There is power in both telling your story and seeing yourself reflected in someone else’s story. But what if your story is too often left out of the conversation entirely?
That’s the gap we’re trying to fill for our LGBTQ2+ Asian community in our Pride Month series. For the last part of our series, we asked to hear about the unique and specific experiences of queer Asian millennials.
They more than delivered. We heard about family, religion, immigration, representation, community, love, acceptance, empowerment, and more — a million little pieces that provide a glimpse of the richness and diversity of the queer Asian experience.
There was plenty to smile at: finding solidarity and support from queer friends, planning a future together with a partner, unconditional acceptance from family even when it wasn’t expected. But there was plenty of heartache too. The through line across many stories are the troubled relationships with families and what it means to love them despite how they hurt you.
I see so much of myself in everyone’s story and it made me feel less alone in my own journey. I hope this piece can do the same for you too.
Thank you to all our contributors for sharing with an open heart. In our final segment for Pride Month, we asked them to fill in the blank: “The queer Asian experience for me means…”
The queer Asian experience for me means…
Brandi Kwan – @retrodemon
Being Asian and queer is difficult. I’ve always had and continue to have a hard time feeling like I can be my true self around my Asian family.
I still remember vividly telling my parents at the age of 18 that I was gay. I was lucky enough that my father was very accepting. He mentioned that he always knew I was very masculine and all the boyfriends I brought around were just accessories, unfortunately. But the hard part was telling my mother.
My parents separated four months before my high school graduation. I wanted to keep the peace in the house since I knew my father was going through a tough time. I had to bounce back and forth between parents to make sure everyone was “ok”. But after my graduation, I knew I had to tell both parents what was going on, and who I really am. After telling my father, I figured it may be easier to tell my mother.
Boy, was I ever wrong. I went over to my mother’s place to have dinner and hang out, talk about life, and to catch up. I then told her that I needed to get something off my chest and to be open about myself. She panicked of course, like any other mother, “what’s wrong?”, “what happened?”, “are you hurt!”. Mom, I’m gay. I’ve been gay throughout my entire life; I’ve just been hiding it so I wouldn’t be a “disgrace” to the family. My mother instantly fell into tears, not good tears, but tears of how this could be possible. She started questioning herself about how her only daughter is a homosexual and how this even came about. At first, I was having issues swallowing my saliva, but I knew that it had to be done. I told her that it had nothing to do with your mothering and it’s just who I am. But of course, she was in denial. I knew that if I stayed there and listened to her question me and ask how I could do this to her, it would only make myself and her feel worse.
To this day, I still cannot be who I truly am without upsetting her. I can’t blame her, and I won’t. This has only made me a stronger person today and no matter how much of a “disgrace” I am to my family, I will always love them and cherish the “good times” we had.
My fiancé and I will be getting married next year (2020) and planning my invitation list for my family has definitely taken a toll. After speaking to one of my close aunts, she mentioned that it doesn’t matter if the rest of the family doesn’t show up and that it’s just because of their “old ways” and my gay wedding isn’t a “normal” traditional wedding. Oh well, that’s all I can say. I am lucky that no matter how difficult it may be for my mother, she will be attending. As for the rest of my Asian family members, all I can say is: shame on you all. As for my future with my fiancé, it is filled with happiness and our light will ray amongst everyone.
Lynn Chui – @backhousebird, @lchui5
Spilling tea at the dinner table (in every sense of that phrase) surrounded by chosen family with lots of laughter and love. Being there for each other when we encounter trouble with our blood families. Enjoying our company with a variety of Asian languages in the air. Elevating each other in all sorts of ways so that we all continue growing our confidence as individuals and as a community.
The queer Asian experience for me has meant that the closest people to me have not understood my interior life either by choice or by the distance between our backgrounds. It has meant that I’ve had to write my own history against what my parents have wished for me because they are not willing to accept anyone from our community. Most painfully, it has meant that my mother and I are always slightly severed in our communication because of her broken English and my absent Tagalog, but there exists another seemingly unbridgeable rift in our relationship. She sees me as an entitled second-gen who doesn’t understand a mother’s sacrifices to give her children a better life than her own, and I see her as a mother stuck in the past and brainwashed by thinking she chooses to uphold. Because of these differences where my mother and I believe people can be liberated or limited, our already not-very-demonstrative relationship is compounded with a deafening silence that fumes between two people who want each other to change from the inside out and who want to remain as they are.
Chang Xu – @Xuyuanify
Coming out and still getting constant nagging from some of my relatives about whether I could be “straight again” and marry a girl… And of course reminding them that it’s NEVER going to happen.
I was lucky that my Mom supported my expression growing up. When I was younger, and I was still a girl, I would always want to go shopping in the men’s section. My mom would say in her Filipino accent, “You like that one?!” as I would show her Men’s clothing and boxers that I’d choose.
It confused her but she would just go with it and purchase men’s clothing for me!
There were times where she’d worry about my safety, especially when I would go to Seattle to DJ for pride events. She was aware of the existence of gay bashers, and me being a lesbian at the time she just wanted to make sure nothing bad would happen.
I grew up during a time when identifying as LGBT was just slowly becoming accepted into mainstream society. I feel like a lot of Asians could relate to their parents being very conservative, especially if you were raised with religion.
