school or at the college level. I am proud to be a Sikh American and would like for Sikhs being given equal opportunity.

I hope that athletes are given equal opportunity and are able to fulfill their dreams and passions.  Any athlete should be confident and follow their dreams.

Harkaran Sodhi, 17, Goodyear, AZ, Football and Track & Field, Millennium High School

(Photo courtesy Hakaran Sodhi)

I have always been intrigued with bodybuilding and sports after watching my elder brother run track and workout. I slowly started to learn from my brother and joined a 7on7 traveling club football team called FuturePro. I had no experience with tackle football whatsoever and did not know the rules, but I worked every day, day and night hoping to achieve my dream to play in the NFL.

While playing in club and high school teams, I have always been asked about my turban, my hair, my beard, my Kara (steal bracelet), and my whole personality, to which I’d always respond: “I love it!” I have never been ashamed of my personality, rather I embrace it and teach others. Most of the time people find my religion and personality intriguing and want to learn more. Since I look different from everyone else, I clearly stand out. It’s one way I feel people can find me easily and ask me for any help they may need. I always help them out.

(Photo courtesy Hakaran Sodhi)

For my sports, I tie my hair in the back in a braid with small a patka on that so that I can wear the football helmet. It is not hard for me and I can easily adjust to it, while keeping my Sikhi personality and my hair protected.

I never felt it be difficult to be a Sikh American and play in sports, but rather I always felt proud.

People do stare sometimes and ask questions about my hair and kara but it’s the article of my faith and I am proud of it. I feel it’s a sign of dominance, aggressiveness, leadership and maturity. I always tell them how positive I feel about that and tell them the ways of growing it.

I never felt it be difficult to be a Sikh American and play in sports, but rather I always felt proud. I feel dominant with my beard and muscular strength. The mascot of my team is a tiger and when I get ready with my turban and the football uniform I really feel like tiger, and have extra strength to play hard.

Actually, I think it’s the personal interest to become athletes, the passion and dedication from inside. But yes, I should like to convey my Sikh American friends that you should not be afraid of comments of people about your beards and long hair, but rather feel proud of your personality and come forward. We can tell people about our faith and win many hearts.

My goal is to create a name for myself so big that everyone will know about me and my personality. That way others who look different from the crowd will not be ashamed or embarrassed to come out and play.

You’re either an LA person or you’re not.

Sipping a cup of watermelon juice, things became so clear.

News Flash: I officially moved out of NYC.

After eight years of subjugating myself to: stare at men in Vineyard Vines with their hairy flip flopped-toes splishing and splashing in garbage juice; bear older shirtless gentlemen jiggling their sweat at me on humid summer afternoon subways; and patiently observe cockroaches dancing to Moana on my kitchen floor, I’ve decided that maybe –just maybe– it was finally time flee the Big Apple.

At the core of it, NYC has been a dream. It’s where my career started and where I met some of the best people in this industry. But I’d been overwhelmed for a long time and I found myself becoming that jaded New Yorker. Case in point: when a homeless man stripped himself naked on a subway platform one day and peed onto the tracks, I shrugged, went back to browsing Instagram while pondering over what I should order on Seamless, like it was just another day (because it was). Apparently, this is not normal behavior, according to my friends in LA. At least men in California wear underwear while pissing in public, they tell me.

And so, like every fed up New Yorker, I posed this existential question to myself: Was it time to finally move to LA? To answer this, I took a one-way flight to Los Angeles to see if I’d find inner peace. “You need a self-care day, it’ll help,” one of my friends told me. Would nothingness find me closer to finding fulfillment? This is what happened when I went off the grid and decided to take a “Me Day” for an entire day.

10:15 a.m.

Apparently, no one in Los Angeles walks. Even if your local Trade Joe’s is around the corner, you absolutely always take an Uber. Not wanting to depend on Tom the average Los Angeles actor who moonlights as an Uber driver, I rented a damn car. And if I wanted to completely immerse myself in California life, much like Tom does in his Method Acting classes, I decided to get something LA AF: An electric car.

