When I came out to my mom, she was scared for me.
“I want you to have an easy life,” she said, and coming out meant that my life wasn’t going to be easy. Like any other Taiwanese mother, she wanted to protect me from the dangers I would have to face as I got older. The world she’d grown up in, Taiwan in the 1980s, was dangerous for people like me, and she didn’t want me to have to face yet another form of prejudice. But she also knew that my world as a 21st century American would be different from hers, and she had the example of her own family to show her how to let me go my own way.
The Taiwanese side of my family has a long tradition of women making their own choices.
My grandmother was given to a rich household as a child and expected to marry one of the sons, but when she came of age, she’d already grown to see him as a brother, not a husband. Her adopted family accepted her decision and claimed her as a daughter via adoption, not by marriage. She chose to seek love on her own terms, and her family supported that, eventually introducing her to the man who would become my grandfather.
Together, they sent all five of their daughters to study abroad. When my mother chose to stay in a distant land an ocean away, my grandparents put aside their worries and came to visit. They gave up their summers to help raise me in a country that was not their own. Though it must have been scary to have their children living so far away, they did not let their fear get in the way of their relationships with their daughters. Three of their daughters, including my mother, emigrated to places as far as America and France, and decided to marry and build families there. Two of them chose not to marry at all.
My mother made sure I knew she would accept whoever I chose to spend my life with, though for much of my life I didn’t know whether I would be able to marry at all. The United States Supreme Court didn’t legalize gay marriage until 2015, and even though Taiwan’s Constitutional Court did the same thing two years later, it’s still uncertain whether the laws its parliament vote on this May will truly ensure equal rights, especially after the referendum results of last November.
When Taiwanese voters chose to oppose marriage equality last year, the results devastated me. Here was the prejudice my mother had been afraid of making itself known. No matter how many Pride parades and Jolin Tsai songs affirm our existence, the world still hasn’t completely changed. I was in Taiwan at the time, and I walked down the street unable to look anyone in the eye. I didn’t know how they’d voted, or what they thought of people like me. But when I got home, my aunties comforted me, making sure that I knew I still belonged.
“They didn’t know what they were voting for,” one aunt insisted. Like Prop 8, the referendum’s wording was confusing, and misinformation had flooded many voters’ social media and TV channels. Others still are ignorant of the LGBT community entirely, with little media representation to challenge homophobic misconceptions.
“People don’t change that quickly,” another said. “But they’re still changing.”
They’d seen change happen themselves, just over the short decades they had been alive. The first Taipei Pride parade hadn’t happened until 2003, but now it draws more than a hundred thousand people all over the world. The referendum where Taiwanese citizens rejected same-sex marriage happened in the same election that saw Taiwan’s first lesbian city council members. I had changed, too, from someone hesitant to reveal her sexuality to someone who could come out in casual conversation.
My mom may have worried about not being able to protect me, but she didn’t have to. My family protects me. Not by doing the impossible and erasing the realities of an imperfect world, but by supporting me with all the love and understanding they have to give. From my aunts changing their profile pictures to show support for marriage equality to my mother trying to give my partners career advice regardless of gender, my family strengthens me. The reason I can be out and proud is that I know that my family is proud of me.