Republished from Project Lotus. This piece first appeared as a creative community post on the Project Lotus website.
Project Lotus is a student led 501(c)(3) nonprofit that advances the movement of Asian-American’s blossoming and addressing mental health stigma, shame, and overall perception and care of mental health through educating and empowering today’s Asian-American communities.
Being that it is Pride Month, I wanted to share my experiences on being an Asian-American teen and LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ acceptance has come a long way. However, within Asian communities, homophobia is still prevalent. Many factors play into this, such as: upbringing, a lack of communication with kids, a disconnect between communities, and more. Homophobia is so ingrained in many Asian parents that their LGBTQ+ kids fear coming out more than anything in the world. Feeling the constant hopelessness of being inherently "corrupt" takes a massive toll on their mental health, causing many to fall into deep depression without parents even noticing.
Cause of Homophobia Within Asian Parents
In the Asian media that our parents grew up with, there was pretty much no LGBTQ+ representation at all. Even today, gay and trans people are not healthily represented in Asian entertainment, and are demonized, used as a punchline in a joke, or oversexualized for the female audience. The young generation of today are progressive with LGBTQ+ issues, simply because we have been positively exposed to it from a young age, whereas growing up, our Asian parents probably went their whole childhoods never knowing of a gay or trans person. There is simply not enough information and examples of successful Asian LGBTQ+ people that are able to reach the parents.
Because of this, the entire concept of homosexuality seems like a very "western" thing. Many Asian parents feel that only white people can be LGBTQ+ and cannot even fathom that their own children could be part of the community. When their kids do come out to them, it may seem like an attack on their cultural identities, and this brings them great shame, making them wonder what they did wrong to raise a wayward child.
From my own experience, I have always dressed and presented myself as more androgynous, to which my mother often says to me: "you dress and talk like a man, that makes you seem like a lesbian". I'm not sure if she has ever considered that her daughter might actually be gay, and if she did, she obviously represses it like many other parents who are unable to accept the reality.
"You cannot bring dishonor on your family" is a rather infamous phrase associated with Asians, and is still very prevalent in family values. You should always respect the word of an elder, never speak up, work hard and make your family proud, and then carry on the name of your ancestors. Homosexuality is the perfect wrecking ball in their eyes, as it breaks gender roles, defies Asian cultural norms, and means that you could not have biological children.
My parents were brought up with very traditional Chinese ideals, and having a lesbian daughter meant having a useless daughter, because she could not reproduce. In Chinese history, reproduction was the only purpose of a woman, so it's no surprise that the thought lingers in the back of their minds.
In all aspects, the LGBTQ+ tears down the toxic ideals and morals of the Asian community, which many parents still view as their "culture". We need to help Asian parents understand that homophobia does not have a place in Asian customs, and being LGBTQ+ can exist in harmony with being Asian while also respecting its true nature.
Coming Out to Asian Parents
The topic of homosexuality is followed by other topics that Asian families do not encompass very well, such as opening up about feelings and discussing sex. When most kids talk about the "birds and the bees" talk their parents gave them, Asian kids stand to the side awkwardly because the majority of us have never discussed sex with our parents at all. I, and almost of all my Asian friends, found out about sex through peers and other teens. The sex aspect makes parents reluctant to bring it up, even if they are mildly aware of their child's sexuality. As such, it is often up to us kids to initiate the conversation.
Asian kids have yet another barrier to cross, because of the lack of conversation in Asian families. We feel scared, because not only do we have to share our feelings with our parents, but for many it may be the first time we've ever had to talk to our parents heart to heart. It would be awkward and strange, but ultimately a conversation we all would have to deal with at some point.
The first obstacle to tackle is knowing your parents' stance on the LGBTQ+ community. Although uncommon, some homophobic Asian parents will even kick out their kids. A lot of us have never mentioned anything related to LGBTQ+ to our parents, in fear that they might catch on to our sexualities. However, gauging the situation might help you determine which parent to come out to first, if you want to go that route. This might mean waiting until you are out of the house, until you are financially stable before having the conversation. In the end, it is unique to every person.
Asian parents do not like to be surprised. This is evident, as they often make us book hangouts with our friends a week in advance, with lots of notice and reminders. Instead of dropping the bomb on them, it is good to give little hints until you are finally comfortable.
A tip I received from someone was to watch Asian television shows and media with your family, that have positive LGBTQ+ representation in it. Although there are not many, some of them are fairly good. I am currently watching the show Untamed with my mom, which is a Chinese TV show that was adapted from a Chinese gay-positive novel, so it shows healthy semi-LGBTQ+ themes that encourage discussion.
When it finally comes to the conversation, try to remain patient and empathetic. Your parents will probably go through many different emotions, ranging from confusion, anger, shame, and defensiveness. Understand that it might take a few months to fully process it, and they may blame themselves for it. It is a journey that both child and parent have to go through together, hand in hand.
The Mental Health of LGBTQ+ Asians, As Well As Parents
Being a person of color as well as identifying as LGBTQ+ can be two very heavy mental weights that we carry. Not only are we battling with our cultural identities, but we seem like outcasts even within the LGBTQ+ community. Although there is some amount of East Asian LGBTQ+ representation in American media, there is almost no South Asian representation, which further perpetuates the idea that there aren't as many Asian LGBTQ+ people.
The best thing we can do, is to find people that help us feel accepted. The Trevor Project states that "sexual orientation acceptance from straight friends reduced the risk for suicide attempts among API LGBTQ+ youth by more than half", and that through communities we can find solace.
As Asian LGBTQ+ members, we are three times more likely to experience depression and suicidal thoughts than our heterosexual Asian peers, and that should not be taken lightly. There is an added stigma surrounding mental health in the Asian community, which bars us even further. However, we must remove that stigma and remember that we are not above our mental health, and we need to take care of ourselves. Bottling our fear and emotions is extremely detrimental, and we must further promote conversation between Asian parents and children.
The other side of the picture, our parents should not be left in the dark. Many Asian parents are confused and uneducated on LGBTQ+ matters, but there are ways they can learn. There are many organizations dedicated to educating parents of queer children, like PFLAG, NQAPIA, and many other local resources. Asian parents are usually not familiar with therapy or getting mental help, but they deserve it equally. Helping your parents through their mental journeys might close the gap in lack of communication.
It might seem hopeless - panicking every time the word "gay" or "trans" is brought up, and listening to your parents' homophobic conversations - but things can and will change.
If Asian "tough love" has taught me anything, it's that even though my parents don't say it, I know that they love me, and will always want the best for me. After all, that is why they immigrated to America: to give me a better and happier life. With the dozens of coming out stories I've read and heard while writing this, many of them start off rocky but most end successfully, when parents realize that their child's happiness is what matters the most. Don't lose hope yet!
I am also going through the same small steps to coming out, and the road ahead seems scary, but with the proper resources and building healthy conversation, we will one day be able to express ourselves the way we want to.
Happy Pride Month! 🏳️🌈
This blog post was written by an anonymous author who submitted their post to Project Lotus's creative community. If you would like to know more about Project Lotus, visit their website here. Their Instagram is @projectlotusoregon.