It’s like when you’re reading a great thriller of sorts, you know one thing’s for sure: anything could happen.
Take my coming out to my mom for example, five years back.
Me: Hi Ma, I need to tell you something important.
Mom: What is it? Do you have cancer? I told you to get yourself checked!
Me: What? No! I’m okay. I just think it’s time I told you the truth. I can’t lie about my life anymore. I’m in love with a woman. I’m bisexual.
Mom: Oh. Well...I’m your mother, I’ve always known. Plus, it’s your life anyways, I have no business to judge. I can’t change you, or the fact that you’re my daughter. I just need to learn to accept the things I have no control over. As long as you’re happy.
Me, weeping, shell-shocked: But you once said you would disown me if you ever found out I liked girls! I’ve lived with that memory my entire life.
Mom: Yes. But I’ve aged and learned, too, something you don’t stop doing even as a parent. Listen, I love you but I’m busy. Can I go back to painting my wall now?
Yup. My coming out story happened over an eight-minute Viber call, a million miles from each other (she lives in Paris). Apparently at the end of it, only one of us was left dumbfounded. I felt like I’d just been pranked.
Evidently I was elated, too. The feeling of relief was just indescribable. Suddenly, my world opened to all kinds of possibilities: like never having to lie to my mother about her grandkids. Or vice versa.
In all the years daydreaming countless scenarios of my coming out, never once did I stop to consider my mother herself must have imagined this. She obviously beat me to a better plot twist. I’ve marvelled at how we children often fail to realise parents live and learn, too. They age and mature, and life has just a funny way of making grown ups wiser. We ought to give some benefit of the doubt.
A rainbow in Asia
With Pink Dot happening right around the corner, my thoughts roll over to this singular moment. Who else out there would be placing a similar call? I’m hopeful for at least one.
Sometimes, not everybody wins. Here I recall Leona Lewis’ lyrics from her song “Happy” that goes, “Someone once told me, that you have to choose, what you win or lose.” In my case, it might have been sheer obstinacy of never wanting to hide my true self to or for anyone, including my own family. I called the bluff on myself.
Having been raised around the globe for most of my life, I suppose I developed a very strong sense of self, from a young age. As a child already I felt, more than I knew, my sexual orientation. And remarkably, because it was something so innately experienced, I never thought to doubt or shame it even once. This was in spite of a conservative Asian upbringing (for context, I am part Malaysian-part Singaporean, with my heart left in all the places I grew up in: Paris, Shanghai and most of Southeast Asia).
In my teens, it sucked that all my European friends were terrible wingmen (and women). But they were, however, excellent defenders against any judgment of race, colour or sexuality. I learned later that this unequivocal form of support would not always follow me everywhere.
I often smile at the irony of my first experimentations, in a country that has no room for my kind of love—at least not legally. I smile even wider, knowing how this tiny nation has a pretty sizeable LGBTQ population of its own. So, #LoveWins.
Second time is the charm
Fast forward four years to 2017, this time my mother rings me. She’d flown back down for a visit and somewhere between the words “durian’s so expensive now ” and “your grandma is driving me nuts,” she blurts, “ So we’re set to meet at 5:30. The whole family is coming. See ya.” This is the part where I tell you we’d planned to meet up so I could introduce her to my now fiancée. The stakes were high, since I had never introduced mom to anyone before.
Suffice to say I had underestimated my mother as a serial plot twister. So together with my cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, I experienced my second coming out. And it was nothing short of wonderful. For anyone who’s faced the challenges of a conservative, religious environment, you’d understand what an amazing gift I’d been given. I simply could not have hoped for better. I’ve come to truly believe at this point, life is full of surprises and tiny miracles.
Recently, I watched an amazing video on the coming out of a lesbian student couple to their parents in China. Both students in the US, they hoped the video would act as a bridge to their parents hearts. Their courage was inspiring and moved me to tears.
That night I hugged my fiancée tighter because who knows, if elsewhere someone else couldn't for fear of safety.
It’s an incredible feeling, the freedom to love. And nothing could be more cruel than the rejection of this basic, human right. My coming out to parents story is just one out of many, albeit a little peculiar. I dare even say I’m one of the luckier ones. Many of my peers have asked me the same question, “How did I do it? Why did I do it?”
My answer: I gave love a chance. It was worth it.