AAPI LGBTQ Pride: I Am My Father’s Son & My Mother’s Daughter

TOU FONG LEE

My secret dwelled deep. I asked myself if I could live in my secret forever. I am a Hmong gay man and a Hmong Drag Queen. I am my father’s gay son and my mother’s drag daughter. I am both a man and a woman and at the same time neither a man or a woman. I do know that I am Hmong, no matter if I identify as a man, woman, or neither. My gay identity made me “less” of a man, according to my family and my culture.

As the oldest son of four children, I was told that Hmong men are expected to grow up, attend college, get a career as a doctor, marry a wife, and raise a family. I was expected to carry on the family name and become a role model to the rest of the younger generations. I have lost count to how many times my father and uncle told me to “man up.” I was expected to be the leader of my household and one day have beautiful kids to carry on my family name.

At age 18, however, these expectations became a great failure to my parents. On graduation, I revealed my biggest secret to my parents that I am gay. I was known as the “lady boy” of my community. Gay to my parents, and perhaps to many Hmong parents as well, meant that I was transgender, confused, a prostitute, and it meant a loss of hope. To them, being gay meant that I want to be the other “gender.” The only definition of what my parents know to be gay was what they heard and a few times seen growing up as kids in the country side of Thailand. To them, I defied the Hmong culture. I went against every hetero-normative belief and I went against the only life they ever knew, the life of Hmong. To them and to everyone else before them, I was known as the sick and a sexual “lady boy”; someone who they falsely think is cursed and preyed on young boys, capable of converting people to my “lifestyle.” On coming out as gay, Hmong people think I will never have a family, a career, marriage, and life. This my parents feared.

Before coming out, I never knew how much my Hmong identity and my gay identity would conflict. All of a sudden my sexual identity became the only identity Hmong people saw me as. I faced great hatred and prejudice from my own culture. I faced racism from non-Hmong people and discrimination and prejudice from my own people, my own family, and the rest of the community. I present myself as a Hmong man, not a gay person. When I put on heels, makeup, and perhaps a dress to imitate the art of drag, I become my mother’s daughter, my brother’s sister, and another Hmong person to challenge the authorities of what “men” and “women” ought to do and not ought to do.

At age 19, I became one of the few Hmong Drag Queens in America. I can literally count on two hands how many Hmong Drag Queens there are in this country. I go to school events in drag, I volunteer in drag, I speak to groups in drag, and I am in drag when I do classroom and university workshops and discussion. I started my life as a Drag Queen not because I identify as transgender but because I identify as myself.

The first time I started drag was the first time I felt so free and so liberated. As a kid I knew I was gay. As a kid growing up in a house with girls, I was always fascinated with how my sister did her hair and how she wore pretty long dresses in the summer time. I always loved how my mom had flowers in her curly hair and the way her eyelashes were bridge long. I started drag as a way of entertainment. Soon enough it became a stress reliever. The way I transformed myself into a different character leaves behind the challenges I faced as a Hmong gay man. It delivered me from the stressful daily tasks and stresses I remember from school and work. However, it was not long before I wanted to be more than entertainment. Being a drag queen meant, to me, being my mother’s daughter. I suddenly became the daughter my mother never had and for a moment in my life it felt acceptable. It felt acceptable to be in drag and to “feminine” household chores. When I put on that wig and transformed myself into an Asian lotus flower, the gay son she so felt bad for was gone.

My identity means more to me than some funky drag show with a few dollars to tip for the night. My identity as a drag daughter is a political symbol, it is a way of self expression and a way for me to bend the gender binary that so unfortunately still exist in both my Hmong and American identity. The art of drag is to imitate the gender norms of the other “gender.”

When I come across other Hmong people I get treated differently. Hmong men do not want to talk to me in fear of association of being gay and Hmong women only talk to me because of my “gay” or “drag” status. I become a sick fantasy for some women to have a need for a “gay” best friend. You see, to my friends I am their “gay friend.” To my cousins I am their “gay and overly feminine” cousin. To my community I am an embarrassment. I come to embrace all parts of my identity and no longer have time for shame or embarrassment. So I like to wear a dress. Some say I enforce the social construction of gender expectation in the Hmong culture. Some say I fight against it. I say, I fight for me.

I am my father’s son and my mother’s daughter. I am just his gay son and I am just her drag daughter. To my parents, I am just their child. No labels, no hatred, no prejudice, just simply their kid.

 


Tou Fong Lee is currently a Junior at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee pursuing a double degree in Psychology and Religious Studies with an interdisciplinary in Hmong Studies. Tou’s primary emphasis is in clinical depression and how external and internal factors influence the way we perceive ourselves and the world. He uses pronouns he//him/his and uses pronouns she/her/hers when he is in his drag form. Tou serves as the Executive Assistant and Pride Discovery Camp Coordinator for the UWM LGBT Resource Center and is participating in a research team. Tou created his university’s first Hmong Safe Space Training Program and is currently working on a project to create a Hmong Queer Campaign to raise awareness to target the Hmong queer stigma. He plans to graduate from his undergraduate studies and pursue his graduate and doctoral work. You can contact Tou Fong Lee on Facebook.

