Pride by Design – A.L. Hu On Telling Stories
Blog.005 | A.L. Hu
My name is A.L. Hu, my pronouns are they/them, and I’d love to tell you a story.
What they say is true: once you’re out, you never stop coming out. I came out to my peers as a nonbinary transgender person in 2015 while I was a student at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. I was blessed to have a supportive cohort: a raucous group of loving, kind, and patient queer friends who were going through the same M.Arch journey as me. What a place and time to come out—moving across the country for grad school gave me space and time to think about myself. I was rethinking what it meant to be an architect—and so, naturally, I was rethinking what it meant to be myself.
I’ve come out in architecture many times since, to many different audiences.
At the 2018 Equity by Design: Voices Values, Vision symposium, I told the story of how coming out during grad school changed the way that I think about design to architectural professionals. At the AIA National Conference in 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada, I spoke on a panel alongside more senior professionals titled “The Silent Minority: LGBTQI+ Voices in Architecture.” In 2020 and 2021, I participated—through the magic of Zoom—in several virtual storytelling events, including the AIA Austin’s Building Pride, AIA|DC Equity Committee by WIELD’s Pride Event, and events organized by AIAS and NOMAS groups around the country. I’ve even had the honor to come out on a Practice Disrupted podcast episode!
As you can probably gather, many of the panels and lectures have been primarily career-focused—that is, how have I, a queer person in architecture, crafted a practice out of combining my queerness, advocacy, and design? These narratives were meant to inspire budding architectural workers to stay on the professional path and continue the capitalistic struggle, as well as teach seasoned architects about the business value of diversity, equity, and inclusion. But for me—and I hope this came across to folks who have heard me speak—the vulnerability that I experience through storytelling is much more meaningful and deep than a professional development tool.
The common thread that links the bits and pieces of my stories is the “safe-space container” in which each was held. Whether I was sharing at a national conference, on a podcast episode, or a virtual event organized by undergraduate students, I felt safe enough to share intimate pieces of myself, and was confident that I would be heard. The safety of the containers created by event organizers—curators, really!—opened up spaces for me to be extremely open about struggles that I’ve spun into “success,” and all of the emotions and thoughts and support and trials and errors that come with the process. Personal stories are often dismissed as anecdotes or too steeped in or colored by feelings to be considered worthy of (re)telling—too subjective to offer any objective truths, especially in a profession as technical as architecture. But I share my stories to connect with other people, to show that personal struggles are political, and to make the practice of architecture a little less lonely for queer folks.
For me, storytelling creates a space to reflect on the past and lessons that I’ve learned. There are few opportunities in our society to slow down, take a step back, and take stock. When I tell a story, I make an inventory of my thoughts, feelings, and lessons, in hopes that they resonate with other people, whether or not they share my experiences.
Storytelling creates a space for support, rather than just affirmation. When I tell a story, I connect my narrative to deeper meanings and life-themes, provoking understanding rather than surface-level consumption. I link myself back to the world at-large, rather than feeling like I and everyone else exist in individual bubbles. The bubble bursts through the telling of the story.
Storytelling creates a space for me to process my experiences, to tell and retell (sometimes to myself!) a narrative that is stronger in hindsight—because the bigger picture often remains obscured until I’ve emerged from the struggle. In the end, we are the stories we tell ourselves, and each other; in this way, we are made human through the sharing of our stories.
Now, in 2023, I want to expand the story circle. I am collaborating with Pride by Design because I understand that I am not the only queer architect / designer out there. I want to pass the mic to other folks so that they can tell their stories and grow the community of queer architects and designers. Together, we can shape the narrative of being out in the profession.
In the coming months, I’ll be interviewing folks about their stories of being queer in architecture. I’ll ask: what has your experience been? What struggles do you wish to share? What are you working on? And—the big question—how can we queer the practice of architecture?
Because there are so many ways to do it, but I can only tell my own story. You’re going to have to tell yours!