Today is the day I share my coming out story. I’ve never publicly shared my experience before because it’s always been an intimate struggle for me, as I’m sure you can understand. But now, today, I am ready to be vulnerable; I’m ready to share my story. Let me make this more clear though (through categorizing myself in a box): This is my coming out story as a gay, first-generation, Asian, Cantonese-speaking, American-Chinese queer lesbian. I’ve never read my story anywhere else but I know many others like myself and in their eyes, I can see the reflection of my own difficulties. It’s strange how this world is so full of people , in yet, you can feel so alone.
But my goal today is to let you, my reader, know that you are not alone no matter how alone you may feel. Whether you are gay or straight or Asian or white, we all have our struggles and our own story. This is mine, and I hope you can find strength through my words and courage from my experience.
Deep sigh … and here we go.
My coming out story takes place from when I was 15 and ended when I was 22.
What? 7 years?
Yes, that’s right. Contrary to whatever belief is out there, coming out doesn’t happen over night (at least not for me). My whole process of coming out included many stages: suspecting, finding out, asking, admitting, arguing, convincing, arguing, convincing, believing, convincing, arguing over and over again … until finally, acceptance. Coming out also included many people: my family (mom, dad, brother, sister), my extended family (my cousins), my friends who are my family, my significant other and myself. In all of these entities, not one person had it easy with my coming out experience.
Isn’t that weird? I’m the one who is gay in yet a plethora of people were affected by me realizing who I am. HA, if only they knew to throw me a celebratory party instead, we wouldn’t have had to struggle so much.
Growing up, I didn’t learn English until I was 5 and grew up in a traditionally Chinese environment: I spoke Cantonese, I ate Chinese food every night, I listened to only Chinese music and my dad brought home the BBQ pork while my mom stayed home to cook it. I like to tell my friends that I essentially grew up in a “Chinese cave.” I watched shows that put men and women in their “traditional roles,” respectively. Growing up, I knew what I was taught and I knew that I was supposed to like boys, grow up and marry a dude and have kids with him. Oh, the dumplings that life throws at you …
When I was in elementary school, I had crushes on boys and girls. My little 8 year old brain didn’t comprehend what it meant to really like someone, so .. whoever was cute (girl or boy), I would avert my eyes out of embarrassment but secretly write their names in my notebook. When I was 13 and in middle school, I started having less crushes on boys and more serious crushes on girls. In fact, my crushes on girls were so serious that I started dating them. The hell? Since when was that allowed? But .. sadly, throughout all of this, my parents and extended family didn’t know. To put it simply, I didn’t tell them because I was scared of what they might say. My relationship with my parents began to suffer: I stopped sharing my life with them and they started to notice.
I had my first girlfriend when I was 15 and that’s when things really started picking up. I lead a double life. At home, I was a quiet daughter who did her homework and ate her meals silently. At school, I was outgoing and out and proud. I started introducing my girlfriend to my friends and the responses were overwhelmingly positive. Even my teachers were supportive! I was so happy to be at school where I could be myself. I was so unhappy to be at home where I had to hide.
Let’s talk about why I hid because now that I think about it, no one told me to hide. I just did.
The pressures of being the first-born, first-generation American-Chinese put heavy responsibilities on my shoulders. I felt like I had to make my family proud (even though they never pressured me) and I felt like I had to fit in a very specific box. If I didn’t, then I would bring shame to my family. My parents’ pride and joy were their children and I didn’t want to let them down. Being straight was definitely one of the boxes I needed to fit into even though I didn’t want to be in it. Surely parents are supposed to love their children through all circumstances, right?
Well, apparently not. As a teenager, I had read horrible coming out stories of kids being kicked out of their parents home, being left on the street, being verbally and physically bullied, being shunned and worst: shamed to the point of committing suicide. I didn’t want to experience any of those even though “family” meant that you shouldn’t have to live through them. I wasn’t brave enough to give them the chance and I sure as hell wasn’t brave enough to give myself the chance. I already knew I had depression, and I didn’t want to make it worse. For my own safety, as a 16 year old kid, I knew that if I told my parents that I’m gay, I would be broken.
Unfortunately, I was forced to come out at 16. (Damnit! Exactly what I didn’t want!) Since I had a girlfriend, I had started acting even more suspicious than normal. My girlfriend at the time was over at my parents house with me a lot and one day, my mom and dad burst through my bedroom door to find me giving her a kiss. And that is when the shit-show began. I’m not even kidding you: it was a shit-show. The whole family was involved and this is how some of the night went:
My mom sat at the dining table crying into her hands, “Why? Why? What did I do wrong? I didn’t raise you to be this way. Why?”
My dad looking out into the back yard, completely silent.
My 7 year old sister hiding behind a wall, peeking in but not wanting to be noticed.
My 13 year old brother sitting on the couch, listening, trying to understand.
And me: already feeling like I wanted to die. Already feeling like I am the biggest mistake ever made.
And again, my mom, voice coarse from crying, “Why are you punishing us?”
Wow, shit. I can’t even finish writing this. Even though this was years and years ago, it’s still really difficult to relive my memories.
I’m sorry, but I will have to finish sharing my coming out story later.