Asian American LGBTQ: Struggle of Coming Out

You might have seen lots of coming-out stories in which parents accepted the fact that their children are not heterosexual. And there might be few Asian parents accepting it too. But still, I think this kind of happy-ending-coming-out stories do not happen in Asian families very often.

I know because I am one of those that have not been accepted. I didn’t even come out to my parents. My mother is still convincing me to wear my hair longer. She would even say that this is the only thing she asks for before she dies.

I feel depressed being such a disgraceful daughter. But I understand she’s not the only parent that would think this way. Many of our parents are traditional and conservative. But as their children, we might have never had enough nerve to tell them our thoughts and feelings. I doubt they know what it’s like being non-heterosexual.

It’s time for them to listen to our stories. I would like you to meet Benjamin Chan, Pauline Cheung, Shelly Rose*, Macy Aviles** and Winnie Cheung. They are all Asian American. Here are their coming out stories:

Hiding His Sexuality Because of Parents’ Religion

Benjamin Chan, 28, came to the United States in 2001. He’s been living in Hong Kong for 16 years before that. At the age of 11, he realized he liked hanging out with boys and felt awkward being with girls. Not knowing what homosexuality was, he chose to keep his feelings secret.

However, everything became clearer when Chan was older.

“…When I [was] old enough to have the desire— the sexual desire, then I realized, yes,” Chan recalled how he confirmed about his sexuality.

But still, he didn’t tell anyone because being gay wasn’t common in Hong Kong at that time. He has always thought he would tell his parents, who are still living in Hong Kong, after he got into a stable relationship. Today, he has found a man he loves but he hasn’t told his parents yet.

“If I tell them, they might just fly right away and try to convert me back,” said Chan. “Especially they are very religious. They’re Christians and they work at church.”

In Chan’s case, both tradition and religion have made him believe that it would be very hard for his parents to accept the fact that their son is gay. He doesn’t want his parents to feel bad and this is why he hasn’t come out yet.

Muslim Girl Punished Herself After Revealing Her Sexual Desire Toward Girls

Shelly Rose, currently a senior student at University of Virginia, was born and raised in a South Asian Muslim family. She told me in an email conversation that she has even attempted to hurt herself after she dated a girl.

Rose’s family holds “very strong views on homosexuality.”  To her mother, homosexual people are all “going to hell” and “deserve to die”; To her father, the Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill that punishes gay people with  death penalty is good.

During her senior year at high school, Rose dated a close female friend. Not surprisingly, they happened to become intimate one night. But she felt guilty about her sexual desire after that and she “punished” herself.

“I felt like God didn’t love me anymore. I felt like there was no way I’d ever be forgiven. I felt like I was damned to hell anyway. I felt like I needed to punish myself. So I took a surgical knife and cut into my left wrist. It wasn’t very deep, but it was painful. And thus began my habit of “punishing” myself whenever I felt like I had failed as a person,” Rose said.

Until now Rose hasn’t come out to her parents yet. Even though she has already come out to some of her cousins, she still has “intense fear” of telling her parents the truth. She thinks the whole Bengali community would “shun” her family because of her sexuality.

Coming Out to Mom Worries Her

Pauline Cheung, 34, was born in Hong Kong. She and her family moved to Seattle when she was 14. Growing up in Hong Kong, she saw that being non-heterosexual wasn’t very common at that time.

She went to a girls’ school when she was in Hong Kong. At that time, she had crushes on female friends and teachers. However, even later on when she studied in a co-ed school in Seattle, she has never had any strong feelings for males.

In March this year, Cheung told her mother about her sexuality. Her mother was so shocked and sad that Cheung worried if she was going to hurt herself. Although she left the house after the coming out, she drove back again to see if her mother was fine.

“I was so nervous I remember. The drive wasn’t that long. The drive was like 15 minutes but I’ve all these thoughts in my mind: Oh my god. What have I done? What if she hurt herself?” said Cheung.

Fortunately, Cheung’s mum was fine and she accepted her. Cheung thinks that her mum was just worrying about her and her future.

The Couple that Have Come Out to their Parents

Winnie Cheung, 23, is a blogger that writes about her own coming-out story. She was born and raised in a Hong Kong and Canton family. According to her blog, her coming-out story lasted for 7 years.

Though she’s raised and born in US, she 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 …” Cheung said on her blog.

Cheung didn’t come out until one day when her parents burst into her room. She was about to give her girlfriend a kiss. Then, they “forced” her to come out.

“They’d tell me, ‘You’re gay. Just tell me you’re gay. Admit it. So if you’re not gay then tell me you’re not,’” Cheung said.

At that time, she was just 16. Now she’s 23 and her parents have already accepted her. Although it’s been a long jourrney, she thinks she and her parents have become stronger and closer than ever, after all these years.

Macy Aviles, 23, is Cheung’s girlfriend. Her family is from the Philippines. She didn’t tell her parents earlier about her sexuality because she didn’t feel safe and comfortable to.

“I actually have two lesbians in my family who are together but they’re very hushed in the family and no one really talks about it,” Aviles said. “ No one asked and no one said anything.”

