Jason, in his own words: “When I was 15, I started suspecting I was gay, and I was terrified of people finding out about it. Growing up in the suburbs of Maryland, I never had any exposure to any gay people or culture. The only knowledge I had about gay people was that there was AIDS, being called “gay” was a derogatory term, and that gay people would never have a good ending in life. For years I felt like I carried this deep dark secret that I could never tell anyone that I was close to, and this fear delayed my coming out for many years. I felt hopeless about my future, and thought I was going to be lonely for the rest of my life.
However, my worldview took a wide turn after I came out and met several gay couples in long-term, loving relationships. Seeing gay people build a happy life together was discordant to my idea of what it meant to be gay, and it enabled me to have a more hopeful vision of my future.
When I first came out, the beginning experience was a bit strange because it felt like I just discovered the 9¾ platform to the gay world (Harry Potter reference there, for those who don’t know). At the time, I was pretty excited, but also felt disconnected because none of my straight friends knew where I was on weekends, as they have never heard of places like Rage or the Abbey. It was a secret world that I shared with other gay people in my circle of friends that my straight friends knew very little about. Through this experience, I have understood that being gay is not one’s whole being, but just a dimension of a person’s livelihood like being a younger brother or a volunteer raft guide on the weekends.”
Sheening, in his own words: “Being gay is just a piece of who I am, albeit an important part….just how important has become clearer as the years have passed, through the gathering of life experience and much self-reflection. I believe this process started with finally coming out to myself, at 24, and then coming out to my family six months later. I came out to my family before I had any real connection with the gay community – I did not have gay friends (or at least none that I knew were gay), had never stepped foot in a gay bar, and hadn’t even ventured online to gay sites. At the time, I believed I had made a pragmatic decision to get the hardest part of the process out of the way – coming out to my immediate family – so that the rest of it would be easy, in comparison. I have a slightly different understanding now, more than a decade later. I believe I came out to my family first because I wanted a true idea of what family means to me – what I have a right to expect of family and what they have a right to expect from me. In order to form that sense of family, I knew I had to start from a place of honesty and intimacy.
It’s with these things in mind that I’ve gradually built another family in San Francisco – my family in the gay community. I truly love the celebration of cultural diversity in this city – whether it be through street fairs, Pride celebrations, or political debate. Open debate and open communication are both hallmarks of life in San Francisco and, as a gay Asian American man, this has provided the perfect space to find both the intersections of my various cultural identities and where more self-exploration might be needed. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet people who are like-minded enough to enjoy shared pursuits and activities, but also willing to challenge and express different opinions. I am grateful to have a family here that supports me, my partner, and our work to build a life together.”