Xiong Yang is a 27 year-old shamanist, transman from Minnesota.
I was in kindergarten when I had my first crush. I think I started school a few days after it had already begun. I really liked a girl who had befriended me on the first day of class. I remember thinking to myself that it wasn’t normal. I knew I had to hide my feelings. In grade school, I used to write on the bathroom mirror that “I loved” so-and-so. One time, my brother saw it, because I forgot to erase it, and I freaked out and denied it. Another time in 4th grade, my best friend at the time, confronted me (in a friendly but frank way), are you a lesbian? Of course, I denied it. I had no connections to that term. And when I came out to one of my male friends in 6th grade, that I had a crush on the same girl he had a crush on (I was a tomboy at the time), I could tell he was uncomfortable with it. He kind of laughed it off. I transitioned when I was 13, at the end of 8th grade. In the summer before 8th grade, my mom finally allowed me to chop off my long, wavy hair. It was during the year of 8th grade that I became friends with my current partner. We started dating at the end of 8th grade. We just celebrated our 13th anniversary this summer.
I think the relationships that had the highest impact on my identity the most were my family members. It was difficult for my mom to adjust to my new and different identity, and for her to recognize my partner. It was even more challenging for my brothers and their wives to get used to my new preferred gender pronouns. I was persistent with communicating with them how I felt, which my communication skills got better as time went on. And the more they saw how I was leading a productive life, the more they realized I was becoming who I wanted to be. I think the times have changed a lot since I was a teenager. A lot of people are exposed to non-traditional ways of gender performance and sexual orientations. I think people aren’t as shocked as they used to be. I don’t think there’s complete acceptance yet. Acceptance is really on an individual basis, depending if people have friends or know someone who is a non-heterosexual, and/or non-cisgender person. There’s still a lot of stereotypes out there about Hmong folks who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or queer. The Hmong American society and the American society at large are not ready to move past those stereotypes. (The racial stereotypes are still a work-in-progress.)
Mainstream culture and the traditional Hmong culture still see things in black and white or binary. With that thinking, there’s no room for people who don’t fit neatly into those binary systems. I think the only way to really make this be a change is to be the doer. I live my life not as a man or a Hmong or a son or a husband. I live my life as me, and people find labels that they think best fits who I am. I feel people do that in order to find a commonality or something that they can relate to, which is quite innocent and unintentional.
My mom once told me a story of a distant aunt. She never married. When her parents died, she stayed living on her own. I believe she’s still alive today and is living somewhere in Laos or Thailand. I can’t say if this distant aunt is a closeted same-sex lover or asexual or anything else. But this story always stuck with me. And this story came out when I asked my mom if she knew of any queer folks back in Laos.
Marriage equality for couples who want to get married traditionally is still a big issue, even with the passing of the same-sex marriage bill in Minnesota. There’s a lot of politics involved in Hmong heterosexual marriages already. I don’t know how things like the bride price could be dealt with for a same-sex marriage. What about the spirits? Also, when one partner dies, who’s responsible for the last rites? I hope a more knowledgeable person of Shamanism and Hmong culture can figure this out.
Because I can “pass” as a man, I don’t find myself having to “come out” or “reveal” myself to people about my gender identity or sexual orientation. I like to get to know people on a nonsexual orientation and non-gender basis. In fact, I’ve made that my personal mission: talk one-on-one with elder Hmong people. Sooner or later, they find out that I’m different. I think I’ve been able to sway a few Hmong elders my way or at least get them thinking outside of the box. I want people to know me for me. I don’t want them to have false misconceptions about me just based on what they associate with a certain word. If people could get to know a person and not judge them based on the label that can be associated with that person, I believe that would be a good start to the world becoming a better place.
If you’re compel by Xiong’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
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