10:45 a.m.

In my case, it was a burnt orange vehicle called the Chevrolet Bolt. It’s absolutely LA in all of the ways possible: It refuses to pollute (it’s all electric), boasts itself as being green (like my LA friends who insist on afternoon green kale juice lattes), and likes to be completely silent, as if in a constant state of meditation. Apparently, this car was named 2017’s Car of the Year by Motor Trend. Could I live and breathe like this car does in its quiet state of constant Nirvana?

11:00 a.m.

Driving my Bolt down the 10 freeway, my friends Liz and Alex and I decided on the most chillax location ever: Venice Beach, home of talking parrot tarot card readers, hilarious healing crystal dealers, and international Instagram celebrities who flock to the beach to take a photo with its famously rainbow-painted lifeguard deck. The two get turnt to Cheat Codes’ “No Promises,” in the backseat. Suddenly, I feel like Tom the actor/Uber driver.

11:45 a.m.

Not one warned that there would be traffic at this time in the morning. A 15-minute ride turns into a 45-minute one and I instantly feel a pang of stress. My yoga guru friend Alex takes me aside and forces me to meditate under a palm tree. Apparently, Angelenos really have time for things like this on a daily basis. I close my eyes. I breathe. I say an intention. I’m bored.

12:07 p.m.

Alex and Liz tell me that if I want to be LA AF I have to pose in front of something that will make others feel as if you’re having a better time than you really are. “It’s called inducing FOMO,” one of them tells me. Making others feel worse so that you can feel better about yourself? I guess that really is the most LA thing, ever.

12:43 p.m.

After posing in front of something so Insta-famous, my two friends tell me I have to pose in front of something pink. “It’s just SO LA,” they tell me. “Pink also lifts your emotions.” It’s true, in my time in LA I’ve realized there’s so much pink around the city. There are pink walls EVERYWHERE. I can’t help but think about what my life has become.

1:14 p.m.

Alex, a certified yogi, tells me that yoga on the beach is just seriously so LA. Not being one to disagree, I hop into a tree pose followed by a prayer pose. Alex is limber and flexible. Me? Not as flexible. I decide to take it easy and stick to this pose for all of 15 minutes.

1:30 p.m.

That really did feel better, I tell Alex. Fifteen minutes of taking time out to stretch wasn’t so bad after all. But under the hot LA sun, I started to break a sweat. The smog was also making my pores feel clogged and I reached into my bag for a coconut gel face mask. We mosey on over to get a cup of watermelon juice and just chill as passersby stop and stare.

1:47 p.m.

Liz is feeling tired and we decide our trip is almost over. Alex and I pose together in front of a dingy plastic elephant. I’ve never been so bored. As we hop back into our zesty Bolt, some ex-member of One Direction singing through our speakers, I realize that this day, though uneventful, has been so good for my mental health. I realized, as we weaved in and out of traffic, that sometimes boredom allows you to press a hard reset button. Boredom makes your brain take a break from reality, transcends you from your anxiety, and forces you to remain, doing nothing. After we got back to Liz’s apartment, my face glowing from my gel mask, I concluded something very real: Maybe I was ready to be bored for more than just a day.

‘Thinking you would’ve rejected me scared me.’

(When Kai came out to his parents, he used a spectrum to identify who he was. Illustration by Cat Baldwin/Very Good Light)

In partnership… 

Before barbershops were cool and LGBTQ+ issues were being pushed forward, there was @rudysbarbershop. Since ‘93, this Seattle-based hub has been a proponent for inclusion, helping all people – straight, gay, bi and in between – express themselves through hair. 25 years, a product line, and many barbershops later, Rudy’s is still championing the cause of identity. True to their ‘For Everybody’ roots, Rudy’s supports partners like @itgetsbetterproject and @lalgbtcenter and donates shower products to shelters that serve LGBTQ+ youth.