But later on, she felt like she couldn’t hide from her parents that she liked girls. Aviles decided to tell them. However, the first year after she came out was very hard. Her parents did not accept her until she started bringing her girlfriend and friends home. She thinks that showed her parents how happy she was.

“Or, when I broke up with girlfriend, I took a chance, called my mum and told her how sad I was. I tried really hard to show them how real it made me feel,” said Aviles.

Today, both of them have come out and are accepted. They are even going to Hawaii together with Cheung’s parents during the Christimas’ holiday. Besides wishing them more happiness,  I’m also hoping that this documentary could bring such happy ending to more Asian families.

The documentary is not done yet. More will be coming out in 2014. Please stay tuned.

After watching the video and reading the article, please vote:

If you want to share your stories with us, please contact us using the form below.

*Shelly Rose is not her real name. The interviewee decided not to reveal her real name.
**Macy Aviles is not her real name. The interviewee decided to identify with this name.


Story of a Mixed-Race Teacher Recalled by the Exhibit

After seeing the Race Exhibit at Pacific Science Center, Amber Wolfe Wollam shared some of her stories and thoughts on race. She remembered that in the second grade, she was tested for a gifted program. She didn’t get it.

“My mother always thought, [since] we were living in the east coast, that the only reason I didn’t get in because I was a kid of color, and there weren’t many kids of color,” said Wollam.

However, Wollam, a 40-year-old private school teacher from Seattle, has always been optimistic. She has never felt offended when she’s been asked, “What are you?

To her, sometimes it was even fun to be “miscellaneous race.” She doesn’t mind answering the question, which many people find offensive. She laughed after she told me her favorite answer.

“I’m half black and half white, like our president,” said Wollam.

Instead of feeling offended, Wollam thought sometimes she might have made people feel uncomfortable. She was always curious to know more about others’ races. She also has a feeling that people who look mixed wouldn’t mind being asked “that question” by somebody else who is mixed. But the fact is, some of them do.

But no matter what, Wollam is very proud of being able to say that her dad is black and her mum is white. She also thinks that the exhibit has successfully challenged hers in some ways, just like what its poster says.

Perspective of a Chinese-American Educator

Annie Zhou thinks “Race: Are We So Different?” has made her realize race is a global issue.
Photo by Ting Ting Chu.

Annie Zhou, a Chinese-American educator from International District in Seattle, thinks the exhibit “Race: Are We So Different” didn’t challenge her a lot. Instead, it has given her a deeper view of race through a scientific lens.

Zhou volunteers with the community as a facilitator for groups that are going to visit this race exhibit. She, nevertheless, didn’t visit it just because of this.

Currently Zhou is working at a high school. As a school counselor and an educator, she thinks talking about both race and equity is important. She said she saw it “played out” in school as well as the larger society.

I talked with Zhou when she was half-way through this exhibit. She didn’t think her thoughts were challenged a lot. That’s because she studied race in college, where she was a psychology major and sociology minor. She has already been engaging in this dialogue since she was in college. So, that kind of information was not new to her at all.

“Myself, I’m pretty clear what I’m racially and culturally,” said Zhou, who identified herself as a Chinese-American. However, she said lots of people, even Chinese and Asians, found it hard to believe that she was really a Chinese. “…They think I look Filipino.”

However, when it comes to friends, colleagues and strangers of other colors, they just all see her as Asian.

“But China is a big country…It’s a huge area of land, so, even people in China can’t believe, within their own country, that there are so much variation,” said Zhou.

Overall, though this race exhibit wasn’t full of surprises for Zhou, it did affect her in this ways: it has made her realize “race is an issue around the world.”


The Exhibit that Makes a Teacher Think More

Poster of RACE: Are We So Different?

As it says on its poster, the exhibit, RACE: Are We So Different, tries to challenge visitors’ perspectives by leading them to look at race through a scientific lens. However, the seventh-grade teacher, whom I interviewed, doesn’t think she has changed her mind. Instead, she has “ thought more about the aspects of the exhibit that were particularly meaningful” to her.

“I’m looking at [the exhibit] through the lens of bringing my seventh-grade students here,” said Tamara Bunnell, 45, who is from Seattle, “so I have [my] individual reaction to it and also I’m sort of thinking of a larger theme about how do I break this down for my students.” As a teacher, she is also thinking of collaborating with science teachers in her school so as to include information that learned from the exhibit into her class.

Interested in the “generational components” in the exhibit, Bunnell said it was fascinating to see how race was constructed and the way the science community was in both 1800’s and now.

Other than that, in a follow-up email Bunnell also told me she has compared it with the film that showed a group of high school students discussing race in their lunchroom. “While I was inspired by how open and observant all those students were about race, I was disheartened by the extent to which their lives and lunch-sitting choices still seem bound and limited by racial identity, and how their experiences aren’t all that different from those of the various adults featured in the other films in the exhibit.”

Bunnell admitted that she had an assumption about people’s race before seeing this exhibit. The exhibit, nevertheless, has made her realize how easily she still “[accepts] and [falls] back on the typical racial identifiers we’ve been offered historically” and think about what that actually means for the “racial dialogue going on in this country and the larger world” and us.

