Name: Caitlin M. Boston
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland
Where do you live? New York City
How did you find your voice?
I learned how to speak up for myself after being bullied. I found my voice by standing up for myself and others.
What event or series of events led to you finding your voice?
I grew up in the suburbs about 30 minutes north of Baltimore, Maryland. I was one of ten Asian kids in my high school of approximately 1,300 students and there was a really profound lack of Asian, much less Korean American (which I am), community in the area in general. The cost of that type of marginalisation – visibility and community – came in the form of me having a really challenging time gaining a healthy sense of self that wasn’t primarily based around the feeling that I was always an “other” who had to prove to people that I wasn’t a stereotype. I’ve always been quite outspoken but I really started to lean into it in high school because I didn’t enjoy feeling like someone might think I’m “shy” or “passive,” two common stereotypes about Asians and Asian women in particular.
I think that there are many parts of me that are intrinsically Korean and I really embrace and am grateful for them because they inform who I am as a person in so many ways. Things like tenacity, a strong work ethic, righteous indignation and anger at injustice (i.e. Han), and a silly sense of humour are all things that either help me to get work done or are deeply embedded in the work that I make. You could say those are characteristics that could be nurtured into anyone but I think they’re a bedrock of Koreans and are some of the main reasons we’ve managed to survive true centuries of suffering and survival.
The most powerful lesson that I’ve taken with me from childhood is that you survive on the basis of your own efforts and who you invest in. I was adopted into a very complicated family and if I hadn’t really worked to make myself physically, psychologically, and emotionally self-reliant I would be in a very different place than I am today. I had the luck and privilege of having access to therapy from a young age. Which combined with a reasonable work ethic and ambition really taught me that when you put in the work, in both yourself and whatever you apply yourself to, you can figure out decent if not perfect solutions for many obstacles that get placed in front of you.
Tell me about when you finally found your voice
I don’t know if growing up in a white area contributed to it, but I was bullied quite a bit growing up and experienced every pejorative racial epithet for Asian Americans before I was nine. It wasn’t until I hit the seventh grade and had a really comically bad experience with a white boy bully – who also threw every pejorative racial epithet for Asian Americans at me on a daily basis for six months – that I decided I was not going to let that happen to me again: I had to learn to speak up for myself and for other people or risk living through that same hell-scape all over again. I started using a lot of humor to deflect some of the more common stupid comments that get lobbed at Asian women which turned into me just outright dressing people down when things started to get nastier.
I think the act of standing up for myself and then other people really taught me that I don’t need to accept abuse from other people. I thought: if I’m going to get in “trouble” or cause some sort of a scene for using my voice — because everyone expects you to be “a good girl” above all else — it’s going to be on my terms.
This is going to get real, “real talk,” but this played out when I was raped when I was 18 in the fall of my first year at university. As a part of my recovery from that trauma, I auditioned for a rendition of the Vagina Monologues that was being hosted at my university that spring. I ended up landing the part of “My Angry Vagina” and it was a really cathartic process, being given the license to be angry in public and in direct relation to the part of me that had just been traumatically violated.
How valuable is walking in other people’s shoes, or empathy?
I’m really driven by the desire to contribute something meaningful to other people’s lives and to continue learning even when I’m scared or frustrated. If I can’t see a question that I’m trying to solve for other people or for myself, I don’t like investing my time into it at this point. It has to tangibly benefit someone – me or someone else – for me to put my effort into it. I think the things I sacrifice when I share anything with someone else are my privacy and my psychological safety. It’s a lot, to put your personal business out there in the world; that’s also what makes an experience incredibly cathartic though, risking your vulnerability. I am constantly, and to sometimes abysmal results, trying to think about what my work is trying to say in relation to whom it may or may not affect or include. I really try to consider and practice inclusivity in my work for this reason because I know how galling it can feel to be excluded from someone’s narrative about what the world looks like to them. It makes the creation and ideation process longer but it’s more rewarding to think about the breadth of what you’re trying to say than stay in the one narrowly defined interpretation of how you experience the world.
I had to learn how to handle push-back when it came to sharing my voice and the best lesson I learned is to always consider the source. More often than not I’ve found that people really project a lot of themselves onto you when they’re providing feedback of any type so you really need to think through: 1) someone’s relationship to you, 2) their motives, 3) their own personal context. If you can get behind all three, take it into consideration and learn from it; if you can’t get behind at least two, let it go.
How has your voice influenced others?
I’ve been really surprised by how positively people have responded to my work. In the latest thing I made I talked a little bit about how I navigated a higher salary as a woman of color and I’ve really been taken aback by how many women message me to say that they were inspired by it and used the strategy that I outlined to inform their own pay negotiations.
Where will your voice lead next?
I would like to stop questioning my own interests, specifically the purpose of them. The joy of scratching a creative itch when you’re still a young creative is just making something – not thinking about the long term implications or plan for what you’re making. I tell myself this a lot – “It’s not my job to tell myself ‘no,’ it’s my job to make the work.” I can get really in my head about the value of what I’m making or how other people may try to gatekeep me from sharing my work with others but where I’m at right now, I just need to keep making things.
I would like to make more art – specifically video and drawing-based art! It takes so much time and shooting videos costs so much money but that’s where my time and creative energies are going right now. I am most excited about some drawing and video related projects that I’m creating right now. One is going to be a GIF-led guide on how to negotiate for more money and another is a “semi-drunk debt payoff” story about how I helped to get my boyfriend out of $32K of credit card debt without using my own money. I am not sure what will be next, but I am hoping to share more stories that can help or inspire your daily life! I would like to be making long-form and short-form video content with professional collaborators without having to worry about how I’d fund it or pay my bills.