What does the path to manhood require? And what does it take to really become a man? Is it dating women? Is it fulfilling a checklist of tasks or duties? Is one sexual preference considered more manly than another?
There’s no perfect answer to any of these questions. And if we know nothing else, it’s that not only are the questions subjective, but they are heavily reliant on the experiences of the person trying to answer.
So what does all of that mean? That the path to manhood is as unique as the person embarking on the journey. And as Adam shows us, it can be confusing and downright scary, but it can also be a wonderful moment for those you love the most to show you the unconditional power of their love.
My dad was in the Air Force and he was always gone. He even missed the first year of my life because he was deployed. So my concept of masculinity wasn’t necessarily wrapped up in how he acted or even about sports. Instead, it was mainly that a man was someone who supports his family at all costs, which was reinforced from my mother. She often talks about how thankful she is that he sacrificed and always put the family first by being the breadwinner.
Once I was of age, I did everything I could become financially independent at a very young age because that’s what I considered the passage into manhood to be. I moved out to go to college, and once I did that, I decided I wanted to do everything on my own because a man to me was always someone who could take care of himself and was independent.
To everyone else, there were a number of things that made me automatically gay in their eyes: I didn’t seem to be attracted to girls, I wasn’t actively trying to date them, and most importantly, I was Asian, which meant I was already considered feminine to begin with.
It doesn’t always seem like it, but another part of being a man is rooted in your sexuality and attraction to women. That was a challenge for me because I was never thought of as a sexual being. All of my energy was focused on academics, which didn’t give me much room for dating. When I did start to get curious about dating in middle school and even high school, it was always shut down very quickly by my mom who believed at that age I should focus on only one thing: being a student.
And when boys finally learned the word “faggot,” they used it nonstop every chance they could. Suddenly, being called gay or a faggot was the worst thing that could happen, and I was always clocked as a queer kid.
To everyone else, there were a number of things that made me automatically gay in their eyes: I didn’t seem to be attracted to girls, I wasn’t actively trying to date them, and most importantly, I was Asian, which meant I was already considered feminine to begin with. In that sense, I was always a target, and there was little I could do about it.
After high school, I became more aware of my sexuality and identity as a queer male. But it was something that I fought with internally a lot. The biggest fear I had was that all of my childhood bullying would be right. I had to come to terms first with being okay with the fact that no matter what bullying I experienced as a kid, it shouldn’t affect how I live my life as an adult.
As I mentioned, growing up, the worst thing that you could be called was a faggot. But now that I’m older and identify as queer, I’ve pushed myself to separate my identity from the bullying and the slurs from my childhood. Just because I’m queer now doesn’t mean that they were right. They were just bullies. Nothing more, nothing less.
When I finally came out to my family, it was really hard the first year. For my mother, she had to mourn the “death” of the son she thought she would have; the one who would marry a woman, live closer to home, etc. I had to explain myself a lot and dealt a lot with being questioned, asking if I was sure, especially since I’d never tried being with a woman.
But contrary to what one might expect, I never felt ostracized or like my parents didn’t love me. I was never afraid that my sexual orientation would change our relationship, and that’s largely due to my parents.
My mom proved to me way before she knew my sexuality, that even though my own ideas about who I was might change, her love wouldn’t. And that’s something I’ve seen with a lot of other Asian families.
No matter what I was going through or how hard it seemed it was for them to come to terms with my sexuality, they made sure I understood one thing: they would always love me. I was still their son. They simply needed to reintroduce themselves to the person I’d become, and get to know him, instead of obsessing over who they thought I would be.
There’s an interesting assumption that because Asian parents are seen as strict that they would be willing to cut their children off in a moment like that. But that doesn’t mean there would be no room for understanding and growth. When I was younger, I watched a Korean movie called Mother. It’s about a single mother raising her son. When there’s a death in the town, the people automatically blame him because he’s mentally disabled. To protect her falsely accused son, the mother confesses to the murder.
When that happened, I remember my mother pausing the movie and explaining that she didn’t expect anything like that to happen to me, but that if it did, she would do the very same thing. In that moment, she proved to me way before she knew my sexuality, that even though my own ideas about who I was might change, her love wouldn’t. And that’s something I’ve seen with a lot of other Asian families.