N i n e t e e n E i g h t y M e
There's a moment from my childhood that I can always recall so vividly. One of those moments where your pulse races, your heart thumps so hard it feels like it's about to burst from your chest, and all of the blood rushes to your face... from embarrassment.
Sometime in the middle of my tenure as an elementary school student, I'd begged my mom to get me a cardigan from the local casual corner that I just knew would look AMAZING. It was a crisp white knit, navy blue trimmed collar, and electric teal trim on the patch pockets with matching teal buttons down the front - verrry Miami Vice vibes.
After a week of pestering, my mom bought me said cardigan on a Saturday, which I still remember because I was excited to sport my snazzy new fit to church the very next day. As I got dressed for Sunday mass, I stared at my outfit in the mirror- snazzy cardigan, crisp white t-shirt, dark blue jeans. Something was missing. I realized what would complete this 'lewk'!
I'd meticulously made a cayooote beaded friendship necklace at after-school day care that week - alternating white, teal, pink, & royal blue beads. I dug it out of my backpack and held it against my neck the same way I'd seen my mom do when she'd want to see how a necklace would look on her during our many shopping excursions.
At that exact moment my mom walked in to see if I was ready, and I saw her face staring back at me in absolute horror. This was the moment *I think* my mom noticed that I was different.
"What are you doing? Put that down! Why are you holding it against yourself like that?" my mom scolded. "Boys don't wear necklaces like that and boys don't hold up necklaces like that! You should never ever do that again!"
My mom confiscated my jewels & my face flushed bright red from shame. This is the moment that's still so palpable in my mind - although I just laugh at my silly little self now. But in that moment I felt like I'd done something so horribly wrong that I could barely look at my mom for the remainder of that day. You see, growing up in a Catholic, middle class, Asian immigrant family wasn't exactly the easiest environment to come out in. It wouldn't be until nearly a decade later that I would come out to my parents.
M Y 2 K
I didn't explore dating boys until college. It was my first year and I felt free-er being at school - but I still couldn't bring myself to go to the Gay club on campus. I walked to one of their meetings once just to scope out the trade (wasn't any), and I casually peeked in the room but couldn't bring myself to walk in. I chalk it up to my self-shame and internalized homophobia that had been engrained in me growing up in a fairly conservative suburb, but I did the next safest thing I could think of - I went online. The land of predators, catfish, & underage youths- oh my.
Cut to me dating my first boy, long distance, across the country. We'd talk every night on the phone & coordinate travel plans - within months we professed our love. Then my first year in college came to a close & I returned home to my parents for the summer. This is when it happened. A second moment of flesh-searing shame.
In preparation for my boyfriend's birthday I'd gotten him a gift & a card. The night before I was to mail it out, I sat down at my old desk & filled the card with sweet nothings & romantic proclamations - I know, barf. Just then, one of my high school friends who was also home for the summer called me to come out for a late night catch up sesh at our town Denny's. So I left the card on my desk & thinking my parents were fast asleep, gleefully snuck out as if I was in high school again.
A sampler platter & stack of pancakes later, I returned home. I quietly opened the front door & slowly walked up the stairs to my room so that the floorboards wouldn't creak. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed light coming from my room. Strange. Did I leave the door open? Did I leave my light on? Oh god. I slowly pushed my door open and saw my mom sitting on my bed sobbing, my boyfriend's birthday card in her hands.
"Who's Mark?" my mother asked through tears.
"He's... a friend," I responded quietly.
"Why do you say that you love him?" she asks.
In that moment, years of hiding & torturing myself with shame & self-hatred filled me with an anger that I've rarely felt since. I knew in that moment that I had to just say it out loud.
"Mom. I'm gay."
What followed was an agonizing back & forth, from "Why would you do this" & "Where did I go wrong" to "What kind of people are you spending time with" & "It's just a phase". As I sat there with my mom for what felt like an eternity, I could tell that I wouldn't be able to unpack this for her in one night. And then I peered up & saw that my dad had been standing silently in the corner the entire time like an Asian Babadook. "We're sending you to a psychologist," he muttered.
Which did happen- but the psychologist didn't give them the answer they were hoping for. Instead, it was the first time I'd heard someone be supportive for my coming out. And it meant the world to me, but that's a story for another day.
I went back to school in the fall, still dating my long distance boyfriend. And after a long year of tension and fighting with the parentals, I returned home once again for summer. This time, however, would change the course of our relationship forever.
I received a call one sunny afternoon. It was Mark. He called to let me know that he'd hooked up with someone else & that he wanted to end things. Oh. Okay. Wow.
Being my first heartbreak, I was flooded with emotions I didn't even know I had. I couldn't stop sobbing & I may or may not have done a slow, dramatic wall slide, but the phone was still clutched in my hands after we'd hung up. And that's when my parents came home from their weekly trip to Costco- to the sight of their son crouched at the foot of a wall, clutching a gigantic cordless phone, sobbing uncontrollably as if somebody just died.
"Allan, what's wrong?" my mom frantically asked.
"Mark. He broke up with me." I hiccuped through sobs.
"He WHAT?" yelled my mom. "Well he doesn't deserve you. Don't you ever cry over him. Ever. What do you need? Do you want a drink?"
"Or a beer?" offered my dad.
In that moment, my parents saw how real my heartbreak was. This wasn't just a phase. This was something that they needed to accept because, as parents, their ultimate concern, was that I was happy. And in return, I got to see that they could be there for me & support me, even if they didn't yet fully understand how to. This was the beginning of a new chapter in our relationship. And I didn't know it then, but I would be forever so grateful for that experience.
Although my coming out journey hasn't been smooth nor easy, I'm thankful for how it transpired and how my parents were able to eventually embrace & love me as I truly am. Over the years there were moments that were very much 'one step forwards, two steps back'. But nothing's perfect. And the biggest lesson I've learned is that you can never control someone else's reaction to your truth. You just need to honor yourself & make sure your truth is heard.
Happy National Coming Out Day to everyone who has, or has yet to share their truth. And a heartfelt thank you to the friends & families who've really listened, learned, and loved unconditionally.