"Just by being out you're doing your part. It's like recycling.
You're doing your part for the environment if you recycle; you're
doing your part for the gay movement if you're out."
Many of the changes and the self-discoveries in my life started when
my mother passed away. If you have been reading the many paragraphs about
my life, then you know how much my days, my
thoughts, my nights, and my dreams have grown and how much is new and different.
Things happen. Things move. Things change. All my life is all about change. The
death of my mother was the impetus, the catalyst, for a great many metamorphoses.
They say that everything happens for a reason, great or small, simple or complex.
I cannot say that I fully understand nor necessarily want to understand the cosmic
manuevers surrounding my mother's death, but I can say that I would not be the
person I am today if circumstances were different.
It sounds like an obvious observation, but there are the tremblings of a greater
truth below the easy answer. Therefore, with the utmost pride and affirmation,
the person I have discovered and the person I know now is gay. (Now the irony of
my Chinese name is quite apparent.)
In coming to terms with death, I came to terms with life. Finally, the frightening
truth that I had left buried for all of my life was set free. And, in the end, it
wasn't so frightening afterall.
I have been out for over a decade, from coming out to the present, but the
process of being out and being active and living as an open gay man continues,
always continues. I learn something about myself every day. And as I encounter other
queer individuals, groups, allies, and even opponents, I learn more about who I am
and what I stand for.
the closet: one size fits all
My growing up story is a common one with uncommon details. Every time I sit down
to tell it, I wonder to myself how many coming out stories have been told and
how much coming out stories are beginning to become part of the mythologies in
which we find truth, honesty, strength, pain, and shared experience. Coming out
stories are the new urban legends, the new village wisetales, and forever the
most personal and political of testimonials.
One of the first questions I am asked -- whether I am talking one-on-one with
someone or in front of a classroom for an LGBTA speakers bureau -- is "when
did I know I was gay?" With the clarity of hindsight, I can look back on
my life and say with certainty that I knew I had an attraction to the same
sex in middle school and a definite affinity for male friends as far back
as elementary school.
Long before I knew I was gay and long before I was sexually attracted to men,
I quested for best friends -- specifically, male best friends. I can remember
all through grade school, I wanted to have a best pal, a buddy, a surrogate
brother. I am not sure where I got this desire from. Partially, I think,
from books and movies and television shows where every boy had a best friend
for life. It is such a desire that has translated, gone through puberty,
matured into my search for my mate, my partner, my lover.
In middle school, amid the chaos of hormones and peer pressure, I found
myself sexually naive (at best) and confused (more so). Unfortunately, my
sexual orientation was the least of my adolescent worries. I was your
typical overweight, four-eyed, dorky, but smart Asian kid growing up.
I did not consider myself attractive (to any sex) and therefore ignored
the whole mess altogether. Growing up, I hid my sexuality -- whether it be
straight or not--from myself and from everyone around me. I played everyone's
favorite game: repression.
Strangely, though, a side effect of my seeming lack of sexuality was that
I made friends quite easily. I had friends across all social circles at
a time when many people were struggling with fitting in and breaking out.
Part of my charm and friendly ease was the fact that I showed no interest
in anyone. I was everyone's asexual friend.
High school proved to be a completely different battleground. It was easier,
I think, to ignore feelings for people in middle school. Bodies were still
child-like. Personalities were waxing and waning. Maturity was simply
lacking. But, as soon as I entered tenth grade, there were new players in
the game and new rules.
I went to a relatively conservative, upper middle class high school.
Because the school had plenty of money, there was the appearance of a liberal,
alternative institution. There was a mix of social groups, cliques, and
organizations. Fortunately, many groups crossed boundaries and shared
membership. Like any other American high school, there were jocks, computer
nerds, artists, homeroom friends, theatre buffs, cheerleaders, newspaper writers,
yearbook committees, poets, musicians, Advanced Placement scholars, and everyone
in-between. But, in my experience, there were no gays, no lesbians, no one
outside of the assumed heterosexuality. Yes, there were jokes and jibes. But
no one was out. And, in the 80s, I don't think it even crossed people's minds
that one of their classmates could be gay or bi or transgendered.
