How much shall we tell our parents about our adulthood - the challenges we face, the people we love, and our experience that are not relatable to our parents? There is a spectrum of how much we reveal ourselves, and the decision is always personal. Coming out to parents as a gay might be a radical experience of communicating with family, but thanks to my friend Junting and his generous sharing, we can clearly see something universal that would be otherwise too subtle to articulate -- the personal choice of revealing, the courage of taking the risk, the chance to discover what’s underneath the “presentable” as one’s culture defines, and the unknown that one has to live in after telling the truth.
Junting Zhou is a New York-based filmmaker. This article was originally written in January 2018, when he visited his family in Guangzhou, China, where he was born.
The freezing cold was tamed today, it was getting warmer because the sun risen. It wasn’t that chilled at night. Tonight I dine at home. Mom made taro with preserved pork topping on the rice, a homey Cantonese dish. I chatted with my parents during the dinner. Topics involved getting a girlfriend, when to have kids, my career goal at this point, things like that. All of us were a bit thrilled. I went to the kitchen to get another bowl of rice, and the idea came to me: it is a lovely night, it is the time.
Back to the dining room, my dad finished his meal and was editing photos on his phone while mom was cleaning up the table. I asked mom to take a seat. I started a conversation I had been preparing for 3 months.
“I have something to tell you. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, well, for over a decade. I’m going to say it tonight. And I need a lot, a lot of courage.” I asked them, “Do you feel there has been something between us, something I couldn’t say?”
My mom didn’t get the clue, she gave me a confused look:“ Is there?”
“Yes.” Dad still looked down at his phone.
Dad probably knew what I was going to say. After I came out his only question was if I have zero interest in women, after getting my answer he said nothing more. He was mildly smiling as if he was satisfied by his prediction. At least on the surface, it wasn’t hard for him to take. But mom was worried. Her main concern was I wouldn’t be taken care of if my partner was a man -- she believes that men do a less good job than women on taking care of others -- and her worries brought her into tears. I thought my dad would be more against the idea of homosexuality. They didn't react as I had imagined, or, I did not try to understand as much as I should have. As the conversation went, mom gradually conceded that she will be fine as long as I agree to have kids, which reminded me of the “family first” value that we both have in the culture of Chaoshan, the region where my grandparents were born. The experience of coming out was much better than what I imagined or what I read. I messaged some friends in a Wechat group, one of them said, “you are lucky, you have parents who love you dearly.”
That is true.
Before I came out, I told a friend about my plan. She considered this a selfish decision. She’s older than me, and her opinion was based on her knowledge of the older generation and stories happened around her. But I wasn’t able to take her objection: would it be better to speak the truth so that my family sees the real me? Is it sad that parents spend decades to raise up their kid without knowing who he really is? As I reflect on it, one has to know his parents well to speak this truth. I dared to do so because I was confident that they can take it.
Seeing my mom burst into tears, I realized my friend was right. Coming out is not a total liberation, it transfers, partly, my stress to them. While I’m relieved from this secret, my parents have to deal with this unplanned pressure and the unknown challenge waiting in front of them. They will need to lie to the relatives and their friends when people start to ask why I have not married or why I still don't have a girlfriend at my 30s. Mom loves to play the piano, but tonight, she didn’t have the mood. I wonder, did I actually make a selfish decision?
Maybe I did.
Maybe not long after, I would regret doing this, or I would be thankful. Coming out is not for everyone, and I see how marriage of convenience serves the purpose of remaining relationship with someone’s family. But I can’t do this anymore. I’m exhausted from the suffocating conversations we had on relationships. And I can’t bear with hiding from the people I love the most, who also love me the most in this world. I’m tired of letting fear stand between us.
In 2018, I want to breathe freshly.
By Junting Zhou, translated by Qionglu
Junting will participant in a screening on July 17th at Anthology Film Archives with his film Shoka.