Ryan, in his own words. “I would describe my childhood as an average American upbringing, being raised in a loving family with my parents and my two brothers. I had an excellent education and my parents instilled a wonderful set of family values in my brothers and me. Despite the fact that my parents were raised in the Catholic Church, my brothers and I did not grow up attending church regularly. It wasn’t until my early elementary years, we were introduced to an non-denominational (Evangelical) church. Choir, youth group, church retreats, Christmas concerts, and leading prayer groups were just a few things I was involved with at my church. It wasn’t until my time in middle school and continuing on to my university days would I have an extreme ‘Christian guilt’ of being gay. My parents never said anything anti-gay, but the church we attended did. Whether they knew it or not, the weekly indoctrination of, “leading a lifestyle of sin,” “hating the sin and not the sinner,” “be in this world, not of it,” were consistently drilled into my head. This, on top of being asked to step down as a leader for a church youth group because gossip of my sexuality was starting to spread, was enough to make anyone not feel accepted.
When I eventually realized I was gay, I did what any kid would do: deny it. I denied it to my family, friends, and worst of all, myself. But I was caught between two places. On the one hand, my mom would ask if I was gay during my high school years, as if she was offering a chance for me to say out loud what she had known for years. But on the other hand, my faith said to suppress such feelings and pray harder for Jesus to heal my brokenness. But what I found through my struggles was the church was wrong in their teachings: I wasn’t broken. I am exactly who I am supposed to be.
It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I was able to confide in my best friend and tell him I was gay. He, of course, already knew and gave me the words and strength I needed and couldn’t find in myself to tell others. Shortly into my freshman year at University my father passed away. It was a huge loss for my family and changed each of us. We all handled with the death in our own ways. When I finally worked up the courage to come out to my mom, she was upset. Just five years earlier she was asking if I was gay, so I felt confident that telling her would be fairly easy. But because of her lack of education on the LGBT community and her inability to seek advice from those who had been through similar situations, she struggled to come to terms with my sexuality. For almost a year it was an elephant in the room—no one wanted to speak about it. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I expressed what I needed, and asked for the same respect a straight son would receive.
From then on, things slowly began to get better and my mom (and brothers) eventually became fully accepting. Often times I look back at my youth and think about who I was and then I compare it with where I am now. Sometimes I think about how my father never truly knew who his son really was. I was a completely different person, trying to find my identity. More importantly, I used to think I had the best childhood, having grown up in such a loving environment-and I still think I did. But it is what my family has become which I am most thankful for. My father may not have known who I truly am, but I know what my brothers, my mother, and I have become. Not only have I changed into this mature, responsible, caring adult, but my family has been there with me every step of the way. I am forever grateful to see how each of them have grown into who they are today. Now, my life is filled with those who are supportive and appreciate me for who I am.
I currently reside in Seoul, South Korea. After completing my graduate work, I moved with the intent to teach, save money, and travel the world. I have been able to do all of this and have even met someone in the process. He’s patient, loving, gentle, and has the ability to stay level headed when I’m stressed. When my work gets intense and overwhelming, he takes a step back and does his best to bring calmness and composure. And I try to do the same for him. We’ve traveled across the world, met amazing people, and find fulfillment with the time spent with one another.
But it has also been difficult. I am continuing to learn how to be supportive to gay persons in what I find challenging in South Korea. Moreover, I come from the West where the culture is very different. It would be wrong for me to push my traditions and feelings on a culture which has their own set of values and opinions. I’ve lived in Korea for four years, so I am able (or at least I would like to believe I am) to understand the challenges the LGBT community experiences. The culture has traditions which stretch back generations, with homosexuality being taboo. Of all the Korean gay men and women I have met, only one is out to his family. Many of my gay friends have two Facebook accounts (one for their family and other for their gay friends). In addition, family pressure to marry is extremely high in Korea. Some marry into straight marriages in order to please the parents.
But change is happening here in Korea. Pride festivals continue each summer, along with the Mayor of Seoul recently openly acknowledging the LGBT community and the importance of equality.
If I could give my younger self a piece of advice, it would be, “Do what you love, love what you do, and don’t worry about what others think or say. Your coming out process will not always be easy, but you figure out who your true friends and family are. Those who aren’t supportive aren’t worth your time. Focus on surrounding yourself with positivity and people who love you for who you are.”