When I First Liked a Girl, I Explained It in All Possible Ways but Admitting I’m Gay…
Identity crisis is a long journey. You just can’t figure it out in one sitting.
Series: Love on My Own Term
“I watched a lot of gay movies, fictions, and TV series. Seeing queer people having a life in those fictitious stories, that scared little gay girl hidden inside of me started imagining herself to live her own story in real life one day. ” — — Sidney
Sidney is from Hunan Province, China. She considers herself a global citizen. She graduated from Colorado College in the States, majored in Poli Sci and minored in Comprehensive Physics and German. Now I’m studying at Emory University School of Law. She thinks she will probably grow into a criminal defense lawyer — “one of those all self-righteous poor people with a law degree”.
She said she used to be cooler, did a lot of clay sculpting, traveled around and wrote stuff, played drums and dabbled in guns. But the “torture” in law school has turned her into a “boring grown-up”.
“Who am I?” A long journey started in high school…
I’m gay. The identity crisis about one’s sexuality can be a long journey. You simply cannot figure it out in one sitting. I started to doubt and explore my sexuality around the second year in high school, but I did not get to a level of certainty in my own identity until about junior year in college. Now as I’m at the other end of the journey and looking back, I guess I can put it like this: telling others about one’s own sexuality is called “coming out of the closet”, but I feel for myself it’s more like going into one, just like going into the Narnia wardrobe where exists a whole unknown world.
It’s like, at first, it is just an ordinary closet sitting in the corner of your room, but somehow it keeps drawing your attention whenever you’re alone, and you just cannot resist the urge to go into that strange world. That world is so unfamiliar and so queer that keeps you wondering what it could mean to you, and before you figure it out, you would try everything to hide its existence. However, once you are used to it being a part of your own world, you would be fine with leaving the door open, and you start to see no difference inside or out.
Every individual will more or less go through some kind of identity crisis especially during their adolescence. The whole coming-out thing for LGBTQIA+ kids is just another long-standing and recurring theme of identity struggles, a thread that inevitably leads to all other identity conflicts, and you, following its lead, will have to experience the universal self-identity crisis in a harsher and more complicated way. But it also urges you to dig deeper and more thorough, and at the end of the day, after all the painful struggles, you will come out with a light spirit, yet with denser self-esteem, and a more coherent framework of views on life, which all together shape your own system of making sense of the world.
When Sidney first liked a girl, the first thing she did was….
Actually I was a little homophobic myself when I was a freshman in high school. I just didn’t feel this whole thing would have anything to do with me, just some gossips on those tabloid magazine covers. But I had this major crush on a girl in the sophomore year in high school. I was surprised but I did not repel my own feelings too hard — I knew the feeling was true, and you could never really repel what comes out of your own heart. As nerdy as I was, the first thing I did was to do a serious research on anything related to sexualities, including the classic Kinsey reports, the theory of sexual fluidity, Judith Butler, the influence of Christian culture on the narrative of gay rights movements… I spent a couple of months reading everything relevant that I could get my hands on, and basically made myself a “semi-expert” on sexuality. But interestingly, I found several possible theories to explain and justify the crush I had, all except just admitting that I was maybe gay.
I also watched a lot of gay movies, fictions, and TV series. Seeing queer people having a life in those fictitious stories, the scared little gay girl hidden inside of me started imagining herself to live her own story in real life one day.
Sidney decided to come out to her parents, but things didn’t go as she planned…
I was doing an exchange year in Germany and in that winter I flew back home to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family. On my flight back I was thinking, I had done the process of coming out to myself and then to my peers, it’s time to eventually come out to my family. However, I soon found myself in a tricky situation: two of my cousins are also gay. Although we had a good laugh out of it when we all came out to each other and it was nice to have allies, my original plan of coming out to the elders in the family became riskier. The thing was, for me I could just break the news and run away, but for my cousins, they might have to deal with the consequences because the elders would probably be on a high alert and be more sensitive about this issue because of me, which would make the situation worse for my cousins who were not ready to come out yet. So I decided not to rush it.
But with the urge of coming out clogged in my throat, it was upsetting. Meanwhile, I noticed my cousins were depressed and had low self-esteem because they could not see their way out of that suffocating environment where no one understands them. I was worried about them and decided to connect them with my other queer friends who are nice, charming, and doing well with their lives. I wanted to show my cousins that they could still have a bright future while being a queer. However, in my mother’s eyes, all these efforts were just setting bad examples.
