Op-ed: How My Mom Found Out About My Boyfriend
Ever since I officially came out to my parents last September when they spotted some intimate pictures of my boyfriend and me, it has taken several rough months for me to reestablish a trusting, healthy relationship with them. They’ve always known that I’m different from my brothers, but it’s an open secret that nobody wants to officially discuss. I have to admit, while I was always aware of the possibility that they may find out through social media, I was never really worried until my family, back in Taiwan, found out about a relationship I was having in Philadelphia.
It happened on a weekend in late September of last year. It also happened at the wrong time; I was asking them to transfer cash into my bank account. We had our typical weekly Skype chat on a Saturday morning, and everything seemed fine.
However, when I came back from an event that afternoon, I saw an inbox message from my mom. She saw pictures of my boyfriend and me on Facebook.
Today, I can’t recall the words. She was beyond angry and had a tone of despair. I tried to get in touch with family members in Taiwan, and sought help. I was told to remain calm, but in the meantime I took down all relevant pictures, messages, and wall posts about me and my boyfriend from my Facebook account. I felt angry, helpless, and hurt. I was losing control of my world, and I had to act in accordance to others’ will.
I didn’t hear back from my parents or family members for the next two days, and I thought things were quieting down. However, another inbox message appeared the following Monday morning. This time, my mom used a cold and firm tone to tell me how she had felt during the past two days and that she found the situation unbelievable.
“If I knew something like this would happen, I would have never let you come to Philadelphia,” she said.
She felt that she was spending money on a person that she barely knew — me. She demanded that I pack my stuff and come home.
I trembled and tried to calm myself down. But all I could do was pick up my phone and update my boyfriend about the situation. His advice? Calm down and continue on with my day. It was at that moment that I realized why coming out was never an easy process, especially in an Asian family. The relationship between parents and children is locked in the traditional top-down hierarchy that makes healthy communication almost impossible. Both sides are constantly figuring out what the other side is doing and thinking. Real “trust” never truly exists.
Days went by without me talking face-to-face with my parents. While I knew my dad was trying his best to calm my mom down, I was also trying to show them how much I would be willing to sacrifice to stay in Philadelphia. I knew my life would never be the same from the moment that I gave in to them, but it was for my benefit in the long run.
I remained low-key while attempting to turn the whole situation in my favor again. My mother and I, with my father in attendance, had our first Skype chat four weeks later. They looked unusually calm and stiff. My mother refused to look at me. I talked to my dad briefly about what I’ve been up to in the past four weeks, and then we decided to call it a day. I broke down in tears when I hung up. I blamed whomever I could think of for the “unfair” life ahead and pitied myself for having to sacrifice my life to make them happy.
My mom started to communicate with me after several weeks, and everything seemed to be heading in the right direction. While I was very aware of what I should avoid doing, our relationship got better and better as the days went by. She was talking to me on a weekly basis, and she seemed to be adjusting to the “new” me pretty well. On the other hand, my boyfriend and I officially became “underground” lovers, since I certainly couldn’t be out on Facebook.
My life went on peacefully until early April. When the Supreme Court’s heard the Proposition 8 and DOMA cases, I unconsciously changed my profile picture into the sign of supporting same-sex marriage. I was also updating latest news about the cases on my Facebook. Two days later, my mom wrote a lengthy message to me through Facebook again. She told me it hurt her every time she saw me sharing news about same-sex marriage through social media. While she’s trying hard to accept me being gay, she would never be able to accept me advocating marriage equality publicly. She said it hurt her and made her feel awkward when thinking about the fact that I would be home in just a few months’ time.
“I might still love you,” she wrote, “but I don’t know how to deal with a you that’s actively involved with gay rights advocacy.”
Once again, I had the feeling that my life was no longer mine. I wasn’t able to share my world and publicly support my causes. The feeling of being an independent individual was completely taken from me. I was a clown, trying to entertain my audience and make them happy. My life was no longer about me, but my parents. Resentment and negative feelings started to accumulate. Once again, our relationship became unhealthy. Both sides refused to take one step back and surrender. The tension only started to loosen after family members intervened once more.
I went to Philadelphia to earn a master’s degree in journalism at Temple University. I was inspired to study journalism so I could advocate for those who need to be heard, including myself. I started with a blog in which I share my reflections on the current state of LGBT advocacy, LGBT rights and what should be done to fully empower the community. Then an opportunity came in April when PolicyMic, a start-up political news website, sought contributors for its gender and sexuality section.
My long-dying passion was reignited, and I immediately applied for that position. A few days later, I was assigned my first story: to write about New Zealand’s legalization of same-sex marriage and what the U.S. can learn from it. Naturally, I shared the news through my Facebook and Twitter accounts. My mom told me how much she regretted allowing me pursue a career in journalism. She thinks American culture turned me into a total stranger.
This time, I chose to remain silent, and asked myself whether this was right or wrong. From this moment on, I knew no matter how hard I tried, she could never be satisfied with me being openly gay and publicly advocating for gay causes. I knew I would have to create a balance that allows us to have a safe distance to talk and communicate. I know this is a lifelong course that I will have to learn, determining how to find the perfect balance in life that doesn’t actually hurt anyone. It’s hard, and I could have quit a long time ago. However, I know that the fact that we are family will never change, and I still have to appreciate the fact that they are willing to support me to pursue my dream. But now this dream needs some modification.
As I write this piece, the thought of her getting hurt just creeps into my head again. Some people suggest that I stay away from writing about LGBT issues, but I find that is a hard request to fulfill. It would mean betraying my identity, and it also means I am afraid of fulfilling my passions and dreams.
I know perfectly well that this is going to be a lifelong struggle, and I may still fail in the end. However, I know I have the ability and access that others may not have, and my writing can be an outlet for those like me who want to be heard. I have chosen this road, and I can only go forward. Heading back will only further complicate the situation.
We have started communicating again on a regular basis, and things are different. We avoid certain topics and areas of life in our conversation. I guess that makes both sides more comfortable. I’ve also learned more about coming out. Since I don’t know if my mom will ever accept who I am completely, I should never lose myself to my family’s will entirely as well. After all, it’s still about who I am rather than who they want me to be. I’m old enough to be independent and make decision for myself.
Coming out has made me feel more comfortable about being myself at any occasion. It also teaches me how to defend myself when experiencing difficult situations. Most importantly, I’ve finally realized that an unending battle began when I decided to come out. How you deal with it will decide what kind of life you’ll live in the future.
WILLIAM HAO-WEI YANG is currently studying journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia.