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13 Mar 2009

''Mama, Papa, I'm Gay.''

Shinen Wong recalls his coming out to his parents some seven years ago.

Coming out can be daunting. More so when we are coming out to people whom we love, people from whom rejection would be like being pulverised by a meteor, leaving a crater within us so deep it can feel impossible to mend.The people we consider our family, the people who have seen us from our birth all through our growth; our parents, who have postponed their dreams so they could raise us, or else we are those very dreams. They have seen us break out into baby giggles when they tickled our chubby bodies, they have crouched over guiding us through our first steps, they have seen us through the first time we blurted out those magic words, "mama" and "papa," all to their raucous applause. They have watched us struggle with speech, seen the world with wonder once again through our young eyes, reprimanded us for our vulgarities, taught us the importance of filial piety. And for those among us so lucky, they have raised us under roofs that were watertight and that never crumbled under the weight of the world.

Throughout all this, our parents have loved us, and in their love, some have fantasised about our worldly successes, the children we would bear them, those grandchildren they would get to bounce on their knees. They have planned our weddings in advance, they have foreseen our happiness in tuxedoes and wedding dresses with a partner whose name would no doubt sound with the other gender's lilt. For so many parents, when we come out, these fantasies come apart at the seams. Dreams may dissipate like clouds, but can feel like entire worlds have come crashing down.

We become their meteor.

"Mama, I'm gay."

My father had walked in on me while I was reading a book about being young and gay, which I had secretly smuggled into Singapore from overseas when we had come back from visiting family. I was 17 years old. It was nighttime in my bedroom, just before sleep. My father had walked out of the room calmly and without comment, but had sent in my mother like a sentinel to get some answers.

I was unprepared for this moment. It was her I told first, as she sat down next to me on my bed. "Mama, I'm gay."

A confused silence.

She asked me if I was sure. I told her I was. She suggested, gently, "You should try and make as many friends as possible, both boys and girls, you do not have to decide now." Perhaps she subconsciously feared that my being a homosexual was a rejection of her, that it was a fear or hatred of women, but perhaps neither of us to this day can ever be certain that this had ever been a motivation.

We talked for awhile, about where to go from here, about what this meant. She advised me to see if I could doubt this truth, if I could give it space to settle, space to decide if it were real, or only a figment of her imagination. Space to let the melancholy subside. When she kissed me goodnight, I knew that it was only because she loved me still.

She was about to leave my room when I told her, "Please don't tell papa. I will tell him myself." She nodded her assent.

Top of page: PFLAG's Stay Close campaign that featured straight celebrities with their gay relatives to ''increase acceptance, reduce bigotry, and change hearts and minds.''
"Papa, I'm gay."

It was around 9pm, again in my bedroom the next night, humid, air-conditioned. I had spent the whole of that day preparing to come out to my father. This next night, I had written a list of things I wanted to tell him. That I was gay. That I still loved him and hoped to death that he would still love me and treat me as his son. That I could not change though I had tried. That I had hated myself for years in hiding and could no longer stand my own lies.

He came in to kiss me goodnight, just as he had done the previous night before sending my mother in. Tonight, however, I asked him to stay for a minute so I could deliver my burden, meticulously prepared like a monologue. I had spent all day on the Internet searching for resources to help me in this process. I had chatted online seeking support from gay friends as they expressed their mix of respect and vicarious terror at my decision. I had typed in "gay coming out" in multiple search engines so I could find the best advice on how to do this. Almost all the websites informed me that I was wise to come out to him in person, that I could not be responsible for his reactions, only my own, that I should only come out when I was ready and not because anybody was pressuring me to do so. Yes! I was ready. This was not my opportunity to convince him of anything, but my own conviction in this truth.

I spoke, "Papa, I'm gay" and the words got stuck in my throat like a fishbone; Would my father ever touch me again? Hold me? Hug me? Would we share food again? Would I have a roof under my head in another hour? All these thoughts haunted me in that split second after this declaration. For a moment, I choked back my tears, and then gave in entirely. They streamed down my cheeks, wetting my face with these very fears. I was a little boy again, not a man like I had hoped my preparation would enable him to see. I wanted to run away.

"Of course I still love you," he responded, sternly, but I feared that this was by rote, as if to assure himself that it were still true. "You will always be my son," he said, but I wondered what regrets were in him, what buried disappointments yet to make themselves known. Whether he would chill at the prospect that he would never have grandchildren. Whether he might wish he had done something differently. Whether he might blame my mother.

"Did your brother influence you?" he asked directly. My older brother is gay too, and had come out to my father several years prior. Contrary to what people think, this had made my coming out incrementally more difficult, I felt as if I were their only hope, the only possible heterosexual child they could have left. That I would have to shoulder this very question of having been corrupted by my brother's perverse influences.

"I don't know," I responded, truthfully, though I added, "did your brothers influence you to be straight?"

My father laughed, perhaps a little sadly. It was going to take some time before everything would be alright. We talked for awhile too, about evolution, about how we thought people became gay. A strange, terse, but tame conversation. He tucked me in that night, and he parted from my room amidst a thick cloud of ambivalence and uncertainty. Our relationship had changed, but neither of us knew exactly how. We would need space apart and time to think. Time not to think. The first step had been made.

I fell asleep with my tears making a wet patch on my pillow.

Today, and Everyday from Now

It has been eight years since I came out to my parents, and eight years later, I am still surprised by the tremor in my voice when I first spoke those words, that tremor That tremor in my voice was coming from the unknown, from not knowing the previously unknowable possibilities that could come from committing myself to revealing such a banal, but so explosive truth. "I am gay!"

My father and I have fought over the particularities of sexuality, but our relationship is now more than just cordial; Indeed, he sees me as more than just my sexuality, though also deeply intertwined with it, and has slowly come to respect this as true. My mother has moved from uncertainty to a righteous defense and embrace of my life, and has openly voiced her support for both her gay sons in the book SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century, published in 2006 by Oogachaga, based on interviews done by author Ng Yi-Sheng in Singapore.

Today, both my parents know, and both of them support my brother and me, and have demonstrated their growing understanding in ways I could never have predicted before I came out. I do not question their love; I have faith in the power of truth. I lavish in the warm glow of knowing that coming out to my parents has easily been the most committed I have been to my own love and respect for them. My being gay could never have been an insult.

Most conflicts between people are disproportionately internal, in our own heads. We turn each other into meteors even before we have had the opportunity to speak; we fear pulverizing craters into each other's ideas of who we wanted the other to be. But truly, few of us are meteors. We are all just grains of sand, huddling close together to make a shore.

Malaysia-born and Singapore-bred Shinen Wong is currently getting settled in Sydney, Australia after moving from the United States, having attended college in Hanover, New Hampshire, and working in San Francisco for a year after. In his fortnightly "Been Queer. Done That" column, Wong will explore gender, sexuality, and queer cultures based on personal anecdotes, sweeping generalisations and his incomprehensible libido.

Reader's Comments

1. 2009-03-13 20:25  
Hi Shinen, Thanks for Sharing... It's awesome.. :-)
2. 2009-03-13 20:45  
Hi Shinen.
Thanks for sharing :) I'm hoping one day I could gather enough strenght to "come out".
My mother had a discussion about bisexuality 3 years ago and she said something along those lines " [...] It's abnormal for someone to like both sexes, yet alone same sex [...] if that is the case [for you was implied] we can solve that issue [did she mean disease I don't know] "
3. 2009-03-13 22:09  
touching!!! tears just rolling down on my face, naturally!
4. 2009-03-13 22:37  
Hey Shinen,
Now we all know you're Hoon Eng's cute son.
You should have made that clear the minute you started writing articles for Fridae.
It's such a small world!
5. 2009-03-13 22:51  
what a moving and lovely story shinen

6. 2009-03-13 22:58  
Here's my story about coming out to my Mum.

It was sometime in year 2002 when my Mum confronted me about my relationship with my ex. However, i managed to evade that scary question.

Somehow I felt a nudge deep inside me that I should be truthful to my Mum. So one fine day, still in the year 2002; we sat together at the dining table, I took the deepest breath and opened up to her. I was ready for any objections. Well, my Mum was a new Catholic then and so was I.

Mum was calm and listened carefully. Then she told me that she suspected it and the most wonderful part was she said, "I love you as you are". I almost cried. It was unbelievable and was worth taking that risk. We decided not to tell Dad. But I think that Dad in Heaven may know by now.

Coming out is a huge risk. My advise is follow your heart. Like me, it was wonderful and hilarous. You want to know the hilarous part? Write to me & i tell ya...

7. 2009-03-14 00:21  
i am touched by his decision to let his parents know he is gay, even nowadays the PLS cannto tell their parents they are gay and they have to bear the burden their families sthg, sthg.... it is so sad they cannot love what they love, live the life they want, only to please their family. it is so sad
8. 2009-03-14 02:59  
Wonderfully written, a pleasure to read and the comment "did your brothers influence you to be straight?" will give me chuckles for days to come. Reminds of a many years ago when my sister was visiting my partner and I she asked a similar questiion of me: "are you gay?" Yes I replied. "Why didn't you tell me?" she said. "I don't know" I replied, "Why didn't you tell me you were straight?". We had a good laugh and that was it.

Some months later and we were at her home for Christmas, with her husband, my two nephews and my grand-mother. My partner and I sat across the table from my grand-mother and during the course of the meal she looked across at my partner, then at me and said: "Terry, I think your friend is very handsome and what a wonderful smile he has". He was handsome and he did have a wonderful smile.

Your article brought back some memories and gave me a smile. Thank you!
9. 2009-03-14 11:13  
Peoples came out for different reason
The major point for me was:
"do I want lie to all my friends and peoples I love?"
"do I want have double life hiding the real me?"
"do I want feel scare to meet my family or straight friends when I hang out with my gay friends?"

10. 2009-03-14 12:30  
It's never easy...My elder brother and i are both gay too. Its not easy to come out to our loved ones for fear that the truth might be too hard for them. Fear of rejection from the ones that we know that had loved us unconditionally. I know if i come out to my mom (dad died last year), she will blame herself and think its her fault. She knows about my brother and I but i think she is in denial and turned a blind eye on us.
11. 2009-03-14 14:01  
Coming out is never easy especially so in our Asian society where such subject is still taboo.

I came out to my parents long time ago and though they have somewhat accepted it , I know deep inside , they would prefer that you were straight.

The right time and the right moment is crucial. It takes a lot of courage and it takes a lot of responsibility to come out so that no one is hurt.

To those who are already out , please enjoy and make your parents proud of who you are. Show them that being gay is what you are and what they can be proud of you. For those who are planning to come out , don't rush , you got to do it subtly . I wish you all the best.

This is not a champion course , ultimately it's all up to you, what you want to do with your life and how you want to integrate with your loved ones.
12. 2009-03-14 14:21  
To me, this article feels like it was written from the heart...like Mr. Wong chose to leave his Thesaurus on the bookshelves and just "tell it like it is", as we westerners sometimes say. This was a much more enjoyable read that didn't require an aspirin afterwards to kill my usual thesaurus-induced migrane after reading previous Shinen Wong columnns. Coming out is intensely personal, emotional and the reasons for NOT coming out or FOR coming out are as variable as there are gay people in the world. I never "came out" to my parents. They are dead and gone now. If I had to do it all over again, I would make the same choice to remain silent on the topic of announcing my sexual orientation. My reasons, my excuses and my rationalizations aren't important to anyone but me, so I won't tell "my story". Thanks Shinen for sharing your story because there are a LOT of young gay people reading your columns and they do look to you for inspiration, strength and direction. peace....
13. 2009-03-14 16:29  
Nice one, thx for sharing.
14. 2009-03-14 17:55  
It is almost poetic...
15. 2009-03-15 01:57  
"Support my brother and ME" Shinen,that time in America did not teach you much about grammar, lah!
Otherwise a lovely article. I wish Asian parents would look up and see the damage being done to the environment from overpopulation. The having of children just to be a support system is killing the planet, so that anyone who opts out and follows his heart and does not have children, is doing the environment a big favour. He is doing himself and his family yes even his parents a big favour, too, because lies while convenient are ultimately discomforting and hurtful to someone, whereas truth is refreshing and always to be preferred to expedient lies. If it means you can bring your boyfriend home or to a restaurant with your parents, without a scene occurring, then you can live a real life. Living a lie is only shortchanging yourself. A wise child knows when to broach the subject of coming out, a wise parent knows how to stand back from cultural norms and pressures. Two gay sons, what a blessing. Let all vanity about dynasty yield to common sense, and let your happiness in this moment as a family be the best course.
16. 2009-03-15 05:02  
Beautifully put, Shinen. It also shows how intelligent parents can handle the situation the best they can. Thanks for the tears you gave me :)

Having two younger straight brothers, I decided not to come out to my parents, family friends and the like because my 'gayness' could affect my brothers' lives. This is in the view that in asian cultures, having a gay faimily member somewhat lessens the market value :)
The youngest is getting married soon (the other got married ayear and a half ago), so soon I will have my opportunity to come out to my parents.

17. 2009-03-15 05:16  
Aw, I read SQ21!! I loved your mum's story as much as I enjoyed reading yours just now. Thanks for an uplifting story =)
18. 2009-03-15 07:44  
A moving article Mr.Wong, on a subject that all of us have probably/will go through at some time.
Tell, or not to tell/ when to tell.

A number of posts here touched on the thoughts that telling our parents is subjective. That so true.
We are the only ones who know our parents the best, and the circumstances that we are in.

When I told my parents I expected them to take it badly. And of course as I knew them so well, they did. Eventually they accepted it.
I used to question why I ever told them, but now I just question my timing.

I believe that if our parents truly love us, they will eventually accept it, and accept us. It may just come down to when we tell, and in what circumstances that we tell them ( If there is ever the right time )

Those of us who have gone through this experience, and whether we had a positive or negative outcome, should strive to support and 'be there' for those going through the angst of 'coming out' to their family, in what may one of the most traumatic emotional experiences a gay person has to experience.
19. 2009-03-15 11:40  
Beautiful piece!!! I can fully identify with choking up when I told my parents.

The story is powerful, and that you wrote it so simply but poetically made it a great read! Thank you!
20. 2009-03-15 15:28  
being gay or not.....does it matters
21. 2009-03-15 18:56  
i think most difficult here is when you are ready...
22. 2009-03-15 20:55  
A truly beautiful piece written from the heart. Kudos mate :)
23. 2009-03-16 08:02  
thank you for this,
this will be a great help to a friend of mine, also malaysian and also has an older gay brother, the family know about the older but not about the younger.....i hope this will help him and comfort him too.

why is coming out still such a hard thing to do? when will everyone regardless of sex, sexual preference, race, religion etc be accepted.....world peace! a myth? a dream? a possibility?

thank you for your words.

24. 2009-03-16 08:30  
Beautiful - simply beautiful.
Thanks for this. =)
25. 2009-03-16 09:40  
Kudos & brilliant, Mr. Wong. If onyl my parents were as accepting as yours, half the battle is won. Sensitive and it too, tugs at my heartstrings of eventually coming out to my loved ones and parents. I have indirectly hinted / discussed and debated about my sexuality to my mum. She is a traditionalist, who just like to speak her mind, BUT she was nonchalant, somewhat in denial as well ...so most likely it will be some time yet to break the "devastating" news. Dont even bother to ask about how my dad will react... sigh.
26. 2009-03-16 10:15  
omg, Shinen...thks! For the great article, for sharing something so imtimate & important....it's not easy. Bravo!!!!

ps- I am out & PROUD. woohoooooooooooooooo...
27. 2009-03-16 11:06  
To come out or not to come out, 'tis the question :)! Frankly, who cares :-)? It's just one more faggot in a meat market of many other faggots, that's all :-)! So what? Coming out of the closet doesn't necessarily make one happier, mind you :-). Finding oneself and being at peace usually does :-). So, before you choose to come out of the closet, first come to terms with you and be at peace with that :-).
Comment #28 was deleted by its author
29. 2009-03-16 11:36  
Post #27 heemale says (Posted : 16 March 2009 11:06) ...ROFL

