Barbara Streisand’s son, Jason Gould, is gay. Streisand has become a kind of role model parent who stands up for the dignity and rights of gay sons and daughters. Here are two quotes from the Advocate magazine, August 17, 1999:
“I would never wish for my son to be anything but what he is. He is bright, kind, sensitive, caring, and a very conscientious and good person. He is a very gifted actor and filmmaker. What more could a parent ask for in their child? I have been truly blessed. Most parents feel that their child is particularly special, and I am no different. I have a wonderful son. My only wish for my son, Jason, is that he continues to experience a rich life of love, happiness, joy, and fulfillment, both creatively and personally.”
— Barbara Streisand to the Advocate, Aug 17.
“Nobody on this earth has the right to tell anyone that their love for another human being is morally wrong. I will never forget how it made me shudder to hear Pat Buchanan say that he stood ‘with George Bush against the immoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same standing in law as married men and women.’ Who is Pat Buchanan to pronounce anyone’s love invalid? How can he deny the profound love felt by one human being for another? … Unfortunately, however, as long as people like Newt Gingrich and Pat Buchanan continue in public life, the fight to codify gay marriages will be a tough battle to win.”
— Barbara Streisand to the Advocate, Aug 17.
Here is the son’s view:
“My parents are very supportive of me. God, I generally don’t like to go into personal issues, I’m pretty private. I was never in the closet, anyway, but I think that, within a family that’s heterosexual, you’re always going to be an outsider if you’re gay. I don’t think it’s easy to grow up gay anywhere, especially with the amount of fear and uncomfortableness that surrounds sexuality, let alone homosexuality. It’s painful. But I think we’ve made some big strides now, we don’t have to apologize for being gay. I believe we were created this way by God.”
— Jason Gould, to London’s Gay Times, July 1997.
Cher’s daughter, Chastity Bono, is gay. And there are more, but it is not the purpose of this article to enumerate examples.
One of the unfortunate effects of heavy Western representation in the media is that it is the Western voices we hear. Not only do some people think, as a result, that gayness is a Western phenomenon, but many gay Asians think that parental acceptance is also a Western phenomenon. Gay Asians read Western gay magazines, such as Out and the Advocate, and in their pages, they see interviews with famous personalities such as Barbara Streisand. There are hardly any gay Asian magazines that rise to the same level of journalism, carrying interviews with Asian parents. From this absence of voice, comes the belief that Asian families will never be able to accept homosexual sons and daughters to the same degree. Tolerate maybe, but stand up for them? Never!
Chinese parents and siblings
But now, there is a groundbreaking book. It’s a slim one, but wedges that drive cracks apart are slim.
In 1993, a group called MAPLBN (Mandarin Asian Pacific Lesbian/Bisexual Network) was formed in San Francisco. It brought together women who were immigrants or children of immigrants from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South East Asia. As an outcome of their discussions, they conceived of publishing a book, comprising letters written by their parents and siblings. The book Beloved Daughter (ai nu in Chinese) is the fruit of this courageous idea.
The book is bilingual, English and Chinese, and contains 4 letters from mothers, 7 from fathers and 3 from siblings.
Some of the parents spoke about how they first suspected their daughters were gay:
“… at my daughter’s graduation in the summer of 1985, I noticed changes in her and her close relationship with her housemate. I think deep in my heart I knew then, but I just let it ride, as she didn’t say anything. And in part of my mind, I hoped that it was only a passing phase that many young people go through as he or she grows up.”
— a mother from Sarawak, Malaysia
And how it hit them when they first knew:
“I remember vividly when our daughter came out to us as a lesbian during her freshman year in college. We were very shocked and terrified as if the sky was going to fall. We thought she was “influenced” by the school environment and we didn’t know what to do. We thought about sending her back to Taiwan.
“She told us about her personal struggle and that she had sought help in school. My wife and I wept countless tears as did our daughter and suffered nightmares during this phase. We worried about the hard life our daughter would experience as a lesbian in this society and feared she would be ostracized.
“We tried in many ways to change her, and persuade her; we even urged her to see a psychologist. She stood firm on her sexual identity despite our efforts to change her. On the contrary, she tried to persuade us to acknowledge and understand her. This period of adjustment was indescribably painful for all of us!”
