When my parents first found out that the girl I kept having stay over for sleepovers was more than “just a friend”, healing my mother wept for one week straight. My father froze in his distraught, not knowing what to do with his wayward daughter or his weeping wife.
In their traditional Chinese mindsets, my parents couldn’t understand my refusal to sacrifice on behalf of the family and be with a man. For them, my coming out was immoral, irresponsible, and selfish. They asked, “What about the Bible? How will you have a family? What did we do wrong? Who will take care of you? And What will people say?”
Five years have passed since that initial disclosure at my parent’s kitchen counter. After that first period of “shock and hysterics,” my parents shifted to “deny and counter-attack” where they secretly donated money to anti-gay organizations and pushed me into therapy hoping that I might change. When the therapist showed no signs of turning me around (in fact, she affirmed my identity), my parents moved to a period of “guilt and mourning” where every visit ended with my mother pleading and in tears. Eventually, we’ve resigned to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to avoid the issue altogether.
Unfortunately, keeping the peace also means talking about nothing of substance. Asking about my trip to Mexico or last weekend’s dinner party is too dangerous for my mother because it might bring up signs of my “gay life.” Any reference to Lisa’s name results in a change of topic. We’ve taken to sticking to sterile topics like work and….well, work. It’s hard to look at each other in the eyes.
I know my parents love me to death, and while I wish they could get some cajones and take a stand for their daughter and themselves, I can also appreciate how difficult this is given their ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Recently, I attempted to break the silence and wrote them an email:
Hi mom and dad,
I came upon this video that i thought you might be interested to see. Its from a mom of a gay daughter in Taiwan. Anyways, just want you to know that you guys aren’t alone. And the video also makes me think I need to talk to you guys more..not just come to the house and talk about nothing. But talk about real things. Like my life, if you actually want to hear about it.
The truth is my life is not what you think. I am happier and I have a more secure sense of myself than I ever have before. I have someone in my life who loves me very much, and we have many dreams together. This is who I am, and while the first year or two was hard and confusing even for myself, I know that this is who I am going to be, not a phase in my life that I just came up with at age 25 – This is who I will still be at age 30, 40, 50…
I would like to somehow talk to you, but it is difficult, and i feel there is not much for us to talk about anymore. You don’t really want to hear about my life, I don’t really listen to yours. So it is what it is. Recently, a friend of mine told me that her brother just told their parents that he is gay, and she told me what a hard time it is for everyone. I can understand.
I received a response from my father a few days later. He wished me a happy Chinese New Year’s, asked about my health, and told me that he loved me and that I always had a place to come home. While his response still sidestepped the main issue altogether, I knew my dad was being as sincere as he could.
It’s heartbreaking, really. Both sides want to figure out how to cross this great divide that’s been created, but we don’t know how. This is going to be a long road, and I don’t pretend to know the best way to come out to parents or even whether every child should come out to their parents.
But I do know that in my case, I’m glad I did and although the process is hard, I’ll keep trying, and to my parents’ credit, I believe that they’ll keep trying as well. After all, we’re family, and it’s worth it…