BY BEN CROUSE
Andrew looked out the seventh floor of his high school. It was a peaceful day, until he saw a car that was all too familiar. The car belonged to his boyfriend’s (soon to be ex boyfriend’s) parents. His boyfriend had just told his family he was gay – something Andrew had advised him not to do. Now, he saw their car everywhere he went.
Being home offered no feeling of safety, either. The image of his boyfriend, covered in bruises from a family beating, played in his mind over and over.
“It was terrible,” said Andrew. “I couldn’t sleep for so many days.”
Andrew comes from a conservative town in Asia. He grew up in a culture where being homosexual is an offence for which one can go to prison. He learned to hide his sexuality at a young age, and bury his feelings deep within himself. When the opportunity to study abroad for university came up, Andrew took it, eager to get put the traumatic event behind him. He is more open about his sexuality since coming to Canada for school.
Andrew’s current boyfriend, Craig, is hesitant to come out to others and often hides his sexuality. He grew up in a conservative and Christian household in the same area as Andrew. The couple began dating when they came New Brunswick for university.
“It’s really hard for [Craig] to even talk to anyone about it [being gay]. Until he came to university, no one really knew about it,” said Andrew.
Craig’s siblings know he’s gay, but keep it a secret from their parents. He didn’t tell many people back home, and continued to hide his sexuality when he first arrived to Canada. He would refer to Andrew as his friend rather than his boyfriend in public.
“I was didn’t want to blow his cover. I was a bit uncomfortable because I came here [to Canada] and I was really open,” said Andrew.
Over time, Craig’s hesitation to come out of the closet put a strain on their relationship.
“Sometimes I get really mad about it – I get mad at him. Why am I mad at him? It’s not his fault,” Andrew said.
Andrew has learned to leave the room when Craig Skypes his parents, and that talking to Craig about his family often does more harm than good.
“It’s so hard to talk to him about how it is back home or talk about his parents because I don’t want to make him sad. It’s not sweeping anything under the rug, it’s just not sweeping anything at all and not agitating it.”
Andrew has grown to identify with Craig’s reluctance to tell his parents over time. Past events remind him of how unaccepting people can be back home.
“The good thing about Craig and I’s relationship is although he have all these hardships, I understand him enough. I look through his point of view and say, ‘If I were him, I would be scared too,'” Andrew said.
Fear of coming out exists not just in Asia, but in the western world as well. Elijah Matheson is a co-founder and secretary-treasurer of the Queer and Allied People Society on the St. Thomas University campus. He says that even though Canada and other developed countries are accepting of LBGTQ+ people overall, there are still many people who struggle with coming out.
“I think that Canada ranks pretty far up in the ranks in terms of how accepting we are of queer individuals. It’s crazy to think that Canada legalized gay marriage basically a decade before the US legalized it nationwide. That being said, Canada still has a lot that could be done to help create spaces for queer folks and queer communities,” Matheson said.
Matheson argues that some members of the LGBTQ+ community are “more accepted in mainstream society than others”.
“For example, because of sexism and racism in our society, generally it is more difficult for transgender women of color to be out than transgender men or other members of the community. There are just so many intersections and layers of oppression which make it so complex to come out for some, even in our society,” said Matheson.
Andrew himself still is scared, despite living within the protective borders of Canada – his father doesn’t know he’s gay, and he’s hesitant to tell him. Part of the reason Andrew hasn’t come out to his father is economical. His parents are paying for his education and other expenses.
“I’m scared if I were to come out to my dad he would cut my funds off. It feels like I’m using him for his money, which is shitty. …but he wants me to get this education, so what can I do?”
Andrew plans to tell his father after graduation. Craig will do the same with his parents.
Andrew believes his mother knows he’s gay, but they’ve just never acknowledged it in plain words. Andrew thinks his mother has known for years. Back in Andrew’s home town, boy who had a crush on him went into his home while he was at school. He left a surprise gift for Andrew: rose petals trailing from the doorway to the bed, a stuffed plush animal and a scrap book full of half naked men. It would have been a lovely surprise – if Andrew’s mother hadn’t seen it first.
“She cleaned up the roses on the floor and moved the scrapbook so my dad wouldn’t see.”
She questioned Andrew, and he said he didn’t know if he was or not.
“It seemed like she didn’t want me to be because she was really scared,” Andrew said.
A month beforehand, his cousin had been diagnosed with HIV. Andrew says that his mother was very uninformed on the realities of HIV and AIDS, and assumed that if her son was gay he would without doubt get the disease despite practicing safe sex. This ignorance continues to exist today globally.
“I think that so much hatred is rooted in ignorance and that could be helped with more education and awareness for people of all ages,” said Matheson.
Starting that educational process of acceptance from an early age could reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
“…the biggest thing we can do for the community is to try to keep pushing and expect more than just tolerance. We need to start normalizing queer identities and tell kids from a young age that there are so many diverse ways that they can express themselves. That way, when a kid or young adult starts realizing that they are queer they will not feel so alienated from what is taught as ‘normal’ in the classroom.”
Looking forward, Andrew and Craig recently signed a lease for their first apartment together in the fall. When Craig’s parents come to visit, Andrew has agreed to stay with a friend for a few days. Essentially, he will not be welcome in his own home.
“It makes me a little sad but what can I do about it? I prefer his safety over my emotional being for that period of time,” said Andrew.
Knowing he and Craig won’t be hiding forever fills Andrew with hope for the future.
“I know it’s ending. I expect him to keep his word and I expect me to keep my word when I say I am going to come out to my parents when I’m ready.”
Editor’s note: Some names have been changed to protect the identities of those in this story.