COLUMN: No longer hiding, I am proud to embrace my identity

The Thursday before spring break, I received a call that changed my life. I woke up to the sound of the phone ringing, mindlessly picking up without looking to see who the caller was.

“Is something wrong with your sexuality?” the caller asked in a somber voice. “I read what you wrote, and I’m very disappointed in you.”

Immediately afterward, he hung up. The voice I heard was my dad’s.

Half an hour later, I walked into work with red, swollen eyes. I spent the entire morning crying, shocked and confused about what had happened. I was overwhelmed — and hurt — about what my dad had said after finding out about my bisexuality. For most of the day, there was a recurring thought that I couldn’t erase from my mind — that I had disappointed my family.

I grew numb to those feelings as the day went on. I tried staying preoccupied with work and other assignments, so I could ignore all the text messages that my brother, my mom and my dad sent. Seven phone calls went unanswered, but by the end of the day, I finally mustered up the courage to respond. As my brother told me, I had to “rip the Band-Aid off as soon as possible.” At 9:30 p.m., I called my parents back. For half an hour, it felt like the world had stopped moving, that I had failed the people I loved most. Every word spoken felt like a needle piercing through my skin.

While my mom was generally accepting, my dad was the one who was in denial. I couldn’t respond to what he told me.

“I hope you know that what you are isn’t what you actually are sometimes,” he said. “You have a choice, and Mom and I will support you no matter what. But if you go down the wrong path, you are choosing to live a very difficult and lonely life.”

He proceeded to ask me to end any same-sex relationship I was currently in and try exploring heterosexuality for six months. It was as if he thought I had a choice.

As with many other traditional Asian American families, my family believes that people can either be gay or straight by choice and there is nothing in between those two binaries. After struggling to deal with my brother’s sexuality for several years, my parents recently became more supportive of him and his relationships. However, that meant I had to face the immense pressure of being the “normal” son, the one who wouldn’t disappoint.

For years, I internalized everything I wish I could have told my parents. I was aware of the devastation and pain they’d face if they knew about my personal life. So I masked every suspicion, concealed my identity and hid all my secrets from them. I was certain that I could hide from them for as long as possible. They didn’t have to know, and they’d never have to know.

I spent my spring break alone in Chicago reflecting on everything that had happened. And strangely, the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders — my parents would have found out sooner or later. However, I thought about the conversation I had with my dad that Thursday night with anger and resentment.

How could he tell me I was making the wrong lifestyle choice? And how could he predict that I’d live an unhappy and difficult life in the future? I was confounded by all the assumptions he made about my life based on my brother’s experiences without even considering that I am my own person.

My dad thinks people in same-sex relationships shouldn’t get married. He thinks we will continue to be discriminated against for the rest of our lives. He thinks that we won’t be able to have children of our own, that our relationships are purely based on lust and that we can never maintain our own relationships because of our lifestyle differences. He’s embarrassed and worried that the rest of our family will push us away. But he’s wrong, and I’m empowered to disprove his heteronormative way of thinking.

I’ve been in a relationship with my boyfriend for over a year. Though we’re separated by the distance between South Central and Westwood, we’ve continued to support and care for each other since we started college. We became friends by chance, and boyfriends by choice. It goes without saying that soon enough, I’ll bring him home and introduce him to my family.

I know that if I pursue a same-sex marriage in the future, I’ll still be able to have my own children. There are no wrong ways to build a family, whether it be by surrogate pregnancies or adoption.

Every gay, bi, lesbian or transgender person deserves a chance at living their own lives and finding happiness in their own ways. Sexuality is an important part of our identities, but it does not define every aspect of our lives. We’re still human, and we deserve the respect to be who we are no matter what.

Though my relationship with my parents has not been the same, I’m confident that I’ll be able to change their misconceptions in the future. I’m capable of anything a heterosexual person can do. I don’t need to be “normal.” I’m no longer afraid, no longer ashamed, no longer hiding in the shadows — I’ll continue fighting for my happiness, for my place in this world and for the life I want to live. I’m stronger now.”

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.

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