|When one door closes, a closet door opens|
|Articles - Coming Out|
|Written by Pink Dot|
|Thursday, 22 April 2010 14:45|
The feeling of falling into a deep pit is how Yiap Geok Khuan, 67, would describe her state-of-mind when she first received word that her daughter, Eileena Lee, 38, is gay.
The bearer of the news was not Eileena though. It was her younger brother, who decided to call his mother at her office one afternoon, all the way from Australia, where he was studying.
“When I heard what my son had to say, what I felt… is so hard to describe. I was sad. I was angry. It felt as if I was going to fall. I felt guilty. I felt frustrated. And I kept asking myself: Why is life so unfair? Why did god deliver this to me? Why did it have to be me? Why did it have to be my daughter?” she recalled.
Highly distraught, Mdm Yiap began her search for answers. She looked around for information and literature about homosexuality, not quite knowing what it was that she was looking for. She admitted that she was flustered and "in two minds" about the situation. On the one hand, she was hoping to find answers on how she could change Eileena – to make her straight. On the other hand, she knew, deep down, that she may never find the answers she was looking for. This meant that she would eventually have to face up to reality.
During this period, Mdm Yiap did not confront her daughter on what her son had revealed to her. She was not ready for that. She chose avoidance instead. So from 1995 to 2001, Eileena became "invisible" to Mdm Yiap and their relationship turned cold. Mdm Yiap would take a "passive-aggressive" tact when interacting with her daughter, picking on insignificant, minute details to signal her unhappiness.
“I was confused and I may have given Eileena the impression that I didn’t love her then," she said. "That's not true at all, of course. My thoughts at the time were that I didn’t want a daughter like that; I didn’t want a gay daughter. So I avoided her because I needed to escape that reality. On the surface, I appeared very cold, but in my heart, I was always concerned about her,” she said.
All the books that Mdm Yiap had read about homosexuality were of little help. For sure, she received greater clarity on the facts and issues, but none of that knowledge adequately addressed her emotional distress at the time. She remembered reminiscing a lot about simpler moments in the past, where she would dress Eileena in pretty dresses.
“I was quite vain, as a woman, and I cared a lot about looks. I wanted Eileena to be pretty, and she was such a pretty girl when she was younger," Mdm Yiap recalled.
"All through her primary school, Eileena was like any other girl. But when she started secondary school, she became quite rebellious. She was hot-tempered and she didn’t want to talk to me even though I tried very hard to communicate with her. She kept avoiding me and I grew increasingly worried for her. She knew that I loved her femininity but she became a tomboy and stopped wearing skirts. The harder I tried to coax her, the angrier she would be with me."
Desperate to connect with her daughter, Mdm Yiap resorted to spying. She would sneak into Eileena's room, hoping to find a journal or a diary.
Looking back, Mdm Yiap said she spent too much time and energy searching for answers. It was futile because she was never satisfied with whatever it was that she found.
In 2001, after six years of reading and researching, Mdm Yiap confronted her daughter. With a deep breath and a heavy heart, she went to Eileena and asked, "Are you abnormal?"
Eileena's response: "No, I'm very normal."
Half an hour later, she went back to her daughter. This time, she asked, "Are you gay?"
Things did not improve immediately between the two. According to Mdm Yiap, she continued to feel a "knot" in her heart, but their relationship gradually took a turn for the better.
Although Eileena now jokingly refers to that episode as one where she was "dragged out of the closet" by her mother, she admitted that if not that confrontation, she would not have chosen to tell her mother.
"Like a lot of gay people, I had thought that telling the parents was a selfish and hurtful act," Eileena said. "My mother didn't accept it quickly. At the time, she also blamed herself."
Although she had exposed herself to information on homosexuality, Mdm Yiap continued to think that Eileena might have become gay because of something she did or said. "I didn't understand what homosexuality was about. I thought Eileena was gay because she thought being gay was cool. I thought it was through the influence of her friends. I thought that maybe she was just being rebellious."
Eileena did not aim for her mother's acceptance. Instead, she wanted to reconnect with her mother as her honest, authentic self: "When we start to lie, we need other lies to cover up, in order to protect that first lie. Then it all builds up. Soon, your whole life becomes a lie and you lose yourself."
While in the past her words would arouse her mom's suspicion, Eileena's honesty was reassuring for Mdm Yiap. "Eileena helped me to understand who she was. She brought her friends back home, usually large groups of friends, and from the sidelines, I observed them. I realised then that not all gay people were what I had imagined. Not everyone fit into that image that I had in my head. Almost all of them were highly educated and had successful careers. Everyone was polite and kind."
Aside from "spying" on Eileena's friends, Mdm Yiap would also listen in on Eileena's phone conversations. She realised that Eileena was spending a lot of time counselling others. She witnessed how Eileena would go out of her way to help others, sometimes even talking people out of suicidal thoughts. "My observations tell me that she's got a loving and kind heart. Many people could see that. My pastor likes her very much too. And even though Eileena's Buddhist, she would offer to help out at my church," she said.
In 2002, Eileena's father passed away. Shortly after his passing, the family business encountered several serious setbacks. This was a business that Mdm Yiap had painstakingly built from scratch, so it mattered greatly to her. But after a series of lawsuits and losses, she decided to give up the business and retire.
The incident still upsets her, but it also represents a turning point for the way she felt towards Eileena. "Eileena encouraged me to go to church. She persuaded me to talk to my pastor. She even brought me to church. If not for all of that, I believe I might be mentally unsound today," Mdm Yiap said.
For Eileena, that difficult period signalled to her the importance of family. "I never really had a strong relationship with my mom. After my father passed away, we had to learn to live with each other – because we had to. I saw that she was going through a lot of sadness [at the time] and I felt it was necessary for me to support her, because, come to think of it, I spend a lot of time helping people who aren't even family, so why shouldn't I give more to my family?"
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|Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 July 2010 20:10|