When it’s stifling to be out: Gay Asian American men say cultural values keep them from coming out

Paul Nguyen, a gay man who has come out to his family, stands at the Northgate Transit Center on July 29. (Photo by Vivian Luu/NWAW)

Paul Nguyen, a gay man who has come out to his family, stands at the Northgate Transit Center on July 29. (Photo by Vivian Luu/NWAW)

By Vivian Luu
Northwest Asian Weekly

Jason Lee, 24, will openly tell you that he’s gay. You may have met him while he was tanning at Madison Beach. He’s not afraid to tell you that his boyfriend’s name is Adyceum Carri and that he loves going to Neighbours, a gay club on Capitol Hill.

However, his mom doesn’t know that he’s gay. Neither does anyone else in his family besides his closest cousin. Lee said it is uncommon to be gay in Taiwan. He says his mom constantly asks him if he has a girlfriend in the United States.

“I feel my mother will cut my [financial] support,” Lee said, adding that he would not be able to study accounting at Seattle University if his mother disowned him and refused to pay his tuition.

Lee’s fear is well-founded. As a volunteer for the Mpowerment Project, a west coast support program for gay and bisexual men, he has seen the kinds of things that can happen to teens and young adults when they come out to their families.

“They would get kicked out of their homes,” Lee said. “Because they’re young, they can’t always make enough money to support themselves. They end up having to offer sex for money.”

Paul Nguyen, 19, says that core Asian values can stifle a gay man’s ability to live happily.

Instead of knitting families together, Confucian values, which heavily stress patriarchy, tear families apart.

“You’re expected to live at home, go to school, get married, have kids, and have your parents live in your house,” Nguyen said. “Because I’m gay, I can’t follow that. It’s not the same. I won’t have those kids. I won’t have that wife.”

Fear of failing is prevalent in Asian culture. Nguyen said that when he was young, his parents made sure that he did everything correctly, without making mistakes.

He recalled when his parents bought a 100-year-old piano when his older sister, Patricia, started learning to play the piano. Nguyen was 7 years old. He broke a piano key one day while playing the instrument.

“Instead of hiring someone, my dad decided to fix it himself,” Nguyen said. “He made me sit down and watch him. He cursed and yelled at me. When he couldn’t fix it, he came over to me and kicked me in the head.”

The experience, Nguyen said, made him feel that he would suffer if he didn’t do everything correctly. Being gay is no exception.

“I thought if my parents ever found out [I was gay], I would get disowned,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen’s parents did find out that he was gay. Nguyen was caught inviting another male to come visit him at their house. He came clean when his parents asked him if he was gay. The incident was responsible for Nguyen going to a correctional facility.

“My mom started crying,” Nguyen said. “I started crying. My dad looked a little sad, and I could tell he was disappointed in me.”

Disappointment, said Jeremy, is the last thing he wants to bring to his parents. The 21-year-old requested his last name not be released, as his family does not know he is gay.

Jeremy said individuality is suppressed in Asian culture. People are expected to thrive in groups, so any deviation from established norms is considered taboo — including being gay.

According to Derick Medina, 28, parents who emigrated from an Asian country have a tougher time accepting homosexuality because their lifestyles there are very conservative. Ever-present, ever-watching governments also condemn homosexuality.

Jeremy said that all hell broke loose when his aunt found his e-mail on a website for gay, Asian men.

“My mom was crying, and she blamed herself for not having paid more attention to me and knowing the friends I hung out with,” he said. “She asked me if I was ‘normal.’”

Jeremy hasn’t completely come out to his parents because he doesn’t want the relationship he has with them to vanish.

They are the people I love,” he said. “[But] they will abandon you, have bad thoughts about you, and say things against you [if they know you’re gay]. Losing them is the worst part that I can think of because you’ve shared so much with them.”

Instead of facing consequences, gay men would hide their sexual orientation from their families, Medina said.

“You can have a loving family and be very open to them. But even then, you can hide your darkest secrets from them. Being gay is often that secret.” ♦

Vivian Luu can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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20 Responses to “When it’s stifling to be out: Gay Asian American men say cultural values keep them from coming out”

  1. Kelly says:

    This is a very common thing. There should still be more time before it will be fully accepted int he Asian region as people to be too tight with the beliefs and ideals. This however just makes it very difficult for people like Jason to be his real self… Sad but true

  2. Gold Boy says:

    I seriously don’t believe it. I pray Wayne is ok for the cup!

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  7. Leilani says:

    I’m sure they could be satisfactorily “out” in any of their native countries….no?

