In Coming Out, Do Asian Languages Get A Bum Rap?
by Belinda Dronkers-Laureta on May 11th, 2016

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

January 13, 2012

In Coming Out, Do Asian Languages Get A Bum Rap?


Are Asian Languages A Problem?

In peer-reviewed literature, language is often cited as a major obstacle for API LGBTs to come out to their parents: more precisely, the lack of language. Studies find that many Asian languages have a limited vocabulary to discuss sex or sexuality. Specific vocabularies evolve when there is a need for them and because in API cultures sex and sexuality are reluctant subjects of discussion (another research finding), there is no urge to develop a vocabulary. This makes it difficult for API LGBTs to explain to their parents who they are. In a clip from the video There Is No Name For This, a Chinese man explains that if he were to use the Chinese words available to explain that he is gay, his parents would think that he dresses up as a female and prances about on street corners. That is not who he is. Filipinos have a similar problem. It is even difficult to come up with relevant Asian language equivalents for “coming out.”

Are API LGBT People The Only Ones With A Language Problem?

Words are symbols that communicate meaning. Are APIs the only group that doesn’t have an adequate symbol for communicating a gender identity or sexual orientation that is not the norm? When a female comes out to her Caucasian parents and says: “I am lesbian,” do the parents understand the full meaning of the word lesbian or do they associate the term with just the sex act? Testimony seems to point to an association with just the sex act. When priests and reverends rant against LGBT people, they refer to the “unnatural act” which is an “abomination unto the Lord.” Guess what they are thinking and how is it that bearing witness to who you are is an “unnatural act?”

The point we are making is that language is a barrier to coming out for at least the two groups we primarily connect with, APIs and Caucasians, and probably a barrier for everybody else. The nature of the barriers in different languages may differ, some more formidable than others, but they are barriers nevertheless. When API Family Pride is asked to help keep a family together, the effort is to shift the attention of the angry and confused parent from just the sex act to the child and explain that that child is the same person as just before the moment he or she revealed yet another facet of his or her complex personality. It is not easy without an adequate vocabulary in any language.

In America At Least, A Specific Vocabulary Is Being Built

When we first put our workshop material together, we thought it a good idea to put together a vocabulary. We circulated a draft for review and were stunned by the return comments that ranged from correction to our (researched) definitions to brand new words. The word “queer” has several meanings and is a pejorative term for some LGBT people, especially those of an older generation. The word “homosexual” is shunned by those LGBT people under age 50,because of its medical/psychological origins as a pathological condition. “Genderqueer” was a new word for us and is defined as a person who does not identify as, or does not express him- or herself as completely male or female.

In America at least, language is moving to accommodate with words the meaning of an astounding array of manifestations for identity and sexuality that is now being acknowledged. Wittgenstein observed what makes a subject difficult to understand is the contrast between the understanding of the subject and what most people want to see. That is what remains difficult, but at least we know in what direction to search for meaning. In a recent meeting we were asked which personal pronoun we preferred when being addressed. We smiled.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride





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