I love my parents. Gee, I might even like them despite our multitude of conflicts. Mum is an impeccably dressed social butterfly and Dad is an electric guitar-playing Jimi Hendrix lover. I inherited all of those qualities except I’m more of a social snail than a butterfly.
I was raised in and still live with a strict Filipino Catholic family where my options are straight or straighter. I see them every day and see my family friends regularly. The compartmentalisation required to keep everything at bay is both exhausting and the easier option.
I was raised in and still live with a strict Filipino Catholic family where my options are straight or straighter.
Of course, the idea of ‘closets’ are over-simplistic at best. The features of our queer Asian-Australian closets are always shifting depending on who you’re with and where you are. They come in all shapes and sizes that we’ve customised ourselves, designed for us and by us to fit into the lives we’ve chosen. It is safety, the peace-keeper, the energy-saver. The idea of being estranged from family can be scary, though I know I’ll have to face it, head on. Just not today.
So what do you think your closet looks like? What is it made of, what are its features? Is it a dreamy walk-in or a mystical Narnia-style wardrobe? Here are some helpful DIY tips.
They come in all shapes and sizes that we’ve customised ourselves, designed for us and by us to fit into the lives we’ve chosen.
Translucent veil or bricks?
Straw, sticks, or bricks? How hard does the big bad world have to huff and puff before they blow your house down? This of course depends on your own comfort and the consequences others might throw your way should you express yourself — how much time do you have and who can’t you live without?
Some closets are emergency-only, maybe your immediate family knows but you are under strict instructions to keep it quiet because: think of their reputation. Maybe your only closet is a tent-in-a-tube for when you randomly run into a nosy relative.
The closet I use to hide my queerness through isn’t a castle with a stronghold and moat around it. Instead it looks more like four sheets of translucent veil with a zipper — a flimsy mosquito net to keep homophobic mosquitos at bay. Sometimes it is wild to me that no one in my family circles have figured it out but people don’t see what they don’t want to see.
I make jokes about how my queerness can feel so obvious and how can my family still not know? But the truth is that my closet is probably even more well-guarded, made of a less-penetrable material than I realise when I am around them.
A life in shelves
Are your conflicting feelings in several piles on the floor, growing until it will eventually become too messy for you to close the closet door? Maybe you have those modernist multi-purpose shelves that fold in and out the wall in some sort of highly-evolved queer Asian product design because you’ve spent so much time in there? Or perhaps your thoughts are all folded in plastic tubs that crisply snap shut, out of sight, out of mind? I see your labels on the tubs written in Sharpie directly on the plastic: Mother, Father, Siblings, Religious aunt who gives you the best birthday gifts if only she knew.
My feelings used to be those of the scattered, growing pile sort but these days they are rolled up KonMari-style: mostly accounted for and just where I can see them. Mostly. There are some thoughts I don’t want to see like the times they purposely praise only my earlier (read: less queer) work, hoping to nudge me back towards my less-aggressive apolitical days. A part of me senses they are still waiting for me to return to them like some Prodigal Daughter — and I simply can’t thank u, next that knowledge into the trash even though it will never spark joy. Luckily I’ve got a top shelf to throw things over to. Just above eye-line, emotions remain in careless piles. Out of sight, out of mind.
Circles for work, friends and family
The kind of furniture you’ve got in your closet depends on how long you’ve been in there for and how long you have to stay. You might have several different circles for work, friends, and family that can never intersect. For the lucky ones, maybe it’s just a sweet little chaise for your tired heart to rest while you’re at work or at your uncle’s 60th. For others, it is Mia Thermopolis’ fully-furnished closet in Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement because the closet is your bitch.That closet is even remote controlled! All the more ease to classify your troubles.
I feel lucky to be working in creative industries that allow me to openly express myself but I know not everyone has this luxury. Most of the time I just have a roll-up mat in there for overnight emergencies, perhaps some gummy bears for sustenance. During the Christmas and New Year period, though, it becomes a straight-up luxury resort in there thanks to an endless stream of family gatherings. A one-woman resort with a giant umbrella to protect me from familial rain.
*Real name is not used
This article was edited by Candice Chung, and is part of a series by SBS Life supporting the work of emerging young Asian-Australian writers. Want to be involved? Get in touch with Candice on Twitter @candicechung_