Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Email from a gay Chinese student with a homophobic family

Yesterday, a reader sent me the following email:

Dear GB,

I've been visiting your blog occasionally for a while now. It's an awesome resource. I have a lot of things to say, and it's going to a rambling mess of words. A weird rant.

I'm a gay ethically Chinese 18 year old university student from North America who is out to everybody EXCEPT my parents. My sister does know that I'm gay, and I'll discuss her later.

Ever since coming to university, I came out to a lot of people, and have been received pretty well. I mean, nobody gave me any trouble. My coming out story was actually quite smooth. Looking back I did a lot of smart things. I joined the gay-straight alliance at school, I came out to close friends, read queer-themed books, I talked to gay people I knew about their experiences, and chose to go to an ultra gay-friendly university. I even decided to go to a gay pride event, but I got caught by my parents and we had a gigantic argument later.

Just like a lot of queer teens/people, I was a depressed mess for about two years. I didn't cut or harm myself in any physical way. The entire struggle took place inside my head. My parents' homophobia certainly didn't help. I remember watching Prison Break with my parents once, and after a gay character was introduced, my mom leaned in and told me in a very serious tone that gay people are evil and that I should never become gay. My dad insists that I cut my nails ultra-short and that I should never put my arms on my hips because "that's what women do". In middle school a guy came to my school and talked to my class about homophobia. I told my mom about it later and she was really concerned. She asked me repeatedly if the guy said that "being gay is better than being straight". My parents unfortunately believe in the existence of the gay agenda.

All my life, I've been indoctrinated with homophobic nonsense. Coming out to people helped me get over it, but traces of it are still there. For example, I don't act very flamboyant at all. I'm scared of attracting attention to myself. As I grew older and I joined the gay-straight alliance and went to ONE pride event, my parents found out about both of those things. They were furious and demanded that I quit immediately. I was scared of revealing my sexuality (given all the things they said about gay people over the years), so I always said something along the lines of 'I want to help people'. One time, they kept pressing me on why I had joined a queer-themed club, and I got fed up and straight up said I was gay. My mom immediately said, "You're not", and had a ghastly expression on her face. My dad became angry, and said that he would not pay for my university education at all if I was. They were very homophobic. Naturally, I feel like my parents failed me. As my primary caregivers, they were supposed to love me unconditionally. That's my perhaps naïve belief. My mom threatened me with the same thing because one time she saw me looking at news of a celebrity coming out of the closet. They. Are. Neurotic.

Long story short, me and my parents spar over the topic of homosexuality often. My dad reads Chinese homophobic nonsense on some Asian news website all the time, and once got mad because middle schools are educating kids about homophobia. He was so mad he had to go take a long walk outside. He always talks about how gays gives him goose bumps, and especially after the gay-related family drama we had, always scrutinizes signs of femininity in me. It's quite annoying and I get mad at him often. I think both of them know already, but are threatening me to prolong the inevitable.

Being a safety-first kind of guy, I have an elaborate plan on coming out to my parents. I will tell my mom first, because out of the two, she seems more accepting. (My dad is just neurotic and I don't feel close to him at all). I have a shitty relationship with my parents, needless to say. I even have a back-up plan in case I get kicked out. Two of my friends have offered for me to live with them should that happen. One of my friend's mums is even involved, and supports me. I hope that doesn't happen though. I'm just scared that IF my parents DO follow through with their threat of cutting me off financially, I wouldn't be able to complete university. I've pretty much come to the conclusion that at the LATEST, I have to come out after university, after I get a stable job. That way I will be on secure footing when I do come out. Like I said, I like to cover absolutely everything.

My sister is no help, even though she has known that I am gay for almost three years now. She remains tight-lipped whenever I ask her for advice, or changes the topic. She wants to protect my parents, and defends them against me when I bash them by saying that "they're ignorant, they're not as educated as you, so don't push them too far!" I usually respond by saying "well if they're ignorant, obviously we don't want them to stay ignorant, and who better to educate them than me?" She always continues to dance around the topic, saying that she supports me, but in reality does nothing (she NEVER talked about it in the three years she knew, no support, no nothing).

