I can still remember the day in 2013 when my 17-year-old son came out to me. He had just returned home from hanging out with his classmates, looking unusually stressed. “What happened?” I asked.
“Guess,” he answered. He didn’t say anything else.
I guessed. Maybe he had gotten a girlfriend? Or perhaps he had a girlfriend and now she was pregnant? He was clearly nervous. Shaking too much to sit, he laid down in bed, still vibrating.
“You’re gay?” It was a shot in the dark.
“Yes.” he replied. I noticed he’d stopped shaking.
I laughed. I couldn’t believe it. How could my son be gay? He was always such a well-behaved child. It was impossible. He must be joking.
“How do you know you’re gay?” I asked.
He said he knew. He explained that he first realized he was different in high school. He liked watching guys and developed feelings for them. An online search told him everything else.
He added that he was born this way, but I refused to believe him. How could heterosexual parents have a gay child? That’s impossible.
I tried adopting a more serious tone. “You must change,” I told him.
He tried to explain how same-sex attraction works, but I refused to listen. He asked me to go on the internet and see for myself — he even recommended a forum where people shared their stories of coming out — but I didn’t dare. I was afraid that what he was telling me was true.
Looking back, I was acting like an ostrich, burying my head in the sand. I didn’t want to handle the truth that my child is gay. I immediately set three rules for him: no looking up anything related to homosexuality online; no discussion of homosexuality at home; and no calling himself gay.
My son just looked at me and said: “One day, I believe you will understand, and support people like me.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I replied. “I’ll never ever be an ally to gay people.”
I wouldn’t know until much later what motivated my son to come out to me. That day, a girl had confessed her feelings to him. He rejected her, and told her that wasn’t attracted to women. The girl wanted to know, if he was truly gay, why didn’t he dare tell the truth to his mom?
Although I wouldn’t allow my son to so much as mention homosexuality, I found myself thinking about his sexual orientation day and night. I desperately wanted to find a solution, to change him; I even decided that, if he didn’t change after he went to university, I would disown him.
At the time, my husband blamed me for our child being gay. He said I was too close with him, which made him lose his interest in women. Meanwhile, I wanted to blame my husband. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have had a gay child. For a time, we stopped talking with each other.
It felt not just like my life was over, but also my child’s life. Who would hire a gay person? He’d never get promoted. I wanted to “save” him — to “cure” him. If my own mother wasn’t sick at that time, I might have contemplated suicide.
There was no one I felt comfortable talking to. I worried that, if the secret got out, my child would be discriminated against and that others would laugh at me. Finally, I confessed everything to my best friend. She went on the internet, hoping to find a cure. She finally found one, but was appalled by its cruelty. Electroshock therapy: curing homosexuality by administering electric shocks to the testicles.
I definitely wasn’t going to send my son there. I doubted if what they were doing was even legal. Out of options, I finally realized there was nothing I could do about his sexuality.
My friend tried to comfort me. She told me not to blame my son, to think of all the other gay people out there and the discrimination and prejudice they face.
It worked. As soon as I got home, I went on the forum my son recommended. I desperately wanted to find stories of other gay children and their parents. What I found challenged my stereotypes. But the stories I read could not cure my sorrow. I was still sad and worried about my son’s future. How could I support him? And without kids of his own, what would happen when he grew old?
Two years would pass before I broached this topic with him. He asked if I trusted him. I said I did. And that was that.
From then on, I stopped worrying about what might happen 40 years in the future and started focusing on what I could do for my child in the present. After learning about an advocacy organization comprised of parents of LGBT Chinese, PFLAG, I started showing up to their events. I even took my own mother, hoping to give her a better idea of what her grandson was going through. Eventually, I became a volunteer myself.
My son never asked me to do any of this. But when I saw how few parents were willing to come forward and support their children publicly, I wanted to speak out.
Even now, many families pressure their same-sex attracted children to marry a member of the opposite sex. Some of these are “form marriages” between gay men and lesbian women; others are elaborate lies. Either way, the truth always comes out in the end. The marriages may be fake, but the pain they cause is real.
The longer I work with PFLAG, the more cases of social discriminations and stigma against LGBT people I see. I hope that one day same-sex marriage will be legal in China — and LGBT Chinese will enjoy the same rights as their heterosexual peers. In the meantime, I’ve found meaning in being an ally.
As told to Alison Xinyi Guo.
Editors: Cai Yineng and Kilian O’Donnell.
(Header image: Anna Lang/500px/VCG)