Duy, in his own words:“At the age of 17 I came out to my parents and was thrown a party, received with open arms, and boundless love – or that’s how I wish it had happened. The truth is that it was a terrifying experience. I was sure that my very traditional Vietnamese family would abandon me when they were told that their oldest son was gay. I wanted to test the waters first and told my younger brother. I realized in our family, secrets like this wouldn’t stay that way long so I just sucked it up told my parents the same night. I could hear them thinking “What about the family name? Grandchildren?” After some tears and awkwardness, life went on. There was a long period where my being gay was just not talked about. I understood it as a way of them trying to wish the gay away – an out of sight, out of mind kind of thing. I got strong signals that my parents believed that there was no such a thing as a gay Vietnamese person – they probably wondered if I wasn’t just confused or going through a stage.
By the time I applied for college it was time to sow my wild oats – and not only did I end up in a school hours away from my family, I took the next step and enlisted in the U.S. Army. I wound up serving as a linguist halfway around the world, and of all places, where I was born, in Vietnam. My job gave me the opportunity to rediscover my roots and learn what it meant to be a gay Vietnamese man living in Vietnam. I learned that generally speaking, this majority Buddhist country was tolerant and understanding. Despite that, when I talked to individual people I got the sense that it was only okay to be gay if it wasn’t their son or daughter.
My experience coming out and being gay has been a bicultural one – tempered by growing up in the US but also travelling extensively and living in Vietnam. In many ways, my experience growing up in the US mirrors that of the LGBT community in Vietnam today. Nowadays, it’s still hard for gay people who are saddled with traditions and expectations. Unlike in other countries, there really are no support groups here. Most gay people in Vietnam are closeted and often end up marrying the opposite sex just to please their parents. With that said there are signs that things are changing. There is a growing gay scene in the private sphere- with many LGBT friendly venues popping up in the larger cities. I would like to see Vietnam have things like LGBT centers, suicide hotlines, LGBT-friendly sex education in secondary school and also be treated with respect from the mainstream media. Amazingly, there are even rumors that the government may soon legalize gay marriage – that would make Vietnam the first country in Asia to do so!
I haven’t ask her yet, but I wonder how my mom will react when I tell her about all these changes in Vietnam. In any case, if gay marriage becomes legal in Vietnam, I plan to have that party that I always wanted – with my lover, my mom and family all there – a celebration of love.”