Roger, in his own words:“Growing up I think I’ve always known that I was attracted to men; the physiological and psychological tendencies in and of themselves did not really prove challenging as I’ve not known anything else. As an Asian immigrant I was also constantly aware of being in the minority, and during the early years the desire to fit in could have been as much about ethnicity and growing up in a foreign environment as being different from the majority and not fitting the norm with respect to sexuality and desires. To be labelled and categorized was something I had grown up with, as people around you attempt to deal with something different and unfamiliar that may or may not be threatening to them by calling you names or by making cruel jokes or commentary around you whether directed at you or not.
Being gay to me has felt like a struggle to find some sense of identity for yourself amidst the natural tendency of people around you, whether your family and loved ones, acquaintances and friends, or people who have no connection to you but feel the inclination to pass judgement, to define or associate you with a set of assumptions and expectations. During my parents’ generation, I presume the labeling of someone as gay probably meant a gross generalization to explain away out of fear of the unknown homosexuality as an affliction, something that unfortunately befell upon someone in their formative years (such as bad influences from the wrong friends) that could perhaps be fixed through remedial efforts somehow to rid the individual of this tendency. I have struggled over the years with not coming out to my parents because at the time they would not have understood what it meant to be gay, would have blamed themselves for my being gay, and would have faced such devastating shame and guilt from relatives and friends that I could not bear the thought of the damage I would have caused, and hence bottled it up inside. I should have realized that my family’s love is unconditional, and that they would have accepted me for who I am, not who I thought they wanted me to be. However, not being able to be true to my self by virtue of my own (false) assumptions, dancing nervously around conversations which may lead to inevitable questions about my private world, and harboring perennial guilt for the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations of course led to a difficult dynamic with my family, until the unspoken was just accepted as tacit acknowledgement.
Today, even with the incredible strides which have been made in recent years in bringing gay life to the mainstream through entertainment and media, celebrities coming out to seemingly little negative impact on their careers, landmark decisions in the courts and sea changes in how establishment like the military has come to terms with homosexuality, I find that progress has not necessarily rid us of stereotypes and generalizations. Aren’t gay guys generally assumed to be good at decorating, have impeccable fashion sense, be the life of the party, have a sharp bitchy sense of humor, and of course must idolize Britney/Beyoncé/Madonna/Kylie/Gaga? You certainly see enough of these traits in gay characters on TV and in the movies, but maybe it’s easier for people who don’t have much direct interaction with gay guys to defer to these caricatures, or perhaps even for gay people who have not yet become comfortable in their own skin to take on aspects of this persona. To come to terms with what being gay means for oneself, to fully realize that self-image of who you are does take time, and these distractions imposed by society and those around you as to how they assume you would behave or be like in disposition are easy trappings to fall into, because to me being gay is not really about definition, but about acceptance.
I must say that in NYC, more than anywhere else in all my years living and working abroad, I have never been made more aware of preconception and prejudice, worst of all within your own community where left and right I face the stereotype of gay asians being marginalized as being bad in bed, clingy and small in size on all fronts, to the point where guys feel the need to specifically single out asians to discriminate against behind the anonymity afforded them from hookup apps and sites. Perhaps with the new generations of people growing up with fewer hangups and a more liberal view of what it means to be gay, there would be less evidence of this kind of challenge to those struggling to come to terms with this lifestyle and society’s reactions to it. It is ironic, however, that I find bigotry alive and well not amongst certain parts of the country or demographic where you might expect it, but here in New York, within our own ranks, spewed forth by headless torsos who likely wear white collars during the day. I wonder if they would have the courage to write “no asians” on their profiles if their pics were not locked. All of a sudden, here in 2014 in NYC, I’m strangely reminded of my first years as an immigrant when bullies would use racial slurs to make themselves feel better, as if I was such a threat to their sense of self they needed to call attention to the fact that’ I’m different from them, lest I try to wink or say hi, or worst of all, add them to my friends list.
Ultimately I think being gay is about acceptance, of yourself, of others, of those who are different, and to show tolerance and empathy for those who struggle to become proud of who they are, because they should not be defined by the labels and assumptions that you and society would like to place on them, but by their resilience in facing adversity to come to terms with their identity and to find happiness, just like everyone else.”