43. A song for my family

Both of them

When you have a Scottish mum, she’ll call you her wee boy.

Five years ago, when I was having some issues with my brain and being alive, my sister sent an email that set the tone for everything that’s happened between then and now. In the email she asked if I was gay and wanted to come out to the family.

The email wasn’t completely random. I had been saying a lot of gay things, about falling in love with, and having my heart broken by, men, and keeping it all hidden while juggling a burgeoning career as an Evangelical Christian. It was the kind of question only someone who cares deeply about you can ask.

What struck me most about that email was her absolute certainty that no matter what I had to tell them, my family would understand and support me.

Early on I knew my family was different. We enjoyed spending time together. We seemed to like each other. Contrary to every lesson television tried to teach me, I’d introduce people to my parents early and often. I saw them as another arrow in my quiver of reasons to know me, to be my friend, to love me.

To this day I still feel excited when a new person gets to meet them.

And yet… it never occurred to me I could tell them what I was going through. I didn’t come out to myself until I was in my 40s. Didn’t understand that being queer was something I needed to talk about to release the terrible tension gathered around my heart. I’ve thought many times how my life might have been different if I could have told them how I felt.

And so, since that email, I’ve been talking about it. On podcasts, at company-wide meetings, and currently while co-leading an employee resource group on queer identity. I do it partly for me, and partly to be the thing I never saw growing up: a queer Asian man happy with his life.

I do this from a position of incredible privilege.

If you’re lucky, you have one. A family. Either by blood or, as Rina Sawayama sings, by choice. Rina didn’t coin the term, but she did write and perform the song with Elton John that makes me cry and cry and cry so she gets credit today.

If you’re insanely lucky, you’ll have both. One which has known you longer than you have known yourself. And another by choice, your friends of shared community and identity and circumstance.

I don’t think coming out to my family would have been easy. But I do know they would have been there. They wouldn’t have left me alone with my fear and pain.

I once told a crowded room that the greatest gift my parents ever gave me was raising someone other people like. Same for my sister. I don’t know if that’s a humble brag or just straight up arrogance, but I’ve spent so much of my life not liking myself I’m just going to allow it.

And thanks to my one family, I’ve been blessed with another. People spread across three continents, who will welcome me into their homes, share their food, and grace my life with their presence.

Here’s a song for my family, about families. The ones you’re given and the ones you make. It’s about what happens when you don’t want to live and people won’t let you die. It’s an apology and a declaration and a thank you and a prayer.

A song for my family

Oh mother, please forgive me
I didn't mean to make you cry
Oh father, please believe me
I didn't want to take my life
Nothing lasts forever
there are still the ties that bind
blood is thicker than water
and kin is more than kind

Thoughts can be heavy as a stone
carried in your pocket to the shore
throw them to the crashing waves and foam
or they'll drag you down through the cold

Oh sister can you hear me
news won't ease your weary mind
it's certain life ain't easy
and there's a devil on the line

and he burdens us with wickedness and shame
promises of glory and fame
when all we've ever had was our name
to our kingdom no one can make a claim
cause we're a family

And we won't ever let that sword fall
When they push our backs to the wall
We'll stand side by side ten feet tall
and sing how love overcame it all

No you can't have him that's our boy
You can't take him down to the soil
there's nothing on earth you can own
like loving someone to make a home