— Zhong Cheun Chen, a father.
“Hearing her admission, I felt shocked and temporarily at a loss. I hurriedly stated that her happiness was more important. I told her I did not mind whether her choice would be a man or a woman. At the time, I was actually quite confused. I was pleased she wanted to share her feelings with me. But I also never imagined my guess would be correct. I also felt sad that she had been carrying her secret along for so many years without her family’s support. I can only imagine the pressure and isolation she must feel as a lesbian living in a heterosexual society. I worried about the difficulties she will face and our parents’ reaction when they find out.
“Finally I could no longer hold back the tears and I began crying with my sister over the phone.
“I felt a sudden desire to join forces with her in her struggle. I know for this society to accept and respect homosexuality, a lengthy struggle will be necessary. Regardless whether she is straight or lesbian, at the very least she is still the oldest sister who has the respect of her younger siblings.”
— Juliet, a sister
“Every parent of a lesbian or gay child will experience their own ‘coming out’ process. My own emotional struggles, however, were not very turbulent. This probably is because, by nature, I am an easy-going, non-traditional person. Once my mind is calm, I can resolve most problems. I think when many parents discover their daughter’s lesbianism, they not only need to deal with their own feelings of shock and ambivalence, but they also have to deal with concerns of ‘face’. They may feel too ashamed to face their friends, neighbors and relatives, as if the world has come to an end.
“My daughter’s lesbianism is not an intentional act of rebellion. As a parent, as long as I know I have done the best job I could, other people and their opinions cannot affect me. Therefore, is it more important that my daughter lives with a clear conscience or worry about other people’s gossip? Do I want my daughter to feel proud of herself, or do I want her to hide behind a mask? To support her or to put pressure on her? If we make life difficult for her, then we all lose out. My daughter is still my daughter. How is it possible then, that between knowing and not knowing, our world might be turned upside down?”
— Ann-Mei’s mother.
“Our sexual orientation, whether homosexual or heterosexual is just a natural fact. It is therefore unnecessary to put more significance on one or the other.
“In regards to my views on homosexuality, I have given it a lot of thought and am still processing it. I do not agree with the traditional view of discrimination against gays and lesbians. I believe that homosexuals have long existed throughout history. It is because of these tradition [sic] views that gays and lesbians are afraid to come out. With current advances in science, we have gained more understanding of living things. Additionally, we have changed our views on sexuality.”
— Eunice’s father
“… as I learned more about the Chinese history leading to the Chinese revolution in 1949 and also changes in Chinese society since 1949, I came to reject the Confucius philosophy in the Chinese culture. The Confucius philosophy is deeply rooted in the Chinese feudal society, which is based on patriarchy. This philosophy propagates the idea that intellectuals are superior people and they should rule, and those who do physical labor are inferior and they should be ruled. It believes women are less than wholly human and they lack moral character. I was so excited to see women and men in China rose up [sic] and challenge these old and outdated ideas from below ….
“The reason I said so much about my own transformation is that if I had not changed my values, I would have had a difficult time accepting Dao-liang’s sexual orientation….
“… as I learned more about homosexuality, my level of understanding and consciousness have been raised. More importantly, I no longer look at issues concerning gay and lesbian as an onlooker, they became close and personal. I feel the pain when someone is treated unfairly because of his/her sexual orientation.”
— Ching Pao-yu, a mother.
For every gay person in this world, there are four, six or even eight family members, whose lives can be traumatised by prevailing attitudes against homosexuality. Fathers and mothers especially, have to go through a similar process of self-acceptance and coming out, otherwise they live with guilt, shame, and truncated emotions. If you add up the numbers, discrimination against sexual minorities is a widespread problem — one of the most pervasive forms of discrimination today.
Yet in Singapore and most Asian countries, there are no helplines, no support groups, virtually no information resources (particularly in local languages), for family members. No air to breathe in societies that prefer to suffocate all mention of homosexuality. Societies that would rather denial and hate than honesty and fairness.
Here are a few lines by a sibling. From the language, I reckon it’s a brother:
“Denial, guilt, hate and anger —
each one is a waste of emotion
Youthful sister, daughter, friend, lover, boss, not just a dyke —
her roles are many
Kites by the dozen you may go fly
if, my sister, as a person, you deny”