“Actually I don’t know fully what my ancestry is,“ Bunnell answered when I asked if she has any trouble identifying her race or ancestry. Instead she would answer either “White” or “Caucasian” because she knows most of her heritage is European. Being very aware of her facial features, she said, “I look white. I’m very aware that I look white and even if I were to find out some of my heritage was different it wouldn’t change my primary identity or that people treat me as white.”

Overall, Bunnell said she could “envision a positive time in the future where [racial categories] no longer exist to limit us, and how we work with and see ourselves and others.” But the thing is, she still doesn’t know how to get “there.”

A Lesson Taught by a War Reporter, Alex Quade

Alex Quade, who is just placed into the University of Washington’s Department of Communication’s Alumni Hall of Fame, visited us yesterday and had us conduct an “interview” with her.

So, it wasn’t really an interview but each of us was given a reporter’s notebook. I didn’t ask a single question throughout the interview because I thought I wanted to listen more than anything. I was so afraid of missing anything she talked about. You will understand when there is such an successful person visiting your class. I’m sure you want to jot down everything he/she says.

“They(people whom we interview) are experts on their lives,” said Alex. “It’s your chance to learn from them.” This really impressed me since I’ve never thought this way. While I was interviewing people at the Racism Exhibit, all I wanted to do was to get things I needed for my blog post. But I’ve never really thought about learning from them, the experts of their own lives, humbly.

Besides, Alex said that because we’re having a conversation with people, we always “want people to feel comfortable” while talking to us. But how?  “The best thing is to be completely honest to people,” which is something that I’ve never done. I feel like whenever I am interviewing, I am too nervous to be honest. Therefore, most of the time I am “acting” like I am calm and asking them questions that are staged.

Although I’ve never thought about being a war reporter, the interviewing skills and experience she shared were really useful and inspiring. Thank you, Alex. You have definitely reminded me of what I’m doing, what my responsibilities are and how I can do it better.

A “Tiger Mom” Experiment

“A-? It’s just like a F! In our family everybody gets an A!”

So, I bet you think this is something that most Tiger Moms would say to their children. And yes, you’re right. I can’t even remember how many times my mum said it when I was younger.

The video above was part of the ABC show, What Would You Do? An Asian actress was asked to act as the mean Tiger Mom that scolded and yelled at her “daughter” in a restaurant, in which there were many non-Asians sitting around them.

I’m not surprised by their reaction, but I’m trying to picture what this whole thing would look like if it happened in a restaurant in China or other Asian countries. Needless to say, it would not even worth to be featured on a TV show because my mum has done something similar to me before and guess what? Nothing, literally nothing, happened.

As an Asian, I’m not feeling really proud of this Tiger Mom controversy yet I know that this is something real. I’ve been treated this way but I’m still alive today. Trust me, this won’t kill or even hurt anyone and in some cases, it’ll even help.

To be honest, if it was not my mum who made me get every A at school, I’m pretty sure I would have got all those Fs! But I know she didn’t do it for no reason. She did it because she knew from the first day that I was the kind of person who would stop if there was no one pushing me. She has never been a Tiger Mom for my younger brother because she knows that he and I are totally not the same. The Tiger Mom parenting style is just not going to work for my brother, as she and I know.

So, guess what my mum responded last week when I told her I didn’t get a satisfying grade in one of my class and felt like I’ve wasted her money?

“I see. But as long as you’ve learned something it’s good. You didn’t waste our money. Just try your best and I will be happy,” said my Tiger Mom.

What is More Than a Race: A Mixed Race

                    Video by Team Mixed Show on Youtube

Throughout the week after visiting “RACE: Are We So Different?” I’ve been thinking about groups of people that would possibly have trouble identifying their races. The multiracial group, which is mixed race, then came to my mind immediately. I did some research on it and found the video above.

“So, what are you?”

Looking back to my past, I’ve never been asked this kind of offensive questions. I mean, why would I? Most people would just assume that I’m an Asian the first time they saw me, just like how they assume those “Asian-looking” mixed race people are.

Yet, there might be much more than just a race.

The Hapa Project in the exhibit says it all. The project was created by artist Kip Fullbeck, who has photographed more than 1200 people that identified themselves as “hapa.” The participants were also asked to handwrite their answers to the question “what are you?” after being photographed.

While I was looking at the photos and their responses, I realized they were all naked, without make-up and facial expressions. It’s because, “This is also about starting with as blank a slate as possible. Every way we present ourselves visually, from our style to our glasses to our jewelry to our expression, is a way of identifying ourselves culturally and socially. And I wanted people to just be who they were at their base, to be as much as possible at their essence,” as Kip stated in an interview he did with Discover Nikkei.

Even though I’ve never asked any of my mixed race friends the question above, I felt ashamed after the visit. I realized I’ve never actually spent time understanding them and their cultures. If you’ve already visited the exhibit, and took a look of the Hapa Project, did it change the way you think of the multiracial group? And if you have been asking your mixed friends that question, did you really try to understand “what” they and their cultures are before asking?