1. It doesn’t get better (immediately)
In fact, it will probably get worse for a while until it gets better. Coming out is a long, difficult, and continual process. For queer people of color (QPOCs), the intersection of sexual orientation and race intensifies this process. Usually, when coming out to parents, queer folks must grapple with the guilt of thwarting their parents’ heteronormative expectations of marriage and family. However, for QPOCs, there is an additional layer of complexity: race and culture. And with that comes homophobia and racism. To come out, therefore, can be not only a rejection of our family’s expectations, but also a seemingly willful betrayal of culture.
2. Always have a place to stay and/or an escape plan
While we don’t currently have stats for homelessness of queer adolescents of color, we do know that 42% of homeless US youth are LGBT (Gay and Lesbian Task Force) and 65% are racial minorities (National Coalition for Homeless).
Therefore, I cannot advocate enough for having a safe place to go, especially if you are not yet independent. There have been several times late at night where I’ve been literally trapped in my car with my girlfriend unable to return to either of our houses. Reach out to your friends and allies; secure a place where you know you will always be welcome and safe no matter what happens at home.
If you no longer live at home: Always have an escape plan. If you know your parents may react violently or hysterically, make sure you meet them in public places. It may sound harsh, but avoid spending alone time at their home until you know your safety is not in danger.
3. It’s not your fault! Your family’s happiness does not depend on your “choice” of sexuality
This may seem like a no-brainer, but for many cultures, especially Asian ones, children bring pride and happiness to their parents through their choices. Through our choices to take a more difficult class, push ourselves extra during sports practice, or take a more prestigious job, Asian kids hope to make their parents proud. However, this has an insidious translation where family and marriage are concerned. As a Chinese woman, my bisexual identity inferred the illusion of choice. It gave the appearance that at will, I could, at any time opt to date a man and just have a “normal and easy life”. When I “failed” to date a man time and time again, it seemed like I was consciously choosing to disappoint my parents and culture. The illusion of choice makes answering questions like “Have you even tried dating a man/ woman?” all the more guilt-inducing. You will probably also hear things like:
4. “Don’t tell [insert names of family members]”
This is especially true in reference to younger siblings or grandparents. Coming out in a POC household means a lot of damage control for POC parents. In fact, it’s probably coming from so far out of left field that it’s like a rainbow baseball magically apparated to home plate from the parking lot.
5. And: “It’s okay if you’re gay, but don’t join those groups”
This is all a part of damage control since your parents are probably lost for how to support you. While you give them the time they need to let go of expectations and grow, you need to make sure you have a network of support. So, yes. I am saying to disobey your parents on this one. I’m not a fan of lying, but making sure you have the support and community you need is crucial at this time. If that means connecting with a QPOC organization or just other QPOCs on campus, I would really encourage you to go—even if you can’t tell your parents right away.
6. White allies may try to stand up for you or push you to embrace your gay pride
White allies, queer or straight: you know they mean well, but when you’re just trying to cope with the fact you have seemingly thrown away your family and culture, going to a Marriage Equality march or asking that hot girl from your writing class to Prom is a little much. Queer white allies are great; I love them! –but as QPOCs, we need our own time and space to speak for ourselves. We have valuable and unique narratives to share which are too often overwritten by queer white experiences.
7. Instant connections to other QPOCs
Remember, when I basically said it doesn’t get better soon? Well, an incredible benefit of coming out as a QPOC, is an almost immediate sense of community between you and other QPOCs. Trust me, knowing other QPOCs makes a world of difference. You are not alone in coming out, and while you’re trying to find patience and compassion for your traditional parents, you have your fellow QPOC to keep you going. Seven years and five girlfriends later, I can say it has finally gotten a lot better for me and my family, but I never would have gotten here without the support of my QPOC siblings.