The 6th PFLAG Conference of China concluded in September this year. At the conference, an 81-year-old grandfather said of his gay grandson, “My grandson is a nice boy and I don’t believe any of those rumors about how evil those gay people are. I know him so well.” His wife, the boy’s Grandmother, added “My grandson is discriminated against for being gay. We are family, so there is no reason for us not to be supportive of his struggle.” Unlike previous sessions, the 6th PFLAG Conference was the first to invite grandparents to present and their thoughts, feelings, and opinions on LGBT issues.
Due to old traditions and engrained social prejudice, it is not easy for relatives in Chinese families to accept their children’s sexuality. Hence, there is a heated debate in the gay community when it comes to the question of coming out. Some people suggest that coming out is selfish. The Confucian concept of filial piety (love and respect for one’s parents and ancestors) has a lot to do with this. Many think that for the sake of filial piety, LGBT people should hide their sexuality. For example homosexual men and lesbian women could please both their families by arranging a sham marriage. With an often negative reaction to a person’s coming out, it is easy to see where these ideas and attitudes come from. However, behind the debate, contention, and confusion, there are some hidden simple truths that need to be reiterated.
First of all, everyone wants be themselves and no one wants to spend their lives living a lie. For LGBT people, it is common sense to come out to our loved ones and to share with them our romance, happiness and sorrow. Telling lies restrict us from being our real selves and keeping part of our identity hidden puts an incredible emotional burden on a person.
At the Fuzhou conference, a mother from Chongqing told me that since she accepted her daughter as a lesbian, her daughter had immediately recovered from her depression without any treatment. When we lack courage or affirmation, we tend to beautify our dishonesty into filial piety. When, in fact, honesty is often a better answer. These behaviors above all are the result of misunderstanding the real meaning of the concept of filial piety, and I believe we need to reflect on this traditional culture and it’s place in modern society.
Secondly, parents have to go through a long and hard process to accept their children’s sexuality, but underneath they often have a strong desire to hear the truth. In China, parents have a number of concerns about their child’s sexuality. They worry that they will have no one to take care of them when they grew old; some feel guilty for not helping their children overcome difficult times; some shed tears for having no opportunity to have grandchildren (exasperated by the one-child policy); others are worried about losing face because they believe being gay is shameful. However, no matter the parents’ concerns and feelings, all parents wish their children can tell them the truth. I completed a survey among more than 300 random parents and asked them if they would like their children to come out to them if they were gay, they all replied positively.
Once again, it is our responsibility to challenge and change prejudice instead of bowing down to them. Prejudice and discrimination still widely exist in the public and many homosexuals and their parents aren’t doing anything to improve their living environment by living a life of lies, quite contrarily, they are worsening it.
When homosexuals marry straight partners out of inner fear or hide their sexual orientation by having fake marriages with opposite homosexual partners there is a desire to appear ‘normal’. While this may appear the easy option, not only does it take a heavy emotional toll, but it does nothing to promote LGBT rights.
It is always a difficult journey for parents to accept their children as being gay and they need to have mutual trust as well as equal communication with their children, just as Xiaotao’s grandfather put it, “I know so much about my own child. He is a nice boy.” At the same time, our living environment should be improved through concerted efforts by which more and more people stand out to enable the public to know more about LGBT people and issues.
Only by trust and unconditional love can we tackle this journey together.