I recently wrote a 2014 reflection/coming out letter for my brother “Scars. Self-Love. Sexuality. Self Discovery”
I started writing it the day I openly came out to my sister and had felt “happy sad” feelings. Happy that I could now have a real communicative relationship with Mel and then sad that Larry was across the other side of the world and up to this point I’ve been uncomfortable to share my story to him. I felt unbalanced and I needed to complete. I was high.
Not a day in 2015 should be wasted living a lie.
It was a total of 7 pages that I hashed through in one night, fingers not stopping for a minute to pause, eyes not even looking at the screen, but tearing as I felt with intensity. I recall my heart was pacing and using more caps and F bombs when reliving the emotional pain. But it felt so good to finally let it all out and move on. Writing does that for me. (Read HBR Case “Want to Get over something, write about it”)
He spent a couple of days to digest and wrote me a long response. I got his permission to share…
“GRSSSSS nah jk
Finally, I was wondering when you would come out. And I’m not surprised, kind of relieved actually that you finally have yourself figured out somewhat. Seeing you confused and lonely in Taiwan was hard. I didn’t know what I could do to help you.. It wasn’t something anyone could do because it was your own internal struggles. But im happy that you can get this off your chest and it’s a big leap to admitting it to our parents.
(and then more in response to personal relationship drama which I won’t share)
Well hats off to you good luck in finding a partner. Don’t listen to what our parent’s have to say, which I have been doing forever. Just do you and go gettem tiger lol.
I love you too, and wish you luck with your new founded self. Ill be here for you always so you can talk to me.
Love, your bro
Super sweet right? This is why I’ve been starting to write and share my stories and emailing them to people I care about. For authenticity, genuine advice, go gettem tiger comments.
From there, I had a newfound confidence and leveled up in acceptance within myself. I am complete with telling my immediate family. I was proud of myself. #acceptance #courage #fearless
Looking back, I think the reason I stayed closeted (in my family) for so long was because I used the excuse “you will never understand”
I was mistaken. He knew. And he loves me still. We are growing up. I hope making up for lost time.
Newly found insights from sharing my story:
- Create space for relationships by acknowledging your inauthenticities. Being authentic about your inauthenticity and the impact of your inauthenticity leaves people with victory of possibilities
- Share and open your heart. By doing so, you will feel empowered and allow others to share in empowerment
- Consider the idea that you are hardly related to the people around you. You are related to your stories and expectations of them- to what you think they should be and are in relation to you. When you have stories and expectations, your emotions take control and you are no longer operating with reality. Simply put, don’t assume you know everything about people- especially among those who use a different means of expression/communication
- Don’t wait around for something and assume that life will catch up to your need
- If you lack integrity, you lose yourself as a whole
So I was running on a high from Larry’s response.
And then the next day, during lunch, one of the managers in ODES asked me that one question that always manages to give me this pained frustrated, sad almost angry expression (I wish I could control this). “So do you have a boyfriend yet?”
Note: It’s expected for girls in China to be married by 24 and to have kids by 27. If you are over 30 without a boyfriend, you’re screwed and shamed. I just turned 26 and am now in the “Danger: Proceed with Caution” zone.
I responded “No, I don’t at the moment” “while force polite smiling and quickly forced food into my mouth as I swallowed my feelings.
I consulted Mel right after the lunch about my reaction and how I felt shitty with myself about how I just generally hate responding to that question. It seems that people look at me with pity like there’s something wrong with me and I'm still admittedly sensitive to how they may react if I tell them the complete truth. I thought I was proud! But clearly this was a test that I did not pass with flying colors- colorful towel in the air and all.
She said, in her rare “wise older sister” manner, that my reaction is because I’m still insecure, not completely proud, and I’ve been socially conditioned due to cultural norms to believe that being single and queer is a shameful thing. This insecurity is heightened in China where everyone is super conservative and on the surface simple minded and all about that 面子 face.
There’s a reason why there is a growing market for apps targeted for the gay community in China to find and marry “beards” to placate their parents. It’s a screwed up system here all because of societal pressures from older generations. Shame and suppression is common. And it is suffocating. I’m aware of that now.
Anyway, Mel told me to do this exercise at the end of every night to deconstruct my mind and get rid of internal shame thinking. Recall 5 good things that you did that day (I acknowledged company employees and gave good news about salary raises ending 1-1 convo with a high 5) and then 5 good things that the universe gave to you (someone picked up and returned my cash I accidentally dropped on the floor). The point being is that you are in control of your day and that the universe in actuality is very giving. YOU are the only one in your way of seeing it, acknowledging it, and letting the good vibes come to you. You are the obstacle, and you are the solution.
