Coming out as pansexual to my grandmother was an extremely important, and I believe, pivotal moment in my life as a queer, Asian young adult. I believe this for many reasons, but there are two specific ones that over shadow the rest.
The first of those is what it meant to me as a Japanese-American woman to feel safe enough and confidant enough in who I was to come out to my grandmother. For the majority of my queer journey up to this point, I was dead set on the fact that I could never tell my grandmother my sexual orientation. No matter the circumstance, I was sure that my grandmother would not understand or approve. No matter the circumstance, there was a great chance of my losing my relationship with her, my strongest tie to my Japanese heritage and her presence in my life as a third parent could be gone forever. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the love between us or isolate myself even more than I already felt from the Japanese community.
As much as my refusal to share my identity with my grandmother was based in my fear of her not loving me anymore, a good portion was also based in how I felt my faux-heterosexuality was essentially tied to my right to my Japanese heritage. I already felt like an imposter for being biracial and I felt that my admission to being attracted to more than just men would give the community more reason to exile me, revoke my membership that I’d come to believe I could only have if my grandmother backed me first. After all, my grandmother was the closest resource I had for my culture and language. Everything that made me feel Japanese I could attribute to her: my round face, olive skin, and almond eyes, my short stature and straight frame, my knowledge of Japanese tradition and lore with her songs and stories, my induction to Japanese pop culture with Studio Ghibli, candies and sweets, cartoons by Sanrio, and watching her Japanese shows on the TV, my love of the Japanese food she’d raised me on, the miso shiru and gyoza that marked my childhood, my interest and grasp of the Japanese language that she’d spoke and sang to me all my life. If she disowned me for this, it would feel like the entire Japanese and Asian community behind her would disown me as well.
When I finally decided to come out as pansexual to my grandma I was twenty. Four years after my official acceptance of the label, I’d gained enough confidence in my intersectionality of identities, enough love and pride for them all, that none of them could be affected by her acceptance or disapproval. My forgiveness and acceptance of my white, Scottish family and heritage had allowed me to discard the shame I felt for being mixed race in the Asian community. My growth and education in my Japanese heritage, history, and language had given me confidence in my identity as a Japanese person that no amount of racial slurs, stereotypes, or discrimination I received from any group of people could shake. My growth and knowledge of my self as a sexually and gender queer person and found footing in the LGBTQ+ community had shed the self hatred and fear of rejection from my mind. As painful as losing my grandmother would be, it would not and could not break me as might have before. I was tired of living behind lies. Being able to do something about that without fear of losing myself in my lost relationship was the most liberating thing I’d felt in my history with my Japanese and queer identities.
The second of the two reasons is absolutely the way my grandmother responded to my coming out. She both met my expectations and surprised me in the best of ways. And by that I mean that her reaction was so explicitly something my grandmother would say and do, but my fear of the worst case scenario had clouded my ability to perceive this outcome over the former.
I saw the opportunity to tell her over a conversation we had started about the recent mass shooting of LGBTQ+ people in Orlando, Florida. The devastation she expressed over the massacre, her clear understanding of the hateful prejudice behind the crime, it allowed me to see her clearer than before.
“I don’t understand why people do that!” I remember her shouting. “Why you got to hurt and kill people just because you disagree? Megan, it does not matter who you love, who I love, it doesn’t matter! Just because you believe doesn’t give you right to take another’s life!”
With her words my perceptions changed. My biases that often allowed me to view her as a stubborn child with an adult’s face and experiences had been pushed aside. Instead of the previously held image I’d had, my view of my grandmother had shifted to that of a women who’d experienced much hardship and shut out many new people and ideas because of it, but was still capable of growth and acceptance of new social norms and ways of thinking. This new image, this new perception of my grandma was a kinder, softer one than I’d met previously. It was one that I was safe with, I could feel it in my stomach and my cheeks.
