I’m From Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

by aaron chan

He gave me a look that said, “Why the hell would you even ask me that?” when I asked if he was going to the upcoming Pride Parade.

But I should start from the beginning.

It started with a message. It happened last year, when I was 19. We first met via his message on a gay online dating site. Sam (not his real name), 21, was unlike any other guy I had met, let alone from online; like me, he was also Chinese, gay, played piano, and had an interest in Classical music. I remember the day we first met – it was on a snowy day in February, and we took a walk around the harbour. He bought an umbrella on the way and the two of us walked under it while it snowed around us. I’m told it was a very romantic setting for a date but the thought never crossed my mind while I was with him. All I thought about was how easy we got along and how we had so much to talk about. I knew I had found someone special.

After two weeks of dating, we became boyfriends. The thought of having a relationship was exciting and something I had hoped for, for quite some time. I yearned to be romantic with someone, to surprise my guy with random things, to be all lovey-dovey…things I had only read about in books and seen in movies. Here was my chance.

He brought me a rose on Valentine’s Day when I told him not to; I brought him a hand-made sandwich during one of his choir rehearsals at school; he sent me a postcard from his trip in London saying he loved me; and I serenaded him with songs about how much he meant to me. He became many of my “firsts”: first boyfriend, first person I had sex with, and first guy I fell in love with. Things seemed great.

But like all relationships, there was a catch – or in my case, several. From the beginning, he told me he was not out, and I believed I could deal with it. After all, how hard could it be? I first came out when I was 14, quite early on. My friends were all supportive and my traditional Chinese parents, well, they had their own issues with it and tears were shed but they slowly accepted it (and still do). So I accepted his being in the closet because I believed he would come out one day. Coming out is a personal choice, and I told him I would never make him come out. I believed he was truly worth it, and I told him so several times. The idea that we would one day have a relationship void of secrets and hiding kept me going.

The main reason he wasn’t out was because of his mother. His family came from a Christian background and his mother supposedly said homophobic things regularly. Sam believed that if she were to know who he really was, she would not accept him and go as far as killing him. And because he was very important in the university and well-known, he feared that if anyone knew, everyone would know.

So, when I would visit him at school or attend university concerts where he would perform, I was always introduced as a “friend”. At first, I didn’t think much of it. When his friends asked how we met, it annoyed me to make up a story about how he had helped me with university applications. Although my friends all knew him as my boyfriend, I could never be affectionate with him around his friends and family. In fact, the only times I could show any sort of romantic gesture to him was when we were alone in his car or in my room. This was not exactly the relationship I had in mind, nor the ones I had read about and seen in films, but still, I accepted it.

With Sam’s referring to me as a “friend”, his extremely busy schedule (which lead to us seeing each other about two days a week for a few hours), and not being able to be affectionate with him, I began to feel more and more like one – a mere friend. In some aspects, I also felt like I was going back in the closet by not telling people about who he really was to me.

The breaking point came when he was over at my place one night. He was on my computer while I sat on my bed, reading the local queer newspaper (the door was slightly ajar so that my mom wouldn’t think we were up to anything – she also didn’t know). I came across an ad for the upcoming Pride parade and asked if he was going.

The look on his face was priceless. I got my answer, perhaps a bit harsher than expected.

“Okay,” I replied. What else could I do? But his answer wouldn’t leave me.

“Why not?” I asked. “Straight people go, too.” It wouldn’t mean that he was gay. He proceeded to tell me that if he were to go, his mother would somehow jump to the conclusion that he was gay, which would bring about the Apocalypse, as far as he was concerned.

She had given him everything in his life: shelter, support, etc. And if he were to come out to her, he believed she would be really hurt by it. So, by keeping it to himself, he spared her, sort of as a “it’s the least I can do” gesture. But it also meant that having a relationship wouldn’t really be possible, and his happiness was restricted to this truth. He had always been very selfless, but this is something else – voluntarily making himself miserable for the rest of his life so that others can be blissfully happy.

I asked him what the worst thing that could happen would be if he went. He sort of stared off and eventually told me he couldn’t come up with an answer. Sam said he didn’t expect me to understand because he came from a different background, culture, etc. I told him that I wanted to understand, but based on his lack of any kind of response, I didn’t get that, and was left with nothing but confusion and disappointment.

The whole idea behind the Pride Parade is being proud of who you are and celebrating it. I can’t remember his exact response, but he said something along the lines of not being proud of who he is.

This revelation brought up the topic of coming out again, and he told me that if he were to stay in Vancouver, he would never come out – which would leave me known as “friend” the rest of our relationship. What would this mean for me? Was this something I could live with? How could he claim to love me when he didn’t even love himself? My dream of us living happily in the future collapsed.

Eventually, we arranged to meet a few days later to talk about everything. I told him everything on my mind, about how I felt like a friend to him, and though he tried to reason with me and apologized profusely, “sorry” could not change the situation. We broke up.

