Stories

MOM? DAD? IT’S ME…

Li Lu, 24, has never hidden who he was, even at the risk of his family turning their back on him.

The word “gay” didn’t come into my vocabulary until I was in the 5th grade. I’ve always liked boys, but as a kid, you don’t really talk about stuff like that. You think everyone has cooties. When I understood what that word meant, I realized I fall into that category.

In middle school, I sat my parents down and said I’m a homosexual. My dad said you’re too young to understand this, and my mom agreed with him.

Life goes on, high school comes around and there were more dances and stuff like that, and who I’m going to ask to these things floats around in the air. My parents would always suggest I bring one of my best friends — always female.

I had to come out again, like hey can you not be stupid? Can we just acknowledge that this is a thing? They responded, and said that’s not normal.

In college, I was like, again, homosexual! I think by that point they kind of gave up, and dropped the topic.

The catalyst was when my extended family found out. My parents had always told me not to tell anyone else, but as a proud, queer individual, I’ve never tried to hide my existence. I posted a picture on Facebook, and when my extended family found out, my parents got involved and we got into a multitude of arguments about it.

It was coming to the beginning of summer, school was letting out for college and they said, I don’t know if you should come back to Virginia. We don’t really want to see you.

I said, fine, so I’ll just stay in New York, that’s my only option. I asked my parents if they were still going to support me financially, and they said, I don’t know.

That was a big panic moment in my life. I didn’t expect that to happen. I didn’t have a financial plan. The following semester of college was already paid for upfront, but I didn’t have an internship or a paying job, I had a bank account but not enough savings to make it through the summer.

I think a big portion of their anger was due to the fact that I’m one of three male kids, and coming from a traditionally Chinese family, there are a lot of expectations. One of my older brothers, the middle child, passed away when I was just two, and my oldest brother really isn’t fulfilling what is required of a male heir. A lot of the expectations fell onto me.

Coming from a traditionally Chinese background also made it harder on me since there’s a big emphasis on family. You’re never ready to hear that your family doesn’t love you, and a big part of the coming out process is acknowledging that they might tell you they don’t love you anymore, and you exit without a family.

Luckily, I had a really great support group here. I had a network of queer friends, and I told them this happened to me, I need a place to stay, I need action items, I need an internship or a job that pays. They were really good, they all sent me a bunch of links and people to talk to. I managed to find an internship that paid and it was enough to cover housing and food.

Around mid-summer, my parents and I began talking again, and even though it was just constant arguing, at least we were having better conversation. They apologized and admitted it wasn’t right of them.

They eventually came up for my birthday and we met, we talked. They apologized for not being supportive amid the backlash from my extended family, but said they were still not supportive of me as a gay individual.

This was a few years ago, and my relationship with my parents is much better now. My mom and I are probably closer than my dad and I. For a while, none of them wanted to talk about it — it was a taboo topic, but my mom’s a lot better about it now and doesn’t cringe when it comes up. My dad doesn’t really talk about it too much — he won’t make rude comments anymore which is nice but it’s not something that he asks about.

After this ordeal, I made a very conscious effort to bring up my sexual orientation more to make them more comfortable with the topic. If they ask me about how my day was, I’ll talk about the date I went on with a guy.

A lot of the time, they ask if we can stop talking about it, or let me know they aren’t comfortable with it. But every time we talk about my brother, we talk about his girlfriend, so why can’t I talk about the same thing? Why should this be any different? It took a lot of time and patience, but they’re a lot better about it now.

When it comes to mom and dad, I hope others in my position can understand it takes a lot of time and patience. It doesn’t happen overnight. The biggest thing that changed the course of our relationship was that they realized if they don’t love me now, they might not get a chance to love me later.

I hope one day they’ll choose to attend my wedding — and not just be there, but go through the motions and be excited for my big day. I don’t think they’re there yet, but I hope one day they can be.

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