I felt like I’d jumped out of an airplane without a parachute. As I plummeted to the ground, I slammed my eyes shut out of dread for my life. Perhaps it wasn’t the wisest move to announce your sexual orientation in a noisy restaurant full of strangers. Having grown up as the “half-secret” homosexual kid, I was well-versed in dealing with perilous situations.
I remember once asking my mom, “What would you do if I got a girlfriend?” The first thing out of her mouth was, “I don’t understand.” Immediately, my spirit plummeted and I felt myself falling emotionally. She made a point of saying that being gay in the United States is a choice, something that is greatly frowned upon in my own Korean culture. I froze in place, unable to move or utter a sound, as I careened headfirst toward a cruel reality I had not foreseen. I felt tears threatening to fill up in my eyes from the pain of rejection, but I knew I had to hold them back. If I let my sadness show, she would wonder why I bother trying to hide it. While eating, I just kept staring at the floor and wishing I could disappear. That night, I realized it would be a long before I could openly identify as gay to my mom. My eyelids tightened and I continued on falling.
After a few weeks, I realized that pain was an everyday occurrence for me. It was clear that my peers were frightened when I debated with Christian acquaintances who thought that homosexuality was a sin. My instructors gave me critical stares as I argued passionately with my conservative lab mates on my sister’s abortion. My travel mates and I eventually agreed that there are some subjects best left untouched. I was under the impression that being vulnerable was now taboo. People’s stares and body language encircled me, as if to encourage me to stop worrying and cover my eyes as I collapsed so no one would see. Had other people picked up on my mother and I’s nervous energy, or had they picked up on it themselves? Are they afraid that our fervor would lead us to an unknown depth into which we will all have to jump regardless of the consequences?
It could have been too honest and emotional. During a battle, the participants’ sincerity grew too raw and genuine. It exposed me and the people around me to danger, which was terrible. It compelled us to think about politically or personally fraught subjects. It was easier to shut out the pain and discomfort by enclosing ourselves.
But I’ve realized that it was my suffering, not my ease, that shaped my life. My memories are strewn not with pleasant times when life was simple, but with times when life was challenging. It’s full of dinners that were planned last minute and talks whose meaning I couldn’t decipher. The opinions expressed within are both my own and those of others, unabridged. There is an honesty there that I should not have hidden.
I look forward to having challenging conversations now that I am more prepared to learn, listen, and deal with ambiguity. I encourage others to examine their unease and welcome the tangled emotions that come with it in conversation with me. I try to ease the tension that has built up between us. My mother and I have had a strained relationship ever since that dinner. It is extremely dangerous and nerve-wracking. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my level of fear through the possibly hazardous conversations I’ve had with my friends. I’ll be honest and say that there’s a part of me that still wants to close its eyes and seek refuge in the safety of silence. One of my primary impulses while I free fall through the air is to embrace the danger that surrounds me. The sky is still falling, but at least I can see where I’m going this time, so hopefully I can guide my mom and I to a safer landing.