"14" is an installation that recreates the fearful moment I came out to my mother when I was 14. I hope that my story brings comfort to young people who are currently struggling to come out and to spark a little change for parents who are not accepting of their child’s identity.
The installation is designed to be an intimate one-person-at-a-time experience consisting of a wireless headphone and a wearable.. In order for the audio story to play, the wearable must be strapped around the user’s chest. I wanted to create the feeling of nervousness, particularly tightness in the chess - something I felt when I was coming out to my mother. This led me to design a wearable that will tighten and loosen as the story proceeds. By recreating that physiological response, I hope that the simulation allows the user to recognize the feeling of tightness in the chest, as one that is universal and not limited to the experience of coming out. When I was young, I had trouble coming out to my parents. I have always wondered why it was so difficult for me to come out. I have a very close relationship with my parents, especially with my mother. I tried to find the answer, which led me to understand that I was the problem. I was the one who was not able to accept myself, making me believe that everyone else would feel the same. Coming out to my mother and seeing her unexpected reaction was the greatest relief. It helped me accept myself for who I am. I hope that my story will be an example that reminds others that the things they fear may not turn out half as bad. I specifically hope that my mother’s words can spark a little change for parents who are not accepting of their child’s identity. For those who have not had to "come out" themselves, I hope that the piece can still bring awareness to how emotional such a moment can be for others.
I was inspired by the It Gets Better Project’s mission to uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQ+ youth worldwide. Watching and reading the stories that people from the community have shared publicly made me realize that I could also help pass the message to other people that 'you are not alone.' It made me realize that we can all contribute, even by doing something as simple as listening. While every person has a different story to tell and all come from diverse backgrounds, we ultimately share the same goal. We want to be our true selves and to be happy.
Coming Out Simulator by Nicky Case was also an essential inspiration for me. The simulator is an interactive semi-autobiographical game where the player assumes the role of the main character who is gay and has to face conservative parents, unaccepting of his sexual orientation. The player gets to decide what the main character says when he is having a conversation with his mother. I was so sad when I first played this game, I got upset at the different scenarios and was particularly disturbed when the mother vomited after the player came out.
After talking to people from the LGBTQ+ community, I realized that not everybody perceives coming out as a necessary threshold to obtain happiness or be their true selves Therefore I do not wish to push one single narrative as one acceptable norm, but rather, I believe that anyone should be proud of who they are.
For this project the audio will only play if the wearable is strapped in with the conductive velcro, and will stop if the user remove the wearable. Bluetooth headphone is used so I can hide my laptop away from the user and play the audio file from a different room. Motors are use to rotate the knobs controlling the tightness of the wearable.
I used p5 BLE library to communicate between the wearable and my laptop to play the audio story.
I have always wanted to use my creativity to help work towards a more open-minded society. I previously worked on a project called 'Hear Their Stories' as my “Project Development in Period of Crisis” class. The project consists of advertisement-like posters with the goal of, raising social awareness on sexual prejudice.
After working on that project, I wanted to continue working on the same theme, and that was how my ideas developed into this installation.
Initially, I wanted to make a guide or tool that helps young LGBTQ+ people practice coming out and then I realized that it would be more helpful to tell my honest story. So I started to revisit the time I came out to my mother and I wrote it out. You can listen to the audio story here
After revisiting my experience of coming out to my mother, I experimented through different simulations and designs, that would get me closest to recreating the specific sensation I felt at that moment. I began with the idea of making the wearer feel like they have to bear something heavy on their chest and feel very uncomfortable. I later changed my ideas and looked into developing a wearable that would not only make the user feel weighted but would also feel the rhythms of the heart racing. But after developing that I settled my development of finding that specific sensation that would be most representative of my innate and visceral experiences when I came out, on the feeling of tightness in the chest. I know that the feeling of tightness around my chest, resulted from the combination of my nerves and anxiousness. But that it also came from years of not knowing who I was, and then later suppressing my true self, which suffocated me even further. Being able to tell someone who I was, allowed me to lift that discomfort I felt that was weighing on my chest. The wearable became the most appropriate form to allow users to experience discomfort through constricting the chest, and relief through comfort around the chest.
After user testing, I was surprised by the feedback. Some people were tearing up when they were listening to the story. Many of them said that the story was very warm. That was unexpected. As stated above, I originally designed the wearable to constrict around the chest to mimic the sensation of nervousness and anxiety. But after experimenting with the design process and listening to feedback, it became important for me to shift tightness in the chest, from an "inside" physiological response of discomfort to an "outside" feeling of being embraced. Transforming discomfort to comfort became integral in matching the designs of my simulation to my audio narration.
Whether or not you identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Whether or not you are planning to come out. I invite you to come on my personal journey, to question discomfort and comfort, and engage in conversations on identity, growth, and happiness.