June 22, 2010 | by Erwin de Leon
Family ties sometimes fray

I love my family. I look forward to our big, drama-infused Filipino-American parties and the smaller visits around them. Yet, I must confess to anticipating stress and feeling a little dread.

As with any other family, we tend to fall back into our places and roles which can be very different from the person we have become. Among many Asian families, lesbian and gay family members who are not outrightly shunned often remain in the shadows, expected not to talk about their realities and loves.

Growing up during the 1970s and 80s, I always noticed the unmarried aunt or uncle of other clans who took care of ailing elders, children and the shared household. Needless to say, not all were necessarily gay, but as a boy who had yet to understand and embrace his difference, I did get the message that queer family members stay in the margins. I understood that the price for keeping a seat at the very far end of the table is silence and the unquestioned support of those who do not bring shame and produce progeny.

Nobody at our matriarch’s 90th birthday celebration over the weekend would think for a second that I have become one of those subservient uncles shuffling in the background. In the obligatory slide montage presented during the formal reception, a picture of me and my husband was flashed along with family photos of other cousins. My better half, an Episcopal priest, was wrangled by my conservative Catholic aunts into saying a blessing before the dinner. We both hammed it up on the dance floor with other grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I am very fortunate to have a family that allows me to be who I am. But I first made the choice to come out and be proud of my difference. It took many years for most everyone to come to terms with who I am. Although my husband has been woven into our familial fabric, there are those who still have not mentioned — much less congratulated us on — our recent marriage. While I do not doubt their affection for us, I know that some would readily vote against equality thanks to their unquestioned adherence to Catholicism. I am aware that some would rather we don’t flaunt our gay “lifestyle” much as they do their heterosexual one.

The thing is, I refuse to fall into the traditional place and role relegated to queer family members. As I wrote my mom years ago, I knew that she knew I was gay, but if she’d rather not talk about it, then I would respect her choice. However, she should realize while our exchanges would be polite, they would be superficial. She would miss a major part of my life. Thankfully, she chose to take me for who I am. So have my remaining grandparent, aunts, uncles and cousins.

You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

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