Over the past two years, I have developed a great, unique group of friends in San Francisco. I call our group “unique” because the basis from which we’ve established our friendship is new. I’ve made friends with people who I’ve take classes with, who I share cultures with, who I share hobbies and interests with, and who I find compatible in personality. But never before have I made friends with people based on the shared experience of being both gay and Asian American.
Some people might find it strange and maybe even petty that I make the particular distinction of being friends with people because they are gay Asian Americans, like me. To be clear, I do not limit my friendships based on those criteria. However, in coming to San Francisco for graduate school, I have been able to not only explore my own identity but also share that with people who are going through the same experiences. This is where being both Asian American and gay come in.
In the past year, two of my gay Asian American friends have come out to their parents. For all of us, this was a big deal because most of us have not told our parents yet. To say the prospect of revealing it to our parents is scary is an understatement. I will not go into the details of what makes coming out to Asian immigrant parents so paralyzing; there are probably many other blog posts that go into that. And maybe one day, I will write one of them. But this blog post in particular is about language, and the language difficulties I share with my gay Asian American friends.
For one, we do not have the language to talk to our parents about being gay. Our parents do not speak English well and we do not speak their native language well. We can communicate on simple everyday terms but to have a deep, thoughtful discussion about who we love, what our identity is, and how we can work together as a family to accept our identity is nearly impossible. Quite simply, I don’t know the words to use to talk about it.
And yet, we find ways to navigate the linguistic barriers. My sister, who is much more acquainted with Taiwanese pop culture and media than I am, has shared with me talk shows featuring parents and children talking about contemporary issues in Taiwanese society, such as homosexuality and children coming out. While this is not set in the context of American society, just the fact that the host, parents, and youths in the talk show discuss the issue of homosexuality in Chinese makes it much more relevant than anything produced in English set in an American context. It is my hope that one day, there will be content available in the native languages of immigrant Americans about the experiences of gay Asian Americans, but for now, we will have to simply adapt what is available.
When my two friends came out to their parents, we shared these resources with each other. I try to learn a few vocabulary words here and there, such as how to say “gay”, “gay youth”, and “coming out” in Chinese. And while even after watching the videos,we still have a limited linguistic repertoire for talking about homosexuality to our parents in our parents’ native language, we hope that the talk shows can compensate for our inability to express ourselves in their language. And while talk shows can never replace the actual act of coming out to our parents in person and that such an act often involves many more forms of communication other than the spoken word, it acts as a bridge to connect the many linguistic and cultural gaps we have with our parents.
That is the experience we share as gay Asian Americans. While like any other friendship, we solidify our relationships through drunken Friday nights, Sunday brunches, and road trips around the Bay Area, we are also a network of support for each other, for the kind of support that we can’t seem to find anywhere else.
If you also happen to be in a similar linguistic bind as me and my friends, I’m happy to share whatever resources my friends and I have. If you have resources that you’ve found useful in communicating and coming out to your parents who do not speak English, please share them with us! Wed really appreciate it. Also, a floating idea we’ve had is to make a website that acts almost like an online library of such resources so that anyone going through similar situations can access them. Again, we’d love to hear from you if you have anything to contribute. And it doesn’t have to be an Asian language – basically any language other than English.