The education system in Taiwan is so hideously competitive. When I was in Years 7 to 9 we had to be at school from 7:30am, we’d finish about 6pm for dinner, then we’d go back to the teacher’s house until about 11:30pm. It was unbelievable. You sit through three or four tests a week and if you don’t get 100 percent, depending on the teacher, you’d get strapped on the hand. This wasn’t everyone’s experience, but in the top schools in the top classes, this is how they disciplined kids.
So I was trained to be a little competitor and not to think for myself. When I was 14 I threatened to commit suicide because I didn’t see any way out. This is probably the main reason my parents decided to bring me and my two sisters to Australia. They felt so powerless. They wanted to bring us up somewhere away from that sort of system.
We were a bit na? about Australia. We knew nothing about it. None of us spoke English. Before coming over I knew Olivia Newton-John and the Bee Gees, but we had no idea what to expect. I think it had a lot to do with us not being trained to be independent thinkers, so we came here with really rosy fantasies about what it would be like. I thought we were going to paradise.
I was 15 when we arrived and we lived in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. Dad invested in a factory producing soy bean products. One thing that hit us hard was the prejudice. We weren’t expecting the racism. We had all sorts of problems at school, like being shouted at, people would chuck rubbish at us, all that kind of stuff. Being trained to be such a good competitor, at least I was good at making good grades. So I would always say to myself, Well at least I get good grades, at least we’re business immigrants, at least I’m tall, -“ all these different arbitrary factors that somehow distinguished me from the other refugee classmates. I told myself I was better than them.
Looking back I was aware of my sexuality in high school, but I had never heard the term homosexuality or gay. I was concentrating on studying and working and learning English, so I didn’t really think about it. I didn’t really have time. I found lots of men sexy, but somehow I didn’t take that step to act on my impulses. Part of it was also because my family started going to church, the Seventh Day Adventists. We went really for social contact. Because I do everything 100 percent I threw myself into Bible studies and became a youth leader in the church. The gay issue never came up back then.
I quite enjoyed my time there but in the end I left because I didn’t agree with people claiming it was the only true church of God, that it was holier than everything is. When I left I was about 22, and it was around that time I had my first encounter with a man.
I didn’t start feeling okay about myself until I moved to Germany to study and work in sales. I thought I was going over to explore Europe but I really ended up exploring myself. I came out to my parents when I was 25 and still in Germany and they didn’t take it very well. They wanted me to come back and receive therapy. They wanted me to be cured. Dad told me later he nearly had a heart attack when he found out.
And so started a long journey of being out and being comfortable with myself. I moved home to Melbourne when I was 27 because I really wanted to show them I was the same person. Once in Melbourne I immersed myself in the gay scene, and once again I had the shock of having to deal with racism all over again, this time in the gay community. It caught me off guard and it felt harder to deal with because it was more personal. When you’re discriminated against in terms of sexual attraction, it feels different. When that prejudice comes from your own tribe, it’s more shocking. I certainly believe in everyone having preferences, but it’s about how people express those preferences.
In the end I got a job in management consulting and moved to Sydney. By that point I didn’t want anything to do with the gay community and once I was in a relationship I was kind of away from it all.
When that relationship broke up after five and a half years I was so shocked. We’d had a commitment ceremony and I thought we’d be together for life. Coming out of that relationship I realised I really wanted to embrace my Asian gayness. That’s when I first contacted the Gay Asian Project at ACON, I marched with the Asian Marching Boys, and I started having sex with more Asian guys as well. I used to feel guilty for desiring white boys. I felt like I was betraying my own kind.
In 2003 I started volunteering for the Gay Asian Project. Then a friend from ACON said I should apply for the job of Asian gay men’s educator and community development officer, and I got it. It’s quite a mouthful, so I usually just say Gay Asian Project officer.
On the one hand I wish when I first came out I could have had some support from other Asian gay men. For most of my life I felt really trapped and powerless about being Asian and being gay. On the surface I was outgoing, but this was deeply hidden. But having been through the pain and suffering and all the melodramatic stuff, I’ve come out the other end feeling so much lighter and I’m so grateful for being gay and Asian.
I don’t need this job for money or prestige. I do it because it’s fun and it feels rewarding and fulfilling supporting other Asian gay men. And seeing other gay Asian men really open up and lighten up is very touching and makes it all very worthwhile.
Interview by Myles Wearring