My dad has no idea that it’s Pride weekend, but this morning began with some sagely advice over coffee:
“Do what you love, and love who you love. I’m proud of you already.”
I’m the oldest child and a first and a half generation immigrant to the United States, and my parents were very young when they had me. I’m starting to realize what that means.
When I came out to my parents, they reacted with a lot of fear. I initially misinterpreted that fear as homophobia, that they didn’t understand or were afraid of my sexual orientation.
As it turns out, they were just reacting out of fear for my life. They came to the United States when I was a baby. My mother was 22 - she was my age. Speaking very little English and having to figure out how to support a family in the United States, they experienced an incredible amount of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment in their first few years in Minnesota. They wanted their sons to grow up as Americans, speaking the language and understanding the culture so we wouldn’t have to go through all of that in our own lives. Perhaps then, our identities would not be so politicized and we could go about our lives in peace.
And so my coming out was met with an exasperation, a sudden resurfacing of a fear that they thought to be long-buried. Just when they thought their boys could be free to navigate the American cultural landscape as full-fledged, respected citizens, another identity pops up that would relegate their older son to second-class status in the eyes of a lot of people.
They spent much of our childhoods being a little controlling, and there had been a hefty bit of tension between us back then. My parents had only just gotten comfortable with me when I went to high school. When we were little, they were worried that either of their sons could be the next Vincent Chin. Just when that fear subsided, it was replaced with a fear that I could be another Matthew Shepard. That’s why they were afraid and angry - we live in an area where the school district experienced eight LGBT-related student suicides in two years (2010-2011). My neighbors and peers tended to be white, religious, Christian conservatives. They know that.
It’s been a few years, and things have settled down a bit. But before every time I apply for a job, before every time I go out, before every time I go on a trip, my dad takes me aside for a chat. He warns me that the world is a dangerous place for me. He tells me to protect myself, to keep secrets. He’ll spend a good forty minutes reiterating that the world is dangerous and that I could find myself at the mercy of people who will hate me.
I used to get so sick of the ‘soliloquy of imminent doom.’ I’d heard it hundreds of times over the years, and as a teenager the repetition came off as condescension. Nowadays, I can see the weariness in his eyes as he’s telling me all this. My dad is a powerful man - a master kickboxer and tournament champion several times over in his youth, he’s accustomed to taking on the world as a fighter, and he has the scars and the physique to prove it. But when he talks to me before every time I leave the house, he looks so feeble.
He’s not lecturing me - he’s imploring me. He is begging me to do everything that I can to come home safe because he knows he’s completely powerless to protect me like he used to.