Website “Very Good Light” in partnership with “Rudys” has released a number of articles for “Coming Out Week”. One of the articles was written by Patrick G. Lee, who spoke about how difficult it was for him as a Korean American to come out to his family as being gay. Having a photo of him at Pride March posted on Instagram and somehow falling into the hands of his mother who asked his sister whether he was gay, was the initial reason Lee had to come out. He explains that in Korean “queer” on Google translate comes up with “same sex love” and he decided to open his heart up to his parents about being gay by writing a letter. His mom has not spoken to him since receiving the letter, but his dad has and they are still talking. It really gives all of us a different perspective and insight into what a difficult conversation this is. Here are a few excerpts via (Very Good Light):
I’m pretty sure Google Translate outed me.
I had just finished marching in New York’s Pride Parade with my queer Korean drumming group. We marched down Fifth Avenue for hours, taking up space and making noise in ways that Asians in America are often expected not to do. It was an ecstatic experience.
Afterward, we took a sweaty group photo and I posted it on Instagram with the caption, “my badass queer Korean drumming family.”
Soon after that, my mom texted my sister a screenshot of the photo, asking her (in Korean), “Your brother’s not gay, is he?”
My sister then messaged me and asked, “What do you want me to say?”
My mom and dad moved to America in the 70s, and their English is pretty good. But “queer” is definitely a term they didn’t pick up during the decades they spent running their own business, making sure my sister and I were fed and shuttling us between after-school activities. So I didn’t think twice when I wrote that caption.
But, alas, technology. When you put “queer” into Google Translate, a Korean phrase comes up that literally means “same-sex love.” A pretty clear alarm bell for any parent, if you ask me.
And so began the process that I had avoided for years, and that I still hadn’t figured out a way to navigate. I felt a familiar tornado of anxiety churn in my stomach. I felt it every time I started thinking about what would happen if I came out as queer to my Korean immigrant parents. Would I still be able to visit home during the holidays? Would they try to come between my sister and me? Would they ever talk to me again?
My parents taught me about family duty. They taught me about swallowing down the pain to enable your kids and grandkids to live better than you did; about being halfway around the world from extended family; and about standing up for your dignity on a daily basis.
For us queer kids of immigrants, the feelings of guilt are real. The deeply entrenched sense of obligation is real. The exhausting toll all of this takes on our mental health is real.
Coming out is not just about us, as individuals; it’s about the repercussions that it might have within our immigrant communities and across generations of family spread across the globe. It’s about wanting to honor the sacrifices of our parents, who survived in a country that was not built for them and that continues to see them as foreigners, all so they could afford us more opportunities.
But in the moment that my sister messaged me, I did what came to me instinctively, as a journalist: I started writing.
I knew my Korean wasn’t good enough for me to communicate everything I needed to over the phone or in person. And I knew that if I came out in English, the power dynamic would be reversed, and my parents would feel helpless and lost.
And so I wrote a letter to my parents explaining what it meant for me to be gay. My hope was to fill in the gaps of their knowledge and push back against some of the opinions I knew they held after decades of going to a Korean Catholic church in my hometown just outside Chicago. I asked some friends — including Clara Yoon, a proud and affirming Korean mother of a bisexual, transgender son — to help translate the letter into Korean. Then I emailed it to my parents.
Here is a link to the letter Lee wrote. It is very personal and shows how much Lee values his family and the traditions and values his parents believe in. Please read it and let us know what you think.
Image via Very Good Light
To read the full article, please click on: As a Korean American, coming out was harder than I thought.