Yên: "New York has helped me see my life in a way that I never could have imagined for myself."

Yên: "New York has helped me see my life in a way that I never could have imagined for myself."
Yên Sen posting inside a yellow taxi in New York (photography by MTHR TRSA)

Yên Sen is an actress, filmmaker, producer, writer, model, full-time "goddexx", and overall slaynista. Yên and I met when we were both eggs and not yet dolls, bumping into each other at Bubble__T, Papi Juice, or any other Brooklyn dance party. Over the years, Yên has transformed from a former Opening Ceremony (RIP) stylist to a full-time media talent. She's starred in Ryan Murphy's "American Horror Story" and alongside Sara Ramirez in "And Just Like That". She also has an upcoming film that she's produced, written, and directed called, "Clementine".

We chat with our issue 03 cover star to talk artistic practice, the train line Yên identifies with, and why NYC is the supreme city of America.

Yên Sen about to enter a yellow taxi in New York (photography by MTHR TRSA)

What borough are you in, and what tethers you to your neighborhood?

I'm currently in Ridgewood, which people say is in Queens, but I say Brooklyn because fuck everyone else. What tethers me here is the fact that I have a great living situation, I have a great roommate and a great apartment. It’s affordable, very convenient. And also very practical, things like that. But also, I really liked the peace out here. It's quiet, and at night time I feel safe going home. I mean, sometimes there are creepy men, but not as often as other areas I've lived in, that's for sure. It's just very residential, and there’s a lot of good restaurants around here. I really like it out here, although I wish there was more nature up here. 

If you were one of the train lines, which one would you be and why?

My mind goes to two different lines: the G train, because I don’t ride it as often, so I find it kind of special for whatever reason, and also the S train in Brooklyn that goes from Prospect Park to Crown Heights, because it reminds me of a certain time in my life. Plus it's above ground. I love trains that are outside or above ground. Also, I find the G train really dependable, plus I feel like it's a cool mix of people on there. Living off of the S train for six years was the longest time I've ever lived in New York, and I still really love it there. I take it every now and then. 

What’s your bodega deli order? 

I’m not that kind of girl anymore!I care about my gut too much these days, but back in the day, I would always get mozzarella sticks and fries or chicken tenders and fries after a long night out. Makes me queasy thinking about it, especially as a bottom! 

Yên Sen posing in the street in New York while Kai fixes dress (photography by MTHR TRSA)

How would you describe the artistic work that you do, and how did you get into it?

As an actress, storyteller, filmmaker, producer and writer, my artistic intention and goal are to always help my community—the trans community, the AAPI community and BIPOC community—to be able to see themselves and feel represented and heard with the stories I helped create or tell or am a part of, with also the hope that it will create more empathy and understanding for us. 

What is your cultural background, and how does it shape your art, if at all?

As a first-generation Vietnamese American with parents who are refugees of a war, aspects of my culture will always come up in the work I do in one way or another. It also pushes and inspires me to create things where more people like me can be seen, which goes back to the whole representation narrative. And it feels like beating a dead horse these days, but honestly, it's so important. And it's so true how much of a difference it can make in a person's life by being able to see themselves and hearing their story told and be heard. 

What’s your relationship to hustling? How do you not get lost? 

Girl, I've been hustling for 14 years since the day I came to New York City, okay! It's hard, honestly. It's hard not to get lost. I've been in unconventional careers for all 14 years, and it's been difficult. Outside of the hustle, having community and friends who unconditionally support and love you really, really help. I’ve found a lot of value in my loved ones who have known me for 10 years and have seen me through different periods of my life and are still with me, still so supportive of me. 

This is a recent thing, but finding more time for yourself to really do things you really like and want to do out of pure joy and pleasure. It can be as simple as going to the park by yourself or going to the fucking cloisters. It's good to give your mind a break from the hustle. That's how I stay not lost. It also helps me remain grateful and remind me of why I'm doing the things that I'm doing. 

New York City is such a transient transplant town where people come from all over the world, but what’s your relationship to America overall? 

I think America is a hot mess. It's so gross here. But of course, it could be so much worse; there's so many people who would love to be in the situation that we are in now, despite how corrupt and dark this country is. I have a lot of gratitude for it in regards to the life that it was able to give my parents—escaping the war and allowing them to build a life for themselves. America is such an unethical country, and there's no way we can continue functioning with the way it is now. I can't see myself living anywhere else in the U.S., except for New York. I think if I were to go anywhere else, it would maybe be in Europe or in Vietnam. 

The city can be considered a “doll’s paradise,” where not only trans femmes can thrive in their personhood, but also in term of career, from fashion, to modeling, nightlife, etc. How true has that notion been for you, in your experience of working in the City? 

Being in New York has helped me see my life in a way that I never could have imagined for myself if I were to have stayed back home in Pennsylvania. I never thought I could be a model growing up, even though that's what I always wanted to be, because I was super short. She’s 5’4”! I remember, when I was in Florida, I went to this open call for modeling and this agent was like, “You're too short. You're a good looking kid, but you’re too short. Come back when you get taller.” This was my junior year of high school, and I never got taller! I'm really getting to live the dream here in New York. I've had conversations with people who have said that they think I'm at a certain level or unreachable, but I’m barely able to pay my rent every month, I'm barely able to pay for my groceries. So it's interesting how these perceptions and realities are so far from each other, but I wouldn't have it any other way; I can't be working another corporate job. I’m really, really fortunate to be doing what I'm doing because I really, really do love it. 

Yên Sen posing inside a New York photography studio with orange background (photography by MTHR TRSA)

What’s your ideal get-ready routine for a night out? 

I take a nap, and then ideally I would like to wake up in time to get ready, but I always end up sleeping more than I initially had wanted to. Wake up 30 minutes before I have to go out, put all the things together, and I already know what I’m wearing. Do my makeup, and just get ready to go. I don't really like it too much of a fuss, to be honest. I'm not like a fussy girl. I'm a very high maintenance, low maintenance girl. But the result is always cunty. 

How do you go about finding community? 

I think it kind of starts with doing the things that you want to and whatever you find interest and joy in, and you're gonna find people who have similar commonalities to those things. Whether it's finding a space that's catered towards your intersectionalities or hobby, finding community is not something that can be forced, and it's something that takes a lot of nurturing.

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