The months that followed were, emotionally, some of the worst I went through. He distanced himself from me, responding to my e-mails and messages some days, ignoring me the next. There were days and nights when I would tear up just thinking about him, and times when I would burst into tears when playing a song that reminded me of him at the piano. Fate toyed with my heart even further when I realized I loved him, something I never said to him while we were together. He genuinely seemed like someone I could see myself with in the future, and I had lost him, it seemed. My friends all said I had made the right decision, but then why would I keep crying over him? I suppose it’s only normal after breaking up.

But the thing that made me angry about all this was that we didn’t break up because we didn’t like one another. It was society’s homophobia and intolerance (in this case, his mother) that broke us apart. We never had the chance to have a real, open relationship. That was what was so unfair to me.

I wish I could end this on a positive note, something about how I’ve found a guy who I can really love, or how Sam eventually came out. But neither of those things have happened. The only thing I know is that it has been more than a year and though I feel considerably better, there is now this box on the shelf, with possibility inside. It is reserved for Sam, if and when the time comes.

7 Comments:

  1. It was society’s homophobia and intolerance (in this case, his mother) that broke us apart. We never had the chance to have a real, open relationship.

    I’ve thought about this exact thing so many times. I have a friend who was very much like Sam, even to the point that he used the same argument, about the same parent — he didn’t want to hurt his mother. And as you know you can make the usual arguments endlessly — that he’s not the one creating the conflict, she is; that an unconditionally loving mother would put her son’s happiness above her own; that it’s not okay to sacrifice the best joy you can have in life so that others can have an undeserved bliss based only on their ignorance of the truth — but it never seems to click.

    All I can say is that this friend and I have been talking for seven years, and while he’s still not out to his parents, he long ago realized that one day, he will be.

    Thinking about it makes me angry too, the same way thinking about gay teen suicides or broken families makes me angry. These horrible things happen because enough people out there aren’t comfortable with something in a way they can’t and never will justify morally. And worse, they know it’s going on — they know people miss out on love, or husbands and wives go through painful divorces, or kids kill themselves; but that’s somehow not enough reason for them to change their way of thinking. And why? Because it makes them uncomfortable.

    I’m so sorry you’ve gone through and in some ways are still going through this. It’s sad and it’s despicable, the kind of indifference people are capable of, but I can always comfort myself with the thought that someday everyone will know better. It’ll take too long, but we’ll get there.

    Thanks for this, Aaron.

  2. Aron,
    I think Rafi said it all. I stayed in the closet until I was 33 and know others who are still there. I so wish I had seen the light sooner, maybe falling love would have helped, but maybe not.

    Rafi’s friend is still not completly out, so who knows how long a person needs to be truly free.

    Thanks you for your story.

  3. Aron,
    I think Rafi said it all. I stayed in the closet until I was 33 and know others who are still there. I so wish I had seen the light sooner, maybe falling love would have helped, but maybe not.

    Rafi’s friend is still not completly out, so who knows how long a person needs to be truly free.

    Thanks you for your story.
    Sorry, forgot to add great post! Can’t wait to see your next post!

  4. I had a similar story to share (my ex boyfriend “used to be straight” – then dated me for a year – then dumped me for a woman (whom he proceeded to marry). Maybe I’ll have to share my story some time. Thanks for sharing this.

    Being out is a process like any other. We come out at the time we feel comfortable. I wasn’t out until 2001. But have never looked back.

  5. “It was society’s homophobia and intolerance (in this case, his mother) that broke us apart.”

    And him. And you. We all have choices.

    “We never had the chance to have a real, open relationship.”

    You had the chance but never took it.

    All things considered: good story. Good luck.

  6. “You had the chance but never took it.”

    I’m totally out and he’s not; he refused to come out. I was never given the chance to have a real relationship. He, on the other hand, did have a chance, but was conflicted by his family and his life to make that decision.

    I didn’t want to force Sam to come out of the closet either. Sure, I COULD have forced him, or I COULD have come out for him, but that would have gone against his wishes and have him hate me. Anyway, I told him I would never make him come out. It is and should always be a personal choice.

  7. Aaron–

    A very moving, and unfortunately common story. This is not meant to devalue the painful experience you have shared, rather, to remind you that you’re not alone in this. Many people have gone through it or, like me, watched it happen to close friends, and seen the heartbreak and emotion havoc this kind of intolerance can wreck. Many people don’t quite understand the gravity of the situation, as for many contemporary heterosexual couples, break-ups are less frequently about some secret part of themselves.

    Sure, people break up all the time because of differences in religion or race, and that’s still painful–but it’s no secret when it happens. There is often more understanding and realizing that the situation cannot be changed–someone who is Ghanaian-Black, for example, cannot become French-Caucasian. It is not the same choice as someone who is closeted coming out. The other dimension which you so eloquently included was the “why” piece for Sam, which is crucial to understanding and gaining compassion for everyone who must battle through such terrible circumstances.

    Thanks for sharing!

Comments are closed