"When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending."
Brené Brown, PhD
Many LGBTQ Asian Americans face discrimination, physical violence, harassment, and rejection from their families and their communities. This rejection by families has been shown to cause an increase in adverse mental health outcomes. Minority LGBTQ individuals are shown to have higher rates of attempted suicides, depression, anxiety, and substance use problems. So what can be done? What can an Asian LGBTQ person do when they want to come out to their parents?
Here are some helpful pointers to help guide your way:
Understand that coming out is a process.
It may start small, it may start big. The important thing is that it's YOUR story. It's your moment to tell the story of who you are. Own your story, do not be owned by your story. Be brave. Write the ending you want. Be authentically you!
Assess your readiness to come out
Have you come out to yourself? Are you open to the possibility of rejection? Do you have a support network or a counselor you can lean on for support? Do you understand the risks and rewards of your actions? How have you come to understand your sexuality and how might you explain it to others
Create a plan for coming out
Focus on your safety first. Pick a time and place that is quiet, intimate, and safe where you can sit down with people.
Start with your immediate family. If you can, work your way to the entire family. This is your story, you alone can tell it. Are the words you want to use filled with love, hope, and conviction? Can you be patient as others learn and adjust to your coming out?
Practice what you want to say with your support person or persons first. Notify one or two trusted support people when a family meeting will take place and if needed have them accompany you. If your family rejects you and you live at home, have you made a plan for where you’ll live and how you will provide for your basic needs? What numbers can you call for support?
Focus on using “I…statements” and don’t blame others. Focus on your feelings and tell your story from a place that begins and ends with you.
Take time to understand that for most Asian parents there may be a culture gap and that misunderstandings will occur. They may never have even heard the terms like pansexual, polyamorous, bisexual, and transgender. They may even have misconceptions about being gay or lesbian.
Be prepared to answer what questions you can and invite them to discover with you the answers to the questions you don’t have answers to. Some helpful resources can be found through PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and NQAPIA (National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance). Check out NQAPIA’s campaign Family is Still Family (http://www.nqapia.org/wpp/api-parents-who-love-their-lgbt-kids-multilingual-psa-campaign/).
Tell them that being LGBTQ is not a choice, a moral failing, or a sin. Help them understand that your sexual orientation and identity does not make you a different person from who they’ve known.
Tell them that you coming to them about who you truly are is a way you’re choosing to honor them by telling them the truth.
Tell them that your identity does not change who you are and that you hope they will see that as well.
Share with them how you came to understand your sexuality. Invite them into your story and ask them to play a role of support and love. Tell them that you are seeking harmony, unity, and to live an honorable life by allowing them to see the true, whole you. Diversity adds to community.
Be patient and kind
Understand that public humiliation and community shame may happen. Prepare yourself to be rejected not only by family but by your whole community. Practice being kind to yourself, for you are being brave.
Understand that everyone will have heightened emotions and some people may say hurtful, spiteful, and things they may not be able to take back. Adopt a position of forgiveness and understanding.
Know that none of it is personal, their beliefs do not reflect your truth.
Understand that your family will have to grieve the loss of their perceptions and expectations of you. Understand that grieving will take time to resolve. Accept that the family may stay in denial and never accept you for who you are.
Learn to grieve and allow yourself to be compassionate towards yourself. Be patient and kind. Surround yourself with people who love you and support you. Remember, LGBTQ history is all about community building and support. They can become your new family and community. It can be a lonely road, but know that you are not alone.
"The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all." The Emperor from Disney's Mulan
Recently, I had this experience of talking to a Korean man who was dropping off some huge packages at my office. Having been indoctrinated my entire life in the ways of Korean mannerisms, I politely bowed to him and thanked him in Korean. He almost dropped the scanner in his hands to the floor and in wide-eyed wonderment he asked me in Korean how it was that I knew his language. This happens nearly every time I encounter a Korean person. I just look too "White".
Before deciding to pursue an advanced degree in counseling, I was a human biology major in college. My favorite subject was neurobiology because to me, the brain is this beautiful concert of neuronal firings and neurochemicals that as Descartes described it: the essence of our being. In a small, 3-5 pound mass of organic matter, holds our self concept, our memories, our senses, and our world view, it also is a museum holding the artifacts of our evolutionary history. Specifically, the strongest ancestral instinct is the one for survival.
Have you ever thought about how crazy the process of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly is? The caterpillar at some point knows that it is time to change and goes about constructing a chrysalis, dissolves into a liquid and some how knows to reassemble into a solid, and emerges completely changed. It’s truly a wonderfully and perplexing natural phenomenon.
In many ways, psychotherapy is similar to the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to butterfly.
Just as when the caterpillar first seeks out a safe place to construct its chrysalis, the counselor’s first role is to help provide the client a safe and welcoming place. Then after enough trust and safety have been built up, the client and counselor, together, can begin to dismantle many of the defenses, issues, and “stuck” moments that may impede a client’s change process. At the same time, they work together to build up the client by teaching new skills, reframing the problem or challenging maladaptive thoughts or beliefs, unlocking untapped potential, and/or discovering exciting new positive things about a client’s self. However, unlike the caterpillar, there is no telling what the final product will look like after the break down and reassembling processes, and it can take a long time or a short time depending on the client.
Luckily though, just as the beautiful butterfly emerges, the hope for the end of therapy is that the client emerges from the entire process different from when they entered (in a good way). Though this process is scary and difficult for most clients, it is important to note that just as the butterfly is made of the same components of its former caterpillar self, the client is the same person who entered therapy just rearranged and reassembled into a new form.
In the simplest way, this is what psychotherapy is. It is the a holistic, dynamic, and rewarding change process that begins from a place of safety to help a client work towards becoming a new form.