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As some of you know, last year I joined the Coordinating Committee of the Dari Project, a volunteer-led, grassroots organization that develops resources to increase awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ people of Korean descent in Korean American communities. Dari Project seeks to build bridges among Korean American families, social networks, institutions and faith communities by documenting and sharing the life stories of LGBTQ Koreans.
Since its inception in 2006, the Dari Project leadership has dreamed of publishing the first collection of personal narratives of LGBTQ Koreans as a bilingual resource for LGBTQ Koreans and their friends and families, and we're so close to making this dream a reality! We've solicited 27 stories from members of our community, which represent a wide range of experiences, including homo/bi/transphobia in Korean American communities, coming out as an LGBTQ person, building relationships with family, and membership in faith communities.
Thanks to some friends and supporters we’ve been able to get started, but we need your help to publish this collection as a bilingual print resource for our community. Your generous contributions will help edit, translate, design, and print our stories as a book. If we can make our goal of $7000, it will help make this book available for FREE to your friends, families, communities, and people you care about.
While I'm generally wary about oversimplifying stories of race, family, and sexuality, I want to share my own story of coming out to a mixed-race family as one window into understanding the tremendous support and visibility this publication will provide for LGBTQ Korean Americans and our families and why it's so important that this book go into print.
Coming out to a white American father and Korean immigrant mother made me deeply aware of the disparities between resources available to white American parents and immigrant parents as they come to terms with having LGBTQ children. Like many LGBTQ folks, I ran into a wall of fears, anxieties, and misconceptions when I first came out to my parents. My father told me I couldn't have gotten the "gay gene" from him; my mother wailed about moving back to Korea and becoming a Buddhist monk.
Over the years, they've both come a long way, but my father's path has been a far easier one. When I came out, I struggled to help my parents make sense of having a queer child while dealing with my own shit. Coming out is a lot like vomiting continuously. You're trying to make sense of the visceral craziness that comes with your first brush with desire and sexuality while intellectually grappling with the consequences of a queer identity. It's fucking painful, you feel sick all the time, but every time more bile comes up, you feel marginally better and hope that you'll someday feel more in control of yourself again.
While caught in this emotional maelstrom, I tried to do right by my parents. I gave them articles, websites, and books on LGBTQ issues and did my best to answer their questions (how do you know you're gay?; but what about that one girl?; etc). When one of them called with a question, I did my best to walk them through the issue step by step. With my father, it was relatively easy to dispel his misconceptions and expand his understanding of LGBTQ identities and experiences. It was a surprisingly short time from hearing his defensive "you couldn't have gotten the gay gene from me" to getting an e-mail that he'd marched as an ally with his office's LGBTQ employees group at San Diego's Pride Parade. When my mother called, the conversations were more difficult. The vocabulary used on those websites and books was often too esoteric for her and much was misinterpreted or lost in translation. Phone calls spent trying to guide her through them often ended in yelling or tears or months of not speaking.
Trying to help her work through her misconceptions while protecting my own emotional health was challenging. When phone calls ended in tears or shouting, I would be hounded by shame and guilt at my inability to help her and constantly second-guess whether I was being patient enough, supportive enough. During the months we weren't on speaking terms, I worried for her well being constantly. Today, years later, my mother's expressly told me that she accepts my sexuality and is trying to come to terms with it for herself, but, she still struggles, and we still have those tense phone calls more often than I'd like.
I'm often asked if I think my mother's reaction is a Korean cultural thing. I don't think it is. I think it's more a matter of visibility and resources. There are incalculably more LGBTQ stories in the media my father consumes and more openly LGBTQ people in the professional and social spaces he occupies than there are in the Korean American media my mom consumes and the people in her Korean American social circles. There's a huge infrastructure of LGBTQ resources and support groups designed to help people like my father: white, third-generation American, uneducated about LGBTQ experiences, but open-minded. There is no comparable infrastructure of support groups and resources to help parents like my mother: Asian immigrants who speak English as a second language.
A bilingual, culturally relevant publication like the Dari Project collection would have made--and still could make--both her and my life a lot easier when I was coming out. I'm committed to this project because I want to provide Korean Americans who are now coming into LGBTQ identities with stories they can see their lives reflected in and an accessible resource they can share with their families. Dari Project's book will be the first bilingual resource of its kind designed by and for LGBTQ Korean Americans and our families. It will a step towards narrowing that visibility and resource gap that tremendously impacted how my my parents received my coming out. And we're not alone in our efforts. This past summer, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance hosted a summit for parents of LGBTQ children at their second national conference. In New York City, the Asian Pride Project is developing resources to support the families of LGBTQ Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the Korean American mother of a teenage transgender son launched a support group for Asian American and Pacific Islander parents of LGBTQ children this past summer. In Southern California, a group of Korean American families with LGBTQ children began meeting regularly to support each other this past summer.
I hope you will consider donating to support me and the next generation of LGBTQ Korean Americans and their families.
Your generous contributions will go towards the following:
*Full Korean and English translation services
*Editing Korean and English Stories
*Dari Project Marketing
But most importantly, providing your friends, family members and allies with FREE copies of the publication to share.