“You know, it’s kind of scary for people like me, people who like more than just the opposite sex, people like those killed in that club, to be alive right now,” I said. “I’m like them, I like more than just boys, I want to date a girl someday, and it scares me that someone might want to kill me for that.”
My grandmother stared at me for a moment, her bony arms encircling her small legs, a high hum coming from her throat. That hum and the noise of her TV that never got turned off were the only sound in the room for several moments.
“You like girls?” She asked, then gestured to the news on the TV. “Like those people?”
I nodded and she made the same high hum.
“Well you know, Megan,” she said, looking down then back up again. I could feel my heart pounding heavily against my chest. “it does not matter who you love what you believe because you are my granddaughter. You are my first granddaughter and I will love you and take care of you always.”
I felt tears pricking my eyes and my heart slow its pace. I’d cried coming out to each of my parents so far, but this was the first time my tears were from joy.
With my mother I’d cried with frustration and anger at her lack of understanding and patronizing questions. Despite her general acceptance and “I’ll always love you” concluding statements, it’d hurt that she’d had so many concerns and objections. With my father I’d cried with rage, the pain of betrayal, the pain of lost love, and a fear for my livelihood then forward. He’d made me feel like a child running from home who truly had no option of turning back. He’d made me feel like his promises to love and care for me all these years had been out right lies.
But with my grandmother, all I’d felt was an overwhelming happiness from her words. Her straightforward acceptance, her attempt to understand me with out being invasive… I hadn’t been aware of how desperately I’d needed her to respond in this way until she had. With it I felt a tremendous weight lifted off my chest and a surge of love and emotion.
Seeing my watering eyes, my grandmother leaned forward and hugged me. I laughed at how her arms could hardly reach around my shoulders and I scooted closer so to make it easier for her. She patted my back with her bony, knobby, hands and kissed my head.
“I don’t care who you love, Megan. I love you first and that’s what’s important.”
I sniffled and laughed, squeezing her waist in my arms.
“Arigatou gozaimasu, obaachan. Aishite,” I said. “Thank you, grandma. I love you.”
Because of the pressures from family and society which many of us face in navigating our identities, it is so powerful to see Asian parents expressing pride in their LGBT children despite public opposition. This week, we’ll take a look at how family (and even strangers) can affirm our queer identities through conversation and personal stories.
A group of women trying to raise awareness of LGBT rights by advertising their single, gay sons and daughters at Shanghai’s “marriage market” were forced to disperse after a heated confrontation with other parents and security personnel.
The so-called “marriage market” at Shanghai’s centrally located People’s Park draws a large crowd of parents who post signs each weekend describing their children in an effort to find a suitable partner, but organizers among the parents of LGBT children said this Saturday marked the first time that parents with gay children tried to join them.
“If parents of straight people can be here, parents of gay people can also be here,” Dong Wanwan, a mother who had traveled 1,200 kilometers from Shenzhen, told the angry crowd. “We have every right to be here — I’m here to find a boyfriend for my son,” she said.
After about one hour, police intervened and ordered the parents to leave the park. An administrative officer surnamed Li told Sixth Tone that their activity constituted an “advertising” event as they were also handing out educational flyers with company logos. Under Chinese law, all public events have to be registered with the police.
“It’s quite common that police use the no-registration as an excuse to disperse these kind of activities or events” in China, said James Yang, program officer at the United Nations Development Program’s “Being LGBTI in Asia” project.
When LGBT groups have tried to seek permission for similar events in the past, however, they’ve been turned down, he said, citing one event that the security department cancelled last minute.
“So many LGBT groups don’t tend to register, or go public, fearing their request will be turned down,” Yang said.
Xia Danning, a 63-year-old woman from southwest China’s Chongqing city, said that the parents’ attitude in the park generally reflects the perception of LGBT people in China.
“There’s still a long battle ahead,” the mother of a lesbian woman told Sixth Tone. “Today’s event wasn’t successful, but I’m sure we’ll find another way.”
