Our poor therapist tried her best to referee us as we hashed out our hurts, anger and disappointments with one another. I told my parents all the things they did not want to hear – how I had moved in with Lisa a few months ago, how I was leaving home to travel with her for one year, and how I didn’t see my being gay as a “lifestyle” but rather “my life.” My parents told me all the things that I did not want to hear – how they were worried about my Christian salvation, how they thought I was on the road to heartache and destruction, and how they could not accept Lisa.
Sometimes in the parking lot after a session, we would be so angry with one another that there’d be slammed car doors and hurtful words. A pressing conflict with my parents arose over Lisa's and my visit to Taiwan in September. By chance, my mom was planning to be in Taiwan at the same time to visit relatives. I had already resigned myself to the fact that Lisa and I would have to find our own lodgings instead of staying with relatives, but I had thought that I would be able to bring her with me to a few family functions as “my friend.”
However, my mom would have none of that. “They’ll be able to tell,” she said, referring to Lisa’s butchy look. My mom’s expectation was that I should leave Lisa for a week and stay with her to spend time with family in Taiwan. “What am I supposed to do, leave Lisa in a hotel?,” I said. “You have 365 days with Lisa,” my mom countered, “why can’t you give me one week?” When I tried to explain to her that this was Lisa's and my trip and that I was not about to leave her in a foreign country for one out of the three weeks that we had planned to be in Taiwan, my mom didn’t understand why I was being so stubborn.
Out of regard for my parents, I have only told a few of my relatives about my sexuality. Most react without a lot of acknowledgement, partly (for some) because of their religious beliefs, but mostly because I think that’s just how my family is. When something happens that isn’t quite acceptable or comfortable, we simply don’t talk about it. I have a feeling this is true of Chinese families in general.
I’ve been lucky in a few regards, though. My brother Phil has accepted my life choices in spite of the conflict (which he has to suffer through too) it causes with my parents. He and his girlfriend Emma came to our launch party a few weeks ago, and it meant a lot to have him there. I also recently reconnected with my cousin Vivian in Michigan who is proudly queer as well. We’ve traded a few emails of support, and its nice to know that there is other “family” in my family.
In the end, I’m thankful that my parents and I made the effort to go through therapy. At the very least, we were able to fully hear each other out (in the measured presence of therapist Jane, who kept us from getting out of hand). We may not yet be able to find a feasible compromise, but at least we understand where we all stand. I feel a deep relief too from having told them everything that I need to tell them.
I know it was a big stretch for my parents to come, and it gives me hope that we'll eventually figure out a middle ground that works for all of us. If they can make it out of the car into the garage, maybe next time we can meet at the front door.
Jenni and Lisa have been together for 3 years and they are currently traveling the world for a year in search of gay people who are creating change for the LGBTQ community. Their project, Out and Around: Stories of a Not-So-Straight Journey is a collection of their conversations with these "Supergays" around the world.
Find out more at www.outandaround.com