I got away with many misdemeanors as a child. When my step-mum didn’t want to buy me that little toy soldier with the parachute, I sneaked it out of the store under my top. I chucked undesirable meals behind the cabinet and denied the mysterious decaying foul smell. I skipped classes at school. I sneaked out to kiss my freckled face Aussie boy just cos I was bored. But nothing prepared my parents for what was to come. During my later years in high-school in Melbourne, I chopped off my hair, dyed it purple, pierced my eyebrow, got a tattoo and a girlfriend.
I didn’t have some grand coming-out speech. I was robbed off my rights thanks to my extremely overtly-concerned boarding house mistress (Read : ‘nosy’) who called my dad to tell him how I was caught in another girl’s room exploiting myself ‘indecently’. I don’t know what angered me more, when I found out she went behind my back or that she had the audacity to charge the $1.99 per minute phone call to my account. Either way, it was an extreme act of betrayal. But of course, being the rational, distant and seemingly emotionally detached father that he was, he waited for my periodic return during my summer break.
Of course I was shocked and denied the facts furiously . I was shocked that Mrs.Fearn-wannen would even dare put forth such accusations without my knowledge! “That’s not true!! I would never!!” Yes I was in denial but more than anything, I felt immense guilt. I felt that I shamed him and that of everything I failed in, nothing could have been worse than a gay daughter. I did the unspeakable in what came most naturally – something I knew for certain I could never change. My father calmed me down, looked me in the eye and for the first and last time, told me something that made me realize how incredibly lucky I am to have a father like him.“Tercia, it’s okay. As a father, what is more important to me is that you are a good person. At the end of the day, you are my daughter and I will love you no matter what. I just want you to be happy. “There were no outbursts or waving of the accusing finger and dancing of the reviving-ancestral-dance with the hollow cries of “What would Ahma sayyyy!! Think of your poor grandma! You were her favorite. You you you…you’re Christian you know?!?!!”None of that.
It must be quite mind-baffling for some to understand how a girl like myself, from a conservative Chinese family headed by a staunch christian patriarch -who was once throned chairman of a prominent local church, could possibly accept a gay child. Trust me. I’m just as flummoxed when I recall what happened some 12 years ago.Naturally, I just sat there in silence, stunned. I plotted all sorts of horrific deaths for Fearnie but secretly, I felt relieved. In actual fact, I would never have had the guts to come out on my own at such a tender age and I suspect, it would have been increasingly difficult to address the topic of my sexuality as I matured into adulthood, simply because I would have felt such a confession would only fuel more distance between my father and I.
Could I really tell him that I was living a double life from him? Would he still give the same comforting and assuring soliloquy?But of course, it wasn’t till years later that he realized his little speech propelled me to walk around with such gay-to-the-wrist-bone-leather-cuff-cum 18 holed Doc Marten pride that would put Elton John’s fanny pack to shame. It took a good few incidents before my father realized it wasn’t a phase and no, having more guy friends didn’t mean I was turning straight. Poor dad must have wished he set a different set of house rules in my early teen years when he said “No boys in the room”. When I joked one day after a 7 course meal binge that I might be pregnant, he had a look of confusion on his face, followed by enlarged dilation of hope in his eyes – like a kidney patient being told that a victim in a 3 car pile up is a consensual organ donor. My misery was his silent glee. Of course he would have rather if I got knocked up with a bastard child than admit to his golfing buddies that his perfectly healthy daughter is not single cos she’s fussy but simply because she prefers….. (it rhymes, you figure).
Despite the fact that he never once used my sexuality against me, I knew that he secretly hoped his incessant prayers would set me right. During meal time prayers when he’d bow his head with his eyes shut …. I’m sure he slipped in the “Oh and please make Tercia like boys” as he’d always turn his gaze at me after uttering “Amen” under his breath, as if his prayer would take immediate affect. Nevertheless, he still flew down to bail me out from being suspended from an elite Christian school, signing and agreement that if I were to be caught in another girl’s room again, I would face immediate expulsion. Poor dad. He must have cursed himself silly for putting up with a rebellious bed-hopping daughter.
My dad has since met all 5 of my ex’s and with each, he has become more accepting. Of course, he doesn’t refer to them as “your girlfriend”. But when I was going through a bad break-up during a family trip to Europe, he sat me down in the hotel lobby and told me not to worry, there are many other girls out there I have yet to meet. And when I called him from Melbourne sobbing over the phone over my heart break, he told me “That’s why. All this ang moh’s are different from you. Different culture and upbringing. Different values. Why don’t you find a nice Chinese girl?”What a loving father. Incredibly narrow-minded in a traditionally chinese ‘Joy Luck Club’ sense and in a “Mulan, you cannot fight a man’s war” kind of way, but loving all the same.Having lived most of my ‘gay years’ abroad in a more accepting and borderline flamboyant skittled rainbow milieu, I have had the opportune and fortune to grow into my own skin. I have developed an assuring sexuality that would see to it that I will always know my rights as a human being and not see my sexuality as something I should be ashamed of, but a part of me that is accepted and embraced by the people closest and dearest to me. Why then, would I ever deny such a big part of who I am?
To many of those who continue to reside in the closet that is Narnia, I understand the fear of rejection and judgment, especially in a conservative society that is Malaysia, where such confessions would only feed criticism, gossip and discrimination – you would be risking your family, your career, your friends and religious stance. I guess this is how my life panned out for me and as much as I wish it could be as easy for many of you, the reality is, as long as you know who you are and love yourself regardless of what others might think of you, you don’t need a gay pride banner and a one man march to Kate Perry’s anthem. It takes more courage continuing this journey and not succumbing to a loveless marriage for the sake of acceptance.
I used to think that its important to accept yourself by announcing yourself (I even made a vow to out every lesbian as a favor) but I have realized that this journey is unique to your own and as much as it is your right to be with the one you want to be with, it is also your right to be the way you are – regardless of sexuality, you have the right to your own privacy. Don’t let anyone shame, pressure and lecture you into doing something you are not yet ready to do. In due time perhaps but always, in your own time.You don’t have to be out to be proud.