TOBIN: A note before we start: This episode contains a reference to suicide.
KATHY: I love Taiwan.
KATHY: I was born there. I spent the first 4 years of my life there. Growing up, I went back frequently with my family to visit. I love the people. I love the scooters. I love the public transit. And I love the FOOD. Oh my god, I love the food. Beef noodle soup, mian xian, bubble tea, stinky tofu, and Taiwanese dessert.
KATHY: It’s also the place where I discovered I was queer. I spent a semester in college learning Mandarin in Taiwan and fell in love with a teacher. Nothing ever happened, but that really was the beginning of me figuring out my queerness. So when this happened...
HOST: Celebrations broke out across Taiwan this week as a court ruling paved the way to the first same-sex marriage law in Asia.
KATHY: ...I was beside myself. Last year, Taiwan’s highest court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal under its constitution, even though no laws currently allow it. And it gave the legislature two years to change the law. And if they don’t, then the Taiwanese government would just have to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. So basically same-sex marriage is very likely happening, it’s just not official yet.
KATHY: This news made some sense because Taiwan is maybe the most queer-friendly country in Asia. It has the continent’s largest Pride Parade, more than 120,000 people last year.
[CLIP] TAIWAN PRIDE PARADE
KATHY: No Asian country has legalized same-sex marriage, and protections for LGBTQ folks are pretty rare. And for a long time, Taiwan barely had any protections either. When I studied there a decade ago, queerness wasn’t very visible. And it definitely wasn’t when my mom was growing up in Taiwan. She grew up believing in a nuclear family with a mom and a dad and kids, and falling outside of the norm is bad and shameful.
KATHY: If you’ve heard this show before, you’ve probably heard her say that. I’ve tried coming out to my mom multiple times and it never seems to go very well. We struggle because of the language barrier -- but even more we have a cultural barrier. She wants me to be happy, but my being queer makes her UNhappy. And she’ll say it’s fine, but she’ll also ask why I have to be this way, look this way.
KATHY: Not long ago, my mom calls me up and says, “Your cousin is getting married.” And I say, “Great, when are we going to Taiwan?” And she says, “it’s just the wedding banquet, you don’t HAVE to go.” And I’m like, “why don’t you want me to go?” And she’s like, “That’s not what I’m saying.” Finally, we settle that she and I will make this trip together.
KATHY: So this is kind of exciting. This is going to be our first trip there together since the same sex ruling. And if Taiwan has come such a long way in queer rights, maybe my mom can get there too?
[THEME MUSIC STARTS]
VOX: [MANDARIN] From WNYC Studios, this is Nancy.
VOX: [MANDARIN] With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
KATHY: Alright, let’s find my mom…
KATHY: After 14 hours in the air, I land in Taiwan, and I meet my mom in the airport.
KATHY: There she is! Hello mother.
KATHY: How are you.
MOM: Okay, very tired.
KATHY: It’s just me and my mom on this trip. My dad only comes here once a year for his annual checkup, because FUN FACT: Taiwan has universal healthcare so it’s cheaper. Other facts about Taiwan: it’s an island of about 23 million residents and there’s a mix of Chinese, Japanese, and indigenous cultures. The country also recently elected its first female President, who is obsessed with her two cats, Xiang Xiang and Ah Tsai.
KATHY: Anyway, my mom and I take the bullet train to Taichung, where my mom’s side of the family lives.
KATHY: [MANDARIN] Mom, tonight [ENGLISH] can you interview with me?
MOM: [MANDARIN] Ack no more interviews.
KATHY: Just one more time.
MOM: For what?
KATHY: It’s part 3, it’s a trilogy. This will be like part 3. It’s the third...
MOM: Part 3! Part 4! Part 5! [MANDARIN] So many parts! Why so many parts! [ENGLISH] Never the last part.
KATHY: It’s never the last part.
[HIGH SPEED RAIL]
KATHY: As the train heads toward Taichung, concrete buildings give way to farmland. And within an hour, we’re there.
KATHY: [MANDARIN] Uncle!
UNCLE: [MANDARIN] Hello!
KATHY: [MANDARIN] I’m recording.
KATHY: My uncle meets us at the train station, and we all pile into his minivan. When we get to his house, I see my grandfather for the first time in years. He pretty much looks the same as the last time I saw him, grey and feisty. But it’s the first time he’s seen me with short hair.
KATHY: [MANDARIN] Grandpa!
MOM: [MANDARIN] Who is she?
KATHY: He doesn't recognize me.
KATHY: [MANDARIN] I cut my hair short.
GRANDPA: [MANDARIN] You look like a boy!
KATHY: He says I look like a boy. I ask him what he thinks about my hair.
GRANDPA: [MANDARIN] It’s okay. But you should have long hair. Girls should have long hair. Getting a boyfriend would be easier.
KATHY: He thinks it’s okay, but I should still have long hair. It’ll be easier to have a boyfriend that way. So I ask him, what if I have a girlfriend—a nu peng you.
KATHY: [MANDARIN] What if I have a girlfriend?
GRANDPA: [MANDARIN] Who?
KATHY: [MANDARIN] Me.
GRANDPA: [MANDARIN] There’s nothing wrong with that. But the first thing you have to remember is your daily habits.
KATHY: He says there’s nothing wrong with that but I have to remember my daily habits…?? I don’t understand him completely, but I think he says that he’s fine with me having a girlfriend? Or he has no idea what I’m saying. It’s probably the latter.