It was at a swimming pool when clarity finally floated to the top.

It was in California where the weather’s either warm or extra warm, and Kai Tse, then 15, was wading in a pool. Other boys were shirtless, dunking into the pool, their bare chests sizzling under the sun. Kai looked around cautiously. As he swam into the water, he looked down, realizing he felt uncomfortable in his one-piece bathing suit, the same girls would wear.

Teenage years are confusing. But when you’re trans, going through puberty is often times excruciating. Kai is like the 150,000 American teenagers ages 13-17 who identify as transgender. That’s 1 in 137 young people who say they’d choose transgender if they were asked in a survey, according to a report from the New York Times. This is in contrast to 1.4 million adults who identify as transgender.

“People kill people like me.”

Though 150,000 seems like a significantly smaller number compared to the adult transgender population, it’s one that’s growing year to year. One theory is that it’s because young people are more educated and aware of transgender identities. In turn, many feel more comfortable and empowered coming out to their parents and friends. This is certainly backed up on YouTube where there are thousands of videos of trans teens coming out, documenting their journeys from pre-hormone treatment to post.

“He was only 16 and I didn’t know if I was in denial or if he really knew what he was going through.”

 Which is exactly what Kai did. He turned to YouTube and was glued to his phone’s screen, watching video upon video. That day in the pool became transformative for Kai. At the same pool was another trans teen who was also wearing a shirt over his bathing suit. In him, Kai found his first ally. Both texted each other not only as support systems, but as to share education they’d find on the Web.

“Mom,” he said, nervously. “I have something to tell you.”

 “I didn’t know I was trans until I did a lot of research,” Kai says to Very Good Light. “I didn’t have education. And I also kind of knew Chaz bono and Caitlyn Jenner but other than that I didn’t have experience with it until I started looking online and YouTube.”

It’s after finding the right verbiage that Kai found that transgender was exactly what he was. That’s when he mustered the courage to come out to his mother. He was absolutely terrified. They were both in a car, just having dropped off a friend. It was late in the night, around 9. In the silence, Kai looked at his mother.

“Mom,” he said, nervously. “I have something to tell you.”

It was a moment his mother, Sung, would never forget. He’d always been a tomboy, she thought. “He was only 16 and I didn’t know if I was in denial or if he really knew what he was going through,” she says.

 Prior to coming out, Kai had been distant from the family. For years, Sung says, he’d be removed from the family, holed up in his room. “We gave him space and thought it was just puberty. But his personality changed.” Maybe it was just teenage angst, she thought.

But at that very moment in the car, everything seemed to fall into place. All of those years of wondering came to a sudden halt. He was transgender. He wasn’t a girl. He never was. When they got out of the car, Kai took a piece of paper and drew a line so she could better understand. On one side of the line was his dad, on the other, his mom. To explain who he was and what he was feeling, Kai marked a line towards his dad’s side. It was that drawing that allowed Kai’s parents to better understand.

With the support of his family, Kai eventually came out to his friends on Facebook. It was on June 12, 2016, his birthday, a day that happened to coincide with the shootings at the PULSE nightclub in Orlando. For Kai, that was a bigger push for him to come out into his own.

 “Mom, people kill people like me,” he said to his mother. “What if I die and never got to live being me, being who I am?”

 After coming out his senior year, he decided to get top surgery and then go on testosterone. Now, 18, he’s happy with how far he’s come.

 We asked Kai and his mother, Sung, to discuss that coming out experience.