Frankly, heemale,who cares abt yr opinion?
Keep in mind you are no public figure or someone famous- even so, who needs attitude like this when you're ugly enough? LOL
30. 2009-03-16 12:29  
What a heart felt story! Reminds me of my own "coming out" the fear of rejection, the feelings of guilt, the anger, the frustration etc! It is 15 years since I came out to my mother (I have not spoken to my father for 20 years) and we are still learning much about each other but so far it has been a wonderful loving journey! It takes a lot of effort on a gay persons part to come out and then we have to allow the parent to come out as well and go through a very similar emotional journey! I found it that much easier when I opened up my life to my mum and was honest with her! Now I can tell her anything and she told me recently that she has not got the same emotional depth with my older brother and younger sister (both hetro)! Which was a great thing to be told Love has conquered all!
Comment #31 was deleted by its author
32. 2009-03-16 12:40  
Thanks Shinen for the good article. Hugs ;)

Agree with u girlongirl. If u think heemale is ugly, which he is, u seriously have not seen gymhotbod yet. Seriously, he is gross. I have the great displeasures of seeing them both publicly sometime back and their bitterness and loudness was not a pleasant sight. Guess when one does not try to grow old gracefully but persist in still being a piece of preserved frozen meat in competition with younger fresher ones, one gets very seriously damaged psychologically.

Vegetables anyone..LOL.

33. 2009-03-16 17:11  
heemale, sure consider yourself "one more faggot in a meat market of many other faggots" if you insist, but please don't try to speak on behalf for the rest of us.

34. 2009-03-16 21:50  
Coming out to parents is usually the SECOND most difficult bridge to cross in gay life. The FIRST is coming out to oneself. Bear in mind the words of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: "WAS MIR NICHT BRECHT MIR MACHT STRENGER!" ("What doesn't break me makes me stronger!") Best wishes and hopes of courage for all who are still preparing to cross these bridges.
35. 2009-03-17 19:00  
This was a touching article Shinen. Thanks for sharing :)
36. 2009-03-17 19:45  
shinen, you and your writing are simply beautiful. i miss you.
37. 2009-03-19 21:41  
Times are a-changing.
My mother lived to be 98, and I NEVER discussed my sexuality with her. The subject was simply off the table.
(I had to give her a religious funeral, too --- even though I don't believe a word of it!)
38. 2009-03-20 07:22  
Hi Shinen
I was at the launch of SQ21 and it was a very moving experience for me to hear the contributors speak. I spoke to some of them including your mum. I was in a similar situation to you in that I have only one younger brother and he is gay as well, but he came out first. I gave my mum a copy of the book so that she would get strength from it.My parents are totally accepting of my sexuality and have met my partners. I am very lucky. Wish you and your family all the best.
39. 2009-03-20 15:27  
good Idel.....
40. 2009-03-20 15:57  
Poem Written On A Ferry Crossing Guimaras Straight
by: Felino S. Garcia Jr.

The sea is calm today.
No wind. On the roof deck
Of this ferry
I hold nothing
But a piece of paper, a pen
Dripping red as blood from my teeth
You broke
With your hands
Balled into fists rushing at me, swift,
The speed of lightning,
The fury of typhoons.

Your touch still wounds me.
Finger prints of pain left blue
On my flesh. These welts I now wear
Like second skin.
I still recall your hands like storm-
Winds slapping my face
Your eyes
From the bottle of whiskey and/ or gin
You had gulped
In a second or two. Your eyes,
The evil of a storm
Your hands had raised.

I am cursed you said
More than Once,
And I could only squeal,
Shriek the way only frightened girls
And sissies do.
The way no real man
Will ever do. Cursed:
Your words like salt wind
Lift from the sea,
Their crystals sharp, rubbing over
And over
On my wounds. I have no more tears.
The wind has taken them all away
from me.

I have nothing more
To write. No blood drips from my pen.
This letter ends
With me-
Blood of your blood,
Limb of your limb,
Holding my breath before I leap
Into the sea. Calm.
No wind.
On the surface,
the ferry's afloat
So is this paper boat.
Daddy, Please forgive me.
(pages 113-114, Ladlad2:An Anthology of Philippine gay Writing)
41. 2009-03-22 23:23  
OMG ... that was real courage shinen ... HUG ur mum more manz ....

All the best... and please no more such poems rainy friday .. its heart wrenching ...

Cheers to all those courageous souls out theree! ..

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