Once, my sister's homophobic friend (who is quite close to my sister) pissed me off by saying that I NEED to be nicer to homophobic people when coming out to i.e. my sister and not push them AT ALL, because I AM the aggressor and they're the ones who have to deal with it. I was mad and yelled at him for his complete stupidity. I'm the GAY ONE, you're NOT. What's the huge deal for YOU? I told my sister about our argument, and she immediately sprang into action, comforting her friend and of course NOT OFFERING A SINGLE WORD OF ADVICE TO ME. As a sister, I feel like she's failed me. Over the next couple of months, I became aggressive and was really upset by her continued silence so I confronted her about it. She reacted by saying that it's REALLY HARD on her too and that she hates change. Basically nice words for saying she doesn't like the fact that I'm gay. I asked her for help to come out to my parents because they are extremely homophobic and I would appreciate the help of a sibling. Because we live in different places, we only communicate via text. She stopped responding to my texts. She became distant and made up excuses to not respond. The only time I Skyped with my sister, I casually mentioned that I had made a lot of progress on coming out. Her roommate was in the room and I didn't think it was a big deal. She did. Upon the word 'gay' leaving my mouth, she immediately shut off Skype and messaged me ANGRILY: "geez, why don't we just message each other? My roommate is IN THE ROOM! Can't we talk about something else? I don't feel comfortable talking on Skype with my roommate in the room". She was comfortable talking with me with her roommate in the room until I mentioned that I was gay. Shitty sister I have.

Once, I was playing a board game with my sister and some of my mom's friend's sons. Because one guy was losing, he kept complaining that his cards were "so gay". I let it go the first time, but after the third time I exploded on him:
"Dude. That's really offensive!" My sister freezes up.
Guy gives me a sceptical look, "Don't worry about it".
"No, I'm serious. Stop."
"Why, what's it to you?"
"I'm gay". My sister is clearly uncomfortable, and offers me no support whatsoever. She shuts up completely.
"Oh. Wow. Dude I didn't know. I'm so sorry".
That was that. He said "those cards are so gay" a couple of times and I reprimanded him each time he did it. I'm sort of a big social activist. One of the other guys eventually helped me reprimand the offending guy. My sister never helped. She just sat there, frozen, uncomfortable, and unwilling to help.

I have a lot of pent up frustration about my sister, mostly because of her hypocrisy, unwillingness to help, and how she ALWAYS ignores me whenever I try to talk about coming out to my parents with her. Unless I yell at her, she ignores me always. She says that she supports me, but doesn't show it at all. On more than one occasion she has asked me to hold off coming out to our parents because (1) our dad has a terrible heart, so she says that he will get a heart attack if I tell him, and (2) she want her family together and so she selfishly wants me to stay in the closet. I'm very done with my sister. I told her a couple of weeks ago that I don't want her help anymore because she's too troublesome and I'm fed up with her slipperyness and how she CONSTANTLY ignores me. (If I text her about anything else she responds normally.) I don't know what to do with her, but I stopped relying on my sister.

My plan is to come out to my parents AFTER getting a job, because I want to have a back-up plan in case they do follow through with the threat. My dad gets angry easily - he yells at me because my fingernails are mildly long. He says that no man has long fingernails. When I found a guy with long fingernails, he got madder. But I'm not scared of my parents. I'm actually very fed up with them too. And honestly very hurt, which is why I don't really want to interact with them.

I don't know what to do at all. I want to come out and be myself. I want to mend my relationship with both my sister and my parents. I know that I am supremely angry at all three of them. I know that if I don't do anything I will only become more upset - so I need to take action. Yeah, I'm still kind of uncomfortable with physical intimacy with other guys. Family indoctrination. I haven't kissed a guy yet. Although I did play around on Grindr and OKCupid one time. Grindr was really scary! (Guys I barely knew asked for hookups) and OKCupid was fun, but I also felt kind of intimidated on there. I never did anything or met up with guys from those apps.

