I have a daughter who came out in 1988. Before the internet. Being Asian, we suffered in silence for a year and a half before we were advised to go to a Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays support group. Our education began then.
My daughter really seemed to be into books. My wife and I encouraged her to be sociable. She had an extension phone in her bedroom, but she didn’t have a close circle of friends to talk to. We found out in high school she was very nervous. She developed shingles and it was due to anxiety. Every day in high school she was in fear of being found out that she was gay. She was studious and got good grades, which made me happy, I guess. But she did not date. That was a clue.
In college, she came home during the winter-time from Iowa during her junior year. She was unusually quiet, I thought. Something seemed to be bothering her, so when I was doing some wallpapering, I tried to open up to her about my problems growing up and all that type of thing. She never did let on. She went back to school that February.
We had an IBM PC. And way back then they had an MS-DOS operating system. You could do a directory search and see all the files real fast. So I saw some files that she wrote and I thought, Huh, what is this? She had written an article about going to the college gay and lesbian center and being in fear as she walked into the building to talk about her issues. All of a sudden I realized it was saying she was gay. Tears just streamed down my face. I didn’t know what to do.
Because my wife worries a lot, I did not tell her at that time. I had to wait until my daughter came back from college during summertime. When my two sons were out of the house I said, “Hey let’s have a family meeting.” Not knowing anything about human sexuality and sexual orientation, I asked my daughter, “Do you think you are lesbian?”
I could see the look of surprise on her face and gears turning. Finally, she said: “Well, I think I’m either lesbian or bisexual.” I didn’t ask if “bisexual” was just to soften the blow. Anyway, half-expecting, but hearing it come out of her mouth was a shock. For my wife, not knowing anything about what we were talking about, it was a complete shock. The first thing I said was, “Are you sure?”
We soon ran out of questions, but we gave her a hug and said we loved her. But as she walked back to her bedroom, I felt goosebumps, because I realized this person walking away, that is a part of a family that I thought I knew, was a complete stranger in this important half of her life.
For the next year, it was very tense. My wife didn’t want to speak to her about it and for our daughter it was likewise.
Being Japanese-American, my wife and I grew up in Hawaii with really good self-esteem. We were born before WWII, as compared to Japanese that were born here and put into camps during the war. They were scarred as a result and the pressures to conform and not stick out is a lot greater. In general Asians are more shame-based types of societies. People talk about how safe and clean it was in Japan and you have a lot of pressure to conform and not to bring shame on your family name. So after my daughter came out, and my wife got her balance, she was attacking my daughter saying, “What are doing? Don’t you know you’re bringing shame on your family? I don’t want you to write anything with the family name on it.” There was a lot of pressure.
We had this huge weight on our shoulders. We knew we couldn’t keep it a secret but we didn’t know how to tell anyone and we did not want to tell anyone. But when we finally told our neighbor a weight lifted off our shoulders. And once we told my brother down in Orange County, that helped a lot. They knew she was not born an evil person and so forth.
After my daughter graduated she worked in New York City, but she would come home during the holidays. Everything appeared to be normal. One year she came home with a girlfriend and she was African-American with dreadlocks. She looked very different. She was just introduced as a friend. Anyway, it was good because it let people know she had a friend who was a girl.
In 1995, we finally began to tell the relatives that our daughter was gay. It was okay. Now everyone knows and people are supportive. There are no problems, anyway.
-As Told To Patrick Coleman