Pheng is a year old and identifies as a gay male residing in California.
I didn’t realize it until the end of my freshmen year in high school. I’ve always been attracted to men – both physically and emotionally. I guess I was just so used to ignoring my true feelings because of how I grew up.
Growing up I always was surrounded by girls, rarely guys. I just felt more comfortable around them than anyone else. I would do so much with my aunt and cousins (all female) whether it be playing house, playing with their barbies or stuffed animals, and even watching movies of Barbie, princesses, mermaids, you name it.
My memories bring me back to always not fitting in with the guys while playing sports; they played too harsh for me and used too much profanity for my taste. So instead I played tetherball with the majority of the girls; I was the best of course. But every time I did try to play with the boys, now that I think back, I was just being taken advantage of. I wasn’t there to play, I was there to be used, to catch the ball and hand it over to one of the “better” guys. Absolutely ridiculous. Playing tetherball with the girls though, that was a joy. I was always so competitive, so passionate about my doings when around them; I was comfortable. I just didn’t fit in with the guys, they did things out of my interest; video games being one of them. When I try to hang out with them, it just didn’t seem right. It was awkward, and let me mention, boring. But having hung out with my female cousins so often, I grew to have a feminine personality, and I’m admitting it now. My gestures, the way I talk, and the way I walk; it was something else. And for that, I was bullied and tormented my whole childhood.
Growing up I was a careless child, or so I thought. When being called names and such, I recall ignoring them, yes, but at the same time – I was dying inside. I hated myself and how and who I was as a person. None of my girl friends at school seemed to notice anything of course, but the guys did. We’re talking elementary school here, I was so young. At my elementary school, there was a certain group of boys in my grade and the next; they were my bullies. I remember being called gay, gayass, f***** fag, loser; you get the point. Like I said, I ignored the majority of it; after all, I’ve been doing it since forever.
One time at one of our annual school carnivals, one of those boys called me a “fag” and pushed me on the ground, scraping my knee. It was bleeding and I didn’t know what to do but kneel on the ground huddling my bleeding knee. I remember my sister Yer being there too, coming out of the crowd and shoving him while screaming something like “What the f***, why’d you push my brother?,” as he walked away chuckling. I still need to thank her for that. I think I was bullied so much throughout my elementary years; I didn’t even care much anymore.
Another situation I recall is having been dared to touch a girl’s butt to prove to a student of my grade that I wasn’t gay. Of course, I attempted it but I didn’t end up doing it. At the end because of talkers a couple students and I got escorted to the principal’s office. I did my part of the explanation, and didn’t get in any trouble. I guess my good grades and relation to my principal saved me from trouble. He knew me, I was everywhere. I was probably the biggest troublemaker at the school; but I had good grades and supporting teachers so I never really got in major trouble.
The last of my drama in elementary school would have to be when I got 3 of the 6th graders (I was in 5th) in trouble, possibly suspended (I don’t recall), for calling me gay. I was switched seats, and sat by friendlier people. I think I made such a big deal of being called “gay” that our principal addressed the situation at an assembly. Now that I think about it, I feel pretty darn special for him to have made a statement protecting my rights (not directly, but I got the feeling).
As far as my childhood in elementary, family wise, I would have to say it was just as bad; but different. I took it more personal, because it was my family, cousins, that kept bugging me and calling me names. It was usually my cousins that were teens and in their twenties. I was always questioned about who I hang out with, the way I talk and walk the way I do, basically everything. Like I said, I’ve been trying to ignore negative comments so much I got used to it; therefore sometimes I just zoned people out. Maybe it was because I was mad? Disappointed in myself? I know I just didn’t ignore their comments, because if I did, I wouldn’t be writing this. I wouldn’t recall those hurtful remarks that scarred me as a child. All the things I chose to ignore, today, is everything about me.
Some of the things an older cousin of mine have said to me when I was a kid, I still stuck to me till this day. I do so because it’s one of the reasons why I am able to reflect and admit to myself that through out my childhood to my freshmen year in high school, I was running away from this big truth to my life. I hear his exact voice saying this every time I think about it, “Pheng, if you ever turn gay, I’m going to kick your ass.” Me, feeling like a glass that just hit concrete; shattered. A little was the content, more it was because he was one of the very few of my cousins that I truly look up to. Since then, I grew to be more afraid of what others thought of me.
Growing up and going to middle school I told myself that I was straight. Even bisexual was out of the question. I looked at girls only. I had a couple girlfriends, which definitely made my parents happy; and me, temporarily. But I can’t help but think back on checking out all the guys at school. I could remember more cute guys than I could remember the girls. Boys in the locker room, them playing ball in the gym, everything about guys excited me. Teacher, substitutes, my fellow classmates, the list goes on and on of my attraction towards them but of course too scared and ignorant to admit it to myself; so I continued thinking the way I did about “being gay”, that it was a bad thing.
Then I hit high school, which would be about 2 years ago. I still considered myself straight. Through middle school and most of my freshmen year when I was asked if I was gay or even bisexual, I made sure I immediately reply, “no” or “of course not”. That seemed to help suppress my feelings towards men. Not until I found online resources, press about gay equality; it was then that I had to at least think about it. Events that really impacted my thoughts of life and people in general was some of the educational conferences I applied for and got into at colleges in California. Pursuit of Higher Education (POHE) and ShadowNite at UC Berkeley were the most life-changing experiences I’ve ever had. There was such a diverse group of students there, everybody fitting in regardless of race, personal differences, or sex orientations. I then was not only motivated to pursue high education; but to pursue myself. Reach the heart of my soul, hug it, comfort it, and tell myself that I’ll be okay to be what I want to be. I thought a lot about it, and couldn’t deny the truth. At the end of freshmen year I progressed to thinking I was bisexual.
