Shame and Stigma


Making small talks on New Year‘s morning, I mentioned various distant relatives, among whom a handsome ping-pong playing cousin of mine.

I remembered him as 60’s looking, hair, glasses and short shorts.

He was later married with kids before got  sent to re-education camp.

While he was away, his wife had an affair and made him feel ashamed upon his return and reintegration to larger society.

Those external stresses, at first glance, must have driven him to suicide.

My hostess cousin overheard my conversation, rushed out of the kitchen  and said ” cousin T was gay!”

“He had been pressured to maintaining a modeled family against his wish.”

Mystery unveiled for me after all these years.

The stigma (of being gay at a time and in a place where it was unacceptable) was followed by shame (even his “modeled” family couldn’t hold waters).

The agony of shame and stigma must have eaten up the man.

If memory served me right, I , up until yesterday, couldn’t conceive his family as “spinners” of story.

His father showed my mom where to find housing and apply for a teaching job.

My birth certificate (showing the address) still bears witness to their kindness to relatives fleeing Southward during the partition (North-South).

In all appearances, with his father also a teacher, which used to be ranked first (Si, Nong, Cong, Thuong – Mandarin, Farmer, Factory worker, Merchant), and rest of family high achievers until the last shoe dropped.

I felt for cousin T.

Perhaps taking his own life was the only way.

If he had lived in this time, or emigrated to a certain State in the US, or EU,

he could have carried on happily.

He ended life to stay true to his nature. (as of this edit, the US Supreme Court is into its 3rd day hearing about gay marriage).

When Francoise Sagan released her bombshell publication  “Bonjour Tristesse“, a lot of young people committed suicide in France. Existential loneliness.

Our own Nguyen Anh Chin also composed his “Buon oi, ta xin chao mi” (Bonjour Tristesse) after a time living in France.

Every society finds ways to explain outliers and outcasts.

We put much spotlight on how many lives Bill Gates has saved (good for him), but we have yet done inventory of what’s in our closet. Instead, we ignore what we can’t explain, or doesn’t fit into the mold: a handicapped child, a gay cousin, an interracial nephew or an unmarried niece.

Society is judged by how well it protects its weakest link, not to convenient put on labels such as “dysfunctional”, or worse, “reject”.

With 7 Billion , the chance of outliers and outcasts will only increase. Consequently, the burden is  on us to overcome fear, to be a good Samaritan. When you do to the least of these, you have done unto me.

Where is  the “Bill Gates” in each of us? The good Samaritan who stands up to shame and social stigma? (Condom Contest Prize $100,000 from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). The funny thing about Social Proof (they all do it) is it changes just as quickly if given the right catalyst and back wind (in 10 years, public opinion in the US about gay marriage has flip-flopped).  Be that force of change. He ain’t heavy, he is my brother.

R.I.P. cousin T.

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