  8. Edward says:

    I read the article some time ago, I just discovered that this newpaper can be found on line as well.

    I believe a gay or homosexual lifestyle is definately a choice. If parents are a bit surprised or express mix emotions, maybe it’s because they know, understand and accept God’s natural laws for all of us.

    Still waiting for someone to prove to me that being gay is genetic.

    • Loc says:

      Wow, seriously?

      You’re gonna use the Bible?

      That’s some Ignorant thinking you have, a very Elitist, Holier than thou opinion to have

      Whatever the case may be, you’ve got to NOT Take a Piece of Literature that was WRITTEN By Human Beings, to be “God’s Laws”

      How do u know what God wants for us?

      Do you have God’s ear & Dialing Services in Speed DiaL?

      Sheesh, it’s guys like you, who think you’re better than the rest, sneering your nose at those who live an alternative Lifestyle, I’m shure you think you’re exempt from this line of thinking, but let me inform you, when you get Reborn as a Guy again, or maybe a girL, in the Next Life, and for the Life of you, You cannot explain WHY You are attracted to the same sex…

      Perhapz, it’s not about Genetics…The Ghost is NOT The Machine…

      • Loc says:

        btw, instead of Expecting with your Rigid Thinking, that everyone Must conform to this often Contradictory Piece of Text, that you Must adapt REALITY to those Texts…

        Do not take the GospeL as the TRUTH…

        For Crying Out LOUD…

    • Satosh says:

      Yeah I’m sick of these arguments spewed forth by people who “believe” what they will. Why don’t I go around and start making misleading generalizations about other groups of people.

    • chidude says:

      Who knows if homosexuality is genetic, and who cares? When a guy sees a hot guy and his eyes are drawn to absorb all the glorious beauty, his heart beat speeds up, and his **** gets hard, that is no choice. Physiological responses such as these are built-in and occur naturally when exposed to your desired type whether gay or straight. I remember back in high school when I needed to adjust my class schedule and was shocked to find that my biggest crush was in my new class; I was so thrilled and also quite scared of being found out that my heart began racing and pounding so loud I was sure that everyone could hear it!

  9. Michael says:

    As a Korean American myself, I can totally relate to this article. It’s a sad but true story, however. I really think acceptance starts from within the community, and we have to take small steps. We can’t expect a miracle! I currently work for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest organization for LGBT rights, and we recently published some material dealing with LGBT people of color, Asians and Asian Americans included. A lot of the data shown in the report (which can be downloaded in full at the website I posted) gives us the sense that our concerns and problems are pretty common throughout our racial and ethnic community. This type of acknowledgment is the first step! If you’re interested, you can check out the report.

  10. My sympathies for your experiences with your family. As someone who had to personally choose either to out himself or let his closest cousin out him after reading his facebook, I can empathise somewhat.

    As an Asian Muslim staying in Malaysia with conservative parents, it was definitely somewhat of a relief that I did not get the crying mother, or the disappointed father. In fact, during Eid Mubarak, when I was too scared to go visit our relatives (who had found out from my cousin nonetheless), they insisted on being there to back me up if any unpleasantness ensued.

    I honestly think the South East Asian community is growing to be more open about homosexuality given time. However, how much time it would take is definitely an open question.

  11. Jimmy Kwong says:

    I am both Christian and Chinese. I recently came out to my mom, and she is still pretty upset. It took me a long time to accept being gay, and I realize it will take some time for my mother as well.

    Hopefully, life for the gay Asian teen will be easier, as the community become more open and acceptance.

  12. Paul Nguyen says:

    So just a couple corrections so that the story doesn’t get mixed up. I’m 19, not 18. And also, It was not that I was sneaking anyone into the juvenile detention center, but into my house and that is the part to blame for me going to the correctional facility in the first place.

    Also, for those who are reading this that are homosexual and in hiding, I how it feels and if you need to reach out to someone, just find me on Facebook or Myspace and I will do my very best to be there for you in such tough conditions.

  13. Bill says:

    The Heterosexual and their lack of embarrasment and shame at treating THEIR VERY OWN GAY & LESBIAN CHILDREN in such vile and dispicable ways makes me wonder if God made a big ‘oops’ in leaving ANYTHING to the Heterosexual to protect.

    ESPECIALLY the children.

    Morality indeed, Heterosexuals. Morality indeed.


  1. […] to Northwest Asian Weekly, 19 year old Paul Nguyen says “core Asian values can stifle a gay man’s ability to live […]

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