by Dr Sam Tan, Senior Clinical Psychologist
Bring glory to the family
Don’t shame the family;
or make us lose Face
Don’t air dirty laundry in public
These are the implicit cultural injunctions that underpin a lot of Asian societies and cultures. And they add on another level of complexity in the coming out process for the Asian LGBTIQ folk. The mixture of ignorance about LGBTIQ and these cultural narratives makes for a challenging environment. For people who wish to open up about their sexuality, both in society and at home.
Similar to many societies, a lack of exposure and knowledge about sexuality and gender identity skews perceptions in most Asian societies. LGBTIQ folk are often seen as deviant at best, and perverted, possessed or sick at worst. And as with most things that are atypical. Asian parents react to their queer children using a don’t-ask-don’t-tell approach to preserve the peace.
So when children do come out. Those cultural injunctions emerge in the foreground and drive fears such as “My family has no Face, this perversion is a big shame, how can I face my community and relatives?” In a sense, with their children’s coming out, parents may be forced into a closet as they struggle to face others.
Asian parents may react to these fears with angry denial (e.g., eagerly setting up heterosexual dates for their children). Insist that their child receive treatment or spiritual guidance, or they may ignore the issue altogether. These reactions can be hurtful to their children particularly if they persist across months and years.
It is not surprising then that many Asian LGBTIQ folks are more open about their sexuality in public only to put on a façade at home. On the other extreme, children may choose to limit contact with their parents. More often than not, relationships will be maintained albeit in a very strained fashion. In the next article, we will explore some ways that Asian LGBTIQ folk can better manage the coming out process to their parents if they wish to do so.
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