Mom, the one thing in my life that hurts me the most is not being honest with you.
Exactly one year ago on January 17th, I unexpectedly came out to my mom through a written letter.
For the longest time, before that day, the idea of coming out to my mother made my stomach drop and my throat tighten. So much so, I couldn’t even envision what the process would look like or imagine the words I would say without tears welling up in my eyes.
It all started when my sister began dating her first serious boyfriend. He met my parents and even came over for family dinners. For my household, that was a huge deal. Although it was a straight relationship, it felt like a coming out process in and of itself because romantic relationships were never acknowledged in my family growing up. I was excited to see my parents accept the concept of dating and bringing partners home.
I asked my sister, “So, how does Mom feel about you dating?”
“Actually, she started talking about YOU.”
My heart dropped. “What! What did she say…”
“She knows you’ve been with girls, and she thinks that because you work in San Francisco, you just want to be gay because it’s trendy. She also thinks that if you never left San Jose, you wouldn’t be influenced by all your gay friends to be rebellious. She blames herself for letting you go down that path.”
My heart rate shot up and I was speechless. Everything she thought about me was completely misinformed and inaccurate. While I was not surprised to hear those words, I was in disbelief that my mother would think those things . I felt the urge to confront her about everything right then and there.
I wanted to tell you all of this after I had achieved more success, more income, more stability. But I couldn’t let you sit around feeling like you did something wrong.
When I faced her later that night, nothing came out. I went through the all-too-familiar cycle of emotional turmoil as I tried to find the words. The tension grew inside me for days after I left San Jose and returned to San Francisco. I couldn’t focus on anything but the heavy disappointment I felt knowing that my mother perceived me to be a completely different person than who I actually was. I was ready to reveal the truth.
Later that week, I sat outside my office and for the first time, and put pen to paper to write a letter to my mother. For fifteen minutes, the words flowed and flowed. After spending over six years surrounded by and entrenched in queer activism, I had already had a lot of time to reflect on my identity. I didn’t realize it until then, but I already knew exactly what I wanted to say. My very first draft was my final draft.
I know you have judgements about the way I live my life, but you should know I dedicate my life to being a good daughter, supporting my family, and giving back to the communities I care about.
I asked my friend to translate the two pages into Vietnamese. Because there weren’t enough Vietnamese terms to describe what I wanted to convey, it ended up being three pages. By the end of that week, I went home to San Jose and slipped the letter to my mother during dinner at our local temple. After seven days of extreme anxiety leading up to this point, I begged her not to be mad. She finally peeled the letter off her face and made fleeting eye contact with me.
“I knew all this, and I am proud of you. You’re a good daughter. You should choose to do what you want.”
We both shared a moment of silent tears. I was in disbelief. I don’t think I knew how to even feel relief. I nodded, and after dinner was over, we stayed quiet. I went back to San Francisco and for weeks, we kept our distance.
In the meantime, I narrated my story over and over to my friends, and after the tenth time, I was finally able to feel proud of my mom. I texted her, “Thank you for being the best mother. I love you.”
She texted back: “I read your letter again and I love you more.”
To this day, I smile and sigh a breath of relief whenever I think about that text message.
For me, coming out forced me to articulate my struggles while affirming my mother at the same time. There are millions of immigrants who come to America for a better life. Their ability to raise children, earn income, and achieve American dreams often go unacknowledged. My mother is a Vietnamese refugee woman with limited education and English proficiency – I wanted more than anything for my mom to be proud of the person she raised.
All I can ask for is for you to accept me as I am and trust that I will navigate this world in all the ways you’ve taught me how. Above all I want you to feel that all your struggles in this life have been worth it because you raised a great daughter.
It’s been exactly one year, and we haven’t talked about it since. All I know is, the door is open and I need to trust that she will grow on this journey with me.
You are not only my mom – you are an individual who motivates others and brings happiness to all the spaces you enter. I want to be like you and do something in this world that is meaningful. It’s not making money or buying material things. It’s about making the world a better place. For me, my world would be better if you knew all this.
Tracy was born and raised in San Jose and graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in Media Studies and Ethnic studies. As a student activist, Tracy helped found the first ever “Celebration of Asian Pacific American Womyn” dinner banquet and organized deeply within the Southeast Asian refugee community. Growing up in a refugee household, she inherited an entrepreneurial spirit that keeps creating and hustling. Tracy’s dream is to become a documentary film maker and own a hair salon. She is always down for everything and anything– especially foods, sports, and dialogue. Currently, she is a part of APIQWTC (API Queer Women and Trans Community), on the board of QWOCMAP, and is the Program Coordinator at API Equality – Northern California.