R Koh shares the agony and conflict he faced when coming to terms with his orientation.
If a growing teenager is a nourishing bud that is ready to bloom, I was probably a bud suffocated by the soil. Now I am a crooked flower, struggling to justify myself.
Only a handful of people are arguably influential in my life. Yet when I was on my way to bloom, they were the soil that suffocated me, in words that they probably didn’t even notice.
‘He will end up with HIV ‘- Dad
On a casual Sunday night, the whole family was relaxing in the living room watching a variety show. Snacks, laughter and lots of fun. Everyone in the family was having fun, even my most rigid father.
Until the host of the variety show introduced a guest. He looked pretty and spoke in a higher pitch than the average guy. For some reason, everyone went silent and we just listen as the host interviewed his guest, talking about a new movie coming up.
“He likes guy, right?” my dad asked.
“Ya, he even has a ‘boyfriend’, I don’t know what’s going on.” My mom ended that line with a dry laugh, no one was laughing except her.
“He will end up with HIV,” my dad casually said, unaware that he’d just said something that would forever haunt his son, sitting by the corner pretending to enjoy his snacks.
Until today, after spending more than a decade judging all the gay guys with a HIV stigma, as a 25-year-old man, I would still engage in sex with my soulmate, fearing I would end up with HIV just like what my dad said.
‘Don’t choose that path’ – Mom
When I was 15, it was the peak of my sexuality crisis. I would spend the rest of my day trying to “convert” myself to become straight. I had my best friend bring me to basketball games and had him teaching me how to chase a girl.
But I would wake up in the middle of the night to watch gay porn and wake up the next morning filled with shame and guilt.
One day, my younger brother went through my browser history and caught me watching gay porn. (I went through my history to erase it myself after that.) Yes, he decided to tell my mom.
My mom sat me down on the table and dropped the question.
I didn’t know how to respond; I said I am not gay.
“Don’t choose that path; it’s wrong,” she said. One sentence she said still shook me until now: “I would rather you choose to become a monk.”
One thing’s for sure, I have too much sexual desire to be a monk.
Early this year when we were watching the news about the legalisation of homosexual marriage in Taiwan, she casually asked how my openly gay close friend was doing. She looked me in the eye and said, “Well, it doesn’t really matter guy or girl … happy – enough already.”
I wonder if she is a safe zone for me to come out, but that still won’t erase what she had said and done to me in the past. That won’t go away.
‘You can be cured’ – Teacher
When I was in high school, we had a teacher who looked pretty and spoke with a higher pitch than the average guy. The kind of guy that would end up with HIV, according to my dad.
We would laugh at him behind his back and even in front of him, because we knew no one was going to stop us, and it was OK to do that to someone like him.
One day after assembly, the discipline teacher kept us in the hall and said there was a talk he wanted us to listen to.
We were in cloud nine simply because we didn’t need to go back to class.
The presenter was a male; I could see a Christian cross hanging from his neck. His topic was sex education. It got us even more excited.
He said the joining together of male and female was natural, but not to be forced. He then introduced intercourse, condoms, and the menstrual cycle to us young teenagers, who were drowning in boiling hormones; we were so electrified.
But he took a turn and went into a different spectrum of love, the kind of love God doesn’t approve – homosexuality. He told us it was unnatural and no one should choose that path. I had visions of my mom.
“If you have feelings towards the same sex, if you think you have feeling towards the same sex, come to me. I have successfully treated a handful of students; I can help you.” the cross-wearing presenter said.
The teacher then took the microphone and said: “Don’t be afraid to seek help when you need to; you can be cured if you want to”. He then asked the presenter how we could contact him.
The presenter announced his phone number over the microphone.
I repeated the number in my mind until I got into class and immediately wrote it down in my notebook. I almost called him.
‘Just be grateful’ – Boyfriend
A decade later, I am discussing LGBTQ activism with my boyfriend in the car. Look how far I have come!
But wait, there is a twist: he is a Christian, and he thinks his God doesn’t approve of our love… how ironic.
The spiritual and religious dilemma he constantly endures has no doubt affected me as well.
But unlike me, he is comfortable with oppression and discrimination.
“Don’t you think everyone deserves the same rights and opportunity?” I ask.
“Yes, but that’s in our law; no one’s going to change it overnight. Why you are so angry?” he answers.
I respond loudly, “Because I don’t want our future generation to suffer the same oppression as I did! Our son, our daughter, if we are lucky enough to have one in the future.”
“OK, but you don’t have to be that angry; just be grateful.”
That line shut me off. I spent too much time having people take away my rights, and now I don’t even have the right to be furious? I remain silent and “OK” slips out from my mouth.
In my mind, I decide to fight for my right, his right, our children’s right. It is even tougher and harder because I am devastated that he feels this way, and I want to give him the rights he truly deserves.
And that was pretty much how I become a crooked flower. I spent a lot of time soaking in my own imagined shame, but now I am definitely not ashamed of myself, not anymore. Though the journey is undoubtedly tough and challenging, I am ready to empower myself and reconcile with my past.
I have a burning passion in my chest to at least do something to save confused children out there like me. I am sure people will never stop saying those kinds of words to our children. But if there is anything I can do, I want to tell them that they are loved, they are normal, they are they and they are enough. A crooked flower is not necessarily the prettiest, but it’s an unbeatable symbol of indestructible survival because no matter what, we will still bloom.
P.S. The teacher in my high school who looked pretty and spoke with a higher pitch than the average guy died in a car accident early this year. I never got a chance to say sorry.
This article is purely a personal sharing by the author and does not necessarily reflect Aliran’s position.