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Teeth Grinding Family Visits in Taipei

In Taipei, hospital both Lisa and I started grinding our teeth during the night again. My jaw feels sore each morning, buy more about and I find myself massaging the sides of my face throughout the day in hopes of loosening the tension. Meanwhile, Lisa has gone on a (so far fruitless) search for a mouth guard.

Why all this molar-damaging tension? Quite simply, my family is in Taipei.

I’ve written previously about my struggle with my parents over my sexuality and our unsuccessful attempt to find some resolution through family counseling. Since leaving home in June, I’ve kept in regular contact with my parents, updating them on my whereabouts and doing my best to allay their concerns about my heath and safety.

Since the blowouts from family counseling, we steer clear from discussing anything that may bring conflict. Of course, my parents know that I am traveling with Lisa. They just try to acknowledge that fact as little as possible. On my part, I haven’t pushed the issue, though I don’t go out of my way to shield them from Lisa’s presence either.

So, when I learned that my mother would happen to be in Taiwan at the same time as us, I knew that there would be conflict. In her mind, my mom expected that I should spend part of my three weeks in Taiwan staying with her and our relatives. When I argued back that I wasn’t about to leave Lisa alone at a hostel, my mother got upset and accused me of being co-dependent. Eventually we agreed on a compromise – I would set aside time to go see her and the relatives on my own, but I would return at night to Lisa.

To explain the situation to my relatives without raising any suspicion about who I was with, my mother made up the story that I was traveling with several other friends (including a man, to appease any concerns about my safety). As a result, I found myself constantly having to make up stories about what my “friends” were doing when I wasn’t with them and being sent home with bags of treats from my grandma to give to my “friends back at the hostel.” The facade was nearly blown one day when Lisa and I ran into my grandfather while walking in the street. Later when my grandpa asked me if Lisa was “the boy” from my group, I just silently nodded.

Given that it was my mom’s birthday and that these few weeks would be the only time I would see her all year, I reluctantly played along with the act. The stress of a double life took its toll, and after every family event I returned to Lisa utterly exhausted and unconsolably irritable.

And hanging over my head the entire time was the fact that I have yet to tell my parents about our engagement. The thought fills me with such dread that I’ve decided to simply not think about it. So, each time I visit my family, I take off my ring. And each time I return home, Lisa faithfully puts it back on and reminds me that I am her family now. I told Lisa I would write a letter to them once we were on a different continent, hoping that they will somehow accept (or at least tolerate) this news by the time I return home next June.

A few times, Lisa suggested that I should just drop the act and come out with the truth to everyone. But this only upset me, and I accused her of pushing me too hard and not understanding my family or culture. When she tried to sympathize with me and said that my mother was being unreasonable, for whatever reason I only got more upset. Poor Lisa. No wonder she is grinding her teeth.

The ironic thing is that after all my effort on behalf of my parents to hide the truth about their prodigal deviant homosexual daughter, my relatives already knew. I found this out when, over my mother’s birthday lunch, her older sister leaned over and whispered, “How are you two doing? I know, I saw your Facebook…”

Shocked that my aunt knew and surprised that she actually brought it up (you have to understand, like most Asian families, my family approaches sticky situations by simply not talking about it), I could barely stammer a reply. After more whispering, I learned that one of my cousins in Taiwan had found my Facebook page and had spread the news about my relationship status to the rest of my mother’s sisters and brothers.

When I later cornered my aunt in a grocery store and asked her what the family’s reaction was, she said non-chalantly, “What of it? In Taiwan, there is a lot of this.” I breathed a sigh of relief. But she confessed that she was scared to bring up the subject with my mom for fear of upsetting her.

The lack of condemnation from my mother’s relatives was hopeful, but my greatest encouragement came from a surprise visit on my father’s side of the family. Thanks to Facebook (again), I’d recently reconnected with my two cousins in Michigan, Vivian and Angeline, who have been sending Lisa and I some wonderful messages of support. Their mother happened to be in Taiwan as well, and when we met over dinner, my aunt took the chance when the rest of the family was out of the room to grab my hand and express her congratulations over my engagement and tell me that her family would certainly be in attendance at the wedding.

For the first time, I returned back to Lisa that night with a smile on my face. There’s not much to hide anymore. And somewhere in this family, there is even some support.

That is enough hope for me to start composing that letter to my parents.



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10 Responses

  1. Oh Jenni,
    I can’t tell you how much I can relate to this post.
    My direct family really only wants to spend time with me, and it is my extended family Aunts, Uncles, Cousins that are the ones that are honestly loving and supportive.
    Stay strong – Life always gives you these little love notes (like your extended family loving you for who you are) along the way to keep you going 🙂

  2. I’m sitting at my desk reading this and tearing up. Both tears of empathy for your conflicts with your parents, and tears of joy at knowing that your extended familiy is extending their love and support. I have empathy for that as well. My extended family has been far more supportive about me being trans, however, after several years, my immediate family is coming around. It’s a tough journey, but well worth it to get to be ourselves and love who we love. Much love to you and Lisa and CONGRATULATIONS on your engagement!

  3. Hang strong Jenni. We are all rooting for you and look forward to the day when you and Lisa get married and your troubles are a thing of the past.

  4. Jenni,

    When my family could not accept me after 14 years of infighting and non-acceptance, I finally cut my losses and divorced my family! It was the best decision I have ever made in my life! The stress was gone and I KNOW that stress that you were feeling all too well! Your mother is unreasonable! The love of one’s children comes first, no matter what. The rest is so secondary. However, if she wants to “lose” you, then she has really made a conscious choice, hasn’t she? Others see how unreasonable she really is and this should be a great consolation to you both! However, when enough is enough, you may want to contact me in private mail to talk about my own situation so that you can more specifically understand the dynamics.

    I am happy that your relatives are not condemning you and are pussyfooting around your mother for “her” sake. I am sure that the entire family is feeling the same stress putting on this charade just for her! They are more than gracious and this, too, is part of the Asian culture. No direct conflict, if it can be avoided. However, now that you know that they are in your corner, I, too, as well as you, are now happy and can deal with this whole fiasco with a better sense of what is really going on! Hooray for you and Lisa! My heart goes out to you both during this time.


  5. Jenni- I admire you for handing your parents with such grace and patience, even though they are so unfair to you. I am confident that someday they will accept you and Lisa because they will continue witness your true self and the strength of your relationship.

  6. Hi all – Lisa and I just returned from a 9-day trek in the Himalayas, and it really made me feel so good to open up my email to receive so many messages of support. While there are always some things we wish we could change in life, there’s so many more things that I’m grateful for.

    Good news is that I’ve quit grinding my teeth. I think time away in the mountains helps a lot in clearing your head!

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