Celebrate June PRIDE Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI LGBTQ PRIDE Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI LGBTQ and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


 

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Raising UP Europe’s Summoning Courage Narrative

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Story #30

Europe Lor is a 21 year old Gay Hmong American from Wisconsin.

I think I was 11 and I was attracted to one of my classmates. I didn’t think much of it, at the time I kind of knew that being attracted to the same-sex wasn’t really well looked upon and that it was something unique and at the same time I kind of felt like it was normal for me.

The actual reason as to why I came out was because of work, but I don’t want to say that it was just mainly because of work. But it is because of the work that I was participating in that allowed me to summon the courage to open the door that I was so afraid to open. I was working with an Organization that was just starting to build awareness for Hmong-LGBTQ and I felt that if I was going to do this type of work I needed to be honest with myself and my family. So I came out to my mom and then my dad. Another reason was because, I was afraid that I was never going to get the chance to tell my parents before they passed if I waited too long and I wanted them to know the real me before any accidents or anything was going to happen, I just felt like I didn’t want to lie to them whether they accepted me or not.

The issues that I am facing today as a queer Hmong is waiting to be accepted by my parents. It would mean the world to me and make me so happy that my parents would accept for liking who I like and for who I am. It has been 3 years since I have come out and my relationships have completely changed with everyone that exists in my circle.

I feel some of the younger Hmong generation is somewhat supportive of it and the older Hmong generation still holds onto their time from way back and isn’t quite supportive. I think that LGBTQQI is still in the shadows some-what, because the queer Hmong folks aren’t really recognized in the bigger part of our community.

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If you’re compelled by Europe’s story, we invite you (if you identify as Hmong LGBTQQI) to contribute your narrative to our collection and documentation by taking this 5 minute survey: http://tinyurl.com/HmongLGBTQQIStories

©Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement, 2011 – 2014. 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.

Raising UP AV’s Not Alone Hmong Bisexual Narrative

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Story #22
AV is a 15 year-old, Hmong American, female, bisexual, and Christian from Wisconsin.

I was probably at the age of 13 when I first noticed that I was attracted to people of the same-sex. I always thought that being bisexual was a choice. It took me awhile to actually admit to myself that I liked both boys and girls. I found it easy to tell my friends and parents. It seemed my parents were willing to accept my bisexuality, especially the fact that my mom wished I was a son. So as I became older, I tended to just open up and tell others that I am bisexual. However, I do feel embarrassed sometimes when I reveal that to others. I felt like people were getting into my businesses. I didn’t like that my family members would ask me why I like girls. They would constantly ask if I have a girlfriend. I felt annoyed because I am a teenager and I wanted people to mind their own businesses.

I do not have a specific reason why I came out. On a specific occasion, we were partying and out of nowhere I started making out with a girl. I felt like I pressured that person to do it, but she said she was fine with it. Therefore, people started to notice I was a bisexual and it felt okay because I did not have to hide it anymore at that instant. It has been 2 years now since my friends know about my sexuality. However, those who do not know do tend to become very upset when I tell them now. Overall, my relationships with everyone is going fine, except my relationships with my siblings, and especially my sisters. They do not like it. They always think that I am lying, but here I am, I want to tell everyone that deep down inside me, I do like girls.

I don’t have much to say about coming out, however, because I did not feel that it was not hard for me to open up to others. However, for those who have a harder time coming out and opening up to others, especially gay men, I do feel very sorry and for them. I think their fathers will be especially hard on them. I encourage them to keep trying and to follow their heart. I am able to say that I am accepted by my parents and friends. For this, I would like to thank them for understanding and loving me. I will and want to help and share stories with those who are Hmong LGBTQ, especially those who are going through hard times in life.

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Sometimes I do feel that the Hmong community is supportive, or at least aware, of  Hmong LGBTQ. I have have seen videos of Hmong LGBTQ that are out, and have done videos. Knowing that I am not alone, and knowing that I can accept the fact that I am bisexual makes me happy. I believe people who are LGBTQ exist everywhere in Hmong communities across the country. The problem is that it is hard to open up and be out, especially since rumors and gossips spread quickly. However, I encourage those out there to open up and go meet new friends. Who knows, you might even meet your future love.

I am involved in a Hmong organization called Hmong American Women Association. One day, the counselor was talking about being LGBTQ with one of the volunteer there. Her name was Sooya. I give credits to her because I think she is amazing. That is all that I have heard anyone speak openly about being LGBTQ. I think the organization can provide others with sources about being lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

If you’re compelled by AV’s story, we invite you (if you identify as Hmong LGBTQQI) to contribute your narrative to our collection and documentation 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.

Raising UP Sooya’s Family, Gender & Role Model Narrative

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Story#15

Sooya Xiong is a 23 year old, Bisexual female, Shamanist residing in Wisconsin.

