Diversity Story Slam: Alan Chen

Alan Chen portrait
Alan Chen ’13, DPT ’18/Photo: Nate Jensen

Pride

 

WHEN I GOT INTO PT SCHOOL, my biggest concern wasn’t really how much work it was going to be; I was actually more worried about fitting in. I had been out of undergrad for about two years. During that time, I went through a period of professional and personal self-discovery. I pursued dance/choreography as a career, came out to my parents, dated and broke up with my first boyfriend and learned how to be perfectly OK with being alone. I was finally starting to understand who I was and how to be comfortable in my own skin.

So, when I thought about being transplanted into a new social setting, I panicked. What if none of my classmates liked me or understood who I was? More than anything else, I was worried about the guys in my class. I didn’t have a lot of straight male friends at the time, and I had this idea that most guys in PT school would be into sports, work out a lot and act hyper-masculine. Basically, everything that I’m not.

So, during the first week, I lowered my voice so that I wouldn’t sound so feminine, wore loose, dark-colored clothes so as not to draw attention to myself and slouched in my chair to look more masculine. On the first day, I remember trying to talk about sports with one of my classmates, who was 6-foot-something tall, built like a tank and an ex-college baseball player, and feeling crushed because I felt like he wanted nothing to do with me. But what was even worse than my fake personality was that I felt pressured to go back into the closet. I was worried that if I came out, the guys in our class would feel weird changing, undressing and practicing manual skills with me.

When I started PT school, I was worried that I would have to sacrifice part of myself to fit in with my classmates. Interestingly enough, by the end of my time at USC, my classmates ended up teaching me more about myself than I had learned on my own.

—Alan Chen ’13, DPT ’18

After two weeks of faking, I realized I couldn’t do it; I even considered leaving the program. Luckily, I talked to my faculty mentor, and she directed me to an LGBTQ faculty member who talked me off the ledge. He reassured me that the students, as well as the PT world, are typically very open-minded, and that historically there haven’t been issues regarding sexuality. Even in his professional career, he had only ever been subject to it once or twice, and it was a long time ago. I don’t think that faculty member knows it, but that talk really changed the trajectory of my PT school experience.

After that conversation, all gay hell broke loose. Interestingly enough, everything I was worried about actually helped me to make genuine connections with my classmates. My lack of sports lingo became kind of an inside joke with the basketball players. My closest circle of guy friends were super open about talking about gay culture and my personal life and were interested in learning about it. I found that the more I started to be myself, the more people wanted to talk to me.

But I think what really made me realize that I should always be true to who I am was that I eventually became friends with guys who were the complete opposite of me. Remember that 6-foot-something tall, built like a tank, ex-college baseball player who was seemingly not amused with me that first day? Turns out, he just looks angry on the surface. Deep down, he’s actually a softie, and we’re really close friends now. Along with a couple other 6-foot-something feet tall, built like a tank, ex-college athletes.

When I started PT school, I was worried that I would have to sacrifice part of myself to fit in with my classmates. Interestingly enough, by the end of my time at USC, my classmates ended up teaching me more about myself than I had learned on my own.

They taught me that masculinity isn’t defined by how much you can bench press, that outside appearances aren’t always what they seem, and that there’s (apparently) a difference between the 76ers and the 49ers. But above all else, they taught me to always be the most authentic version of myself and never to be ashamed of that.

—Alan Chen