You Gayyy?

Jun 1, 2024 | 2024 Summer - More than One Letter

By Janie Kang

“You gayyy?!” My eemo drew the words out with a guttural emphasis on the last word like a woman giving birth. 

Well, there was no going back now.

“Yes.” I blew my bangs out of my eyes, wiping the sweat from my face as the humidity made my “Yankee baby” hair frizz like a Q-tip around my head. My partner was sitting quietly on the couch, pretending to read her book. I swear I could see her ears perk up.

“You gayyy?” my eemo repeated, as if yelling the words into her phone’s speaker would clear up her confusion.

“Yes, Eemo.” I tried to muster as much respect as I could talking to my elder, but I could feel the tsunami of judgment and guilt about to hit. 

“But you were with a guy, last time. Aigoo, if that man didn’t treat you bad, you wouldn’t be gayyy.” My auntie, or eemo as I was taught to call my mother’s sisters growing up, clucked her tongue in pity.

“It doesn’t work like that—”

“It’s okay, my friend’s uncle is gay. He’s a good man. A little bit strange, but good man. Who’s the man in your relationship?” I couldn’t stop the tirade of questions that made me want to sink into the floor. Luckily, we were on the phone, so she couldn’t see the pained look on my face. 

Why did I think it was a good idea to come out to my Korean aunties? They barely kept in touch since my mom died, except to complain about how all the men of my family were a disgrace and I should do something to fix it. 

The irony wasn’t lost on me.

I knew why I came out. Because the person sitting on the couch pretend-reading made my heart happy in ways I never could have imagined, and I didn’t want us to hide. She made me feel safe, loved, seen. She didn’t fill up our conversations with how life was so hard for her. If I said something about how stressful my work was, I wouldn’t be told to “change jobs if I couldn’t handle it,” or “Guys put up with stuff all the time.” She would listen, ask questions, challenge me, but most of all, be there. I could talk to her about everything and nothing, sit in comfortable silence, or get into steamy, fun mischief and it all felt as natural as breathing air. This was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. How could I explain all this to my evangelical Christian, Korean aunties?

Oh, that’s right—I couldn’t. 

“So how do you guys, you know…” My Eemo kept ploughing through questions oblivious to the hamster wheel of thoughts cranking through my brain.

Eemo, I don’t feel comfortable—”

“Send me a picture of her! I want to see. Show your Eemo.

Reluctantly, I found a picture of the two of us, grinning from ear to ear, our faces relaxed, our heads close enough to kiss. I remember when we took that picture at our first concert together. We seemed so happy. The cool September breeze caressed our faces. A bit of that fall chill started to set in, the sun setting in the background. I hit send.

A few minutes went by. Silence.

“So, you’re the girl in the relationship.” She made some additional comments that turned to barbs, cutting my heart. 

My face became hot.

“Hey!” My voice was firm. For the first time in my life, I spoke up against my elders.

My heart hammered in my chest. This was something you did not do. Not in my culture. Doing so would result in a shame suicide of being berated and called names behind closed doors. But worse, there was the pity. “Aigoo, you are pretty and smart. Why couldn’t you find a good man?” was Korean code for “What’s wrong with you?”

“Your words hurt. If you can’t be respectful, I will end the conversation.” Hot tears edged the corners of my eyes.

Stunned silence. I held my breath.

“Okay, okay. I just saying—I should have found a nice guy for you. But it’s okay, you gayyy. Okay. My friend’s uncle is gay. He’s a good man.” 

I hung up the phone, resignation in my heart. I gave my relatives five minutes before all of a sudden they came out of the woodwork to “friend” me on Facebook, curious to see what an oddity we were. Family who was never there for the important moments, but anxious to zero in on my “screw-ups,” 

leaving me naked to the elements. But then, I guess it’s better than the other half of my family, in which I became the Dalai Lama representative of queer people everywhere. “How do I support so and so who’s gay? Do you think if I wear a pride pin to the wedding, that’s good enough support? Oh, and when did you decide to become gay?” As if it was something as simple as ordering a triple shot Venti latte at Starbucks.

I brought myself back to the moment, a patchwork quilt of emotions spreading itself out in my mind and heart. “Hey, that meant a lot that you came out to them,” my partner said, getting up from the couch and pulling me into a hug. 

I wish I could say my partner and I beat the odds and that we went on to marry and live happily ever after. But things ended. I found out later on that she didn’t tell her family or friends about me, even with her wanting to move in, even with almost getting engaged. While I couldn’t blame her for wanting to avoid the pain, it hurt all the same to know that I wasn’t worth the risk, even though I thought she was. 

Was the risk of coming out worth it? I was left with the shrapnel of my being gayyy rumbling through my family for years to come. Whispers behind my back, side glances, and not-so-subtle ignorance, and the familiar ache of being an outcast. But then, I started to rest in the freedom of not having to hide anymore. Slowly, I picked up friends who survived their own battles when coming out. They became family. So maybe coming out was the rite of passage, the wound that I needed to air out to find healing. Within the bittersweet aches of rubble that was and is my past, I found family; I found myself.

Janie Kang (she/her pronouns) lives in the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. She writes short stories and poetry as a means of healing herself and others by knowing we are not alone.

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