I continued to hide behind my asexuality. But, I was already feeling the handful
of years I had spent in the closet. Repression, suppression, oppression is
a dam ready to break. As the pressure builds, all you can do is pile more stones
and sandbags and hope a storm doesn't come along. But storms did come along in
the form of best friends, locker rooms, football players, wrestlers, classes with
the same people, movie nights, going to the mall, parties, sleepovers, and a
vigorous imagination. I dealt. I forgot. I pretended.
I remember an ironic instance. I was good friends with one of the popular girls
in school, a cheerleader in fact. It was a perk of being the "nice guy" in school.
I was in a class with her as well as a number of "big men on campus." One of
them, a distinctly tall, blonde, broad-shouldered, well-muscled footballer
approached me one day. He joked with me about my friendship with the girl and
how much I probably wished I could have her. He knew I had no chance with her.
And I knew he didn't either; she wouldn't give him the time of day. He was
sorely jealous that I could be close to her and be her friend. The funny thing
was that I didn't want her in the way he wanted her. Instead, I wanted him.
But those were feelings I could not admit to myself.
Through high school and into college, I continued to search for my best friend.
Meanwhile, the closet door was fastidiously shut and locked. Looking back,
many of my friendship with men developed because I had unknowingly fallen in
lust or in love with them. And because I could not come to terms with my
homosexual feelings, I poured all of my energy into the platonic friendship.
Sadly, many friendships did not survive the intensity and the co-dependency
Late in my undergraduate years, with the help of a few close friends, including
one whom I owe a great deal of my self-improvement to and whom I loved deeply
at the time, I faced my fears. I fought my battle with co-dependency and won.
I came to terms with my own insecurities. I made changes in my life to
allow me to have healthy relationships. And I finally came to terms with my
sexuality. I accepted, myself, personally, privately, that I was attracted to men. I had
feelings, both emotional and physical, for the same-sex. I told no one. I
thought I could just admit it myself and be done with it. I continued to hide
in the closet hoping that I could find some way to pass. I was wrong.
knock, knock, knock on the closet door
For a few more years, I managed to hold on to the inside of the closet
door -- grabbing the doorknob with both hands, pulling back, feet against the
jamb trying desperately to keep it shut.
I graduated from college in 1993. My mother passed away that same summer.
I entered graduate school. My sister left for college. I was thrown into too
many life changes. I am certain that all of these changes and most importantly
my mother's death forced me into a deep introspection.
Part of me thinks that I would not have come out if she were still alive.
If I did, it would have been much later in my life. Unfortunately, my mother
was not very accepting of homosexuality. She did not care what other people
did but she did not want it in her house, under her roof. I can also remember
times when she made comments to me about my behavior while growing up--not
to cry, not to act like a girl, not to like things that girls liked to do.
I like to think that I lived in an atypical Asian household. But, in certain
cases, I am the product of a long history of patriarchy, conservativism,
practicality, and familial honor. I could not come out. I was the oldest
son. I was the first born. I was the first American born. I needed to do
my family proud and carry on the family name.
But, as I said earlier, things change. Suddenly, life decided it was time for
me to come out. The signs were growing in number and in spectacle. I had
waited long enough and my life was kicking me squarely in the rear. In the
space of a few months, life laid clever and telling clues. I watched
the movie Threesome for the first time. Every time I turned on the
television there was a story or show or an afterschool special about gays.
My sister calls me from college to tell me that her best friend has just
come out to her and she wanted some advice and to talk about the situation
Finally, I remember one semester, I was going to lunch with a few of my peers.
