On being “Gaysian”

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My face and skin color says it all. People look at me and automatically know that I’m Asian. The gay part, maybe not so much, but probably on closer inspection, it becomes evident. Most of my straight friends refer to me as their “gaysian” friend. I’m usually always the token, the token Asian, the token lesbian, whatever it may be, I pretty much fill all the roles. However, I never really thought of myself as being that “Asian” or that “gay.” Maybe “gaysian” as an adjective is not necessarily an accurate term to describe how I feel about myself. Yet at the same time, “gaysian” as an adjective describes me perfectly. I always thought that my experiences as an Asian American was drastically different from those around me. I think that’s why I never associated myself with my own culture, and yet I’m still proud of my culture and who I am. When I think about these adjectives and how culturally constructed they are, really, they’re pointless. These are just words right? Mere words assigned with a meaning whose connotations have only increased over time with society changing and evolving (whether this has been progressive can be argued). In the grand scheme of things, I’d like to argue that they are moot. But let’s also be realistic, we live in a world that constantly has to put everything into a neat little package, it has to be given a name, a meaning, and a reason for being. Since this is true, I am indeed “gaysian,” but how much do I know about myself and my identity?

If you read my previous article, I went off on a personal tangent about the film I am making for my master’s thesis. In case you did not read my previous article, this is not a plug for you to do so, instead I’ll just brief you quickly on it and say that I’m doing a short documentary about coming out in the Asian American LGBTQ community. More specifically, I’m focusing on Asian American women (in the near feature, I may complete a feature showcasing both genders). As an Asian American who does not quite understand what it IS to be gay and Asian, I’ve learned so much more than I could possibly imagine merely through shooting this film. Coming out as a whole is difficult for anybody regardless of race. What others do not understand, is how coming out can be especially difficult for an Asian American. Now, my case is different, my coming out experience has been rather tame. On the other hand, the people that I have interviewed, had a completely different experience than what I’ve had; the thoughts that went through their mind when coming out and everything about it was so drastically different than the thoughts I had.

If you look at Asian Americans as a whole, we are arguably a diasporic community. As immigrants coming to the states, just like so many other immigrants, we wanted a reason to fit in and start our new life. Let’s face it, immigrant communities never fit in, we are ostracized, victimized, and everything in between. The so called “American dream” is something that any Asian American family can hope and strive for. So what do we want then? We want to be normal or as close to normal as we can possibly be. The standard definition for “normalcy” is heavily laced with ideologies of heteronormativity. Ideally, we’re supposed to go to college, get a good job, find the perfect man/woman (whatever opposing gender), marry them, and have a bunch of babies. So if we go against that, doesn’t that go against the rules of what is normal? OK you can argue that any gay person regardless of race sees it this way as well, we’re not normal, our family sees that, and I get it. On the other hand, when you come from an immigrant family, your yearning to fit in and be seen as normal is multiplied. Your face, mannerisms, maybe even the way you speak already differentiates you from what is perceived to be the norm. Since this want for normalcy by your parents is already amplified, can you imagine being that odd one out when you’re already different?

Now that they’ve established that you’re drastically different from what they perceive to be normal, you also have to add in the cultural differences. First and foremost, many Asian languages do not have a word for “gay.” Hell, I don’t even know what it is in Chinese. Even if a word does exist, it’s usually a derogatory term laced with very negative connotations. Many Asian American parents believe that homosexuality is a construct; that western society created it. They do not think that homosexuality really exists back in the “motherland.” Furthermore, because it is seen as such a negative and almost nonexistent “fad,” questions of one’s upbringing comes into question. I hate to stereotype my own people, but in reality, when growing up in an Asian American household, there really does exist ideas of honor and respect. You MUST honor your parents and your forefathers; that is without a question. As a child of your parents, you become a reflection of your parents. In short, everything you do, and will do, will affect your parents. So if you come out, that means that you negatively affect your parents’ reputation. If other people find out, this makes them look like bad parents; that they happen to “raise” you to be gay. Others in your community might question your parents’ ability to raise children. The idea of “saving face” comes into question (if you have not seen the film “Saving Face” I highly suggest you do). For those who do not know the term, the term “saving face” literally refers to the idea of saving your reputation or your “face.” In short, the idea of maintaining your image in a positive light. Many Asian American kids are afraid to come out because of this fear of hurting their parents and their parents’ reputations. In reality, for the children, it’s not really about them, but about their parents. Asian American children do not want to hurt their parents or their reputations. Of course, this statement is silly because it can be applicable to anybody, but with Asian Americans, this ideology is especially prevalent.

Last but not least, religion also plays a big role in the coming out process. Currently, Christianity is a predominant religion amongst many Asian American communities. As such, they usually take a rather conservative role. Christianity is especially prominent amongst Chinese American and Korean American communities. As a whole, Christianity amongst Asian Americans makes it even more difficult for one to come out. I’m sure everyone knows that religious zealots are firmly against homosexuality and think of it as “wrong.” So religion plus a predominately non-existent LGBTQ culture creates this negative construction of homosexuality. Other religions, such as Buddhism, however, have been known to be slightly more tolerant. Luckily for me, my mother identifies as Buddhist and is more willing to accept it.

Of course, there are plenty of other complications and situations that arise when looking at coming out amongst the Asian American community. Really, this was the quick and dirty guide to the basics. My intention was to merely give the readers a very brief guide to the difficulties of coming out in the API (Asian Pacific Islander) community. As such, I hope that you, as the reader, is at least partially enlightened.

Audrey Fok

Growing up as an Asian American in the Los Angeles area, Audrey has a special understanding and connection to the Asian American LGBTQ community. In addition, Audrey has always had a passion for the filmic arts. Named after the famed actress Audrey Hepburn, Audrey has always known that she wanted to make films for the rest of her life. She received her BA in anthropology and film and media studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In addition, she will also be receiving her MA in visual anthropology at the University of Southern California.

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