Editor’s Note: Matthew was born in 1992 to Chinese immigrants and grew up in the San Gabriel Valley. He is a flight attendant. This is from a Zoom interview of 31 May 2022.

Typical SGV Millennial?

I was born in Montebello in 1992; I’ll be 30 this year. My parents are both immigrants from Taiwan and married here in Los Angeles. My father is older and from Fuzhou, Fujian originally, and my mother is waishengren 外省人, born in Hualien, Taiwan.[1] Actually, my yeye 爺爺was from Hunan and my waipo 外婆 is from Sichuan – both regions of hot spicy cuisine. My father came to the U.S. because his siblings were here already, but my mother was the only family member to come. Mom was like a black sheep. She had a friend here, and she wanted a new adventure.

Like other Taiwan immigrants in the 1980s, both of my parents started in Monterey Park. When my older sister was born, the family lived in a condo in Monterey Park. My paternal grandparents and uncles were also in Monterey Park. When I was born two years later, my family purchased a house in Temple City.[2] My grandparents were supposed to live with us in Temple City but they moved instead to senior citizen housing in Monterey Park for the rest of their lives.

I knew at a very young age that I was attracted to men. This was troublesome for me. I was very engrained in Chinese culture and wanted to be a certain way to make my parents proud. My father was focused on the fact that I was the only son.

“Soaring Teapot Fountain” in the Camellia Square of Temple City is said to be a symbol of peace and good fortune for all.
Photo by Susie Ling.

From a very young age, I tried to stay away from “gay behavior” or “acting in a gay way”. When I was young, I liked to skip. I may have spoken in a flamboyant way. I played with girls. I even painted my nails once. I did not like sports. I wasn’t acting the way family members thought a boy should be acting – and they would say this. There were many people around me saying that it was not okay, it was not right for whatever reason. It made it very difficult. I definitely had family members saying to me, “oh, you are so gay” or “you’re so effeminate”. The message was clear. It just made me go deeper and deeper into the closet.

I have three male cousins. One was two years older than me, one was about ten years older than me, and one was a cousin-friend. Interestingly enough, that cousin-friend is also gay but I didn’t find out till much later. The cousin that was ten years older than me was very masculine and a very male figure. My father and uncles were also masculine – they drank, they did not express their emotions, and they acted very patriarchal. My father loved me, he was just distant.

By the time I was in junior high, I tried to be as straight as possible. I struggled with other issues including my weight. I was bullied about that too. I just felt that I was always disappointing my father. I was constantly seeking his approval and tried to live up to his expectations.

Things changed when I went into puberty. I grew taller and skinnier. My dad was very proud that I had grown into this “man” that he wanted. He would brag about me and that felt good. I still had thoughts of homosexuality, but I wanted to be as straight as possible. I got into tennis. When I was much younger, my dad wanted me to get into basketball, but I really sucked at it. I was decent in tennis, and my father was a really big tennis player. I do love tennis.

For a big part of my youth, AIDS was my crippling fear. I became sexually active in high school; my partners were of mixed ethnic backgrounds. Every time I had a sexual encounter, I would worry that every cough or every sneeze meant that I would die. I was sure I would be HIV positive, and life would be over.

I didn’t know anything about being gay. I didn’t see anything in the media. I knew no one. I knew no gay role models nor see any gay culture. It was never mentioned at school. LGBT history was never mentioned. I spent a lot of my time religiously watching the Food Network – and I am a good chef now. The movie Brokeback Mountain (2005) was very good for me, but I didn’t watch it until I was older.

At that time, I thought being gay was an abomination and a terrible thing. I fought really hard to suppress my homosexuality. While there were people in our high school that people suspected were gay, nobody was officially out.

A lot of my generation first came out as bisexual, and I did that too. I told my friends and my sister that I was bisexual. I guess I was testing the waters. I would pursue things with girls and try to be straight. My sister said something like, “Well, as long as you are not gay.” We were close, and she was fearful for me if I were gay. She worried about my future.

