Gender & Identity, Life

What’s your culture’s word for “gay”?

Will these videos make you cry as hard as I did?

When I was forcibly outed by the family of my best friend, I immediately started working on some damage control. Little did I know, this meant never ever bringing up the topic of my short-lived girlfriend to my mom and letting her selectively erase this particular “misdoing” from her mind. This meant that for the year afterward, she’d lie to my face about why she didn’t want me to hang out with her only to forget all about it after her trip in China.

Growing up with my mom was an odd series of hypocritical life lessons. She often sheltered my sister’s friends whom had been kicked out of their homes for being gay, and she seemed to have great relationships with these people. When I was younger, I thought her sly advice of, “Don’t ever become a lesbian. You can tell by statistics just how lonely and depressed you’ll become,” was out of caring weariness. Fast forward a couple years, and now this more-queer-than-we-bargained-for kid knows better. I’ve heard the off comments she utters around my sister and I about “gays”. I wonder sometimes if she forgot about what happened with me altogether, or if she regulates her homophobia to cull any relapse.

I know that the only Chinese words she taught us for that sexuality were derogatory ones, but likely she never knew better.

Other forms of identifying, or other forms of sexuality, are taboo in the tradition-based Chinese culture. My sister went to China once, and met a lot of Chinese people who identified as gay but hid it from their families. I often wonder what they call themselves, if they have communities, and if they’re receiving the support they need.

Here in America, juggling a bi-cultural identity as well as dealing with a different sexual orientation or identification can be increasingly difficult. There is no respite at home. There is only a shadow of a ghost who bears my name and haunts my halls.

Enter the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA)’s new video series, the Asian Pride Project.

In their own words, “The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) promotes acceptance of LGBT people, and our rights and dignity, amongst Asian Americans, South Asians, Southeast Asians, and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Yet, there are few resources, role models, and culturally relevant messages.

We hope to diversify the faces and languages of those who support the LGBT community. Our campaign supports AAPI parents who have LGBT kids and LGBTQ youth who aim to come out to their parents, who are often foreign-born immigrants or/and limited English proficient.”

Their site features all their multilingual videos, which are not only available online but will air on Asian ethnic TV channels in real life.

Videos are formatted both in English with different language subtitles, or the other way around.

No matter what each family’s specific situation, they all generally share the same message:

At the bottom of their page, they have a fact sheet for parents of LGBTQ kids that answers questions and common misconceptions. This sheet has been translated into 19 different Asian languages.

And scattered among their YouTube videos and Vimeo uploads, they have both stories from other projects that feature queer, Asian immigrants championing immigration reform by giving their story and why their experience was vital to survival as a queer person as well as coming out stories involving the whole family.

In watching these videos, I can’t help but cry. I mean, I’ll admit, I love a good tear session and have probably trained my skills in getting emotional but something about this project touches me deeply. In watching videos like Maya’s, who came to America to escape trans prosecution and couldn’t risk losing her citizenship progress by visiting her dying father in India, or hearing Elena’s grandma tell her that, “If you are happy, then I will have to accept,” I can’t beat back the thread in me that either yearns for progress or yearns for a family that accepting. Bittersweet success stories like Ngoc, whose mom seems like a sweet lady and whose dying father thinks he will never be happy.

If my mom had been exposed to an environment where other Asian families, often with older parents, had been accepting of their children then she’d be more understanding of me. It would be easier to discuss with her how I feel, instead of having to bottle it all up like this. I’m deeply grateful for this series for creating a more open dialogue in the Asian community, and for teaching second-generation kids words they might not have known. I had no idea that there were official/polite words for “gay” or “transgender” in Chinese up until I saw this video, and to me that’s honestly shocking. This is the most bittersweet reminder that queer Asians are here, and we exist through good and bad.

I feel that this is a step in the right direction towards reaching out to Asian communities. It makes me feel, somehow, more accepted seeing other Chinese families speaking out for LGBTQ+ rights and it definitely makes me happy that it’s working towards targeting a community that isn’t the overtly white mainstream movement. In Ngoc’s words, “I feel that being Vietnamese definitely serves as a challenge to being gay because the Vietnamese population is still a little bit conservative.”

For a lot of us Asians, family is one of the most important things in our lives. Being queer should not have to be anyone’s barrier to upholding that value.

Support their Facebook for all the good work they’re doing, and share your own story at Asian Pride Project.