Coming out as pansexual to my grandmother was an extremely important, and I believe, pivotal moment in my life as a queer, Asian young adult. I believe this for many reasons, but there are two specific ones that over shadow the rest.
The first of those is what it meant to me as a Japanese-American woman to feel safe enough and confidant enough in who I was to come out to my grandmother. For the majority of my queer journey up to this point, I was dead set on the fact that I could never tell my grandmother my sexual orientation. No matter the circumstance, I was sure that my grandmother would not understand or approve. No matter the circumstance, there was a great chance of my losing my relationship with her, my strongest tie to my Japanese heritage and her presence in my life as a third parent could be gone forever. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the love between us or isolate myself even more than I already felt from the Japanese community.
As much as my refusal to share my identity with my grandmother was based in my fear of her not loving me anymore, a good portion was also based in how I felt my faux-heterosexuality was essentially tied to my right to my Japanese heritage. I already felt like an imposter for being biracial and I felt that my admission to being attracted to more than just men would give the community more reason to exile me, revoke my membership that I’d come to believe I could only have if my grandmother backed me first. After all, my grandmother was the closest resource I had for my culture and language. Everything that made me feel Japanese I could attribute to her: my round face, olive skin, and almond eyes, my short stature and straight frame, my knowledge of Japanese tradition and lore with her songs and stories, my induction to Japanese pop culture with Studio Ghibli, candies and sweets, cartoons by Sanrio, and watching her Japanese shows on the TV, my love of the Japanese food she’d raised me on, the miso shiru and gyoza that marked my childhood, my interest and grasp of the Japanese language that she’d spoke and sang to me all my life. If she disowned me for this, it would feel like the entire Japanese and Asian community behind her would disown me as well.
When I finally decided to come out as pansexual to my grandma I was twenty. Four years after my official acceptance of the label, I’d gained enough confidence in my intersectionality of identities, enough love and pride for them all, that none of them could be affected by her acceptance or disapproval. My forgiveness and acceptance of my white, Scottish family and heritage had allowed me to discard the shame I felt for being mixed race in the Asian community. My growth and education in my Japanese heritage, history, and language had given me confidence in my identity as a Japanese person that no amount of racial slurs, stereotypes, or discrimination I received from any group of people could shake. My growth and knowledge of my self as a sexually and gender queer person and found footing in the LGBTQ+ community had shed the self hatred and fear of rejection from my mind. As painful as losing my grandmother would be, it would not and could not break me as might have before. I was tired of living behind lies. Being able to do something about that without fear of losing myself in my lost relationship was the most liberating thing I’d felt in my history with my Japanese and queer identities.
The second of the two reasons is absolutely the way my grandmother responded to my coming out. She both met my expectations and surprised me in the best of ways. And by that I mean that her reaction was so explicitly something my grandmother would say and do, but my fear of the worst case scenario had clouded my ability to perceive this outcome over the former.
I saw the opportunity to tell her over a conversation we had started about the recent mass shooting of LGBTQ+ people in Orlando, Florida. The devastation she expressed over the massacre, her clear understanding of the hateful prejudice behind the crime, it allowed me to see her clearer than before.
“I don’t understand why people do that!” I remember her shouting. “Why you got to hurt and kill people just because you disagree? Megan, it does not matter who you love, who I love, it doesn’t matter! Just because you believe doesn’t give you right to take another’s life!”
With her words my perceptions changed. My biases that often allowed me to view her as a stubborn child with an adult’s face and experiences had been pushed aside. Instead of the previously held image I’d had, my view of my grandmother had shifted to that of a women who’d experienced much hardship and shut out many new people and ideas because of it, but was still capable of growth and acceptance of new social norms and ways of thinking. This new image, this new perception of my grandma was a kinder, softer one than I’d met previously. It was one that I was safe with, I could feel it in my stomach and my cheeks.
“You know, it’s kind of scary for people like me, people who like more than just the opposite sex, people like those killed in that club, to be alive right now,” I said. “I’m like them, I like more than just boys, I want to date a girl someday, and it scares me that someone might want to kill me for that.”
My grandmother stared at me for a moment, her bony arms encircling her small legs, a high hum coming from her throat. That hum and the noise of her TV that never got turned off were the only sound in the room for several moments.
“You like girls?” She asked, then gestured to the news on the TV. “Like those people?”
I nodded and she made the same high hum.
“Well you know, Megan,” she said, looking down then back up again. I could feel my heart pounding heavily against my chest. “it does not matter who you love what you believe because you are my granddaughter. You are my first granddaughter and I will love you and take care of you always.”
I felt tears pricking my eyes and my heart slow its pace. I’d cried coming out to each of my parents so far, but this was the first time my tears were from joy.
With my mother I’d cried with frustration and anger at her lack of understanding and patronizing questions. Despite her general acceptance and “I’ll always love you” concluding statements, it’d hurt that she’d had so many concerns and objections. With my father I’d cried with rage, the pain of betrayal, the pain of lost love, and a fear for my livelihood then forward. He’d made me feel like a child running from home who truly had no option of turning back. He’d made me feel like his promises to love and care for me all these years had been out right lies.
But with my grandmother, all I’d felt was an overwhelming happiness from her words. Her straightforward acceptance, her attempt to understand me with out being invasive… I hadn’t been aware of how desperately I’d needed her to respond in this way until she had. With it I felt a tremendous weight lifted off my chest and a surge of love and emotion.
Seeing my watering eyes, my grandmother leaned forward and hugged me. I laughed at how her arms could hardly reach around my shoulders and I scooted closer so to make it easier for her. She patted my back with her bony, knobby, hands and kissed my head.
“I don’t care who you love, Megan. I love you first and that’s what’s important.”
I sniffled and laughed, squeezing her waist in my arms.
“Arigatou gozaimasu, obaachan. Aishite,” I said. “Thank you, grandma. I love you.”
I liked this day a lot. It was cute, I spent the evening with someone I really adore & respect, we looked at art, I had ice cream, and overall, it was super gay lolz. (Also, I took a lot of neat pictures.) <3
there’s this asian american queer tattoo artist that tattoos around oakland/portland/minneapolis and i really like them and want to meet them and i’ve actually never been this in love w a tattoo artist ever
Hello everyone! I’m Treble and I’ve been working on a book for the past six months. The stories are now complete, but I need volunteer models to complete my vision. If you’d like to participate, or know someone who might, please feel free to contact me ! Thank you all !