Before Sidney could actually come out she had a huge fight with her mother about whether gay people are “freaks”, and she left home furiously.
“Wait and see, those kids are weird freaks that they will turn out to be gay someday.” My mom said this harshly.
I kept my cool and corrected her that homosexuality is nothing “weird” or “freak”, but deep inside I was shivering: thank god, I did not come out to her yet, “freak”, that was what she felt about it. We yelled many mean things to each other during the fight and eventually she told me to drop dead somewhere far away and never come back, and I decided to act upon her words — to leave my family permanently.
I went back to my room and pulled out my laptop, changed my flight back to Germany to the day right after, all with a cool, calm brain. I told my cousins that I would not return home for a very long time and asked them to take good care of themselves; I packed all the little items that I felt attached to and left home the next day. I sent my parents a long email letter (of course I still did not come out to them in that letter), stating that I will be walking my own path from then on, and then I blocked their numbers and email addresses. It was then that I learned the extreme feelings of anger and resentment are nothing like flaming heat; it is more like a pure heavy coldness. My heart felt cold, my head felt cold, and all my decisions felt cold and inevitable.
But of course, it was all very dramatic and childish. My life did not change much after this grand gesture. I still have the college fund on my bank account, I still went to school as I used to, I was still doing everything I had been doing. There was no significant hardship whatsoever. I started to realize something a few months later: the seemingly inevitable dramatic gesture l made was out of my fear. I was so afraid that once I come out, my family would abandon me, so I acted out that fear myself as if I abandon them first, then they could never abandon me. Childish, as I said.
Half a year later Sidney started talking to his parents again. This time she finally stammered the words out…
I finally came to my senses about half a year later, and all those raging feelings had cooled down. I called my Dad. During the call that lasted less than ten minutes, I finally worked up the courage and stammered the words out: “Dad, there is something that I’ve always wanted to tell you, I just don’t know how.” He answered calmly: “I know. It’s about you being “different”, isn’t it? I knew you were trying to tell me many times, but you couldn’t.”
He continued, “That is not a big deal, and it is your own life. The most important thing is your own happiness. I trust you — it is not a big deal — and baby just be safe.” It feels sneaky though because I made a dramatic gesture before actually coming out, so my parents were already more or less ready to compromise when the moment came. But still, I was touched by his reaction.
During the next few weeks, I and my dad talked every day like friends. I told him all about queerness with honesty. In return, he tried his best to understand me. Those conversations we had made our relationship more intimate and more equal than ever. For the first time I felt that I was unconditionally loved. I was on a foreign land all alone, and my dad, on the other side of the phone, kept telling me I don’t need to worry and he will always have my back. I felt this great happiness that transcended everything as if nothing bad had happened in the past or will happen in the future; as if all the power I ever needed in life was filled in me at that very moment, and could never be taken away.
My mother was another story, though. She had always been dressing me according to her taste, planning my life according to her values. I used to be that type of kid who told the hairdressers to “ask my mom” whenever they asked me how I want my hair to be done. So when I finally am able to get away from her control, I felt free to explore what I like and dislike, to claim how I want to look like and who I want to be. All these changes were challenging her authority. She was always picking up on my non-binary style with an insulting tone.
I was so worried about her reaction that I asked my dad not to share the news with her. Nevertheless, my dad did tell her for me. She said to me through my dad that I should not bear such an emotional burden, that they would always support me unconditionally, and she felt sorry to have made me upset for such a long time. I finally started talking to her again a long while later. She still tried to brush away the fact of me being out, but she did start to acknowledge that part of my life, reluctantly though.
Now that three years have passed, I sometimes casually mention my romantic relationships in front of my parents. My dad would gossip like a nosy friend, and my mom is still a little bit uncomfortable with talking about it. But she would occasionally ask me to pass on her greetings to my girlfriend.
As an “example” among her peers, Sidney is helping others become a fuller version of themselves.
I’m not very into organizations that are based on identity politics, but since I was openly out to my peers, I kind of have become an “example” that leads other Chinese kids who are either questioning or struggling to come to me. As one of the very few visible queers around them, I naturally took the responsibility of helping them along their journeys. I was lucky to have the chance of witnessing many of those anxious, not self-assured queer kids growing into amazing, confident individuals, and each of them becoming a fuller version of themselves, either by accepting or discarding some labels. Those little mentorships and connections I shared with them made me feel like I am giving back to my own community, and it is an empowering experience. I believe with those kids being confident and accepting of themselves, they will eventually change the perception of the LGBTQIA+ community by the others around them.
