I got to the restaurant late. When I walked through the door, my aunt waved me to a table in the back. The moment I sat down, the food came out of the kitchen. They’d ordered me manduguk since they knew it was what I craved when I was home.
Sometimes my mom, sister, aunt, and I go to dinner without the men in our family. My dad, brother, and uncle don’t like Korean food, so we stopped inviting them after a while. As much as I loved the men in our family, I liked this dynamic. It felt like a secret, and I more at ease. She asked about my work trip, and I asked about her new sewing machine. Over warm noodles and kimchi, we shared our stories, attention, and laughter.
Through some series of conversational stepping stones, my aunt mentioned how her pastor said something she’d disagreed with, though she acknowledged the ambiguity on this topic. Then, to establish she drew the line somewhere, she said, “There are some things that are obviously wrong, like homosexuality.”
I haven’t come out to everyone in my family. But my mom and sister knew, and neither of them would look at me.
To my surprise, my first thought was, Ha! Little does she know that gays walk among us. Stifling giggles, I heard myself saying my standard defense where I pretend to be more moderate than I am, but I was thinking about my humored reaction. I thought I’d combust to hear my relatives condemn gay marriage, but here I was, on the verge of outing myself by laughing.
She turned to my mom. “You went to seminary. What do you think?”
My mom avoided eye contact with both of us, and my back stiffened. When I called my mom three years ago to tell her I was bi, she wasn’t as supportive as I’d hoped. She embarrassedly said to me later that her response was a reflex she didn’t know how to stop. So I assumed I knew my mom’s viewpoint, but I hadn’t dared open Pandora’s box. Yet that night, I wanted to know what she thought. My mind echoed the question without any touchy accusation, just curiosity.
“What do you think?” my aunt asked again.
My mom said, “I think it’s not clear.”
I blinked in surprise. I said something about Leviticus when my aunt turned to my sister. “What do you think?”
“I agree with Mom,” she said. (I would later learn that she was downplaying her views, and we shared the same opinion.)
I no longer expected my immediate family to be affirming, so this was more than I’d hoped. I relaxed—humored once more—and continued my pandered defenses. My aunt refused to look at me, talking to my mom and sister. I smiled as my competitive side kicked in. I could get her to look at me.
My sister had other ideas. “Also,” she said, ever the moderator, “it’s not a salvation issue.”
“Yes!” they exclaimed.
They interjected arguments overlapping other arguments until it was just noise. I sat back and interrogated my humored reaction a little more.
If I’d heard my aunt say that three years ago, I would’ve questioned my own morality. If I’d heard it two years ago, I would’ve thought less of her for disagreeing with me. Now, I knew that there would inevitably be people who disagreed with me, including those who loved me—and she did love me. I knew that she was still the same person who helped raise me, and I knew that her opinion didn’t matter to me. It stung, but only as much as a needle’s prick.
When I realized I was bi, when I wrestled with so many questions that would never have answers, my queer friends told me that it’d get better. I’d ask how. They just said that it would. I hoped that it meant the world would get better, that someday no one would question who I love, but so far people have continued to disagree on everything. I still hope that the world will move towards acceptance, though I don’t count on that happening in my lifetime. Yet it has gotten easier. Not because the world is different, but because I’m different. I don’t need my family’s permission to feel confident in what I believe. I know who I am and who I love, and I have more support than I even knew.
We polished off our dishes, hugged goodbye, and left. On the drive home, my mom, sister, and I sat in silence. Streetlamp light washed over the car in waves, cold air lingering on our arms. I waited to see if they would address the elephant in the room. They said nothing. I spoke.
“Whelp. Not coming out to her anytime soon.”
I laughed. They laughed too, and I knew I was loved.
Tiffany Kajiwara graduated from Calvin in 2022 with majors in literature and writing. Now, she continues to live in Grand Rapids and works at Baker Academic Publishing as a marketing assistant. In her free time, she enjoys crocheting, thrifting, and psychoanalyzing cartoon characters.