My Mother Was Wrong, and I’m Better off for It
The date was August 24, 2013. I will never forget the uneasy silence that fell over my parents room when I came out to that night.
“So you don’t like girls, you like boys?”
“Okay. We still love you.”
And yet, my parents sure had a funny way of showing me. The week after I came out to my parents was probably the worst week of my life. I learned, nearly a year later, that my mom had confided in my brother that she felt like the son she loved, her eldest and closest, had died that night. Being a momma’s boy my entire life, this particular secret hit me like dump truck full of rainbow-coloured bricks. I was faced with days of silence, neglect, and dirty stares. I left for college a week later wondering if I should even come home for Christmas.
Much of my early college years were spent answering questions about my future and the possibilities that I apparently “threw away” in accepting the fact that I was ready to be openly gay.
“How will you find a job? No one wants a gay teacher!”
“People are going to harass you and beat you up on the street!”
“Why can’t you pretend to be straight and marry a woman? Lots of gay men do that!”
What I should probably note here is that I grew in a relatively low-income, conservative Chinese family. I mention this not because race place a role in people’s attitudes towards homosexuality, but because culture ultimately does. Aside from the usual anxieties surrounding outside perceptions of their son, my parents were equally disappointed by my lack of familial piety. They felt that my coming out was akin to disrespect. I was choosing not to abide by their wishes for me, seemingly out of spite for them.
Of course, this wasn’t true and I had already spent years trying to balance my own wants and needs with my duty to serve the family. But to no one’s surprise, aside from maybe my own parents, I was not going to live a life of falsehood for the sake of tradition. I knew what I wanted from myself in terms of my career, my relationships, and my wealth. I was not going to allow my trauma, let alone my sexuality, to control my life. However, this ambition would eventually lead me to trouble. Just as my parents had grown contemptuous of my new found self-pride, I was harbouring contempt for what I had perceived as antagonizing behaviour towards my wants and needs.
The morning of January 2, 2014 was the day I finally gained a new perspective of my mother. I had reluctantly returned home for Christmas, wishing instead to remain in the independence and hedonism gained through living on my own in college. I was sitting at the table in the breakfast nook, staring out into yard. My mother and I were engaged in awkward small talk.
“How is school?”
“It’s going well.”
“Have you met anyone … special?”
I could tell by the obvious way that she was skirting around pronouns that she was attempting to force herself to accept her new reality. Being the self-righteous, openly-gay freshman that I was, I got up from the table in an act to spare myself from any further degrading. However, it was at that point in the conversation when my mother asked me one question I could not bring myself to ignore.
“Why did you do it?”
“It” of course being in reference to my coming out, four months ago. It was this seemingly ambiguous question that finally made me realize what I needed to do bring solace to my dreadful situation. I would not be able to convince my parents that they needed to change their backwards way of thinking as matter of moral duty. I would never convince them that my new life as an openly-gay man would be equivalent to any life I may have lived as a straight one. Fundamentally, my mother felt that I had shattered any chance for her to let go of her only son in peace. After years of trying to ensure that I had everything I needed to find success, I decided to steer our family into unchartered waters. I rocked the boat. And if you know anything about traditional Chinese families, you would know that the boat must always stay on course.
Though I would have expected this realization to bring me even more stress, I actually found peace in knowing that I had no control over my parents feelings. In education, we often use a model known as the “Circle of Control”. When a student is facing a traumatic experience, we ground them by explaining that there are things that are within their circle of control, and things that are beyond it. We can only change and affect things within our circle. I could only set the course for my own life, and hope that it would be enough for my parents to eventually acknowledge that I was ultimately successful. Years later, I am now currently happily engaged to the man of my dreams. I am a homeowner, dog dad, and proud teacher to a class of amazing students. 18 year-old me was right, and I thank him for having the courage to continue with the work he was doing.
I’ve never brought up those 4 months in 2013 with my parents. Since then, my parents spent much of their time trying to discourage me from doing things, and I have spent much of my time doing them anyway. I think in the last little while, my parents have come to the same realization that I did with my mother 7 years ago. To their credit, they have been nothing but welcoming to my fiancé, and the fact that I can even say that is a point of privilege that is not beyond me. And in retrospect, I now understand my own naivety in regard to just about everything that my life would have in store for me.
I did, to some degree, end up facing many of the adversities that my parents had been worried about. Though I would not go so far as to say that my parent’s fears were justified, I do wish I would have taken more time to listen to them. I heard their criticisms, but I never truly engaged and often brushed off everything my parents said as backward and oppressive. I would implore someone who finds themselves in my situation to extend the opportunity for their parents to explain their viewpoints. Should they show aggression, remember that you can only control the things within your circle. You don’t have to convince them that they’re wrong.
I’m grateful for the relationship that I have managed to build with my parents. Though we still have our hiccups, I know that I have their support. I am also proud of myself for not wavering and giving in to my parents concerns. In an ironic way, I was able to honour my mother and father by defying them. I believe that my parents now realize I grew up to be the confident, successful young man they always hoped I would. Though they may not have said it, my parents did keep their promise of loving me no matter what. I was never asked to move out or leave the family. I am grateful that they allowed me the opportunity to show them that they were wrong.
Mama may not always know best, but she always means well.