Taiwan mother of transsexual man helps mainland parents learn to accept their kids

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-24 5:03:01

"Mama Kuo" speaks at a gay rights conference in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, in 2014. Photo: Courtesy of Ah Shan

Not many people know the real name of "Mama Kuo." She has not been referred to by her real name for 11 years now. But she is respected just the same, and has a strong influence over many young people.

Since 2004, Kuo has been working with the LGBT community in Taiwan, giving parents and  their children advice on how to make peace with each other after the children come out of the closet.

Recently, she decided to bring her "classes" to the Chinese mainland.

Training course

When working with parents and children in Taiwan, Kuo uses a system derived from her own experience.

Kuo's child came out to her as a transsexual man in 2001, when he was 15. He was assigned female at birth, but he had known he liked girls and wanted to be a man since the age of 6, and had gone through a painful struggle with his gender identity and orientation and had been afraid to tell Kuo about it.

In her "lessons," Kuo says it is especially important that parents and children try to communicate with each other and get closer, in order to build the foundation for having a serious talk about the issue.

She recommends that the children also prepare themselves to tell their parents all about how they discovered their sexual orientation.

"When parents hear their children's stories, they will understand how much they have struggled and how they've become who they are, and won't instantly blame their teachers or friends for 'leading them onto the wrong path,'" she said.

Like most Chinese parents, Kuo's acceptance of her child wasn't immediate. She had a hard time and struggled with it for over three years, then eventually tried to find information about the LGBT community online.

But when she finally accepted her son and  started talking to him about the years he had spent denying his identity, Kuo was shattered to find out about the many things he had to face alone. He had been called a "pervert" in school, teachers had asked him to wear skirts instead of dressing like a boy and people had felt uncomfortable when he walked into men's bathrooms.

She used this experience to try to convince other parents to accept their children.

In one of her classes, a father who found out his son was gay became very agitated and started yelling. But Kuo calmed him down quickly, saying, "You can't be like this, because who's going to help your son now?"

The father immediately became quiet, and asked what he could do.

Initially, he thought there was some kind of treatment that could "cure" his son. But after Kuo explained that this wasn't something that could be cured, but that he could help his son by understanding him and shielding him from others' slander, he slowly came around.

Her class has gained a good reputation because of the high number of parents who learned to accept their children after attending them. Kuo estimated that 80 percent of parents who attend her classes have improved relations with their children.

Across the Straits

Kuo met with parents and children from LGBT NGO Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) last year when she came to Guangdong Province. This year, she attempted to hold an online "tutorial" session in March, but due to connection problems across the Taiwan Straits, the online session became a filming session, and three episodes of "Mama Kuo teaches you how to come out to your parents" were released on Weibo and PFLAG's WeChat account last week.

She learned from the people she met on the mainland, however, that coming out to one's parents on the mainland involves more work than it does in Taiwan.

One major difference is that on the mainland, parents want nothing more than for their children to get married and have kids. Facing such pressure, many gay people choose to deny their orientation all their lives and enter into sham marriages just to get their parents off their backs.

"In Taiwan, we seldom see gay men and women married to each other," she said.

Some gay people have confessed to Kuo that because their parents are pushing so hard for them to get married, they either enter fake marriages, or just cut communication with their parents for good. But Kuo doesn't recommend such methods.

"They need to understand what marriage is," she said. "It's not just putting on a show in front of your parents. It's a lifetime deal."

Another issue is that the mainland is much bigger than Taiwan, where one can travel from one end to the other in a couple of hours.

Some people, in order to avoid talking with their parents, work far away from home and don't contact them.

Cui Yu, 17, is in the exact situation that Kuo describes. He had kept his sexuality a secret for many years and avoided discussing the issue with his parents, until they started pressuring him to get married.

When he was set up on a blind date with a woman, he told her he was gay and asked her to keep it secret, but she told his parents anyway.

Cui said he would have panicked, had he not seen Kuo's session videos in March. He found it to be helpful when preparing for the ways his parents may react.

He also learned that he has to be financially independent, so after this summer, he's going to Hefei, Anhui Province to attend college and hopes to find a part-time job.

Kuo said that while she expects that coming out to mainland parents will be a more difficult and longer process, she still has hope.

"We can't take this crucial step for the children, we give them advice, but they've got to take that step," she said.

Newspaper headline: Rainbow tutor

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