Earlier this month, we invited Vancity Buzz readers who identify as LGBT to submit their own ‘coming out’ stories as a way of empowering and inspiring others who may be struggling with their own sexuality.
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Eddy Tan is the fourth of our reader-submitted coming out stories during Vancouver Pride Week 2014.
Occupation: Marketing Specialist
“We all know you’re gay, Eddy. Nobody cares. We just want you to say it.”
Someone said this to me about 14 years ago, in front of a group of teens in our high school cafeteria. He wasn’t really a friend, but he wasn’t an enemy either. He wasn’t trying to embarrass me or make me feel threatened. He was just stating what he felt was obvious.
It would have been the perfect opportunity for me to come clean. I could have just thrown up my hands and yelled, “You got me!” Instead, I told him to shut up and that was that—end of conversation. I wasn’t ready.
This one, innocent, ordinary event sums up my coming out experience quite nicely. I let the process drag on for over a decade when I could have ripped it off like a Band-Aid when I was 17. Not because of any external threat—I was never in danger of being ostracized or disowned by my family—but because of how difficult it was for me to come to terms with the truth myself.
That being said, I didn’t exactly grow up in ideal rainbow-flag-waving conditions. My family is Christian, with a capital C. Sunday school, youth group, Bible studies, and weekly services were a key part of life. My parents are leaders in their church. I was even a youth group leader and played keyboard on the worship team. I was the model young Christian.
On top of that, my parents are of Asian descent. As much as I tend to disregard stereotypes, I can’t help but feel that the cultural differences make it more difficult for Asian parents to accept a gay son/daughter. I may be wrong, but I think those of you reading this with similar backgrounds know what I’m talking about.
The cherry on the sundae is that I grew up in the suburbs, land of street hockey and nuclear family norms. Where I come from, a successful life is graduating University, landing a good job, marrying your sweetheart, moving into a nice house in a quiet neighbourhood, raising two children with a dog, and living happily ever after. I couldn’t see how I would fit into this picture perfect ideal.
I’m going to break my coming out story into three parts.
How to fail at forcing a lie
When I escaped, I mean graduated, high school, I made a conscious decision to make life what I wanted it to be, rather than follow a plan based on other people’s expectations. Perhaps there was an element of rebellion against my Christian, Asian, suburban upbringing and everything that comes with it. I’m not sure. All I knew was that I was determined to make my own path and hopefully discover more of myself along the way. Naturally, I decided to dedicate much of my early 20s to traveling the world, because what else does a 20-year old do in that situation?
Despite everything I learned and experienced during this time, despite how much I grew fundamentally as a human being, I still wasn’t able to understand or accept the simple fact that I was gay. I even dated women throughout this period—lovely, intelligent, beautiful, amazing women who I respected and even loved. My mindset has always been programmed to think, “If you want it, then make it happen!” I wanted to be straight, so I was going to date women until it happened. Needless to say, I failed pretty miserably. As much as I hate that these women wasted so much time and emotion on me, I find a tiny bit of comfort in the fact that my intentions were genuine and they helped me open my eyes to a critical truth about myself. In the end, it was easy for me to see that this wasn’t right. It felt wrong, unnatural, forced, and empty. As amazing as these women were, it felt like dating my sister.
At the age of 21, I came out to myself.
The lesson learned: You can’t force a lie to be true.
Driveway confessions & the end of pretending
I met my first real boyfriend when I was 23. He was thoughtful, funny, and full of energy. I introduced him to my friends and family, who quickly took a liking to him. The only problem was that nobody knew he was my boyfriend. To everyone except for my best friend, who knew the truth, I was straight and he was just a friend.
At first, it was kind of fun. It was our little secret. We would sneak kisses when nobody was looking and hold hands underneath the table. However, it quickly became clear to me how deceptive I was being to the closest people in my life. Still though, I couldn’t muster up the courage to tell them the truth.
Fortunately, it was short-lived. We were young and clearly not suited for each other, so we broke up. As with any breakup, it didn’t feel good. What felt even worse was that I had no one to talk to about it except for my best friend, Andrea.
One night, I was sitting in another friend’s car while parked in my driveway. We were having a heavy life conversation—the kind I feel only happen in your 20s—and I couldn’t bear it anymore. I took a deep breath and blurted it out: “I’m gay.”
There was silence. “Really?” she said. We just looked at each other. “That’s OK. I still love you.”
