This is part four of my project, the Ingredients of Fear, where I peel back the onion and reveal everything that’s been beating me down and holding me back inside. Click here to learn more about The Ingredients of Fear.
In classic fairytales, the princess would meet the prince, and through overcoming evil or learning an important life lesson, they would live happily ever after. They’d never have to worry about filing taxes on time, dealing with severe droughts, or even the potential hidden danger of consuming genetically-modified soybeans.
My coming out process was supposed to be the story. In a conservative Chinese family, the protagonist realized the value of truth and self-worth, and risked everything to be himself. Fueled by cultural differences, there was a dramatic clash with his parents but through the power of love, everyone came together, saw past their differences, and learned a valuable life lesson. And like the end of every fairytale, having gone through everything I’m supposed to end up with this new found confidence and everything else in my life should fall neatly into place, including my very own happily ever after ending!
But as it turns out, coming out the closet was only the prologue to my story. TL;DR — I’m a friggin’ homo, now what? Turns out, being a gay man is a lot more than just being attracted to your own gender. If only.
Instead I constantly feel like I’m on high alert, that I must be everything to everyone at the same time.
Painting my daily life in very broad strokes, I feel like I have to be the non-threatening gay among my straight friends. I need to have enough entertaining dating stories to tell, but these stories need to be watered-down enough so they suit the heteronormative world we live in. People want to know what it’s like to be gay, but only if it fits squarely to their expectations. I was once told that “Dudes like sex and you’re both dudes, how hard can dating be?”
Things get even more difficult within the gay community, because there’s always this stress to be perfect. I have to know who curated the latest art exhibition in SFMOMA and the names to all the housewives on Bravo TV. I have to have nice big arms with amazing abs and be on a liquid diet because we’re fabulous. I have to not gay things up for the “straight acting” bros, but also need to know the entire choreography for Beyonce’s Single Ladies on demand. I have to be white enough to tell Brie apart from Camembert, but also be the Asian friend so people can still make an off-handed Asian driver joke without guilt.
Most of all, and this part truly keeps me up at night, that this expectation of having to be everything to everyone seeps so deeply into the gay dating scene. This expectation of having to be the breadwinner and have my house pristine and flawless. I have to be the class-act in the street and be the freak in the sheets. I have to be open-minded to date all races, while also bear in mind there’s nothing personal when someone I’m interested in tells me “Sorry, no Asians” or when Asian guys tell me “I’m only into white guys.” Because that’s not racism but just a preference. And if I am actually dating someone, I have to simultaneously not act like such a bottom while I should also beg to be fucked because apparently to him I’m nothing but an Asian slut.
* * *
There’s no instruction manual for life, but apparently being gay comes with a lengthy Terms and Conditions. I spent the first sixteen years of my life learning I should be true to myself because love is love regardless of gender, only to spend the next sixteen realizing the very people I’m naturally attracted to wants nothing to do with me.
Out of everything in the Ingredients of Fear, my constant struggle with the gay community is the one that haunts me to the very core. It’s the one that I’m the most ashamed of, the one I feel personally responsible for. Because even as I’m writing this my mind is constantly retorting that “It’s your own fault for feeling this way. Life is actually great, but you choose to look at the world this way.”
And the confusing thing is that I just can’t tell if this voice is my shoulder devil, probing me with his pitchfork like the ones from the Saturday morning cartoons, or if it is indeed my gut feeling, my voice of reason. How can I even tell? Maybe they’re one and the same anyways…
Over the years a lot of people have come to me for advice on coming out and on life in general, hoping I would guide them with some sort of beacon. I’ve been out since I was sixteen, so obviously I’m supposed to be set with being gay, holding my fabulous head up high and living my rainbow life full of pride. But the truth is that I’m really not set with being gay even after so many years of having come out, partly because I still have such a hard time fitting in with the gay community.
So I put my personal experiences aside and genuinely do try to support them. I want them to have the life I don’t have, so I go out of my way to sell them on what I desperately want to be real for myself. I tell them that it really does get better by coming out and life really is a party, even if it’s a party I’m not invited to. My beacon may shine brightly for my friends to find their way, but it’s also built next to this cliff where I’m desperately trying to pull myself up from.
* * *
So maybe that’s what this is: a confession that I really don’t have the answer for any of this. I still struggle with the gay community and I’m really not as strong as people want me to be, and that the only thing I can do is to acknowledge the darkness and write this all out, even as my body is trembling with every word I’m putting down.
When I started writing this week’s topic for the Ingredients of Fear, I wasn’t sure how I would end the chapter. But if my coming out isn’t the actual story but just a prologue, then in a way it gives me a lot more room for where my story can go. Now that everything’s out in the open, maybe this is where I make peace with this fear, and that it’s fine to not be okay. Maybe this is the important lesson I need to learn in order to grow. And if that’s the case, then this last sentence doesn’t mark the end of this chapter, but just the very beginning.