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 firstname.lastname@example.org.