I'm sorry that this email is so all over the place. Any advice helps. Thanks a lot GB.

From a confused, upset, angry gay guy who doesn't know what to do about his family.

Overall, it seems that the reader who sent me this email is quite a strong guy. He's managed to come out to a lot of people, and he's also a bit of a gay activist, telling the son of one of his mother's friends not to use the word "gay" in a derogatory way. However, he clearly has some issues when it comes to his family.

Thinking about homophobia in general, in a lot of cases the biggest homophobes turn out to be gay themselves. An article in The Telegraph (a UK newspaper) mentions this, and has links to a couple of web sites (gayhomophobe.com and www.ranker.com/list/top-10-anti-gay-activists-caught-being-gay/joanne) which give examples of these scandals. The Telegraph article has no idea why people get themselves into these situations, but I think I've got an idea. Their problem is that because they are gay homophobes, they don't like their own feelings towards people of the same gender, and so they react by trying to ban or outlaw all things gay. Part of this is saying that because they can't let themselves be gay, they don't want anyone else to be gay either. Also, if they're virulently anti-gay, they think it helps them hide their own feelings. Of course, because it is often the secretly gay homophobes that are the biggest anti-gay campaigners, I always suspect that those kinds of people are indeed gay themselves. In any case, the point is that if these homophobes weren't gay themselves, then they wouldn't feel so strongly about the matter.

Although I don't think it's likely, it could be that the preceding paragraph applies to the reader's father. It's possible that the father sometimes feels attracted to other men, and hates himself for having these feelings. That makes him behave the way that he does, and perhaps the reader's mother is simply reflecting the father's views and trying to support her husband. Whatever the reason for the parent's homophobia, their anti-gay views have probably rubbed off to some extent on the reader's sister, and hence she feels embarrassed about having a gay brother.

Whatever the reason for the father's homophobia, I think it might help the reader to imagine what his father's life has been like if he does sometimes have gay feelings. If it's true, he'll have had a pretty shitty life! Perhaps the poor guy forced himself into marriage, and may have been constantly wanting something that he can't let himself have, namely intimacy with another man. For someone in that position, having an openly gay son just makes his life even worse. In other words, rather than following his current aggressive course regarding his homosexuality, perhaps he should quietly pity his parents instead.

I'm certainly not saying that the reader should never come out to his parents. However, taking into account everything that the reader put in his email to me, it seems to me that now isn't the right time. Unfortunately homosexuality has become a major issue in the family, and pushing the issue at this stage is likely to cause a major breakdown in the relationship between the reader and his parents. Much better would be for the reader to follow his own plan and come out when his studies are over, hopefully when he's got a stable job and perhaps a boyfriend as well :-). Meanwhile, I also see no advantage of him being a pro-gay campaigner with his parents or his sister either, especially if his father is secretly gay or bisexual. For now a better plan would probably be to avoid the issue with all of them, and try to let the situation calm down over time while making the most of the freedom that he has outside the family home. Indeed, his email gives the impression that he's quite able to be gay when away from home, so for now keeping quiet at home might not be too big a burden.

Another thought is that the reader is still a teenager, and it does bother me a bit that he says that he's gay but also uncomfortable with physical intimacy with other guys. Sometimes teenagers like to rebel against their parents, and deliberately do things that are opposite to what their parents would want. Again, I don't think this is likely, but it's not inconceivable that some teenagers could subconsciously make the decision to be gay simply as a way of upsetting their parents if they know that their parents hate gay people. So particularly in this case where homosexuality is such a big issue in the family, before coming out to his parents I think it would be best for the reader to have had some intimate gay experiences, just to check that he really is gay after all. Another advantage of this is that the more gay experiences a guy has, the more confidence he develops in his lifestyle, and confidence certainly helps in difficult family situations.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on the reader's situation?

Update 2-Nov-2014: Another Chinese reader sent me his story about how he came out to his parents, see: A gay Chinese guy who came out to his family.