By: Lawrence Lam
Growing up in a traditional family in the Far East was like living in the Bible Belt in the U.S. where being adventurous or different was not acceptable. As a male person, I had to set my goal to become a doctor or an engineer or an astronaut. That was why at school I had to excel in mathematics and science because literature and history were for girls. I had to play soccer with the boys and be good at track and field. There was only one life for me to look forward to and that was to get married one day, have children and raise a family.
Everything changed when my female cousins took me to attend their ballet classes. I was allured to a world of graceful movements, fairy tale ballets and the fascination of show business. I gradually found out I was attracted to other male persons even though at that time I did not have any sexual experience or desire. I stared at the priest in ethics classes at school and dreamed of holding his hand for a walk in the garden. I was young and innocent and of course I was a virgin then!
At that time I also started to come across strange experiences. One day a male guest teacher corrected my dance positions in the locker room while I was almost naked. The boy who danced as the prince in the ballet always got flowers from some men after the performances. A choreographer thought my dancing was outstanding and invited me to have a drink with him to see what role was suitable for me in the production. I danced on stage in my white tights and got a bouquet of red roses waiting for me in the changing room. The roses were from an older man.
There was only one known gay bar in town and everyone talked about it like it was a very secretive place. I never went there because the police were said to have raided the place and blacklisted everyone inside. I could never afford to get into trouble with the police because I had an uncle who held a pretty high rank in the police force. Through some friends of my own age I began to socialize with a group of gay older men who had younger live-in boyfriends. I began to be known as “the other woman” among the gay couples and I was invited to many parties. Settling down with a man to live a life of sin was not for me….a thought embedded in me from my days at school.
Thank goodness that my parents were not very old fashioned and by that time in my life they had already emigrated to the U.S. When I finally joined them in New York it was the time when everyone was scared to death with the AIDS epidemic. I remained a celibate for many years until I met a dear friend who happened to be gay too. He gradually introduced me to his circle of friends and I began to accept myself as a gay person. I never thought it was necessary to come out to my parents or my family or anyone because being gay was a very private matter and I did not believe I needed to “advertise” it.
Living in New York City exposed me to the gay culture and gay history. I was never an activist but I began to support gay movements, attend gay gatherings and go to gay parades. I donated money and counselled any young gay man who crossed my path. I understood why group like Act Up needed to be aggressive and why the gay community was fighting with everything it had for acceptance and equal rights. I made a lot of gay friends but unfortunately some died young with AIDS or other complications.
Over the years since the Stonewall riots in 1969, many things have changed in New York. Federal and State governments do not discriminate against anyone based on sexual orientation. Sexual activity between consenting adults was decriminalized in 1980. Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2011. Hate Crime law started to cover the gay community in 2001. Discrimination legal protections were extended to gender identity or expression this year. And so on.
I’m very proud of the achievements we, the gay community, have made through the years. Because of that, life as a gay person is a lot easier these days. There are still many gay-related rights and issues to fight for before we can have complete equality. We need to build a strong foundation for our younger generations to move forward and succeed. I am living in upstate New York now. For me, I’m proud of being a good son, a wonderful brother, a productive worker, a supportive friend, a considerate neighbor, a member of the Rochester community, etc.….who happens to be gay.