Thursday, May 25, 2006

True Colors Shining Through


This is a question I got in an email from a long-lost friend. For years we attended church, enjoyed summer camp and endured school together in our rural hometown of 4,500 in Kansas. While we weren't the best of friends, I would still call him a good one.

The above question seems innocent enough but for someone like me, it's a loaded one.
Basically I have three choices a) lie and say no b) say yes and let the person assume it's with someone of the opposite sex c)come out by saying yes and start sharing my story.

I actually avoided the question before by saying "Don't worry- I'm not lonely and I'm doing fine." But then he wrote back and noted I didn't answer the question and posed it again. This email has been in my gmail account for a week now and I can't believe I'm back in this place in my life again.

This queer quandry has to with my ambivalent feelings about my sexuality and fear of rejection. Don't get me wrong, most days I'm proud of the creation God has made in me. But there are days I can't help but absorb messages from the world around me.
"It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,"
"That's so GAY,"
"The purpose of a man is to love a woman..."
"I'm sorry, the 'couple set' only applies to a man and woman couple. Please order something else from the menu."

So then I begin to be ashamed and protect myself from the hurt of possible rejection. Women, in my experience, seem more empathetic. I've also much more willing to present myself as a gay person with foreigners I meet in Korea. Those closest to me make the most daunting audience. Family, close friends, coworkers. They say things like "You aren't the person I knew." or "All this time I thought I knew you and now I don't." "Why didn't you tell me before?"

Honestly, I am ashamed of how I've behaved. I knew all about them and allowed them to know nothing about me. I've been their friend but haven't allowed them to return the favor. More than once, I have pulled away as a pre-emptive measure, if I thought friends (especially straight men) would have problems with my sexuality. More than once I've realized I was wrong to assume that my friends and family wouldn't support me and love me just as much as before. I've learned that I can have actually more in common with straight friends than I have with gay ones.

About month ago, my coworker asked me to take her and two friends to a drag queen show here in Itaewon on the infamous Homo Hill. I agreed with pleasure. Imagine our surprise when we ran into another coworker there! Unfortunately his surprise was more horrified as the first words on his lips were "Please don't tell my girlfriend!" (She's also our coworker.) He repeated this request a half dozen times before he left when the show ended.

Of course we assured him that we wouldn't "out" him because it was his private closet and doing so would inflict harm and pain. On the other hand, our complicit silence affirms that his sexuality is shameful and by extention, my own. And looking at the situation from the poor girl's point of view, she's wasting her time and could definately do better for herself.

So PRIDE doesn't just happen overnight. And I have discovered "COMING-OUT" is also a journey. It's a daily affirmation that I'm a child of God. To quote "God don't make junk." I count. I matter. I make a positive difference in this world.

I guess I better get around to answering that email now. I owe it to the both of us!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Seasons Change With the Scenery

All this month I've been coping with change. We recently moved from Hongdae to an apartment in the Itaewon area. Hopefully we'll be here until we move AGAIN to Toronto!
The issue with change is a combination of a fear of the unknown future and mourning the loss of what you had before. For example, our old neighborhood was up and coming, filled with art and music. We had our bank and grocery store super close and there was a bathhouse (not gay, for families) we really loved. There was a really great gym there as well.
Our new apartment came with only one bedroom and no closets for our many clothes so we had to adjust to that. I have three keys to worry about losing now instead of just one. I have a new route go to work that requires two subway changes instead of one (read here to see why that's a big deal for me!). The new apartment is above a dry cleaners and it's much noisier here than the residential area that we used to live in. And finally the landlord wants us to put our toliet paper in the trash instead of the toliet. So I have to overcome 32 years of habit now!
However with change comes the pleasure of discovery! Our new neighborhood is much more diverse in terms of GIs, Muslims, Africans, English teachers, mixed race couples and "the gays" like us! There are tons more places to go for lunch and dinner. There is a beautiful nearby park on Namsan mountain that we easily walk to. There is a cute little green bus (#3) with a fearless driver that will pick us up and take us to the nearest subway stop (line 6), line 1, Yongsan Electronic Market and Space Nine (Yongsan/KTF Station)! The best is that all our friends come to this area often anyway so we are a 15 minute walk from meeting them for coffee, meals, drinks or dancing!
Our apartment is on the 1st floor which is much more convenient than our old one on the third floor. I don't miss the trashy neighbors with the stupid dogs that would bark every night without fail as I climbed those three flights of stairs! Plus I loved discovering that, every time we open the door of our new apartment , it plays a new little song! Sometimes it's Happy Birthday or Clementine! My challenge is to "Name that Tune" before the door closes and the music ends! My favorite thing now is to come back to my favorite subway station, walk home with a night view of Namsan (Seoul) Tower and then finally get home to my favorite person! See? Change can be good!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Things My Mother Taught Me

I HAD meant to do this Mother's Day post before now! However I just finished reading my cousin's and her mother-in-law's so now it looks like I'm copying them! Oh well. Mother's Day is universal. It belongs to all of us, doesn't it? So without further ado about nothing I give you...


