Denny, in his own words: “Part of where I’m going, is knowing where I’m coming from” –Gavin DeGraw.
I’ve spent a significant chunk of my life wrestling with the second part of that song lyric and with various aspects of my identity. For me, understanding who I am has always been a complex, fluid process. Born in South Korea and adopted by white parents when I was three months old, I had many questions about race at an early age. I constantly felt torn between whether I was white or whether I was Asian. Upon starting college, another wrench was thrown in my quest to understand myself as I started to reflect more deeply on my sexual orientation.
Coming from a staunchly Evangelical Christian family I wrestled with religious issues, began thinking about what it meant to be gay in a world that often perpetuates hegemonic masculinity, and was surprised about how closely my sexual orientation was tied to both my anxieties and hopes for my future. Often I live by the cliché that being an adopted Asian and being gay are only small parts of who I am—that they don’t define me—and that I’d rather dwell on other things like my passion for social justice, education, and running. When I settle into bed at night, however, I can’t help but reflect and be faced with the fact that my race and sexual orientation play a huge role in how I look at the world, react to others, think, and act.
Within the past three years, I’ve spent a ton of time dwelling on an end point—that moment where I will fully understand who I am. Sitting here, writing this now, and gathering my thoughts, I’ve realized that I’ve lost sight of process. I might be chasing some point of equilibrium that doesn’t even exist. What I can say now, is that the questions I’ve had about being adopted and being gay, the conversations I’ve had with my friends, and the time as well as experiences I’ve been able to soak in, have done something to me. At one point in my life, I lived with a sense of fear about who I was, perhaps the plain fear of not knowing. Now it’s time to continue moving, twisting and shifting. Ultimately that is the “where I’m going” part of my life.”
James, in his own words: “It’s weird. I feel like my life can be split up pretty cleanly between two columns. On one side you have who I was and everything about my life before I moved to Boston. And on the other side, there’s who I am and everything that’s happened to me since.
Having been born and raised in a small town in rural Georgia, the only representation of “out” gay people I was given was from tv or movies. Gay men, the media told me, existed solely to accessorize the stories of straight characters – a silly distraction, a tragic allegory or, when whatever I was watching was being particularly direct in its thoughts on the matter, simply the nefarious “other.” So, when you couple that with the general unease most Southern folks have about gay men in particular, it was a pretty easy choice to stay in the closet. Though my parents weren’t particularly religious, my brother and I ended up joining the youth group at a local Southern Baptist church just before I started high school. Around that time, I started thinking about being gay pretty much every second of every day. What did that person mean by that joke? When I made eye contact with that guy in the hallway, did he think I was staring at him? Did something about the way I talk or the way I move seem gay? (Because, again, as the media taught me, there is a “gay way” to be and act and talk and, I don’t know… breathe. Stop breathing so gay, James!) It was pretty much a nonstop anxiety barrage from age 12 until I graduated college. Well, that’s not true. Then, instead of being anxious about my classmates finding out, it was coworkers and roommates. It bears noting that I never had a smidgen of sexual contact with a guy until I was 24. (Oh my god… I can’t believe I just wrote that.) So, it wasn’t like I was ever in any situation where someone could catch me actually doing anything. It was this very particular form of thought terrorism I was complicit in visiting upon myself. And it continued until I got on a plane, moved to Boston and started the second of those two columns I mentioned earlier.
Though it’s trite, the best way to put it is… since I moved to Boston, I’ve become who I really am. I made a very conscious decision to be out and open about who I am from day one. At work. Socially. And, after a few months in the city, I finished the process by coming out to my parents. The thing about my parents is that they are both extraordinarily loving and intelligent people, but in different ways. Neither my father (a jocular, pragmatic Vietnam veteran) nor my mother (a reserved, creative writer) had ever given me reason to believe they would react poorly to me being gay. Yet I never found the courage or the timing to tell them in person. I never did, actually. I came out to my parents by writing an email addressed to both of them one night. I wrote it in one sitting, read it back to myself, took a shot of whiskey and hit send. The next morning, there were two emails waiting for me. One from my father reading, “Son, though this isn’t the life I imagined for you when you were a little boy, to thine own self be true. I love you and will always be proud of you.” The second email was from my mother, addressed to my father and cc’d to me. It read, “Jim. I have never loved you more than I do right now.”
In the time since, both of my parents have slowly grown more comfortable with idea of me being gay. And that’s fine and understandable. It took me 25 years to accept it, I couldn’t expect them to do it in a day. It’s been a process for them and for me. But, once that piece was done, there was all this free space in my head and my life to fill with things other than fear and pain and doubt. Strangely, by coming out, I didn’t have to think about being gay all the time. I had time and mental space to explore and nourish other facets of who I am. And, in a lot of ways, I have Boston to thank for that. Sure, you can knock Boston for being insular and a bit standoffish. (And, real talk? The gay scene could use some work. I mean, there are more gay bars in Providence…) But, it’s my home now. And, I’m not sure where or who I would be without it.”