Which Matters More, Being Asian American or LGBTQ+?
Before I begin, I just want to say that this article is based on my own lived experience and that I can only speak for my experiences and life events. But I hope, by sharing my story, that it will help others like me find their own voice.
I am an Asian American lesbian born and raised in the state of Connecticut. I grew up in a small town that was predominately white, middle-to-upper class. I was one of only five Asians in my high school graduating class of approximately 200 students. My parents moved to this specific town due to the academic successes of the school system. They immigrated from China and Vietnam in their teenage years and were both sponsored by families willing to take in an Asian family fleeing for refuge. The hardships of moving to a foreign country and learning the culture and language is a struggle that they will never forget. Like many refugee families, they had to leave their previous life behind, including family members and friends, in the hopes of having a better life in the United States. With that being said, my parents raised me to be the best that I can be, often saying to me that “we fought to be where we are now, so that you can have a better life” — like many other immigrant parents.
Growing up, my parents never really acknowledged my Asian identity in the community. What this means is that my parents wanted me to achieve, but they thought that, in order to do so, I must fit in with the white community; I must blend in to succeed. This worked until I attended a diverse and liberal college. I blended in by keeping my head down, I did well academically, I played sports, I joined choir, I volunteered during my off-time, and I began to choose a career in medicine. Overall, I was/still am a well-rounded American. What I did not realize was that even though I could do everything in my life “correctly,” the one thing that would mark my history was the fact that I identify as a lesbian.
The process of understanding who I am and my sexual orientation has not been as smooth for me as it has been for others in the community, whether they are Asian or not. I did not first recognize my sexuality until I was in college, when I first began to understand and learn more about the community. I began doing more social justice education and advocacy, which was where I met my future fiancé. When I look back on this time in my life, I realize that I was living two lives: one life at school where I could be a strong and openly gay individual and then another separate life at home where I was an obedient, closeted daughter.
In the Asian community and especially in my home life, emotions are not spoken or expressed. The only time I have seen such emotions are involving the death of a loved one, when it is then appropriate to cry or express feelings. It was not until my mother cornered me in the car on the way to lunch one day that I finally broke down the wall of lies about my sexuality by telling her I am a lesbian. That was six years ago. As for my father, he is still in denial. My parents both do not recognize and accept this large part of my life. When I continue to talk to my parents, there is an unspoken tension that has never left since the day they realized that the future they envisioned for me is not the future that will happen.
I tell this story so that others can relate and realize that they are not alone. Identifying as queer is by no means a walk in the park. There are struggles that we must face as a community that most others do not have to face in their lifetime. I have had to talk about my painful feelings to the ones I love the most, as if I am a recorder, just so that they can understand a glimpse of the hurt and pain they have unintentionally inflicted. Looking ahead in my career and life, there are factors that I need to consider. As a PA student finishing up my didactic year in a few short months, it pains me to wonder: Will my family be there alongside my fiancé at my white coat ceremony? Will she and my family be able to stand in the same room for this ceremonious time? I am just one Asian American lesbian; this is just one story. But you are never alone.