And thus began the Great Coming Out Spree of 2007. I told every friend that was important to me, usually in a one-on-one setting, often with a bottle or two of wine. It was interesting to see how everyone reacted—it was always different, but always positive and supportive. There were some tears and a lot of questions. Some were totally surprised while others secretly knew all along. But in the end, nothing changed except for the fact that the honesty made me stronger, as well as our relationships. I was finally able to let them in on something that had been eating away at me for years. I didn’t have to pretend anymore.
Many of the friends that I came out to were straight guys. At the time, I was surprised at how much of a non-issue this was for them. They congratulated me, hugged me, even invited me over for beers and hockey so that they could ask me questions that were on their minds. I feel stupid now looking back and realizing how much I under-estimated them.
So at the age of 24, I came out to my friends.
Lesson learned: You don’t have to pretend in front of true friends—and don’t be surprised when they surprise you.
Better late than never
Now that I had come to terms with being gay and had the acceptance of my friends, I was able to focus on building a life for myself. I hit the books again and graduated, moved to a park-side apartment in the West End, and started a career in marketing & advertising. At first, I was worried that I didn’t have much in common with “typical” gay culture, especially the more negative aspects like drugs and promiscuity. I quickly learned that using Davie St. on a Saturday night to represent gay culture is as useful as using Granville St. on a Saturday night to represent straight culture.
I met some strong, inspiring gay men and women who helped me find my footing and I started to feel like a proud, confident, well-adjusted gay man. I realized that being gay is just one aspect of who I am as a person—it doesn’t define me. It’s certainly a very fundamental and important aspect, but defining my entire identity as a gay man is like defining my entire identity as a dog-lover. Or coffee-drinker. Or semi-committed yoga enthusiast. It’s just one of many pieces of the puzzle.
I was happy living my carefree, non-closeted, downtown life when trouble struck. I met the one. I didn’t even believe in the existence of the one, or of soul mates, when it happened. All I knew was that I wanted this person to be by my side for the rest of my life. His name is Thomas.
This would normally be something to be really happy about, except for one thing: my family still didn’t know I was gay. When I was younger, I had introduced boyfriends to my family and posed them as friends. I hated myself for that then, and I couldn’t subject Thomas (or my family) to that type of deceit and awkwardness. The only solution was to come out. Again.
At the age of 29, I came out to my family. My Christian, Asian, suburban family. It wasn’t easy. After the initial moment of truth, it involved a year of debate, conversation, questions, confusion, and education. I braced myself for the worst and hoped for the best—I got something in between. By that time, I had a fairly strong sense of self—I was secure in who I was and I just didn’t consider people’s opinions about me all that important—but coming out to my family once seemed unimaginable, so the entire experience felt surreal and impossible to downplay.
The debate on whether or not being Christian and being gay are mutually exclusive was especially draining. I still consider myself a Christian. I believe in spirituality and that God exists. For me, the overarching principle of love that is the foundation of Christianity outweighs the thousands of other interpreted teachings and condemnations found in the Bible. I know how to love. That’s enough for me, and I believe that’s enough for my God.
I have to give my family credit. They don’t have much reference or experience to draw from when it comes to understanding their gay son/brother, but they’re doing their best. They’ve embraced Thomas as best they can; family events are getting more and more comfortable. Now that it’s done, I’m doing my best to be patient and to help them understand, while they’re doing their best to be understanding and accepting.
One thing that really hurt them was that I waited so long to tell them. I’ll admit, I should have done it 14 years ago, when that one comment was made in the middle of the school cafeteria. Throughout the years, I told myself (as well as everyone who asked why I hadn’t come out to my family yet) that I was waiting for the right moment and that I wanted to do it when I was more mature, so that my family wouldn’t brush it off as a phase or try to change me. Honestly though, I put it off simply because the thought of telling them scared me shirtless. That being said, you can’t force yourself to be ready just like you can’t force yourself to be straight.
Thomas and I got married last year and we’ve never been happier—he’s my husband now, so I’m allowed to speak for him! We’re busy planning for the future, which will include endless travels abroad and children to raise. But first, a puppy.
I’m writing this in hopes that it will help you muster up the courage to be yourself, whether it’s to yourself, your friends, your family, or the world. That doesn’t just apply to those who are gay, but to anyone who feels like they’re hiding or pretending. The closet is a dark, lonely place and nobody puts you there except for yourself. You are who you are—love yourself for it.
Want to know what my Christian, Asian, suburban parents said to me when I first told them I was gay? “We love you.” That’s enough for me.
– EDDY TAN