She also said to close my eyes and start by reminiscing a past good memory recalling all 5 senses and then right after to envision using all senses again an ideal future that hasn’t happened yet. The point of this exercise is to latch onto an old memory to start painting the future while truly believing that future could easily become reality. Again, YOU are the one in control.
More mind exercises. Daily reflection every night and exchanging top 5 with someone I care deeply enough about to hear from. It helped me process. I wanted to be me and be accepted. And with every night of daily reflection, I learned to stay grateful and acknowledge the awesomeness of what little to big actions can make.
But it was still a matter of pride. While I would gradually drop truth bombs to my parents my growing developing feelings, I felt like there was still no real serious acknowledgement. I guess I was still uncomfortable. This began to bother me.
Out of curiosity, I emailed my reflection piece to some of my friends- friends who had started off more as pen pals, who I respected for their opinion, honesty, and insight. I wanted to see how it resonated with them and if they were at all surprised about what I was going through. Again reaction was resoundingly awesome.
With their permission, I share--
“I can't say that I'm surprised by this piece, but I mean that in the best possible way because it's you---it's raw, vulnerable, but incredible self-aware and wanting to strengthen the relationships that are valuable to you. Also, dealing with 'institutional denial' of Asian culture, if you will permit me to say so, is so difficult and it's great that you are taking steps to talk about what isn't supposed to be talked about.
Your story inspires me to try to have more honest conversations with my brother too. ;)
Thank you so much for sharing Tiff. It is a really powerful and honest letter. I hope the reception is fruitfully digested by your brother and anyone else you share this with.
“Hi Tiff, your writing exemplifies this quote to me "Your life unfolds in proportion to your courage." Your writing is extremely powerful because it's so raw and honest.
I feel pained while reading your struggles in 2014 especially the gradual degradation of your wound, made all the more poignant because of how little you wanted to acknowledge to yourself as well as your family. The part where you said you had 1000 FB friends but couldn't find one to call, really hit home. You are coming from a place of self-imposed loneliness and self-perceived isolation... then finally I feel like I can breathe again when your energy burst through the pages as you describe what you like and you prefer. This is a beautiful way of painting your humanity, and made me reflect on my own.
I really don't think most people ever have the courage to fully acknowledge all the flaws and yearnings in themselves. Our judgment is so often clouded by societal expectations. Your breakthrough feels like a burst into freedom. Although the process has been long and suppressed. Tiff, this is extremely brave of you to want to finally share yourself unfiltered self with the world! Being mindful of your needs and desires will undoubtedly make you happy!
You deserve all the reciprocation - respect, loyalty, openness, from everyone who finds themselves opening up in your presence.
Last thought, this is the most touching letter I've ever read written by a big sis to her younger bro. I would say that it resonated with me in making me want to fully acknowledge my passion for dance and alleviating education inequity, and to completely embrace my feelings for this one special guy. I am also tired of holding back. :)
One of my best friends sent me a pic of her crying. Enough said.
I felt bolder and leveled up in confidence. This was no longer just about revealing my present sexuality. It was about me revealing my voice as a struggling “figure it out as I go” 20-something and about me finding out what I’m ready for..about me taking a stab at being real and fixing my relationship with my brother…about resonating with close friends and knowing that my verbal vomit could find resonance with more.
I remember how my goal coming out of the hospital was to inspire by sharing stories. Stories of happiness and pictures of victory and triumph with smiles are great and all. But beneath the victories still lies internal struggle that people for whatever reason are too proud to reveal. Stories of struggle and vulnerability usually leave more of a mark among people who may have been there before. “Be real” personal truths. And as I write and reflect, I realize my voice getting stronger as I’m more able to filter and analyze my verbal vomit into pieceable insights. If there is pain, there is more to gain. #tifflinning
With permission from my brother, and with the newfound confidence and support from my respected critics, I published my piece on Medium and posted on Facebook the next day. I was nervous but excited at the same time.
The reactions to my post were amazing and inspiring.
Two girl friends came out to me and shared with me their stories. One friend is thinking of coming out to her parents soon and I wish her all the best of luck. The other made huge moves with self acceptance on writing her own coming out story for the first time and I feel touched to be the first recipient of it.
Guys I had previous relationships with messaged me, congratulated me for my insight as I apologized for being a tease. For the ones that I haven’t talked to or haven’t approached me yet, thanks for liking the post anyway. I’m sorry I was such a hot mess and emotional rollercoaster. I hope to work on building our friendships- something I cherish beyond anything.