I was hesistant at first because I had a lot of reading to do. But, one woman
insisted that I go. While we were walking to a local vegetarian cafe, she turned
to me and said, "Besides, I know one of the waiters at the restaurant. He's
really cute and just broke up with his boyfriend. Maybe we could set you up?"
I turned to her and was simply in shock. I didn't know what to say. I think
I finally managed to deny it, though weakly, by saying, "I'm not interested
in that sort of thing." She apologized for assuming and the day went on. I
don't think I ever truly came around to coming out to her afterwards.
By 1995, I needed to tell someone. I couldn't hold all of it by myself. I
needed to share.
but you are, blanche, you are
Coming out to another person for the first time was one of the most harrowing
experiences of my life. I decided to tell my best friend, Sarah, over the phone
(cause she lived in Chicago at the time). It took nearly two hours for me to work
up the courage to even bring up the subject that I had "something" important to
tell her. After a half hour of fighting off nausea and a racing heart, I finally
came out. She laughed and said, "That's all? I thought you had killed someone
or was dying or something!" She was totally supportive (and not very surprised).
In fact, many of my friends were not surprised.
I came out at first as a bisexual man. I think there is a trend among some gay
men to go the bisexual route. It is an easier way to come out of the closet.
Somehow by claiming bisexuality you tell people that you're not "all" gay hoping
to claim some alignment to the masculine norms of society. It is a form of
internalized homophobia. Unfortunately, it has caused a lot of distress to
those men who are truly bisexual. My bisexual status (defined as "male-centered")
eventually evaporated. I was gay. Plain and simple.
I came out to my sister and then my closest friends. Each time was scary and
unpredictable. But, I was fortunate that no one reacted poorly. I am very
fortunate. I have heard many horror stories from friends who suffered much
worse and virulent reactions to their coming out.
In 1996, I came out to my father. I needed to. He was the last person that I
needed to tell. I had to do it through a letter. I couldn't bring myself to
tell him face-to-face. I didn't think he would take it badly, but I couldn't
take the chance, either. So, I wrote a letter. I knew I had to make it short
and to the point. If I allowed myself to ramble on and on, I would try to
explain everything. Therefore, in a page and a half, I came out to him. And
he responded with only support and understanding. Again, I have been very
I have been out for over three years and I have discovered a great deal. I can
finally act as a whole person. I can finally speak openly about what is on my
mind and what I am feeling. And I can finally act as part of a larger movement
to protect myself and my community. My identity as a gay man is extremely
important to me. In fact, it is where most of my psychic energy is aligned.
I joined several organizations on campus and elsewhere. I continued to
explore the gay community in Washington, DC and Maryland. And I have fun at
the gay clubs and at social functions held by queer groups in the area. The
support, the experiences, the conversations, and the challenges are all very
important to me and to who I am.
I could go on and on and on. I think I will curtail the story here. But, one
thing for sure, coming out is not an event but a process. Though I consider
myself out, an everday activist, and an openly gay man, I come out day after
day. I have struggled with internalized homophobia. I have struggled with
the internalized homophobia in my friends and in my community. I have to
decide whether I need to come out in the workplace, in a job interview, in
my classroom. And every morning when I wake up I have to wake up knowing I am
a gay man in a culture that would rather me stay sleeping -- quiet, behind closed
doors, and passive. I remind myself emphatically, "No more. I'm here. I'm
queer. And I vote, teach, write, make web pages, buy, march, laugh, make
friends, and so on and so on."
(My journal continues to reflect my life as a queer, Asian man and all the
tribulations therein. Though I feel I have reached a secure sense of
integratedness, my sexuality and how other encounter my queerness make
ample fodder for thought, essay, and even consternation. Read
through entries that stretch from this year and back through
1999, and 1998.)
"To be overtly homosexual, in a culture that denigrates
and hates homosexuals, is to be political."
--Michael Bronski, 1984
"We have cooperated for a very long time in the maintenance of
invisibility. And now the party is over."
--Vito Russo, The Celluloid Closet