On pride and being out
For eighteen years of my life my mother’s arms were the warmest home I ever knew. A home for when I felt scared or lonely or sad. What an actual home lacked in structural support, my mother made up for in love and kindness. For eighteen years this home allowed me to grow and learn and supported me in every endeavor until the day I felt this unnerving urge to tell her that I was gay. No, that I am gay. Like I mean I was gay in the past tense as I retell this story but I also still am very gay and like … you get my point.
Okay but anyways, at this point in my life, everyone except my immediate family knew of me being gay, like it wasn’t really hard to guess; I didn’t really try to hide it. Like even if I was trying to hide it, I wasn’t doing that hot of a job at doing so. Why was it so hard to tell the most loving person in my life what I had openly told to so many strangers before? Okay to be fair, coming out to strangers and friends never warranted the fear of being kicked out of my own home, which was a valid excuse for me to hide myself for so long to my own mother. I don’t really remember exactly what led up to me finally coming out to my her; everything’s just really hazy and sad, but I do remember that it just really needed to be done, and as I was telling her what I needed to tell her, I was doing so through this flood of tears, and it wasn’t anything cute either. I cried so hard my contact lenses fell out and my entire face was swelling up from the tears and the snot … It was the immediate opposite aesthetic of this emotionally strong and well-put-together person that I try so hard to build up as myself. As I was going through this profoundly hideous breakdown, my mother didn’t really know what to do. She tried to tell me it was okay but she also didn’t want to touch or hold me. This home she had built for me couldn’t hold the well of emotions she was feeling. She just told me that things would be okay in between my teary gasping and just sat at the side of my bed for awhile.
We don’t really talk about it now. You know the whole gay thing. Like it’s just something we both know is there but neglect to bring up like some big fabulously gay elephant in the room. But the fact of the matter was that I was out. I didn’t need to hide anymore.
Coming out and being out is this really weird and often really touchy subject that’s unique to the LGBTQ+ community. Everyone who is out in this community has their own story of how their coming out went that ranges anywhere from pleasant to heartbreaking. Like much of everything else in the world, it’s a spectrum from good to bad to maybe even horrendous, but it’s also not this once in a lifetime event either. Something that a lot of people don’t realize is that coming out isn’t this end all be all. It’s a reoccurring event. I will always have to come out to every person I meet in some way or another, verbal or otherwise. I feel like this is where I can explain the bulk of my personality; it’s so much easier to be overtly and openly gay and make things very clear right up front than to have to say that you are gay to every person that you meet. It’s not that I feel any shame in being gay, but it’s just different to have to say that you are something as opposed to just freely being it. The only thing was, this practice of my open gayness was a newfound source of contention; the home of this social friction I would feel from so many people.
There’s something very subversive about simultaneously being Asian and being openly gay. From both the outside looking in and inside looking out you’re almost required to uphold this certain group of expectations for yourself that contradict the very core of being out and being proud of yourself. Looking in from the outside world you’re expected to be this submissive figure of conformity. All that you say and do must follow a stringent mold of what is expected from you; you know, the whole model minority bullshit and all that comes from it. What is expected of you is silence. Nobody likes to hear from a loud gay, and god forbid hearing things from an Asian one who has meaningful things to say when all that is expected from them is obedience to an antiquated system of societal expectations. Looking out from your own community at the world in front of you, you’re only ever told by those inside of it to submit to what is the norm of those around you, and in that regard you try to do your best to conform.
Pride in itself is not a prideful trait; to freely boast your strengths and exist as yourself in any raw and uninhibited form is a symbol of anything but pride, but rather the most profound weakness. It’s a largely cultural aspect for where these views come from. There’s like this unspoken sin to deviate from conformity in the Vietnamese community I came from, and not only being out, but being openly out is seen as just about the pinnacle of all sins, on par with not taking your shoes off when you come inside and disrespecting your elders. So much of my culture is marked by obedience and reverence to our elders and following long held traditions, so to deviate from common practice is just about the worst possible thing you could ever do. It was the amalgamation of all of these things that made me so scared and forced me to hide for so long. I became very familiar with the closet, so the moment where I didn’t feel the need to hide in there anymore, I chose to take every opportunity to become myself and make up for lost time.
To be gay is to be resilient, but it is an incredibly lonely place to come of age in. Nobody ever tells you how incredibly lonely it can be. You grow up questioning these expectations placed upon you before you have the vocabulary to be able to vocalize and defend yourself. You grow up bombarded by both media that does not represent you and systems of hatred and prejudice that force you to hide for so much of your life out of this fear that the feelings of guilt, self-hatred and fear itself become a part of your identity. Nobody really speaks about how exhausting it is to have to validate your right to coexist. You feel as if your queerness is unwelcome in these overwhelmingly unqueer spaces. The thing is, nobody ever asks to be gay. Nobody asks to be treated like how so many of us have been and have to overcome the many struggles that our identity brings to us, but to be gay is to also be an overwhelming pillar of strength. In helping others, you bring up these memories that aren’t always easy to retell to yourself, let alone others, but in doing so, you kind of get to see how strong you are, to have overcome the many hardships that being gay can bring to you. It’s like you’ve almost forgotten all that you’ve needed to do to simply be here today. I find praise from others at my uninhibited love and expression of my identity so strange sometimes. Like why wouldn’t you want to freely be yourself? I would always find their kind words to be so … off putting? But then I remember that simply being gay in itself is an act of resistance and it’s a privilege that is not afforded to everyone. Being gay and being out is a powerful act of declaring your right to simply exist at all. You have to be proud of yourself and all you have been through, a practice much easier said than done.
I feel like that is the defining message of gay pride and pride month. You acknowledge the pain and difficulty both you and your community have not only gone through, but overcome as well. Not only have we survived, but we have thrived and shall continue to do so. We have this huge shared experience of learning to love ourselves, and the journey toward doing so is not always an easy one. It’s this journey sometimes marked with more downs than ups, and I feel like I’m just throwing out these analogies and sayings, but that’s just really how it really feels. From being beaten down so many times you grow this thick skin, both good and bad in its effects, but I think the major idea of pride is that we cannot close in on ourselves. We can’t close in on ourselves and expect a change to come. This thick skin of ours was formed to deflect the hatred of others and allow us a closer understanding of those like us. I think the ultimate end goal would be to learn for ourselves how our ideal sense of self resonates and reflects in the context of the greater community. We must learn how to coexist and take care of one another and learn to grow from our shared hardships. In doing so, we can truly resonate with the love, happiness and empathy behind what it truly means to be prideful.