A mother's letter to her daughter, on her coming out

Jul 10, 2018

Reproduced with permission from the author. Translated by Sierra Chiao.

My birthday falls on March. The warm spring air and blooming flowers make it the most beautiful season of the year here in Chongqing.

The year was 2008. It was my birthday, and the weather was nice, the day like any other before it. Soaking up the gentle sun, my friends, family and I went to one of Chongqing’s liveliest Western restaurants, as we had done countless times before. With the deeply familiar food and atmosphere, it felt like home; nothing and no one had changed in the slightest.

During a lull in our meal, my daughter pulled out a yellow letter, and said to me, “This is my birthday gift to you, but you can’t look at it now.” I was surprised—when did she learn to be so touching? What did she write? I genuinely couldn’t take the suspense; I had to read it right then. So I quietly rushed to the bathroom. Seeing me, my daughter followed and anxiously monitored the situation from the neighboring stall.

“I can’t believe you’re laughing. You won’t be in a moment.”

The letter began: “To a mother, understanding your child’s true self is the best gift possible.” She and I have always been like friends, so I couldn’t help but laugh. I heard her voice coming from the other stall, “I can’t believe you’re laughing. You won’t be in a moment.”

I continued reading further: “So I want to tell you the truth about me—I am gay.” When I saw those three words “I am gay,” alarm bells went off in my brain, blood rushed to my head, and my mind went blank. Desperately, I tried to hold back my tears, as if my life depended on it.

She carefully accompanied my numb shell back to the table. I don’t remember how I finished that meal. I only remember her and I at the McDonald's, silently sitting across from each other as tears rolled down both of our cheeks. 

The author, with her daughter.
The author, with her daughter. / Photo: PFLAG

It was a sleepless night. The next day I told my daughter that, she’s still so young, how could she know that she was gay? Did she confuse a close friendship for romantic feelings? Was she influenced to feel this way? I said to her: “Don’t declare yourself as gay yet, and don’t get in a relationship for now. Maybe you’ll meet a boy and things will be different.” Truthfully, at the time, I was too stubborn to believe her. I thought that if she waited, she could change.

That year she had just turned 20, and was a sophomore in college. I didn’t tell anyone, and I tried to look for answers. Out of everyone, why did it have to be her who was gay? Did I do something wrong? Was it because I bought her toy cars as a child, when she didn’t like dolls? Did I miss something during her teenage years? For countless nights, I felt so guilty, and visions of my daughter growing up kept replaying in my mind. I scoured the internet for answers, learning everything I could, until finally, I realised that this was a truth that could never change.

When I saw those three words “I am gay,” alarm bells went off in my brain, blood rushed to my head, and my mind went blank. Desperately, I tried to hold back my tears, as if my life depended on it.

In her coming out letter, she had written: “I was never conflicted in my choice to accept my sexuality. I’m proud to be a part of such a small community, and will continue to learn and work hard.” She continued: “Mom, in the future when I have a girlfriend, we’ll visit you.” I read her letter over and over again, and her confidence shone through, along with her decisiveness and refusal to change who she is.

I finally understood. I love my daughter, and I needed to accept her for who she is. She may not be able to change her sexuality, but I can definitely change my perspective.

And so, life returned to normal. I slowly began to tell our family and friends, who remained as true to us as they always were. Fairly soon after, my daughter brought a girl home from college, one who was beautiful, with thick lashes and bright eyes, and wearing a new pink outfit. With a timid voice, the girl called my name out in greeting, and I felt like I was immediately gifted with another child.

Shortly after the two of them graduated and started working, she came out to her own mother, who chose to present her with an ultimatum: Either you cut ties with her, or with me.” And so they were forced to break up. My daughter was 22.

"I held her in my arms as she cried."

A year later my daughter had a new girlfriend, with long cascading hair and a cheerful personality. Their love for each other was plain as day. Worried, I quietly pulled my daughter aside and said: “I don’t want you to get hurt again, so hope you’re serious about this relationship,” to which she assured me: “We love each other. I want to spend the rest of my life with her.”

I would always make dinner and invite them to come over. At night we would sit together on the couch as a family and watch TV.

They moved to Guangzhou together. Rented a small flat, adopted a dog, and lived happily, passing the time by cooking for themselves and doing laundry. Only two years went by, until her girlfriend’s mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Surgery couldn’t fix it. Her last wish was to see her daughter get married, and so, my daughter was forced to break up with her love once again. I held her in my arms as she cried.

I always thought this was painful for her, and wanted her to find someone who was already out. But she responded: “Mom, when two people give their hearts to each other it’s not about whether or not you get hurt. Everyone that I’ve met in life has helped me grow in one way or another. You shouldn’t close yourself off, but instead, calmly face and accept your feelings. And breakups happen for a reason; you just try to be happy for them.” 

I joined PFLAG China (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) a few years ago, and no matter how small an act of public service I perform, I can see my daughter’s approving eyes. She always compliments me, saying: “You’ve really gotten more and more beautiful,” and I always want to say in return, that it’s all because of you.

Every year on my birthday, I take out her yellow letter, with its now worn corners, and read every single word over again. It’s the best gift I’ve ever received.

The author, speaking during a PFLAG gathering in China.
The author, speaking during a PFLAG gathering in China. / Photo: PFLAG
ChongqingLGBTPersonal essayFamilies in China