I was raised Catholic and found it very hard to accept what I was taught. It made no sense to me. A religion that would tell you that you are not allowed to be who you truly are is traumatizing. So much that I had insomnia for most of my childhood & teenage years. I would stay awake trying to figure out why I existed if I couldn’t be myself.
Once I came out first as a lesbian it lifted a huge burden off of my shoulders. After that, I was able to help others come out and accept who they truly are.
I am now in the 5th year of my transition, and I look forward to continuing on this journey while educating others. Being able to transition has been a dream of mine since I was around four years old.
This life is your own and nobody can tell you what to do with it. I would rather die being my true self than having lived a life trying to be someone I’m not.
Ariana Zhang – @arianatzhang
Parental denial. Weird, layered fetishization by cis straight dudes. Watching Chinese dramas and re-writing the narrative in my head so that the female protagonist and her best friend (because there’s always a best friend) are lesbian lovers.
Felicity Li – @felicetea.li
The queer Asian experience for me is, while positive, very complicated too. I have always (and still) struggled with being queer and Asian, often viewing them as two opposite sides of who I am. Having Chinese immigrant parents, they always told me to work hard and strive for perfection. The result? I developed a sense of shame that I wasn’t the “perfect daughter” and didn’t live up to my parents’ expectations of who they wanted me to be. Luckily as I came to terms with my sexuality and started owning my identity, I slowly began to shed off those feelings of insecurity. I love being Chinese and being queer but I still have questions as to how I can connect those two as I enter adulthood. From coming out to my parents to whether or not I should tell my extended family in China I’m queer, I still have many more obstacles to face. Luckily, with the support of my friends and those in the LGBTQ2+ community, I feel prepared to face them.
Being my grandma’s favorite grandchild regardless of my sexual orientation. I was raised by my grandma and when I brought guys over (all the time) when I was in middle and high school, she never questioned it. She just met them, asked me about them if she noticed that they stopped coming around, and she never pressed me into coming out or anything. She just waited until I was ready and when I did, she just smiled and told me that she loves me. Plus, I was basically my grandma’s eighth child so that made things a lot easier because my uncles, aunts, and mom were apparently a handful, so I was basically her easiest child.
Sol – @koilatte
It means growing up questioning whether it is okay to feel a certain way towards a certain person. It means having to undermine the harsh, misogynistic and homophobic words of your family when something in relation to the LGBT+ becomes a topic of the conversation. It means feeling like there are a million suns bursting in your chest when you feel validated by someone that you care about. It means to fear walking around as an openly queer person, not knowing the kind of remarks that would be thrown your way by the people who feel strongly against you. It means to be able to laugh with your queer friends, closeted or not, about your own experiences.
The queer Asian experience for me means humanity. It means that I should be able to live my own life without being happy at the expense of being ostracised for my identity.
Francis Tran – @transtampp
The Asian family dinners when all of your aunts and uncles ask where your “girlfriend” is or who she is when you don’t even like girls. It is the constant questions every time you bring a girl home and the assumptions being made with gossip to boot.
Where your Asian parents have trouble expressing their love for you in words so when any guy shows you an ounce of respect, you hear wedding bells.
Mikaela Kane – @mmkaela
Living a double life! Sad but true I feel especially as an Asian. Hiding from the “older relatives” and never giving any details about your personal life. Or in my relationship, having to be “close friends” at the family function so we don’t upset Ying ying (Grandma). I have been with my partner for 4 years and it was only recently that her aunties and uncles realized that we are 100% gay.
The queer Asian experience to me in Canada means not being able to go to bars and clubs because of 1) horrible Asian ‘glow’ and 2) being awkward and shy. But perhaps much of this relates to a desire to have more positive and visible representations of queer Asians in popular culture and media. Our stories and experiences, no matter how quotidian, are important so that we can experience relatable narratives that touch our everyday experiences.
Karl Chen – @uwuloo
The queer Asian experience is all about paving our own unchartered paths and being the Prometheus of our journey. Living in a heteronormative world, the structures and guidelines that govern the capitalistic society often don’t work for queer people. It is watching other people coming out and thrive, drawing inspiration and knowledge, and crafting my own version of that. People like Joel Kim Booster, Jake Choi, Chris Lam, Bowen Yang, and much more.
The queer Asian experience is knowing that my very existence is a political statement. It is knowing that there are people out there that think I should be treated less than. It is facing homophobia in the Asian community and facing racism in the queer community. It is, despite having this predisposed seemingly eclipsing identity, feeling empowered and learning to love yourself.
Men asking me for threesomes when I was single on Twitter because apparently bisexuals and Asian women are hypersexual.
Julian Lao – @julianlao
The queer Asian experience means a lot of things to me — specifically, confusion. I feel as if growing up I had a hard time accepting who I was because I never saw myself in popular media. With a struggle in expectations of what it is to be a man, to be Asian, and to be queer. I always wanted someone to look up to and identify with. Film and television always depicted Asians my age as the sidekick or the best friend. One who is great at math or the karate kid. Additionally, media always portrayed a queer man as the sassy individual who people poke fun at for being more feminine than masculine. One who is never Asian but having blonde hair and blue eyes. When I was younger my queer Asian experience was confusing and sad because I was at a loss of who I was supposed to be and couldn’t see my reflection in the mirror clearly. I believe that representation matters and by acknowledging my Asian experience this proves how we are beautifully powerful.
Making Asian American media
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