When I first stepped onto Cross Campus, I was enveloped with a sense of inclusivity and a hope that queer identities could be accepted everywhere. Practically, there were more queer people than I’d been around before to explore my sexuality with — apparent from the unusually high number of non-heteronormative couples lounging around. This was a refreshing feeling from the closeted lifestyle back home. In contrast, my first winter break at home was a harrowing experience. Many first year queers can attest to the existential dread that accompanies the realization that you would have to essentially go back “into the closet,” not openly expressing their sexuality and sexual preferences in front of family. The navigation of identities creates a sharp school- vs. -home dichotomy, one that posits school as an inclusive space whereas family as a toxic space. Somewhere along the way, those thoughts can, at times, build internalized hatred towards one’s heritage and an internal conflict of identity.
“Oh, yeah, Asian parents can be really unaccepting of queerness.” The amount of times I’ve heard that non-white cultures are less accepting of queer identities is in all honesty tiring. What these discussions are really implying is that whiteness is more accepting. In the existential dread of returning home as a first year, one can’t help but ask, “What would it have been like if I was in a white family? Would my parents accept me?” In coming to terms with my queerness at Yale, I’ve found it tempting to dismiss home as a close-minded space largely informed by my family’s cultural heritage.
Sure, white families can cultivate homophobic spaces too. But I’ve never heard “white culture” as an argument used to define why home can be so non-inclusive. The language that we often employ to describe Yale’s experiences for queer Asian Americans, and people of color more broadly, clearly makes statements about our homes and cultures. We, as Asian Americans, forget that there are hundreds of years of beautiful queer histories in our own countries. Our Asian histories, through colonization, destruction and ostracization by the West, have been largely forgotten and erased. That is to say, the West is by no means the first frontier of queerness.
As a peer liaison for the Office of LGBTQ+ Resources, I have the incredible opportunity and privilege to talk to first years about their queer experiences. These experiences are largely painted by cultural heritage and upbringing, but also the existential dread of returning home. Our current, queer vocabulary attempts to explain why our families might not be accepting of queerness. However, it might be worthwhile to think about how our own culture provides new ways to explore our queerness. My own Asianness has pushed me to consider androgyny, for example, as a standard of beauty that continues to be upheld by many Asian countries. My Japanese heritage teaches me that “kizuna,” or bonds, are at the center of building and participating in queer communities.
At the end of the day, queerness should never come at the cost of internalized hate towards our own cultures. It’s easy to reduce our parent’s viewpoints as proxies for our culture, when in reality our heritage is so much more than the ability to express queerness at home. If being queer means to constantly “disrupt and subvert” the current state, we should question why so many first years of color go back dreading home. Building a safer queer culture at Yale means finding ways that I can be both Asian and queer without feeling like either identity is being sacrificed. The feeling of having both ethnic and queer identities affirmed is of absolute completeness. Chasing this frontier of queerness, in my opinion, is the worthwhile endeavor that Yale queers should engage in.