“Why I Stay Closeted in Asia”

I’ve been meaning, for quite a while now, to share articles I’ve enjoyed reading—perhaps I’ll post one each week. It doesn’t matter to me so much if it’s a recently published piece, or if it’s already made the rounds but is just new to me; if it left a lasting impression on me, I’d like to pass it on. So here’s something I read late last year, to get started:

“Why I Stay Closeted in Asia”, by Connor Ke Muo

“But Taiwan can’t know about you,” my father said. “We wouldn’t be able to live here anymore.”

“I have no intention of ever moving back,” I said with the thrill of vindictiveness against the island I’d always planned on loving.

“But how about us? Your mother and I?”

And I knew: I could uproot myself, seek my authenticity, self-actualize, self-fulfill, self-assert, change my name, seek all those beautifully selfish things the American Dream offered, but in Asia, the peanut gallery of my relatives held my parents hostage. Mom and dad are too old to move to Maui and start life anew.

*Trigger warning for some homophobic and racist language

A moving, heartfelt memoir about the author somewhat accidentally being outed to his parents by a cousin, and their desperate coping mechanisms as he chooses whether to admit it, or deny it for their sake. This is an essay not only about the struggle to conceal the parts—even the truest ones—of yourself that will hurt the ones you love, but it is also about growing up and realising that Larkin’s prophecy may well be true: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” for “they were fucked up in their turn”.

In addition to the compelling subject matter, this essay is also beautifully written: the tone is controlled without being emotionless; like a strong gesture drawing, the authors’ family members are conveyed in bold yet selective strokes, their actions perhaps engendering more pity (if not a hesitant sympathy) than their words. On occasion, the writing is even infused with a kind of humour—the author’s terribly sad, wry observations of mundane and melodramatic moments alike, as the events unfold, suggest a keen sense of self-awareness and irony. For instance:

We drove straight to the airport after dinner, to send my sister off. My father played “Rainy Night in Georgia” on repeat. It was too much, too tawdry. I’d only heard anyone sigh so often in clumsy short stories. 

As one of the commenters noted, this piece could well be studied in a college English Lit / writing course. But I highly recommend you read it all the way through, and draw your own conclusions. On a final note, while I of course understand the need for anonymity in writing this piece, I found myself wishing that the author had more of a web presence. I’d love to read more of his work, especially seeing as he’s a “writer, comic artist and editor”. But more than that, I sincerely hope he has since found peace, whether with the support of his family, or without.

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