Recently, Taiwan became the first Asian nation to pass gay marriage legislation. This is exciting, but sad for a lot of reasons, because it spotlights the taboo of LGBTQ in our communities. To say Asians are against LGBTQ is inaccurate; queerness in our communities is more like a fiction, a phase, a small deal that’s not real important like a pharmacy degree. Our apathy is worse than homophobia, it buries the very existence of gays and denies their existence. Taiwan’s decision, however, may slowly change things.
Since forever, the Asian struggle with accepting queerness is different than the Western world’s contention. In the West, the fight against the LGBTQ community is rooted in religion; in Asian cultures, it’s filial piety. Asian communities are rooted in a dependency for societal approval, and in turn, parental honor. “Do you want to embarrass your family?” or “Maybe we’re privately okay with our kids being gay, but don’t shame us by making it public.” Gayness is associated with parental failure, because it produces no children. Whether consciously or not, Asians both in native countries and diaspora have a priority for pleasing the elders. When that measurement of being “a good kid” is based on “saving face”, it makes it extremely difficult for queer Asians to come out.
The political aspects are distracting too. Too often, LGBTQ movements are seen as “Western” imperalism. “Coming out” is a white model for bringing more problems than solutions. Queer Asians are more elastic in their approach; many marry straight and have children. Asians like to settle and because many Asian societies are “tolerant”, it’s often less of an incentive to fight for recognition. As long as homosexual Asians have kids, participate in heterosexual relationships, the idea of being on the down low is acceptable. It complicates the fight. Be invisible. Don’t rock the boat. Being gay can mean one sides with Sinophobic thought, but those notions are ridiculous.
There’s a myth that the LGBTQ community are full of allies. Outside its own circle it doesn’t have many. When it’s taken into account that the racial intersectionalism, the cultural divisions and generational differences, queer Asians can feel very isolated and misunderstood. How can they even find rapport when the Asian community doesn’t acknowledge their existence or shame them for a perceived dishonor? I’d wager that a handful of my own Asian friends are still in the closet. I hope one day they’ll feel it’s okay to come out. As a community, as a new progressive generation, straight Asians like myself must be more open into recognizing the essence and individuality of queer Asians. We need to fight for them because they can’t win it alone. It starts with bringing the topic to our family dinners. It starts with proudly having a gay friend, a gay sibling, a gay relative. We can use the Taiwan legalization of gay marriage as an ice breaker. There’s nothing wrong about being gay and they should have the same rights in Asian countries as everyone else. They should be embraced by their families.
I don’t feel Asian communities are intrinsically homophobic.
There’s hope that beyond the phase of societal shame, the ignorance brought through centuries of filial piety, our parents and our commonalities can change. I believe Asian parents want to connect and love their queer kids, but there’ll need to be a lot of deprogramming, a lot of progressive teaching that may happen before the invalidation of homosexuality lifts away. In this new age of Asian Wokeness, we don’t talk about or fight for the Asian LGBTQ community enough. We need to stop sweeping it under the rug and be openly supportive. It’s not just a queer issue. It’s an Asian issue. But more so, a human one.