Coming Out in Asian America
This month we are featuring coming-out stories from the LGBTQIAA+ AAPI community. We chose a variety of stories because “coming out” can mean a lot of things, and each story is unique and valuable. We also acknowledge that for many AAPIs, “coming out” publicly is neither safe nor celebrated, and may cause much loss and pain. We grieve that reality along with you. Our goal in publishing these stories is to offer solidarity and hope for everyone in our community. — Jennifer Duann Fultz
It Gets Understood
I came out to my fourth roommate spontaneously on a house game night of Bananagrams, just because I was feeling punny and I wanted to let her in on my ace jokes. She was the last in the apartment to know. I feel bad about how abrupt it was. She just blinked and said, "Okay."
We continued the rest of the night in good spirits, but meanwhile I wondered if I sounded really weird and unstable. Maybe it sounded like I said I'm a sexual.
Turns out she had genuinely never heard the word "asexual" used to describe humans before, only plants and amoebas. For a second, she thought, "I'm asexual" was one of my jokes, right up there with me pretending to be the undead (as I did on a regular sleep-deprived basis). But then she was confused why everyone else in the room was quiet.
The next day, she told me that she had gone on to research what asexuality means for people. And she thought it was a wonderful orientation to have, a gift from God. That sure, she liked men, but my perspective would be a really unique reflection to the rest of us on what else Love can look like. It was just this really nice affirming moment and part of a beautiful conversation between two women of faith, as we went on to share about things we were discovering about ourselves that year.
All this is to say don't be discouraged, for it gets understood.
she/her/hers, Taiwanese American, asexual
Coming Out On Facebook Messenger
I came out to my family over Facebook Messenger and regret nothing.
Working up to coming out revealed a lot more than just my sexuality to my parents. I recall talking to my therapist, Tina, about being so afraid of facing my mom, even though I knew I needed to tell her in-person. Tina then very calmly asked me, “Why do you need to tell them in person?”
I was prepared to say, “Because I owe them that much!” But I stopped myself and realized why she questioned me. For some reason I felt the need to decenter myself in an experience that’s supposed to be all about me. I was the one coming out, yet I was only thinking about my parents. How Asian of me! I’m not coming out for them. I’m coming out for myself. Even in such a difficult coming-of-age moment in trusting my parents to not disown me or simply not treat me differently after I come out, I still don’t consider my own comfort first.
I never felt comfortable talking back at my mom. She always found a way to shut me up. Even if she didn’t, it’s so difficult shedding that childhood mindset that you should always obey your parents. I always clammed up when she yelled at me and settled with giving her hateful glares. It’s probably why I’m bad with in-person conflict to this day.
Additionally, I realized then that it was the prominent white gay YouTubers I watched growing up, like Davey Wavey, that taught me the “necessity” of coming out in-person. The same white gay YouTubers who apparently felt comfortable enough hiding their cameras in a corner of their kitchen and documenting their coming out to their family. All met with millions of views and several congratulatory features from various online publications.
It really wasn’t until recently that I learned that plenty of other Asians my age also only confront their parents over text. It’s comforting knowing that I don’t uniquely suffer, but also sad knowing that other people still fear their parents so strongly.
Even over Messenger, I still had to tell her in a roundabout way. I asked my mom if she has seen videos of me on BuzzFeed, being out and proud. She said she did. And I ask her if she ever wondered if I was gay. Because I was. She said she did.
My mom said, “I’m still figuring out how to deal with this. What do you want me to do with this information?”
All I said was, “Just don’t treat me differently.”
And that was that. Definitely not what we see on TV. No crying. No sudden talk about my sex life. No rainbow flags on our house. No attempts to set me up with the other gay guy in the neighborhood. But you know what? My mom didn’t treat me differently. And that’s plenty for me.
Chris Lam, 26
he/him/his, 2nd generation, Taiwanese Cantonese American, gay
아녕, 사랑 한은 아들 (annyeong, sarang haneun adeul): The Duality of the Queer AAPI
Growing up mixed race Asian American, fresh off the boat from Seoul, now in an all-white environment, there was so much tension. My mother moved from Korea to the United States because she saw how I was being discriminated against in Korea for my mixed race status. She thought it would be better. I didn't have the heart to tell her: it wasn't better, just different. Same with my being gay: not better, just different.
She toiled in backbreaking labor, abandoned by white society, to feed me. It isn't just about her reaction. It never was just about her. So how do I tell her I am different? How does she face her family, church, and community with a gay son? How do I tell her that her sacrifice wasn't for the happy heterosexual family unit she desired?
We didn't get along when I was growing up. Rarely did I hear "아녕, 사랑 한은 아들 (annyeong, sarang haneun adeul)" – “Hello, beloved son” for the first 18 years of my life. For someone like my mother, whose own father died in post-war Korea at age 6 and whose mother was rarely home (working in factories), and my rebellious self, it isn't a surprise that our relationship was fraught. Nor is it particularly rare among immigrants.
After I moved from home, reconciled with my Asian identity, and began understanding the sacrifices of my mother, I started to hear on the regular, "아녕, 사랑 한은 아들." Words I came to cherish and hold dearly. But I couldn’t escape the ever-growing tension of knowing that as I get older, as I approach the eventual unknown date of my mother finding out who I am, these words will cease, and I will be left alone once more without my greatest connection to my Korean heritage.
