From living unapologetically to living meaningfully
This is my open letter to someone who once told me that being gay feels like having a medical condition.
Being gay is not a medical condition. At least not since 1973, when the American Psychological Association decreed that homosexuality should not belong in the DSM. But it is not just institutions that have pathologized sexuality; it is also the very people who have raised us since we were born, people who we might think, with the most innocent of hopes, would naturally be on our sides.
Over the weekend, I heard you talk about being closeted to your family. You said that being closeted while living at home is like “having a medical condition, like diabetes.” Something you’ll have to endure quietly, painfully, and silently for the rest of your life.
I see your point. I have lived it. Being closeted is a painful liminal state. It chips away at your joy and sucks the marvel out of everyday life.
But I was troubled to hear gayness be equated to a disease, in possibly the gayest city in the world. Not to mention at a fundraiser intended to celebrate activists in the queer Asian community. I was reminded, then, that metaphor is mindset.
And we have to change our metaphors if we want to change our mindset.
I know it can be hard to come out when you still live with or depend on family, especially if they want nothing to do with you and your “condition.” I don’t deny the potential harm, violence, or abuse you might face. To mentally reframe a challenge, while the ground is shifting under you, might be a luxury for those who have to face this kind of immediate physical suffering.
At the same time, you have to decide whether you want to live your life to the fullest. With honor and dignity, and pleasure and beauty. In order to do that, you must change your mindset, which may even be more important than coming out itself. It goes beyond living unapologetically to living meaningfully.
Changing your mindset might even be more important than coming out itself. It goes beyond living unapologetically to living meaningfully.
Living unapologetically — in a paradoxical way–invokes guilt. Living unapologetically is the opposite of empowering, because it shifts power away from you to your perceived enemies. To be unapologetic is to bow to the gaze and expectation of apology. You can walk around with a banana peel sewn into your hair, living unapologetically, yet still privately wish that non-banana peel-wearing folks apologize to you for their heathen, banana-less gaze.
Living meaningfully, on the other hand, requires being open not only to yourself, but also to others. It views self-definition as a path towards interconnectedness. Being open to others doesn’t mean denying the pain they may cause you. It means seeing them as dynamic, growing beings just as much as you are. As a result, you open up yourself to the possibilities of how to respond—whether on a political, interpersonal, or individual level. This doesn’t mean you “should” come out—there are really no shoulds. I simply propose that the path towards peace starts with a growth mindset.
This isn’t about ignoring political progress. As a queer person, I want to thrive at work, in the places I live, and so on. I don’t want any capabilities denied to me. I want protection from harm and discrimination.
This is rather about reframing a problem so that, from day to day, year to year, we might learn something from the experience.
In cultivating a growth mindset, you start to see the sources of your pain as sources of power and creativity.
Being who you are is a source of power because you understand viscerally what it’s like to be rejected. You have no choice, then, but to learn how to adapt and define yourself. You may do so awkwardly or uncomfortably at first, but define yourself you must.
And being who you are is a source of creativity because you are forced to take risks and reimagine your reality. Even when you start to lose sleep, feel isolated, or are at a loss for resolution, rest assured — you are not broken. A friend of mine once defined pain as weakness leaving the body. It truly is up to you, up to each of us, to decide what this pain leaves in its place.
Not everyone has been gifted such an immense life challenge. Not everyone has to go into the heat of the fire, where your strength is forged, and your fears are transformed. Where any blows you get will only make you stronger.
In making meaning of your setbacks, you are transforming pain into power. You are not merely refusing to wear the clothes someone else picked for you. You are telling them what you want to wear, and wearing it, in the affirmative.
If being gay is a medical condition, I don’t want to be cured. Because I think it’s through this experience that I am able to see beyond the chimera of growth without pain. By reframing our metaphors, we can reframe our mindset. And the ability to reframe any challenge, even the seemingly incurable, is a kind of power that only grows the more we practice it.