Lunar New Year is celebrated across many Asian countries including Vietnam, Laos, China, and Singapore. How does it feel celebrating the new year with your family? (If you celebrate at all.)
For me, as a Chinese American, Chinese culture can sometimes feel distant. My family gets together over a large meal to celebrate the new year for good luck and fortune, and happiness and wealth. You know, all the good prosperous wishes. I reply back to them with a slight bow, "Happy New Year" or "Gung Hay Fat Choy" as I receive hong bao (a red envelope) from aunts and uncles. As far as Mandarin goes, wo bu ke yi jianghua. I sit at dinner with my extended family all around me wondering what would happen had I come out to everyone. The New Year is supposed to be a happy occasion and I'm left wondering if my coming out would be celebrated or silenced? What would they say or would my parents tell anyone at all? Will my parents feel ashamed? I can't quite imagine what would happen but I suppose we'll find out when the time comes.
Being part of the Chinatown parade is more than visibility. Don't get me wrong, it gives us huge exposure to the thousands of people who attend. But to see that I am a part of this collective of fellow API LGBT members & allies also reassures me that I'm not alone. This is why SGV LGBTQ Center exists. It provides a local safe space so I can navigate through understanding who I am and how to be comfortable as I am. I write in hopes of reaching others in the community who are going through, or have gone through, a similar journey. It's quite complex growing up in an Asian community and an Asian household as it is for any other ethnic community. For anyone struggling, please reach out to us because we're here to support you. So many great local orgs including API SGV PFLAG exist to provide resources so we can be at peace with some of the things that may be eating us up inside.
Wishing all of you a Happy New Year.
In becoming Camila I’ve learned to see the way that chosen family has played a pivotal role in my development. I recall a moment a year ago when my cousin gave me a red card that said “Camila” for Christmas. With those sweet words embedded through ink on parchment and a beautiful Serafine shade of Anastasia Beverly Hills lipstick, I knew she loved me -- the real me. I fast forward to another moment with an old roommate. She met up with me at a gay club in Pomona and in the parking lot after a night of queer dancing she hands me a red and black reversible leather mask. This beautiful adornment for my face showed me the very way she knows me! I held the mask in my hand and gave her the biggest hug in the world. Her generosity showed me that she knows not only of the woman inside me, but of the artist I’m carving onto this Earth.
I speak of these moments to highlight the way that chosen family has meant a lot to me in my time of returning to myself during 2018. A year ago I was in a car full of amazing friends embarking to the great city of San Francisco. The very Earth knew we were there to share an experience with one another. It is in the moments I share with my family that I learn more about the world. Chosen family for me means more than a friendship -- it means one of family. The same annoyance, blood, sweat, and tears that one would have for their own family.
In my year with the center I’ve seen the way we are carving our own chosen family. Los primos y primas, la tia, the abuelitas and even that uncle who never is married but secretly you know has a whole queer life hidden from the world. The Center is our safe haven. 2018 was the year where we learned more and became more than when we started at the end of 2017. Our chosen family is one that is open to the San Gabriel Valley; with open eyes, hearts, and minds, we share a space to create and engage with our local community. My own experience is filled with love and of fond memories setting up for our large events, lots of laughs, and learning why people should get involved in our local community.
I’m writing about our Chosen Family so that you all can see why we do the work we do. The San Gabriel Valley LGBTQ Community coincides with the energy of the suburbs. The very spaces we inhabit daily that are straight and use heteronormativity as a guideline. The very space we create at The Center is replete with intent, showing our most authentic forms to each other. As a board member, it is my own passion and extreme love for finding the Trans Peer Support Group that keeps me going. The family we are creating is a process in which we speak of our transition. Seeing how every member of the San Gabriel Valley finds their niche (and sometimes love) shows me that the work we are doing is here to stay.
“We are family
I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up ev'rybody and sing” - Sister Sledge
[Chosen Family is a blog series made up of different chosen family stories from our community members in the SGV.]
Chosen family can be a lifeline for those who cut ties with their biological relatives. So when we talk about chosen family, I think a lot of us picture someone who has been completely rejected by and/or estranged from their biological family. While that’s certainly a common experience among queer and trans folks, my personal experience with chosen family doesn’t fall into that category.
I feel extremely lucky to have supportive parents. I grew up in a non-religious, liberal household, and even when I was a kid, queerness was normalized. My parents owned every Indigo Girls record, and when six-year-old me asked what a lesbian was, they had no problem explaining it. I had relatives and close family friends who were gay, and there was never secrecy or shame about it. Because I felt safe enough, I came out as bisexual when I was relatively young, to my mom when I was 13 and to my dad when I was 15. I was never rejected by them or made to feel unsafe or unloved because of my orientation. I still live with my parents for financial reasons, and while we have our differences like any family, we love and care for each other.
My first experience with chosen family is one that is -- somewhat unexpectedly -- shared with my parents. When I was in junior high, I started to hang out with a boy from my grade, Kevin, who lived two blocks away from us. He was adopted, and had three younger siblings, so he didn’t have as much attention from his adoptive mother as he needed. He started spending more and more time at my house, and quickly became part of the family. My mom took to calling him her “faux son,” and he and I referred to each other as siblings. My parents helped him with his homework, took him shopping when he needed clothes, and gave him rides to and from school. My mom was the one to take him to the DMV to get his driver’s license when he was sixteen, and took him to car dealerships to find his first car. We took him with us on family vacations, and he even lived in our guest room for a while. He has a key to our house, and he spends most holidays with us.
Kevin’s been a part of my family for about twelve years now. When people ask if I have siblings, it’s him that I think of first, rather than my two older half sisters who I rarely see. Kevin was in my life long before I had even heard the term “chosen family,” and he’s a big part of the reason why it resonated with me so much when I learned about it.
When I started community college in 2011, I was in a rough place. I was going through a bad breakup, my mental health was at a low point, and I felt very isolated, especially because many of my high school friends had moved away to attend four-year universities. The GSA at my school held a few National Coming Out Day events, and that’s where I met Sara and Tyler, the people who are now my chosen family. We were just acquaintances at first, but somewhere along the line we became best friends. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly when that happened, but I think getting to know them during such a scary, transitional period in my life made us grow together that much faster. They have been my primary support system for seven years, even when I was living 400 miles away for grad school. Sometimes I find it hard to put into words just how much the two of them mean to me. When I’m with them, I’m completely myself, in a way that I rarely show to anyone else, and I can’t picture my life without them.
Like I said before, my parents are very accepting and supportive of me, so it’s not that I needed a chosen family to replace them. However, there are some things that my parents won’t be able to fully understand, not only because of generational differences, but because they’re straight. It helps to know that I always have two other queer people to lean on in those moments, and that’s what chosen family means to me.