4 min

Disguised marriages

And other tall tales from the Far East

I did something mad today. And I am damn proud of it. But to fully comprehend the madness of my action, the story has to begin from the beginning. I came out to my parents when I was 16 years old. My father is Baptist minister at a Chinese Baptist church in Calgary. Enough said about the potential conflict there. Fortunately, my mother wears the pants in the family and she is as tolerant as they come. Other than the fact that she is married to a man, my mother is the dykiest person I know.

Certainly, she was the person who recognized that I may be gay and asked me whether I was. That made things a lot easier for me. Although I didn’t know it at the time, now I realize that this is not a typical scenario in an Asian family. Many of my gay Asian friends have a much more difficult time with coming out issues.

But there is one obstacle to my fully coming out and living with full honesty in the world. I guess everyone has a wall to break down; it is only fair. My wall comes in the form of an uncle. Of all my father’s brothers and sisters, my uncle has done the best for himself. And perhaps because of this he is also the most opinionated of my relatives.

When I decided to come out as a gay man, I talked to my mom about who I should tell. Should I hold a debutante ball, invite all my friends and relatives and announce myself as a homosexual? (That was not really an option since our house did not have a grand staircase à la Gone With The Wind for me to strut down from. If it can’t be done right, why bother doing it at all?) My mother in her wisdom suggested that I tell the people that are important to me and the hell with everyone else. What was important in coming out to anyone at all was maintaining my integrity. She made me promise that I will not lie and that I will not feel ashamed of who I am.

As time went by, people kind of figured it out for themselves. People stopped asking me when I will get married.

Everyone, that is, except my uncle.

You have to appreciate that marriage is a big deal in most Asian cultures. Matrimony is the epitome of familial mores. Who one should marry is discussed ad nauseam from childhood and plans are revised and conferred over and over again. Someone is not considered truly adult until he or she is married. For that reason, there are many presumably grown Asian men and women well into their 30s still living with their parents for as long as they remain unmarried.

Okay, back to me, now. My uncle has this mad idea that he wants to set me up with his wife’s niece-a perfectly pleasant and attractive girl.

But really not my type. I prefer my mate to be a bit more masculine, more hirsute, without the boobs and with, well, you get the picture.

I did the obvious thing-turn him down graciously. “Sorry, Unc, not interested. She is not my type.”

Two years later, he is still at it. Rendezvous disguised as fishing trips, familial dinners and Christmas gatherings. Then come the bribes-promises of financial windfalls to come. (Note to my uncle: incidentally, everyone has a price. By chance you are reading this issue of Xtra West, if the bribe happens to raise up to seven figures, rent the tux and book the church.) Some people just won’t give up.

I am not really sure whether this is a problem Caucasian gay men face routinely. I tend to believe that this is an issue unique to gay men and women of ethnicity. I recently came across a gay Asian website that included personals.

I scrolled through that section and came across several interesting ads. Apparently, numerous gay Asian men are advertising for marriage of convenience. These men are looking for Asian women (lesbians, fag hags, or just really understanding women) to marry them so they will satisfy their family.

Director Ang Lee explored this issue in his 1993 film The Wedding Banquet, in which an Asian man marries an Asian woman to please his Taiwanese parents while his boyfriend hides in the background. Although this film received many awards and accolades, I personally found it very difficult to sit through. Instead of seeing it as a light comedy-which it is-I saw all the characters as sad and tragic people spiralling down to an irreparable despair. And that is painful to watch.

But The Wedding Banquet is a movie. Its characters are fictional. How much sadder and more tragic it is for the real-life gay Asian men who find no other option but to enter a marriage of convenience.

How sad indeed. No one need live in a lie. A lie will eat into the soul. I never appreciate that my parents are the exception rather than the norm. Why do many Asian families have such a difficult time accepting their gay sons and daughters?

Perhaps that is not a fair question. A better question to ask is: why do gay Asian men and women have such a difficult time coming to terms with their sexual orientation? What are we afraid of? Why is the bondage of familial reverence so important that gay Asian men and women are willing to live a lifetime of deceit. Too many questions give me a MSG (matter-so-gloomy) headache. Part of the answer, I believe, is that Asian children are expected to be dutiful and well-behaved and many of these children grow up lacking their own individual identity. One cannot demand respect unless one respects oneself. That, I think, is the bottom line.

Homosexuality and dutifulness are not mutually exclusive. Homosexuality and familial devotion are not mutually exclusive. But living a lie is unacceptable under any circumstances.

Gay Asians and, perhaps others too, need to learn to say, “Who cares?”

“Who gives a shit?”

For anyone out there who may be struggling with this issue, I have but one practical piece of advice to give-be independent and embrace yourself. Yes, that is one advice. You cannot have one without the other.

So my uncle continues to instil in me the virtue of this girl and the advantage of getting married. At 30-something, (I will never tell. I will forever remain 30-something) it is time to settle down, whatever, whatever, blah, blah, blah. The ironic thing is that as much as my uncle promotes the sanctity of marriage as a union of love, he was one of the raucous voices at last year’s courthouse protest against gay marriage organized mainly by Chinese religious groups. (This, by the way, is another amusing story which I will tell in the future.)

So, today I called up my uncle and told him not to bother sneaking meetings with this girl and me. I kiss men, I sleep with men, I have sex with men, I told him.

I did something mad today.

And I am damn proud of it.

*David Lai is an out, proud Asian man.