Family and Coming Out Issues for Asian Pacific Americans
For many Asian Pacific Americans, coming out to family is an enormous challenge. Many fear rejection, disappointing their parents or being seen as sullying the family name.
"I was terrified of coming out to my family. The potential for rejection or being thrown out of the house all seemed like very real possibilities," said Prateek Choudhary, medical student at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. "When I finally told my mom, she was silent for a few very awkward moments. But then she told me that although it would be difficult for her to handle and understand, she would support me because, she said, 'You're my son, and I love you. Nothing can change that.'"
It may be difficult to accept that your family needs time to adjust to the news. But just as it probably took you awhile to accept your own sexual orientation or gender identity, it follows that others will need time to adjust and understand you as well.
Before coming out to parents, it helps to have supportive resources available you can offer to your parents, such as contact information for the local Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapter. Keep in mind that your parents may not be immediately receptive to the idea.
"Homosexuality is often very difficult for LGBT Asians because our culture usually treats the subject of homosexuality with the tried and true method of silence," said Harold Kameya, a Japanese father of a lesbian daughter. "In our family, like others, this silence meant ignorance, which made the shock of our daughter coming out even more difficult to deal with. We were fortunate that we found PFLAG, but in the first 10 years we were involved with our local chapter, we were the only Asian family there."
Even with Asian Pacific American support groups in some communities, it can be a challenge to get parents to attend.
"It's difficult to make any gay-affirming resources, Asian Pacific Islander specific or not, available to our families because even discussing a family member's sexual orientation or gender identity breaks a major rule in our culture, which is to never talk about our 'problems,'" said Trinity Ordona, a longtime activist for LGBT rights. "That's why we work to educate the entire Asian Pacific Islander community about LGBT issues, because the less they are seen as problems, the more our families and friends will be able to talk about it."
If your family is reluctant to join supportive organizations, you can bring the information to them.
"We made the video 'Coming Out, Coming Home,' specifically for those families who desperately needed information about sexual orientation but who would never participate in a group setting," said Belinda Dronkers-Laureta, of API Family Pride. "We're also exploring small social gatherings for Asian families of LGBT people so they can get to know each other in a more relaxed setting."
It is not unusual for a LGBT Asian Pacific American to be out in every aspect of life - except to family. Some find it easier to be out to work colleagues, friends and neighbors than to be out at home. Each person's coming out is a personal journey and not being out to your family may work for you. It's also possible that they already know, but the topic is never discussed.
Still, when parents are aware of a child's sexual orientation or gender identity, that information is often hidden from family friends. Some Asian Pacific Americans find it is helpful to come out to their families in their native language.
"I didn't want to come out to my mom in English," said Aleem Raja, a former board member of Trikone, a San Francisco non-profit organization for LGBT people of South Asian descent. "I came out to her in Urdu [the language of Pakistan] because I wanted her to know that coming to terms with my orientation was solely about me and not about my attending Berkeley or becoming Americanized."
The strong family ties that often dampen a child's willingness to come out can also turn into support and advocacy once a LGBT Asian Pacific American has decided to be open and honest at home.
"We are concerned about our family and the huge fear of rejection we may face," said Ordona. "It's true that many Asian parents tend to be very conservative and protective of their children. But once you can get them behind their kids, they will take on the world!"
Getting your parents to that point may be a battle, but it is one worth fighting.