Some excerpts from an interview with Steve Lew API Equality Northern California’s Dragon Fruit Project collecting oral histories of LGBTQ Asian and Pacific Islander people:
1984 was a time
in LA, and in many gay urban centers, where race and sexual orientation lived across
town from each other. You had to travel across freeways to get a glimpse of the other
part. Gay community meant white and Asian Pacific community meant straight. Upon
walking into most gay bars and community meetings you were reminded of that reality.
So it was in the warm light and smells of different kitchens that gay Asian men began
to congregate and meet.
We talked a lot about race, sexual orientation, family, media, stereotypes of API
men and culture, we ate food together, became friends, cooked a lot of meals, then
talked about starting a group for people like us.
By the second potluck I think we had a name. GARP was to stand for the Gay Asian
Rap, one of the first in a successive line of winning acronyms for queer API
organizations. GARP was a good buy up for gay Asian men and later for Asian Pacific
Islander men. It was held month after month for gay API men to see other gay Asian
Pacific Islander faces, to bare our faces and leave feeling stronger and maybe more
Some of us became gay Asian Pacific Islander and AIDS activists, some of us found
boyfriends and girlfriends, some of us came out to family members and coworkers,
and some of us shaped new families. A few of us became aware of our bisexuality or
a truer gender orientation, some of us lived many different lives since 1984, and some
of us had died.
The first small group that began in 1984 – John, Dennis, James, and Mike have all
passed away. GARP should have stood for the Gay Asian Rap and Potluck since so
much of it revolved around food – Korean, Thai, Chinese, Hawaiian, Filipino, Indian,
Japanese, Vietnamese, and Asian American dishes. Food offered a way to gather,
recognize each other’s family, and to begin to share things which were unique about
ourselves. After all the plates were cleared, we delicately picked over the topics which
never got aired over our family dinner tables. Male sexuality, our relationships with
women, fathers, white men, other men of color, coming out, dating, building
relationships, aging, community activism, and about living with HIV.
If you were to ask whether your high school self would be proud of your present self, what would the answer be?
The reflective question came up as my boyfriend and I were driving in the car this weekend. He was feeling a bit down about his overall life achievements, but I thought the criticism, though understandable, was a bit misplaced.
It’s so easy for us to get lost in the comparisons, to constantly feel that our lives are not as glamourous as our friends who are publishing white-faded hipstergram photographs on mountain hikes or in far-off, exotic locales; that our lives fail to measure up to the resumé-bursting achievements of our classmates who share their latest job promotions or school acceptances; that our lives are somehow emptier compared to those couples who share their latest couple-y adventure to Disneyland, Europe, the café down the street.
Those are just some examples of experiences from which comparisons may be drawn, but this is not a call to denigrate the achievements and happiness of our friends. Rather I think the question originally posed serves as the beginning of a discussion point that we, too, have our own significant achievements. Whether marked and memorialized by social media or given the recognition of our peers, the personal achievements we each hold are things to be proud of, to personally recognize and acknowledge in terms of growth and maturity.
And so, I think it could be beneficial to ask ourselves of this question every now and then… Because I think that many of our high school selves would be surprised at how our present selves have turned out. Because I think that many of our high school selves would be proud of who we are today. Because the reality is that many of us have gone through so much in the years since high school–and perhaps that journey is enough in and of itself to be celebrated.
Follower Fridays is a series of profiles highlighting members of Gaysian Third Space to showcase the diversity of gaysians in the Community. This week’s featured member is @miko31096.
Who are you?
Hi my name is Michael, but my friends know me as Miko. I’m a Chinese-Taiwanese American comprised of Gin and tequila, master of inserting random songs into conversations, and aspiring behind-the-scenes-world changer.
Where are you from?
I’ve lived in Southern California my entire life, but I’ve had a small stint in Washington DC.
What do you do?
