Tou Fong Lee is a gay 19 year-old Hmong American man living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The very first time I noticed a same sex attraction was probably back in 5th grade. I saw a pretty cute looking fifth grader who was also a boy. Of course I did not know what these feelings were at that time, but I did not feel shameful or guilty about having them. Back in 5th grade, life was basically about recess and getting to the lunch line first. It was not until my middle school years that I really started to think about these feelings and emotions that I had towards people of the same sex.
I first officially came out in his Sophomore year of High School. I decided to take this course of action because I was tired of pretending to be someone else, and I just wanted to be myself! I was tired of describing a person that I liked with the pronouns She/Her/Hers and wanted to reflect those with the correct terms of He/Him/His, because they were correct with what I was attracted to. I was only out at school from my Sophomore to Senior Year of High School and on my day of Graduation, I came out to my family and more specifically to my parents. My mother and I were very close, and I remember sitting down at the table getting ready to come out to her and feeling so scared out of my mind and unsure of her reactions that I bawled my eyes out. The following two months after I had came out of the closet to my parents, it was very awkward. Nothing felt comfortable, nothing felt right, and nothing felt close like how it did before. I felt so isolated and felt like I was a big disappointment because I felt as if I had let my parents down. I do not think that they have or will ever accept me as myself, but our relationship is slowly getting back to normal, in a sense. I think it is important to carry out life normally after leaving the closet. I am still the same person that I was before coming out to everyone. All I can do is continue to be that normal boy. That’s all I can ask for myself.
One thing that I learned that was important from my personal experience is that before coming out, one has to be ready. By that I mean ready to love yourself, accept, and be proud of who you are. In my opinion, the whole coming out process is almost a spiritual and life changing step but only if you are truly ready. Coming into terms that you are LGBTQ identified means loving yourself for who you are, and no longer hiding anymore.
For the most part, I am out to everyone. There are still groups of people who I feel do not need to know my sexual orientation or that I have the need to disclose it to them. I feel that at this stage in my life, having experienced many forms of “coming out”, I have no obligation to come out to anyone else now besides the people that I love and who love me in return. Back in high school when I first came out, I felt the need to tell everyone that I was gay and that I needed all of their acceptance. At a point in my life I started to realize that I did not need to come out to everyone and that it was still okay. I am not, in any way, hiding my sexual orientation or who I am, but more so choosing who to share and open myself up to. Lastly I think it is obvious that I am an openly gay Hmong American man.
I personally have not heard and do not know of any stories about our Hmong LGBTQ. However, I work as the Executive Assistant at the LGBT Resource Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and have started our campus’ first Queer People of Color organization. I am hoping to bring a sector of Shades of Yellow to our campus.
From my own impression, the Hmong Community is supportive of the LGBTQ community, at least to a certain extent. I feel that the younger generation are more accepting than their parents, grandparents, and the elder folks. I still feel very discriminated against at social events and gatherings. Oftentimes, I just want to belong and talk to someone who I can relate to. LGBTQ Hmong people have always existed in our history. The only difference was that no one has ever had the chance or support to stand up and make their voice heard until we arrived in the United States of America. I respect the elders in our culture who continues to hang onto traditional roles and expectations. However, time changes everything, and we too should move forward or we will fall behind. LGBTQ Hmong people are no different than heterosexual Hmong allies.
Some issues that I face today come more from the Hmong culture than the cultures that I seek elsewhere. I identify as a gay Hmong man who face these issues and these struggles within my own culture and race. I feel that our culture is not comfortable and educated on LGBTQ people. When we are faced with change, we struggle to move forward to a mutual understanding. Our entire culture, traditional gender roles, sacred roles such as marriage and funeral ceremonies, do not include or pertain to LGBTQ people. With my own impressions, two husbands or two wives have “no place” in the traditional marriage or funeral ceremonies. That is what makes it hard for LGBTQ Hmong folks who still want to hold onto their roots. Our traditional rules and laws are being “challenged” and forced to face a change that I feel is needed and should be implemented.
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