1. My mother taught me HUMOR. I remember Mom telling me funny things her father had said to her as a girl. I also remember her laughing so hard that tears were rolling down her face. She was my first audience and I knew that if I pitched jokes to her and she laughed, I was truly funny. She didn't laugh just to be polite. She laughed at Carol Burnett and the gang. She had me read Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry. Mom was the person who bought an old Smother's Brothers record and told my brother and me "Now THIS is funny boys!" And she was also funny herself often saying things like "We're off! Like a herd of turtles!", "You're going to have fun if it kills you!" and finally "You can't squeeze blood from a turnip!"
2. My mother taught me FRUGALITY. Our house was filled with second-hand things. She would come home from Saturday morning garage sales pulling things out of brown paper bags joyfully exclaiming "You'll NEVER guess what I got!" I would be mortified going to thrift stores with her. She said she preferred to think of herself as "frugal" rather than "cheap."
Now I love all of that! I catch myself carefully considering discarded bits of furniture that I walk by on the street. I hate buying brand new books. I use the phrase "It's new to me" all the time. And finally thrift stores are one of the things I miss most about home.
3. My mother taught me PERSISTANCE. Our house sat on what must have once been a garage dump. We kept finding weird things in the dirt. Anyway Mom managed to take the soil, mix in our food garbage, mulch it with our cut grass and had flower, herb and vegetable gardens! It didn't happen over night and took hours and hours of work. I remember the strawberry patch she put in because I loved strawberries so much. I also remember the trees that came up from the buried garbage- apricots and peaches. The yard was probably the best part of my childhood home. Her flower garden today is spectacular- she has it so that something is blooming no matter what season it is. Whenever I want to give up on something I remember my mother's persistance.
4. My mother taught me TOLERANCE. As a minister's wife, she had to put up with all kinds of people in the community. Some were annoying, some were criminals, some had no social skills, and some were self-righteous pompous judgemental Pharisees. Whenever I complained about spending time with people I didn't enjoy she would remind me that it takes all kinds to make up the world and that one should be cordial regardless of how you feel personally about them. That lesson has really helped me, especially in the workplace.
5. My mother taught me CULTURE. My hometown had very little of this growing up. However my mom was determined we would get as much as we could. We went to any community or school theater production. She sold tickets for the Community Concert Series in our town to get our family season tickets discounted. My brother and I learned to not only sit through trios, quartets and choirs but to actually appreciate them. My mom also encouraged us to learn piano and another instrument. She bought "Hooked On Classics" and I remember my brother and me dancing to it all the time. She took us to the Nelson Art Gallery and showed us her favorite piece (a giant Buddha- to this day I love Buddhist art). And it was her idea to take us to the first real concert of many in my life: the Beach Boys at the Hutchinson State Fair!
6. My mother taught me STRENGTH IN ADVERSITY. There was a time when church members wanted to take our church in a more pentacostal direction. My dad didn't agree and my mom stood with him, even though this meant many left our church and it never really recovered. Even though there was little money, my mom supported my dad and our family. When I look back at my childhood now, I am amazed how much they did with so little. To this day I am leery to borrow money, take out a loan or spend more than I can afford. I remember my mom and how she made our childhood rich and happy.
7. My mother taught me LOVE OF FAMILY. Our vacations were used to renew family ties. I saw my mother try to connect with her relatives too lazy to pick up a phone or write a card. She tracked down aunts, uncles and cousins that had lost touch with the extended family after the death of their linking relative. She encouraged me to make elaborate family trees and passed on the amazing story of our family to my brother and me. It was from Mom that I got my filal piety.
8. My mother taught me to DREAM BIG. My mom left her home on the farm in rural Idaho to study psychology in Kansas (a place she'd never been before) at Ottawa University. Her family had no money and was deeply in debt so she worked three jobs concurrently, got scholarships and studied hard. She was the first person in her family to attain a university degree. For a woman at this time in that part of the country, this was very unusual. Today when I wonder if my own dreams are impossible I think of my mom and her leap of faith.
9. My mother taught me to TAKE A STAND. Our sixth grade got moved to a new classroom. The problem was that they had three classes all in one big long room! Mom was one of the first ones who complained. When my school fired my teacher without due process, she didn't let it go but went to school board meetings and asked uncomfortable questions. When she saw family members making choices she didn't agree with, she was clear and direct with them. I admire her for honestly speaking her mind and not being afraid of conflict, no matter where it may occur. It was this that eventually gave me the courage to come out to my family. Even though I knew it wasn't welcome news, I knew that being honest with them was the ethical choice.
10. My mother taught me to MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE. My mom was active in opposing the federal government's decision to install a nuclear waste dump in our county. The water table in that part of the country is very high and the government had no guarantees that our water wouldn't be contaminated. My mom was also active in the movement against "liquor by the drink" and gambling in our county. She was one of the founders of the organic food coop in our town. These people banded together to buy all natural food wholesale directly from the warehouse in Arkansas because the local grocery stores couldn't or wouldn't offer it.
My brother has definately taken this lesson to heart. He is currently involved in economic and immigration reform.

Of all the teachers in my world, my mom was the best! Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there!