LGBTQA+, Gender & Identity, Life

I thought my Armenian culture would reject my sexuality – until this happened

Sometimes, I still feel angry, more often than sometimes, I feel guilty or ashamed.

I am Armenian-American and it took years for me to figure out a comfortable arrangement between myself and that identity. I am also bisexual, and I accepted it when I was seventeen years old. When I was eighteen, I came out to my family and those two parts of my identity inevitably crashed into each other.

I hadn’t realized how far apart I was keeping my Armenian culture from my sexuality.

In hindsight it’s obvious: like many first-generation Americans, growing up I had the world that consisted of school and friends, and the world that consisted of my house and my family.

In my mind, they were separate worlds entirely. I was American at school and Armenian at home. When I deviated from this and let the two worlds touch, it only caused trouble. I got weird looks from people at school or created miscommunication and arguments at home with my parents. 

So, for a long time, I kept them separate.

The narratives I had in middle and high school were American ones and I consumed a lot of them, starting in eighth grade. By the end of ninth grade, I had scoured my city and school libraries for every LGBTQ Young Adult novel they had.

I don’t think I ever looked for narratives by or resources for LGBTQ Armenians. The American coming-out story that I already knewthough not full of acceptance and, I know now, not at all universal or necessarywas easier to find. And it seemed more promising than the occasional comments and careful euphemisms I caught from my extended family.

Then I came out to my parents as bisexual.

At least initially, my parents did not react well. It felt like proof that my Armenian culture rejected my sexuality. Case closed. All that I had left to do was choose between them.

That’s not what happened.

Instead, I realized that being Armenian, American, and bisexual are not discrete, dissociated parts of who I am. I can’t excise any of them, and I don’t want to.

That shift in my thought process took at least two years. I finally did look for narratives and resources specifically for LGBTQ Armenians. I found them: organizations like GALAS and PINK Armenia, documentaries like “Listen To Me: Untold Stories Beyond Hatred,” writers like Nancy Agabian and publications like The Hye-Phen Magazine.

Every one of these helped. I wasn’t alone. 

But I had no roadmap about how to get from where I was to that place where I could feel comfortable instead of feeling guilty and ashamed all the time. 

No one provided a clear path to follow or even anything I considered a concrete tip. I was looking for a WikiHow article, and all I could find were stories either about the depressing Point A, about the comfortable Point B, or about both with no detail about the important middle bit that would transport me from A to the ideal B. That frustrated me, and my anger then was corrosive.

When I sat down to write this article, I became very aware that the only honest article I could write would be guilty of the exact same thing that I hated so much when I was eighteen. That’s because I’m still working on the middle bit myself.

I am more comfortable in my identity now than I used to be.

I have moved forward a lot in the years since I came out as bisexual to myself and then to my family. The state of comfort and acceptance isn’t a static destination. To me, it is a continuous process of tryingsucceeding, failing, but always striving.

Sometimes, I still feel angry, more often than sometimes, I feel guilty or ashamed. Bringing my sexuality into Armenian communities or bringing my culture into LGBTQ spaces falls on a scale from uncomfortable to terrifying to impossible. I don’t know if any of this will ever go away for good, but I’m going to try to accept and embrace both.

When I decided that, I started to reach out. I’ve talked to other LGBTQ Armenians, which is an exhilarating mix of fear and affirmation.

For me, for now, this is enough. For a long time, I just wanted to get rid of the problem entirely. 

Since that problem is an inherent part of myself, I couldn’t get rid of it, and that was frustrating. Why did I have to reach out and reconcile with myself? Why did it have to be hard? Is it even worth it? 

After all the challenges reconciling my Armenian and bisexual identities, I’ve learned that yes, it is worth it.