By Soraya Dean
When Chinese-Canadian author Wayson Choy suffered from a combined asthma/heart attack eight years ago he was put into an induced state of semi-consciousness for 11 days in order to be treated. Four years later, he had another heart attack which resulted in a quadruple bypass.
Throughout his recovery, two families and various friends kept a vigil by his bedside. This experience is the subject of Choy’s inspirational new book Not Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying.
A guest of the Melbourne Writers Festival, the award-winning author, now in his 70s, decided to continue travelling despite his medical history.
“I have four specialists taking care of me and they got together and said ‘go for it’…I’d rather die in the saddle,” he said. “I want to meet my readers. It’s my chance to say, ‘I have something important to share and I want to share it’. ”
Choy’s “something to share” is “a love story written from a gay man’s point of view” about “how important it is to be loved in a way that breaks all the rules.” The book is a tribute to his extended family with whom he lived in their homes, witnessing the growth of their children, his godchildren.
“I share my life with two families and they stood by my side. I wanted to write about what it means to extend the idea of family, which are simply people who love you,” he told the Star. “There are nuclear families made up of man, woman and child but that doesn’t necessarily exist for all people and I’m one of them.”
At times, Choy’s unconventional situation — living with these straight families — was met with suspicion.
“I’m quite open about my sexuality so well-meaning people whose biases came through were concerned. This was 40 or so years ago. But my friends said to themselves, ‘We know Wayson as a person’, and trusted me with their children.”
Growing up in “the dark ages” of the 1950s was challenging for a Chinese boy trying to assimilate into Canadian culture. Studying English literature, rather than living up to cultural expectations to become a doctor or lawyer and provide for his family, was seen as a risk.
Choy’s homosexuality added another level of complexity.
“At that time, where sex was concerned, it was such a taboo situation. Even heterosexuals were not having sex. And, of course I didn’t know what I was going through. I only knew I was attracted to a certain gender but I was very fond of the other gender too, so I got confused,” he said.
“There was no language about sex. I went to university and did psychology, and Freud — the authority at that time — said same-sex attraction was a matter of maturity and adolescents often go through it. They have crushes with the same sex and will grow out of it. So at some point I rationalised it as a phase I’m going through and it will pass.
“I’m now 70 and I’m still waiting for it to pass!”
info: Not Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying is out now.