I will be voting ‘yes’ in the upcoming postal vote on legislating same-sex marriage in Australia, because love is love and I believe no-one should be allowed to tell anyone else who they can or cannot marry.
I am a straight cisgender woman of Malaysian-Chinese descent. I was born in Australia to Christian parents. I was raised (I now prefer to use the term ‘indoctrinated’) in the Christian faith. I went to a Chinese Christian church for the entirety of my childhood, and my parents still think I am Christian.
Meanwhile, my parents will not able to vote at all. They aren’t citizens, just permanent residents – and this is by choice. But I am glad they can’t vote because I know they would vote ‘no’. They would vote no because they believe that’s what the Bible says: no to same-sex marriage.
It is this type of cultural attitude that makes it exceedingly difficult for me to talk to them about anything we might disagree on – and this includes the topic of same-sex marriage.
I have gone through long periods of time where I haven’t gotten along with my parents. I moved out of home because being in that family environment was extremely detrimental to my mental health. I felt they were too controlling, and unwilling to hear me out, even when I had logical, well thought out arguments. Even though I’m an adult in every sense of the word, my parents still see me as a child, and treat me accordingly.
I don’t feel like I could ever speak against them to their faces, and I am pretty sure this feeling will stay with me for the rest of my life. But it is this type of cultural attitude that makes it exceedingly difficult for me to talk to them about anything we might disagree on – and this includes the topic of same-sex marriage.
When it comes down to it, I don’t think my parents are bad people. I don’t think they truly comprehend the damage they do when they are casually homophobic. But I also know they will use every trick in the Chinese-family-guilt handbook to escape criticism from anyone – but especially their children – over any of their beliefs.
They can be stubborn, especially when it comes to their faith, and I learned from a young age that it wasn’t worth risking my mental (and sometimes physical) wellbeing just to try to change their minds to agree with my own point of view.
When it comes down to it, I don’t think my parents are bad people. I don’t think they truly comprehend the damage they do when they are casually homophobic.
This may be a common feeling for many children of Chinese (let alone Chinese Christian) parents who I know and have spoken to. One such woman, Emily*, who identifies as LGBTQI+, and who has not yet come out to her family, tells SBS “my mother, father, brother, and sister will all vote no. And that makes me really sad”.
Another, Sally*, echoes her sentiments. “My parents don’t know I’m gay,” she says in an interview. “And I know they’ll be voting no. I know they think they’re doing the right thing by the bible, but I’m in this awkward position where I don’t know how to talk to them about it without outing myself. It’s painful.”
So if this is a prominent feeling throughout the Chinese-Australian LGBTI+ community, as these two interviewees believe, why aren’t we hearing more about it?
"I know they think they’re doing the right thing by the bible, but I’m in this awkward position where I don’t know how to talk to them about it without outing myself. It’s painful.”
Perhaps it comes down to representation. Sean Lau notes that “the decline for Australian-born Chinese [between 2011 and 2016] was still notably faster than for Australians claiming Australian or European descent, especially between the ages of 16 and 26”.
But analysis of data from the 2016 census shows that 23 per cent of people in Australia are of Chinese descent (or roughly 267,000 people) still identify as Christian.
Maybe they don’t all yell as loudly as some of the more public ‘no’ advocates but there is a possibility that a percentage of this group could share my parent’s same belief – that same-sex marriage is wrong. And ignoring this community could be potentially damaging for the yes campaign.
Why do people in the Chinese community have to agree anyway?
A culture steeped in filial piety means that it is difficult for children who identify as straight to discuss such issues with their parents, never mind those who identify as LGBTQI+.
I don’t have any useful suggestions on how to engage with people like my parents – and for that, I am truly sorry. I do, however, want to push us to start having these difficult conversations on potentially controversial issues with those who belong to religious ethnic minority groups opposing same-sex marriage. I want these conversations led by those who belong to (or have family that belong to) such groups.
An understanding of and empathy for such complexities will assist the 'Yes' campaign in targeting their approaches, and will make better allies of those of us who identify as straight.
The Chinese community – let alone the Chinese Christian community – is multi-layered and complex. It is a space where tradition is sacred and can sometimes trump logic, where my parents still follow some Chinese superstitions despite their Christian faith. An understanding of and empathy for such complexities will assist the 'Yes' campaign in targeting their approaches, and will make better allies of those of us who identify as straight.
I know I won’t be able to talk to my own parents about their homophobia, but I may be able to talk to Sally’s parents. We have a long way to go – let’s make sure we start off on the right foot.
Note: author's name has been changed for privacy reasons.