 This is their conversation:

(Kai and his mother, Sung. Photo courtesy Sung Tse)

The way you explained non-binary and transgender really made sense to me, and I’ve used it to help other people understand. Is this line graph you used, where ‘male’ is at one end and ‘female’ is at the other – did you come up with this yourself?
Technically, I did make up that graph, but the concept that gender is not so rigid has been talked about for ages.
I had no idea – I was really unprepared and surprised when we had that conversation. Was it difficult to come out to me?
I mean I had the normal fears anyone would have coming to someone about something they have been hiding for years.  I was pretty confident you were going to react positively, but the fact that there was even a slight chance you would’ve rejected me scared me.
I didn’t even know you were going through this – just thought the changes in your personality had to do with ‘teen angst’, a phase you were going through. So, what ultimately pushed you to tell me?
Just overall tiredness is what drove me to come out.  I also think the Orlando “Pulse” shootig had a large impact on my coming out process.  I couldn’t live another day in the closet after that.  I didn’t want to have the possibility of dying and people not knowing my true self.
So terrible that shooting happened on your birthday…I never cried in the past on your first day of school. But, when I dropped you off at school, the first day of your senior year in high school, after you came out on FB, I went home and cried. I was afraid of the reaction you would receive from people and friends at school.
What was going through your mind when I told you i wasn’t a woman but that I also wasn’t a man?
Well, I was still trying to absorb what you said about the gender binary, but when you said you didn’t identify as a woman, I wasn’t too surprised because of what a tomboy you were from a very early age. You never did anything typically girly. I bought you a doll house when you were about 3 and you showed zero interest. 
It seemed that you always knew I was different..? What did I do as a kid to make you think that?
Well, there’s that incident when you cried and cried when I put you in a dress. I think you were 3 at the time. When you were 18 months old and barely speaking, your aunt handed you a wrapped Barbie doll for Christmas, you opened the corner, saw the pink, handed the doll back to her with a firm”No.” We all laughed, but that was the first tangible moment in my memory.
Were you sad when you came to the conclusion that you were losing a daughter?
Initially, yes I was, especially when I looked at your pictures as a toddler because you were so adorable. But, I spoke to trans man and he said that I was mourning someone who never was. That you are who you are supposed to be now. By that time, had a much better understanding of how you had struggled, so when he said that it was like a lightbulb went off i my head. 
What was it like to tell your friends, long-term and recent, that I changed my name and pronouns?
I didn’t tell anyone at first, except your Dad. We had hoped it was a phase that wouldn’t last. But, when we realized it wasn’t, I was encouraged by how brave YOU were and was actually anxious to tell everyone – my church friends as well as other friends. I figured I would find out who truly were my friends and would support me. And, they sure made their positions known. But, I did receive a lot of support when I made my public post on FB.
Do you have memories of your childhood when you felt something wasn’t quite right?
I don’t think there was anything ‘wrong’ with my childhood, I got along with everybody and I felt respected, but there was definitely a feeling of judgement and confusion coming from the kids around me because of how I dressed in ‘boys clothes’ and played the typical ‘boy games.’
So, you felt different from the other girls?
I mean, I didn’t talk about what the other girls talked about and I dressed differently.. .that’s it.
I know you struggled and went through a very difficult time before you realized you were transgender. Are you still having a difficult time?
No, I don’t think so.  I think I’ve come to terms with everything regarding my sexuality and gender identity.  I feel the most comfortable in my body than I ever have.
Even though I have found wonderful LGBTQ support groups, I am very frustrated that Asian communities are not supportive and the support groups have generally been outside of the Asian community. I am so thankful that I found an inclusive church and affirming clergy. I am angry and sickened by how the LGBTQ people are treated terribly by Christians who should be at the forefront of fighting for LGBTQ rights, and loving them.

As a long-time supporter of the LGBTQ community and the It Gets Better Project, Rudy’s has partnered with world-renown artist, public speaker, and author Dallas Clayton to create a line of custom tote bags and stickers supporting Coming Out Day and the LGBTQ community. With every purchase of the custom Baggu tote, sticker sheet and Think About Someone You Love booklet (total cost: $21), Rudy’s will donate $5 to the It Gets Better Project. Our collective hope is to inspire people young and old to celebrate their individuality and this special moment.