There is a duality in the words 아녕; it means goodbye and hello. My coming out conversation will start with my mom saying, "아녕, 사랑 한은 아들." She won't realize it until after I come out moments later, but she was also saying, "Goodbye, my beloved son" one last time. This duality reflected every day in the lives we live as LGBTQIAA+ AAPIs.
In coming out, AAPIs often lose more than just their family. We lose our very real, tense, complicated, but integral connection with our heritage. For the sake of love, we do so, but with heavy hearts, we look back for those words one more time: 아녕, 사랑 한은 아들.
Woojeong Do (도우정) / Edward Walrod, 24
1.5 gen, multiracial Korean American, gay/queer, Professional Disaster
I think I knew—really knew—when I fell for my best friend. I’ve had close friends before but this was more than cat-ate-the-canary smiles over neon blue vodka and secrets whispered in the still moments between wakefulness and dreams. It was us against the world, stroking the other’s hair and clinging close in the moments we needed each other most. It was evenings under piles of blankets, our bare legs tangled, eating ice cream from the carton. It was sticky nights dancing on each other in pulsing beats and strobe lights, thwarting away unwanted pursuers, because really, it was just me and her.
Instead of confessing my feelings to her, at 19 years old, I entered a relationship with a man nine years my senior. And perhaps my choice to start something so toxic was my way to destroy myself and this love burgeoning inside me, because despite it all, there was a part of me that was still ashamed.
Because to my family, being gay was wrong.
As the first child of the first son in my family, there’s always been some unspoken expectations. To be successful, to marry well, to continue the family line. When I came out to my mother, it was dealt with in the way Asian parents deal with anything too emotional—it wasn’t. Despite her promises to unconditionally support me, she said something that I would never forget: that she would rather I be with a man much older than me, one that was absolutely unsuited and terrible for me, than someone of the same sex.
Being queer is more than a preference, it’s a defining part of my identity, and just like that, a crucial part of me was erased. To this day, it was never spoken of again. Not even a whisper.
I wish I could say my friend and I lived happily ever after. But we barely talk now, mostly just empty promises of seeing each other again. Somehow, despite living in the same neighborhood, 1.5 blocks seems unconquerable. Perhaps I’m still scared of what I felt—you never forget a first love.
But I’ve found that if you let it, self-love and acceptance does come with time. I’m not completely at peace, but life becomes exponentially better once you make the conscious choice to disregard what others think of you. I speak with my mother less than I used to, but I’ve had the luxury to truly try to find who I’m meant to be. I’ve dated individuals of all genders. I’ve dyed my hair watercolor hues and traveled thousands of miles across the globe. I’ve loved, triumphed and lost. Life hasn’t been perfect, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
she/her/hers, Chinese American, pansexual
Take Your Time
Lee Bobbie (they/them/their, queer, Chinese Singaporean), as told to Jenn Lee Smith, Mochi staff writer
JLS: Tell us about your background and how you identify.
LB: My parents are ethnically Chinese and also Mormon. I grew up in Singapore and then 10 years ago, I came to the U.S. for college and I’ve lived here since then. I identify as agender and queer because it encapsulates both my romantic attractions and my gender identity. My pronouns are they/their/them.
JLS: What was your journey like in coming out?
LB: I was raised in a religious household not knowing that “gay” existed or what it meant. It was hard to struggle with something I didn’t even have a word for. Anything that felt different was probably “wrong” and that was a hard way to live. Whenever I heard the word “lesbian” it was used in a derogatory way. It was even dirtier than “gay.” Also, since lesbian has a female connotation, I felt it didn’t apply to me. In general, I knew that not acting like your gender or liking the opposite sex was frowned upon. For example, “Ah-kwa” in Fukien has negative meaning for effeminate gay boys.
In the media, queer people are portrayed as hard-partying, drinking, promiscuous people. That also didn’t apply to me. My first identity as a teen and into adulthood was Mormon. I felt like an ambassador for the Church (of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). I didn’t drink, I didn’t swear, I was definitely not promiscuous, and I couldn’t be gay. But deep down I knew I was different and I felt an overwhelming sense of shame.
Ironically, it was at Brigham Young University (a Mormon college) when I felt safe enough to come out. I learned there were Mormons who were also gay! I joined an unofficial club for support of queer students on campus. At first I kept a low profile—I’d wear a hoodie and sit in a corner of the room. I felt so much shame even in a room where other people were sharing about their shame. Eventually, people in the club reached out to me and helped me feel comfortable. I grew in confidence. I found my voice.
JLS: What advice can you give about making that leap from shame to confidence?
LB: Take your time. Don’t rush trying to define yourself on other people’s terms. Never feel a need to defend your identity. It is a process and a journey to discover yourself. So when people ask about your orientation or gender identity, you can say, “At this time, I identify as such and such.” I think we don’t always know the best way to define ourselves, if we want to state a category at all, and it’s okay to tell people that.
Seek out affirming people. It’s difficult navigating who to keep and who to leave especially when it comes to loved ones. You don’t have to cut anyone out of your life unless it’s 100% toxic. You can decrease communication until they can accept you for who you are. They might say they don’t agree with your lifestyle, but it doesn’t matter what they say. This is your identity and you know better than they do.
Take care of your mental health. Find a community that can fuel you. If an organization doesn’t make you want to be a better person, then find a different organization or community. Regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity, join and do things that help you grow as a person and do what makes you healthy and happy.