This article is part of a series of stories on moms across China collected by the GlobalMoms Initiative.
“This is the Trueself Hotline. Do you have anything you would like to discuss?”
“Are you the parent of a gay child?” asks a low baritone voice in standard Mandarin.
“Yes, my son is gay,” I answer.
“Mine too. My son told me that five years ago.” He pauses again and waits for my response.
This was the first time I had ever received a call from a father, as it’s usually mothers who call our hotline.
“How do you feel about your son coming out?” I ask.
“I can’t accept it! I’ve tried everything to change his mind. But five years on, I feel like I’m losing him. Our relationship has collapsed. I’d like to hear how you dealt with it?”
I tell him all about my son’s coming out process and my feelings of fear, guilt, and acceptance. The father finally asks: “Didn’t you ever think about correcting him?” I tell him that it is not a disease to be “corrected”.
It seems he needs more time to process everything. I can totally understand his feelings, because I used to be in the same place.
This phone call pulled my mind back to two years ago, the day when my son came out to me.
It was Feb 14, 2019. My son was going back to Guangzhou after his annual vacation. As usual, we shared a parent-child moment with an after-dinner walk. During our conversation, my son told me a story about a woman who had reconciled with her family members.
Through all her difficulties, I was particularly stung by the phrase “gay son”. I remembered my son watching the gay romance movie “Love of Siam” during his high school graduation vacation. I suddenly couldn’t help asking, “are you gay?” He nodded affirmatively. For a few seconds, my mind went blank.
After a pause, I started crying and repeating, “how can you be gay? You can’t be gay!” In my mind, homosexuals were always associated with promiscuity, crime, and AIDS. How could that be my son?
My son hugged me tightly. After I calmed down, I asked if I had done something wrong during his upbringing to make him gay. He told me homosexuality is natural and not anyone’s fault. “There are about 70 million homosexuals in China. You don’t often see us because we are afraid we won’t be accepted,” my son said.
“How is it that you have the courage to come out?”
“Because I don’t want to lie to you and I want you to know who I am. The young generation nowadays is more tolerant, but discrimination still exists because we are always invisible and can’t represent ourselves.”
That night it was very windy and dark. By the faint light of the street lamp, I tried hard to see my son’s face, but my vision was blurred by tears. The person standing in front of me was no longer a child, but an adult with firm and calm eyes.
We talked a lot about his past, his experience, and his current boyfriend. I can’t believe I never knew his real life before. Finally, I took the decision to respect his choices. “Mom will always support and love you, no matter who you are,” I told him.
The same night, my son recommended a volunteer from Trueself to me. I added her WeChat contact. She told me she experienced the same sadness when her daughter came out in 2008. I kept on weeping. Suddenly a thought crossed my mind — we are the same people.
The volunteer invited me to a WeChat group of parents with gay children in Chongqing. They welcomed me warmly. For most of the year, I remained quiet in the group but made sure to read every message. Most messages were very helpful, whether it was a new member’s cries for help or an old member’s suggestion.
The day before my son returned to Guangzhou, I felt ready to let my husband know. To my surprise, my husband accepted it, although he looked sad and refused to say a word for the next two days. He quietly came to terms with it.
A rainbow cruise
Shortly after that, I saw an event advertised by Trueself called “Rainbow Cruise”, which invited parents and their LGBT children to take a cruise. I immediately forwarded the poster to my husband and persuaded him to join one.
In June 2019, my husband and I headed for Guangzhou with our son to join a Rainbow Cruise.
At the check-in desk, more than 1,000 people were waiting to board, but everything was well organized, thanks to the hard work of volunteers. Their enthusiasm made me feel like I was attending a big gathering of old friends rather than taking a trip with strangers.
When I walked through the long corridor on the ship, I saw rainbow flags hanging on the cabin doors. I wondered what kind of people were celebrating inside each cabin, what they had gone through, and where they would go in the future, all the time remembering that my son was one of them.
I fell into a trance: this boat was Noah’s Ark. On this cruise, our children were able to share a safe space and breathe freely. The sea was calm and inclusive, where people were allowed to speak of all their joys and sorrows, just like all human beings.
We attended a “parents’ corner” every afternoon. One day, I met a couple crying loudly. Their daughter had not come out until the cruise. A volunteer was comforting them. I saw the girl’s eyes thirsting for acceptance, and the fear, despair, and worry on the faces of her parents. I could totally understand their feelings and it broke my heart.
While on board, I went to the corner every afternoon. I started to feel better by walking my own path through other parents’ stories. At the same time, I was fascinated by the spirit of many of the volunteer parents: they were confident, optimistic, and open-minded.
During one session, a mom impressed me with her outspoken personality. She said that since she knew her daughter was a lesbian, she would fight back whenever she heard people speak negatively about homosexuality.
On the last day, volunteers organized everyone to sing the song “Courage” at the closing ceremony: “Love needs the courage to face gossip, and everything becomes meaningful as long as I can receive an affirmative look from you…”
That night, I felt the courage of our children who are out of the closet, and I am proud of them.
My son is my mentor
I did two things after getting home: I became a monthly donor, and submitted an application to become a volunteer for Trueself. I wanted to contribute to this group, just like the volunteers on the cruise.
After becoming a volunteer, I attended the 8th Trueself Training Camp. Attendees were told about the development of China’s LGBT community, the history of the American LGBT movement, and the concept of philanthropy. Every time I attended a a lecture, I would call my son to share my thoughts. He always gave me great suggestions. Unlike being a dominant parent, it felt so good to talk with him as equals. He is my mentor, who opened a new door for me to know the world.
In November 2019, I wrote a letter to the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People’s Congress to suggest the legalization of same-sex marriage during the third review of the Marriage and Family Section of the Civil Code.
Although the suggestion was not adopted, our efforts aroused public attention through media reports, which let more people see this group.
After that, I actively participated in community activities and training, such as holding annual meetings in Chongqing, accompanying new parents through difficulties, answering the Trueself hotline, and attending collaborative leadership training. In one year, I went from being a beneficiary of Trueself’s services to working for them.
It is still a luxury for sexual minorities to be who they are. However, I believe changes can happen if more and more people take action together. By telling our stories and by being visible, we can keep making progress.