I came out to my mother on my eighteenth birthday. I came out to everyone about the same time. I didn’t really plan this. I was really sad. I bought myself a cupcake and a candle. I was thinking about my life and how I wanted to live authentically. I was willing to sacrifice everything. I didn’t mind if I lost my family ties, but I wanted to be myself. I was crying on the couch. My sister found me, and I told her I was gay. She was very accepting, and it was a very beautiful moment.

Another factor was that I have an interesting aunt who considers herself a psychic. When I was young, she predicted to the whole family that I would be gay and that I would kill myself. When I did come out to my mother, Mom took it really hard. It was difficult for her. My mother thought if my aunt was right about me being gay, then my aunt would be right about me killing myself.

I then went to find my mother. I pulled her in the car, and I was crying and crying. My mother said, “What happened? What’s going on?” I told her I was gay. She started crying. She remembered my aunt’s prediction of suicide.

I then came out to my friends – but only the girls. I could not tell my male friends as I was sure they thought what I did: that being gay was weird and disgusting. I didn’t really have close guy friends then. I had wanted to be with them, but it just never worked out. Maybe I was too flamboyant, and I certainly wasn’t into sports. I don’t think I ever directly told my male friends that I am gay.

I never directly told my dad. I made my mom tell him. My dad gave me an ultimatum. He gave me a year to be straight. If that didn’t happen, he was going to return to Taiwan, and I would never see him again. But at that time, he was starting to get sick. He would deteriorate and died a few years ago in Temple City.

In 2022, Temple City High School in the San Gabriel Valley serves 1900 students who are 69% Asian, 21% Latinx, and 6% White. Photo by Susie Ling.

I’m Chinese and I’m Gay

Today, I am very comfortable with my sexual identity. A lot has changed. My coming out pushed my mom to change and come out of the dark. My mom and I are now much closer. My mom talked to friends and family who helped educate her. It was a slow process, and it is probably still going on. My mom might still say something once in a while that would rub me the wrong way. I’m very proud of my mother as she has pushed herself very far. She’s even told her family in Taiwan that I’m gay. I married when I was 28 years of age, and my mother adores my husband.

In my 20’s, I did a lot of learning. I got into a relationship with someone in San Francisco; he was much more of an LGBT advocate. I read about Harvey Milk and Stonewall.[3] Knowing the history makes me more self-confident. I feel if I had known this information at an earlier age, I would have come out earlier or at least feel more comfortable with myself.

I’m very Chinese. You can’t take the Chinese heritage out of me. The culture and attachment to the values is very big part of me; it is very strong. My husband is from Cyprus and what’s so beautiful is that we have so much to share with each other. We are both very culturally engrained.

I’m not politically active. It’s not me. Actually, my partner is more of an advocate. Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley is very different from being in the Westside. SGV is super Asian, and most parents of my peers are immigrants. The Asian American identity was very strong, but the LGBTQIA awareness wasn’t there. I remember Proposition 8 in 2008 that [temporarily] banned gay marriage. Most of the other kids were very against gay marriage. The Chinese American community was boisterously anti-gay. But I’m not sure it would have been different if my family lived somewhere else. Even in the 1990s and early 2000s, social media and culture was pro-Asian American identity but it wasn’t pro-LGBT identity. I have tons of gay friends now from my work as a flight attendant, but none that are from my high school community.

I wish I could’ve been more proud of who I am at a younger age. But for Chinese millennial gays that grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, it was not an easy journey.

[1] Waishengren or “person from outside the province” mostly migrated to Taiwan after the 1949 Chinese Revolution. They mostly speak Mandarin instead of the native Taiwanese dialect. Including descendants born in Taiwan, about 12% of Taiwan are waishengren.

[2] Temple City grew heavily Chinese American at this time. In 1990, Temple City had a population of 31,000 of which 20% were of Asian descent. About half of the Asian Americans were of Chinese descent. According to the 2020 census, Temple City has a population of 36,000 with 64% of Asian descent.

[3] Supervisor Harvey Milk was an openly gay leader in San Francisco, killed in 1978. The 1969 Stonewall Riots in Lower Manhattan, New York City, are viewed as the watershed event that transformed the gay liberation movement and the fight for LGBT rights in the U.S.