COLUMN: For Asian Americans, coming out is a double-edged sword

Last November, I tried coming out to my mom. It didn’t work out.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been facing the same dilemma of whether or not I should come out to my family. I’m proud of my sexual orientation, and I’m glad to say that I have people in my life who accept me, but this hasn’t been the case with my parents.

For many young Asian Americans, conflict of identity is not a strange occurrence. As the son of two Vietnamese immigrants, I can attest that it has taken a very long journey to get to where I am today.

I grew up loving my heritage and culture. After coming to America, my parents continued to hold on to their values — Vietnamese cultural values that they used to raise me and my older brother. It meant greeting my relatives whenever they came to visit. It meant no English inside the house. It meant waiting for all your elders to eat before you could start picking up your chopsticks. And it also meant that romance should strictly be between a man and a woman.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my future for the past couple of months. When I came back home to Little Saigon for Thanksgiving break, I felt like it would be the right time. My boyfriend and I were discussing the possibility of coming out to our parents during that period. I even asked my brother for advice. Both of them agreed that no matter what happened, my parents would still love me.

While I knew it was true, I could not fathom the shock that would come if I came out to them about my sexuality and my lifestyle differences. As my co-editor Terry Nguyen said in last week’s column, “I was living under a different ‘bi’ label my entire life.”

I have always been bicultural, and the intersectional struggle of my identities created a conflict between my sexuality and the culture I was brought up in.

For a very long time, I had been struggling to come to terms with my sexuality and gender identity. And when I finally overcame that struggle, a new one arose. I didn’t know how to balance the difference between who I am to my family and who I am to the rest of the world.

My parents don’t understand the concept of bisexuality — because from their cultural lens, there is only a simple binary in love, relationships and family building. Without this understanding, I also wouldn’t be able to tell them of where I stand on the Kinsey scale as a male-leaning bisexual.

Despite all the qualms I had, I knew I wanted to give my parents a chance — a chance for them to finally understand a part of my life that I had hid from the two people I loved the most.

So on Thanksgiving day, I had a moment with my mom. She and I were talking about my future, where I wanted to work, what career aspiration I had — and the conversation came up.

“Mom… what if I like both boys and girls? Is that OK?” I asked. She chuckled a bit.

“I don’t think that’s possible, and I wouldn’t support it,” she said. “I want to you to grow up into the world as a man so people don’t laugh at you. You know it’s true that gay people live a hard life, especially in our community.”

It hurt to hear her dismiss my thoughts so quickly and instantaneously. But I understood and knew that she wasn’t ready for it. And nor was I for everything that I thought I had been ready for.

As much pain as I was in at the time, I know now that I still have a long way to go before things will change for the better. I’m still thinking of ways to overcome the cultural barriers that lie between me and my Vietnamese parents. I know that in order for them to finally understand me, I have to have a better understanding of my own identity and where I stand in comparison to my parents in terms of our cultural differences. And hopefully at that point, things will get easier.

I’m currently writing this column with hopes that one day, I’ll be strong enough to share these thoughts with my parents. I’m also stuck at the crossroads, but I know one day, I’ll be able to choose my own path. And somehow, some way, everything will be OK.

Allen Pham is a sophomore majoring in public relations. He is also the lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “The A Game,” runs every other Monday.

1 reply
  1. Skyler
    Skyler says:

    Sometimes the only way to change a community is to come out to that community. Good luck in changing hearts and minds – including your parent’s. It’s not as hard as you might think.

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