Many believe the U.S. is a more open-minded and diverse social environment that is more accepting of LGBTQ+ compared to China, does Sidney feel the same way?
That’s not necessarily true. All our experiences are biased. In the U.S. I spent most of my time on campuses of some liberal colleges so what I have encountered mostly are the accepting ones. But in China, I was more in the social circle derived from my family and the people I interacted with were from the older generations. So the experiences are different for sure. On some level, Chinese people tend to express their opinions in a less straightforward way and sometimes it’s hard to tell how they actually feel about you. Here in the U.S., you will feel the love very strongly, but the hate even more so.
On a brighter note, I really like that here in the U.S. there are some moments, at some very specific places, you get to truly, truly be yourself without any sense of being a minority: like there were times when I talked about my crush on a girl with someone who has no prior knowledge of my sexuality whatsoever, they reacted just the same as if I’m talking about a guy, no extra reaction, no surprising voice like “Oh gosh I didn’t know!” or “Ah I knew it,” or “I support you, you’re just different!”. Or like when I saw my girlfriend casually mentioned “My girlfriend went to that exhibition you wanted to go…” in her email to her teaching assistant, and the TA replied: “I am so jealous of her!” All of these felt natural as if there were no concept of sexual minority.
Some say lots of kids become queer merely because they think it is cool or they just want to try something new…
We all explore our own identity during adolescence. I simply find it incoherent if we celebrate for those who finally come out as gay but then regarding their motives as superficial or “trying to be cool” if later they turn out to be straight again after a period of experimenting. Everyone is entitled to explore themselves. Especially with the increased visibility of LGBTQIA+ community, the confused teenagers have a better chance to figure out what their feelings actually are, and to understand what those labels mean. We now see more and more kids adopting the identities of LGBTQIA+ because those kids have learned how to express themselves better. It doesn’t really matter if they start out thinking it is cool or not, because they eventually will not choose what they really aren’t. Just like me, I once thought that being straight would be better and easier, and after all the efforts I made I still ended up being who I am now.
“Is there actually any difference between if it is by nature or nurture?”
I think focusing on how homosexuality or other queer identities is by nature rather than by choice is a dead-end for the Chinese gay rights movement. This was a focal point for the western gay rights movements mainly because of their Christian culture in which there’s a common notion that homosexuality is a sin. If it’s something not chosen by one’s free will but by nature, it is excusable. That religious background, however, does not exist in China. We have the advantage that we need not prove our innocence. But as the Chinese movement replicating the whole western narrative, it transplanted a nonexistent enemy into our own culture.
By accepting the logic of “if being gay is by nature, then innocent; if by choice, then wrong”, we are accepting “being gay itself is wrong, and it is only acceptable when it cannot be fixed.” But is there actually any difference between if it is by nature or nurture? The argument is saying like when someone has a curable disease we should urge them to treat it, but if what they have is incurable, then the only thing we could do is expressing our condolence and support. This distinction, at its core, is still a prejudice on queerness.
Sidney’s tips for those who may still be very confused about who they love, or maybe in the dilemma of whether to come out.
No experience can be copied as people have different backgrounds, personalities, environments, and different people whom they are coming out to. Your predictions and expectations of how your parents or friends would react may be totally different from the reality. There is no other way to find out than to actually come out. Thus, there is no playbook or any universal principles.
My major advice is to come out to yourself completely before to anyone else. You can’t defend your identity if you still have doubts about yourself. Moreover, do not come out if you are not emotionally prepared. The more emotional you are, the longer you should wait. Coming out impulsively could lead to the worst scenarios. The calmer you are, the more your friends and family could sense that this whole thing is not a negative influence on you, and it will not drive you away from them. Your calmness will also make it easier for them to trust your own judgments.
Also I personally feel it is better to come out when being single rather than having a partner. It prevents your parents from attributing the “fault” to your partner. Coming out is about you and the people you are coming out to. Dragging your partner into this situation might make it too complicated.
Editor: Yinong | Translator: Yinong
Originally published on Feb. 11th, 2019
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