"When you grow up, you have to marry a handsome Korean man," my mom told each of us.
My sisters gawked at the awkwardness of discussing boys with my mother. I, on the other hand, sat still, praying for a change in topic, knowing that her words would never affect me. At eight years old, I already knew I was gay. And to hell with a handsome Korean man. I wanted to marry The Little Mermaid.
But even then, it scared me. I was the only one who knew, and who could I turn to? My traditional Asian parents? Peers at my conservative Catholic grade school? Yeah, right.
Even as high school came around -- the first time I met other LGBT students -- I couldn't relate to them in the ways I expected to. They were white. I was Asian. Their parents were either on the PFLAG level of support, or indifferent. Mine didn't even know yet, but they would have been on the PFOX level of support (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays).
I had no idea how to approach the issue of coming out to my parents. As both my mother and father were raised in extremely traditional settings in East Asia, it's still difficult finding common ground on the topic of most current events and social-cultural norms.
We even have a language barrier. When I came out to my mom, using these specific words -- "I'm gay" -- her eyes nearly popped out of her head as she asked in a really alarming tone, "you think you're boy??" at least twenty times before I had to explain that the term "gay" doesn't just apply to men.
It's hard to identify with a culture that so stigmatizes LGBT people, especially since I was mostly raised in North America. And often, I feel as if I have to devote more of my time to one things or another: being Korean or being gay. The intersection of these two identities is barely visible in the media, at schools, and in the workplace, which makes for some pretty interesting conversation in the hallways of my high school (whose student body is 40% Asian!).
My favorite went something like this:
"Hey, you should drop by our Gay-Straight Alliance meeting after school today!"
"Wait...there are gay kids at this school?"
"Yes? Hello, I'm one of them."
"Wait...there are ASIAN gay kids at this school?"
Crazy. My first instinct was to really teach this kid a lesson. I ended up replying that "LGBT comes in color too, you know." Some people seem to be under the impression that being ethnic and being LGBT are mutually exclusive. Just like the way some people used to think being a woman and having a job were to be two separate things. Or more recently, how they thought talk and surf on phones couldn't coexist, I guess.
It's been almost a year since I came out to my mom and dad. They didn't call up PFOX but they didn't exactly greet my coming out of the closet with open arms, either. Actually, they kind of let me fall flat on my face out of the closet. But still, things are improving and I couldn't ask for anything more.
It's sometimes tough being a queer person of color. We're underrepresented and stuff. To be honest, though, I really wouldn't have it any other way. I love my identity. I love all of my identities.
Follow Eunbyul Lee on Twitter: www.twitter.com/qpocalypse