I am a current admin assistant to the government and I hope to be able to pursue my dream of an MPP within the next few years!
What are you passionate about?
I am one who believes in pursuing dreams, but has yet to realize my own. I think a passion is what drives us to discover the gems we hide within ourselves, may it be playing sports to sharing stories with one another.
I am currently a fan of anime movies, ones that speak on the life and experiences of the marginalized groups. I hope to pursue, within 2017, glassblowing and pottery because watching videos on youtube has its limits.
What is your dream job (real or fantasy)?
Who wouldn’t want to be a pokemon master?!
But if I had to choose something in the real world, I would say working in government towards increasing protections against LGBTQIAA+ members from cyberbullying or policy advisor/analyst in the Community Relations Service office or new branch focusing solely on marginalized groups.
If you could change the world with one idea, what would it be?
Once the world tastes boba, then we should be good.
No, in honesty, I think if the world treated each other like a relationship, we would be happier in the long run. Fights would not escalate and talks would occur more.
Any personal plugs you’d like us to mention?
Kazuki Takizawa, Tortus Copenhagen, and Community Relations Service
For those of us who can find support for our multiple identities within our ethnic communities, we have that because other LGBTQ Asians who came before us worked together to carve out spaces of acceptance. Here’s some of the history of LGBT Korean American organizing in New York City:
In 1996, there was an incident that forced many of my friends and me to struggle hard with the issue of “coming out” in our community. Some friends – gay Korean activists in New York City – were gay-bashed in Koreatown on 32nd Street.
When we had been harassed before, it usually took place in the East Village, or other places where we didn’t know anyone. But Koreatown – this was our community, and our people. This was where we went to eat our food and be home and be part of our culture.
We talked about what we could do. One of the guys who were beaten was an out and active leader in the gay Korean community in New York City. If this could happen to him, it could happen to anyone in our community. The first thing we thought of was approaching Korean community organizations and appealing to them.
Things didn’t go the way we thought it would. We approached many organizations that were progressive – groups that were about social change and justice in the Korean community. We convened a meeting with all of them, and when we talked about this issue and our proposal, many people didn’t really know what to say and were very hesitant. It was evident there was a lot of fear among leaders of community organizations about taking a public position in support of LGBTs.
So we went back to the drawing board, and decided that this called for drastic measures. We decided we were going to have an all-out public forum in the Korean community, smack in the middle of Koreatown about LGBT issues. We were going to publicize it, and invite everyone to come and engage in dialogue with us.
Then we really felt the seriousness of the issue of coming out in our community. There were some among us who couldn’t speak publicly, because their families were in New York City, and were afraid of the chance of being outed by the media or family acquaintances who happen to be in the audience. People weren’t even sure they wanted to attend the event, out of fear that it would out them forever in the community. There was someone who worked in Koreatown, and was worried about being fired if somebody saw him there. And there were others who had immigration issues and felt they couldn’t be public about their identity at all.
I’ll never forget it: we walked into the Korean Association and saw fifty people already milling about. The room was packed and more were coming. Many of them didn’t want to sign-in and give their information, but there were so many people, and we thought, “Wow, who are all these people?”
Many were people in our community whom we knew and had been struggling all along about whether they would come to this event, thinking “What if I go and see someone I know that I’m not out to?” They were people struggling with how to be out in our community, and took really bold steps to attend the event. Many were also people who saw our flyers on the street, and came just to see what we were all about. Some scolded us, saying “Why would you have the event here? Do you know what that does to all of us? It’s a nerve-wrecking experience to set foot in Koreatown and fear that you may be publicly outed.”
But all in all, the event was a big success. We were pleasantly surprised to realize what a big community we had. We also learned that we all shared a common struggle, but we had been struggling in isolation. It’s unfortunate that it took an incident of violence to move us to action, but sometimes small acts of courage – like a few people deciding to organize – can be a powerful experience for all of us.