Friends of friends messaged me personally, congratulated me for my bravery, apologized for not knowing, and made commitments to be more vocal themselves with what they want among their own relationships.
“for such a vocal person, i become mute or nonsensically wordvomit when i am emotionally distraught and reading your piece made me realize that holding back, repressing, and suppressing things may not always be the same thing as "patience," which is something im known for/people expect of me. however, by keeping my mouth shut ive lost my dignity, colors, and happiness over the past few years. im so very happy that your family is learning to accept you for who you are and that you are on a road of self discovery and self acceptance. its something everyone needs. and you're right that sometimes writing things out helps. sometimes it is even more powerful than the spoken word.”
Overall, I felt emotions of relief, elation, and strength, and happy to see friends, old and new, share their stories with me. Again, one point was to inspire and be inspired. The other was to see through trial and error, if I did reveal myself completely, would I be more proud and able to think and behave more clearly shining “in the light.”
If I share and open my heart, what would you share in return?
And then the next day…
My mom who I suspect found out through my active aunts on Facebook, was angry at me the next morning for publicly announcing to the world something so personal and that I am now limiting my options without understanding who I am. “You really haven’t taken the time to know who you are!”
Her words stung. I feel like all I do is work on my self. I reflect almost more than anyone I know. I admit that I am still figuring “who I am” as I throw myself in weird situations and roll along with life. It wasn't supposed to be a big deal. My sexuality isn't supposed to define who I am. I'm still the same person as I was.
I told her that sexuality is fluid and I’m attracted to people who are emotionally aware- guys/girls. It doesn’t matter. We are all people. I could still imagine myself loving anyone regardless of gender. But for the time being, all of this doesn’t matter. It’s who I am now and respecting my preferences, my acute awareness of stronger feelings this present moment that I’m going to go 100% for. And I wanted that to be known. There are no take backs.
Regardless of what I do, as long as not I’m intentionally hurting anyone, my freedom of expression should be at my own will to control. She may feel different about that. In the past, whenever I felt confident about something at first but then get derailed right after from just one offsetting hater comment, I sulk in doubt for days. I told myself not to let it get to me this time and not to let her guilt trip me back to thinking that I’m just overall confused. #integrity
While I received 220 likes on Facebook later with some really thoughtful comments and messages to follow, my mom and I don’t bother to approach the subject again.
Overall, I felt saddened at her failure to recognize that I refuse to live a life in shame and regret just for the sake of keeping up with appearances. I got the last comment in as I stood up and left for work saying “at least I’m more confident and happier now as I am than insecure and confused as before.” She can talk to me on her own time when she’s ready. Maybe ignorance is bliss. But honesty still prevails. #letgo
Last night, I taught my first yoga class. An initiative Mel and I are bringing to ODES China is bringing culture classes to the company. After work hours, my goal is to teach about feminism/individuality/nonconformity. Beyond whispering “express yourself” in their ears, I hope with yoga dance movement classes/ karaoke nights to sing and see videos of Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry/YouTUBE TEDtalk English lessons, that these 22-28 yr old girls here will learn how to get out of their shells and their force-fed “believe everything your parents and the China government brainwashed you with” and learn how to find their own voice.
That’s my intention anyway.
After our workout, Candy (yes that’s her real name) and Mel were talking about the only single guy in our office. Mel and I knew he was gay but everyone else seemed to be in classic denial. We asked Candy for her opinion.
“I don't think he is gay…we’re all 正常(normal) here.” In a matter of fact voice.
Me and Mel share a look. Uh oh…..
I continue on stretching and concentrate on my breathing
Candy then turns to me and asks me that #1 frequently asked question again-
“So Melody has a boyfriend, do you have a boyfriend?”
This is my breakthrough moment.
I look at her and make eye contact
“No. I don’t like boys”
(laugh) “oh really, do you like girls then?”
“Uh yes I do.”
(laugh) “oh okay.”
I don’t know if Candy believed me or if she thought I was joking. She’s a smart girl. I’m sure once the opportunity comes again, I could be a bit more loud and proud. Maybe even make a remark about what “normal” means nowadays. But right now, I’m at a good point. I feel myself growing more comfortable in my own skin anyway. To come out online is a lot easier to face discomfort and awkward silence in China. Go figure.
DAY BY DAY!
Finally, thanks everyone for the support, the “you are beautifuls”, the “thanks for sharing”
I'd like to think that I wouldn't be where I am if it wasn't for everyone's solid and subtle influence in my life. Everyone needs encouragement and support regardless of whether they ask for it or not. So maybe reach out to someone close to you, a brother, a friend, and ask them "how are you doing?" You may never know the response!
Thanks for listening. Have a great day or night!