Sophomore year is when I came to the realization and understanding of my true self, I am simply gay. I could tell you that I am so much of a happier person now that I am able to express myself in the ways I want to. I don’t have to say things that’ll hide my identity. I don’t have to deny the fact that I truly am indeed attracted to my same sex. I don’t have to deny me. I am truly happy, I am satisfied, actually grateful, of the person I’ve become.
Now here’s what everyone’s been waiting to read — my coming out story. I actually just came out to my dad, him being the last one to know in my intermediate family, about a month ago. It was harsh, as for things happened very oddly. My close friends and siblings in my household knew about me being gay and they were supportive; which I’m thankful for. But let’s start with coming out to my mom, who is a very nice lady. I would always tease about having to tell her something. One night, she came and laid next to me on my bed. She asked in Hmong, “What do you need to tell me?” I said like I usually do, “nothing Mom, I’m just messing with you.” And eventually after constant questioning and assumptions, I told her. Her reaction took me by surprise. She stopped talking, stared at me, and I saw the rage build up in her little by little. Looking at me straight in the eyes she exploded with questions like, “who told you that?”, “who’d you hear that from?”, and ended off with saying “I don’t want to hear those words from your mouth again.” I was devastated. Out of all the people in the world, I would at least expect her to understand and accept me for who I am. She was my mom. I was disappointed and felt uneasy. For the next couple of days I randomly feared that she may do something to me, just because she and people of my religion were so against it. After all, I am the first Lor in my family to be gay. But of course I was just thinking way too much. My mom later then tried to convince the rest of my siblings to persuade me to change who I am, they simply shut her down. They supported me and argued against my mom. My mom is now slowly, but progressively, coming to an understanding of who I am and that it wasn’t easy for me, all that I went through to be who I am today.
The story to my dad finding out about me, is an interesting and emotional one. My relatives from another state started talking about me I guess. Started spreading rumors, messing with my step mom, my dad, and my older sisters’ head. They were so confused and shocked about what they were hearing; that I was gay. My dad called me out of my room, to sit next to him and discuss my situation with him as a few of my family members were present to support me. He asked if I was going to confirm that the rumor is true, or deny it. I tried my best to slowly let him know that it wasn’t just a rumor. I could of lied to him to make things a lot easier, but I honestly couldn’t; and at the end I admitted it to him. He was speechless. He lectured me, as he started choking in tears. I did the same as I just shut up and listened. Tears after tears, I grew a little stronger. I started reasoning with him, as he kept on repeatedly saying that I couldn’t fulfill my duties as being a person, being Hmong, if I was gay. He was furious, he didn’t want to hear a word from me, and nothing I said would change his mind. And I know him too well, I argued the least I could because I just know there was no point in arguing with my dad.
It’s been a month or so since I came out to everybody. I know my parents are disappointed in me, upset, a little of everything. But I can’t do anything other than hope and keep hoping for their understanding. It’s tough, it really is. Especially when you look at your parents and see disappointment in their eyes, no joyful facial expressions at all sometimes. But there’s something I know and they know, is that I’m not a half-bad son. My grades are good, I’m involved in school, I work and support myself, in what way have I not satisfied their wants and needs other than now? I have a strong feeling that one day it will all be better. That time will heal this brokenness between us all. My parents are unconditional lovers and I have no doubt they’ll still be there by my side at the end.
Being gay, it’s never easy to express your sex orientation. There are always different thoughts and opinions out there of LGBTQQI people like us. We’re still the same person as we were yesterday, maybe one or two things have changed, but does that make us a bad person? It doesn’t, not one bit. Yes, you’ve changed, but you changed for the better; for yourself. Resources and support is out there, in social media, community organizations, or even clubs at school. Be sure to surround yourself with them, it’ll do nothing but benefit you. I live in Fresno, CA, and the community is as supportive as can be. Although the Hmong community in particular may not be as open to it as I would like; I am here to make a change. Take a stand, represent us people of color, and make sure that future generations can feel as comfortable in their own shoes as can be.
My advice to anybody and everybody out there is that it gets better, just be patient. Those struggles, those tears, those years and years of confusion and possibly even misery, that’s all hard work. To define who you are, to find yourself, and build yourself to be the strongest person you’ll ever know. That’s the challenge and at the end of the day; it’s just up to you to decide who you want to be tomorrow. Be patient, embrace the love and support around you. You’re living in a world of rainbows, just keep your head up and smile, embrace your true colors.
If you’re compel by Pheng’s story, we invite you (if you identify as Hmong LGBTQQI) to contribute your narrative to our collection and documenation by taking this 5 minute survey: http://tinyurl.com/HmongLGBTQQIStories
©Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement, 2011 – 2013. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution with the intent to sell, use and/or duplication of these images, audio, video, stories, blog posts, and materials on this blog without express and written permission from this blog’s authors and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links as stated by MidWest Solidarity Movement members may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.