I was 12 years old when I knew that I was attracted to both genders. Was I confused? I sure was! My heart would start racing whenever I am around the “girl” with words that I can’t even describe. As for the “boy” it was more flirtation. It has been 10 years since I came out to my parents. The reason why I came out? Well, duh, I am positively sure that I liked both genders; that I was “gay.” I was in a “dark” phase at that time as a youth, and it was time to make a change. I wanted to be able to express myself and be accepted. I needed the family support, especially from my parents.

How did my parents take it? Of course they laugh at me because they thought that I was joking. The word “gay” has been use so much in the family to make fun of someone. It wasn’t until I kept bringing the subject up to my father to this day that he finally understands what it means. He knows I am “bi-sexual” and he supports me (however, we all know parents lecture you and hope that you will end up with the opposite sex).

SX2However it wasn’t until 2008 that I fully revealed myself physically to the entire family and extended families. After my high school graduation on that following Monday my sister shaved my head in our home in Chicago. My mother and siblings were also in the room. It sure did make me feel good because of the support I had. But then I was scared of my father’s reaction that he’ll flip out. He saw my baldness when he came home to Milwaukee the next day, but didn’t say anything. He just laughed. Now that’s a good sign. How did it make me feel? I felt relieved and happy! But then I was told to wear a wig whenever I attend “Hmong events” (which I completely understand why). My extended families and everyone else knew about my sexuality, but it was never really addressed or acknowledge. Some words were said to describe and address me here and there, such as “tomboy,” “hey, new boy,” “son” etc. The gender roles did not change, everyone still sees me as a Hmong woman encompassing the same respect, duties, chores, et.

Some of the issues that I am facing today is how can I as a person who identities both as Hmong LGBTQ and Hmong woman help the Hmong youth who are coming out. I believe I can be a support for other Hmong LGBTQ by providing a safe place for them, helping them deal with family issues, and creating a support system.

If you’re compel by Sooya’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.

Raising UP MYY’s Family Is the Biggest Inspiration & Support to Coming OUT Narrative

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Saving Face film. Photo Credit Salon.com

Story #10

MYY is a shamanist, 21 year-old woman who identifies as bisexual from Wisconsin.

The first time I notice that I was attracted to the same-sex was when I was 12 years old. I could not understand why I was feeling that way about this new girl I just met. All I knew was that I was very attracted to her and I wanted to know if she had felt the same about me. When I confronted her with my feelings, she nicely rejected and explained to me that she did not feel the same way as me. After that happened, I tucked away how I felt about girls and started dating boys. At the time, I was confused as to why I had felt that way, but I didn’t look too much into it.

Hmong Trans* & Queers Rally at St. Paul Capitol for LGBTQ Justice & Equity

Hmong Trans* & Queers Rally at St. Paul Capitol for LGBTQ Justice & Equity – Photo Credit MWSMovement.com

I’m very close to my family, so I turned to them hoping they could help me. I did not know what to expect from them because this whole thing happened so quick. Surprisingly, they were very understanding and supportive. They told me that they will always accept me for who I am, so I should accept me for who I am as well. From there, I started dating my first ex-girlfriend. My family was such a big inspiration because they were there every step of the way while I was trying to figure myself out and come out to my other love ones. It’s been four years now that I’m out and none of my relationships has changed at all. Everything is going well for me right now.

I don’t feel as if the Hmong Community is supportive of me but I don’t blame them. This is a very touchy and new subject in our Hmong community. I think with a little courage and a lot of education, we can fix that problem. I didn’t even know that we have Hmong LGBTQ organizations out there. I recently found out about an organization from Minnesota called Shades of Yellow. The Asian organization from my university invited SOY to our speak out during Asian Heritage Month back in April, and I was so moved and inspired during their presentation. I think LGBTQ does fit in our Hmong Culture but it’s going to take a lot of time before it fully fits in. I feel that we should speak out more about it and educated those who know little about the LGBTQ community. I believe that in 10-15 years from now, LGBTQ will be accepted and become a part of our Hmong Culture.

Photo Credit MWSM

Hmong queers Vote NO on Marriage Amendment 2012 – Photo Credit MWSM

One of the issues I’m facing today is deciding on which path I want to take on for the future. I’m the next one in line to get married in my family, and I’m also the only one who is not heterosexual. My family accepts me for who I am but what I always question myself if I want to marry a man or a woman, if I want a Hmong wedding, and how do I want to start my family. Yes, I understand that you can get all those regardless of your sexuality but I see the kind of a family my siblings have and that’s what I want as well. I think the Hmong LGBTQQI community is being impacted by our old traditions.

The reason I’m only out to certain people is because people are so quick to judge. All the amazing people who truly love and care for know about my sexuality, and they’re very supportive. It’s the new people that I meet that makes me iffy about if I want to share that kind of personal information with them. They don’t know me enough to understand where I’m coming from, which I don’t blame them. Plus, I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable around me.

If you’re compel by MYY’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.