Words by: Jackie Zhou Art by: Mon Ouk
This pair of words, no matter what background you are from, may have elicited some sort of image or reaction from you; perhaps it’s a ‘helicopter mum’, or a pair of harsh and strict parents who disdain the arts and force their poor second-gen immigrant children to become doctors, lawyers or engineers. Maybe it’s the generational trauma passed down each line on the pedigree chart, a theme we have been seeing a lot in our media, depicting the stories of Asian immigrant families and the dynamic between traumatised parents and cultural freedom-seeking children.
Yes, these parents do exist. But the story of my parents is one that Hollywood cannot replicate, because my loving and devoted — but equally conflicting and antithetical — existence with my mother and the rest of the family is much too mundane for the big screen to profit off.
My parents are the kind of people who harbour many traumas from their respective Chinese childhoods, traumas that they will never have the opportunity to heal from. When you live with certain scars for so long, eventually you get used to their existence — and trying to remove them is often more troublesome and painful than just letting them remain.
Despite this, my parents are kind. They cut me fruit slices when I’m upset, and hug me when I cry.
My parents are funny, and they are always the kind of people who find laughter, even if childhood ghosts haunt them every day and night.
My parents are strong, and they have the courage and resolve to persevere through all manners of suffering if it means me and my siblings don’t have to worry about survival like they did.
Most surprisingly, my parents are understanding even when they don’t understand.
“No matter what you choose to do, we will support you. That’s what parents have to do.”
Changing my career dreams from something as definitive as veterinary science to something as vague as the arts required a lot of explaining.
No mum, it’s not like drawing, it’s like… studying how people interact with each other. Yes, there are jobs for it. No, I don’t really know what I want to do after uni. Yes I’m studying journalism, but I don’t want to be a journalist. No, I don’t know what I’m doing. I know you’re worried about me. Thank you for trusting me. I love you too.
Every day, I try to infuse my actions with gratitude for my parents’ sacrifices, which only makes going against some of their beliefs that much more painful, even if I have no control over it. My sexuality, gender identity, career path, tattoos, the way I dye my hair, the hobbies I enjoy — any part of my identity I had the opportunity to explore in a way that they didn’t — are all aspects of my life I can never communicate with them. Their prejudices and principles have made permanent markings, and I’m afraid that exposing them will make me lose them in the future.
Although I now identify as queer and non-binary, I grew up having absolutely no idea who I was or what I liked, or what I wanted to be or who I wanted to hang out with at lunchtime, or what kind of person older me would look like.
My mundane, suburban world perspective changed drastically after graduating high school. Online dating, pandemonious pandemics, self-taught schooling, university life, and being more exposed to different people and ideologies changed who I was and who I thought I’d become. Being forcefully released from the south-eastern suburbs has forced me to reflect on a lot of things about my identity, especially regarding my queer identity.
Growing up in a predominantly white, cis-het environment that silently normalised and perpetuated casual racism, transphobia and gender binaries — all while being raised by a cis-het family who rarely discussed issues surrounding queerness and gender identities — has left indents on my ego that I didn’t even know were there, such as:
- Sharing my pronouns in a jokey tone, because not being taken seriously was something to be expected
- Taking 10 months to share my preferred pronouns with coworkers I trusted and enjoyed talking with, because I just didn’t know how they’d react
- Being overly understanding and forgiving of people who misgender me when I am given none of the same empathy back
- Sharing anecdotes of internalised homophobia with my friends without realising until much later on that it was internalised homophobia
- Being intrigued but terrified of the idea of medically transitioning, especially while living with my parents
- Being absolutely terrified and uncomfortable of coming out to my siblings out of fear of rejection and subsequent resentment
The list will simply continue to grow as I get older, and I will, eventually, have to confront my family about the reality of a lot of my identity and choices. If you haven’t noticed while reading my list above, the common denominator of all my issues is sacrificing my own happiness and self-satisfaction for the comfort of others. But I would not change it for the world, and certainly not for the sake of comfort.
I am eternally grateful for my family, but I am also equally grateful for the support group I have built while shedding my childhood skin and growing into an adult. I will continue growing into my own identity because I know my parents’ hard work and dedication to my survival has permitted me to, and also because I have people I can explore these things with, together.
What a lovely word to describe what gave me hope for the future.Thank you to everyone who continues to help me grow — my biggest hope for our future is to do so together.