[DEPARTMENT STORE SOUNDS]
KATHY: My mom and I rest a little, and then head out to a department store. We always go to department stores because 1) air conditioning—it can get so hot in Taiwan— and 2) there are so many stores within a store there, you can find almost anything. We go because someone forgot to bring a proper shirt for the wedding.
[DEPARTMENT STORE SOUNDS]
KATHY: [MANDARIN] Mom, do you know what this place is called?
MOM: [MANDARIN] Department store. Zhong You.
KATHY: There, we practice our age old tradition of disagreeing on what clothes to buy.
KATHY: Mom, that’s pink. No pink.
KATHY: The ritual goes like this: she picks out a shirt, and I say “no.” I pick out a shirt, and she says “no.” This goes on for more than an hour. She seems to be magnetically drawn to these light, pastel-ly, girly, like, blouses I think?
KATHY: I can do yellow. Yellow?
MOM: [MANDARIN] That one’s ugly.
KATHY: We eventually settle on a light grey button up. It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but it’ll do.
KATHY: That wasn’t that hard.
MOM: Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello.
KATHY: Being in Taiwan, I’m wondering how my mom would vote on same-sex marriage if she got the chance.
KATHY: [MANDARIN] If there was a gay marriage vote in Taiwan, how would you vote?
MOM: [MANDARIN] I’d support it. People are the way they are. You choose your own road.
KATHY: She says, “I would support it. You choose your own road.” Which honestly, surprised me a little.
KATHY: Do you think I would still come out in Taiwan?
MOM: [MANDARIN] I don’t know. At that time, you might have thought differently. We gave you too much freedom, so you became this way.
KATHY: She doesn’t know, and maybe in Taiwan it would’ve been different. She says she and my dad gave me too much freedom, there weren’t many restrictions, so I became the way I am.
MOM: [MANDARIN] But if you were in Taiwan, there wouldn’t be this type of environment. Maybe there would’ve been. I don’t know.
KATHY: But in Taiwan, there wouldn’t be the same environment. Or maybe there would’ve been. She doesn’t know.
KATHY: [MANDARIN] Do you think that’s good or bad?
MOM: [MANDARIN] There’s no good or bad. Maybe in Taiwan you would’ve been in a relationship with a man and gotten married. Maybe. But now we’re talking about things that wouldn’t happen so it doesn’t matter.
KATHY: She says maybe in Taiwan I would’ve gotten married to a man. Maybe. But we’re just talking about things that can’t happen so there’s no point talking about it.
KATHY: I’m just curious!
MOM: [MANDARIN] Don’t need to be curious. It can’t happen. I’ve already given up hope.
KATHY: [LAUGHS] Why do you say it like that?
KATHY: I'm laughing because she says she’s given up, but the literal translation is “my heart is dead to the possibility.” And it just sounds so dramatic.
MOM: [MANDARIN] Oh no, you misunderstand me. Si xing just means I don’t have hope. Yeah of course I’m a little sad, but that’s how it is.
KATHY: She says I misunderstand her. Basically she doesn’t have the specific hope of me marrying a man and having kids. And that it makes her sad, at least a little.
MOM: [MANDARIN] If you’re happy doing what you makes you happy, what can we do about it?
KATHY: If I’m happy doing what makes me happy, there’s nothing to be done about it. The thing is, I don’t want my mom to be sad. That makes me sad.
KATHY: There’s this word in Mandarin: “xiao shun.” It most closely translates to “filial piety” which basically means the reverence children should show towards their parents. And it’s a deeply Taiwanese value.
KATHY: I strive to live by this value. I did well in school, I don’t get in trouble, I help my parents with their tech issues. Once, they were stranded without internet for three days until I showed up and restarted their router. And I translate for them all the time. But it’s like none of that counts. It can’t make up for the fact that I’m queer. My mom is still sad.
KATHY: Maybe if I hadn't left Taiwan, if my mom hadn't left, we wouldn't speak different languages, we wouldn't have this gulf between us. I still could have been out and maybe she would have understood me better.
KATHY: While I’m here, I figure I’ll take a few days to sort of test out that idea. And anyway, I need a break from my family for a few days. So I take the train up to Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, the city of my birth. It’s where I studied abroad in college all those years ago.
KATHY: It’s you!
ANDREW: Hey! How are you?
KATHY: I meet my friend, Andrew.
ANDREW: My name is Andrew Ryan. I work for Radio Taiwan International. Been in Taiwan for 20—oh 22 years!
ANDREW: I don't always tell people that because they always have the same response, mouth agape.
KATHY: Andrew is a gay white dude, big smile, kind eyes, and works as a journalist and a TV presenter. We have the exact same dry sense of humor. Before today, we’ve only talked online, but it feels like we’ve known each other forever. He's also completely fluent in Mandarin. Like, no accent fluent. Probably because he's been here since 1996, learning the language, seeing changes.
ANDREW: The first year they held the first gay pride parade in Taipei, it was a gathering of about 100 people. And a lot of people were wearing masks. And it was, you know people were, they didn't talk about what it was like to be gay. When I first got here there were so few gay bars, there were only a handful. And they were underground like literally underground in basements. And people didn't tell their straight friends they were gay. They didn't bring their straight friends to gay bars. And then today there's a whole section in Taipei where there are above ground gay bars in the open air. You can sit in a gay bar and have sunshine on your skin. That's how out in the open it is. The place that we went to is called Funky. And it was this amazing place. It was packed. And at midnight like they would play cha cha music and everybody on the dance floor would cha cha. One two cha cha cha three. But to pop music to Mandopop like Mandarin pop music.
KATHY: Do you remember a song?
ANDREW: Oh my God yeah. Like Jie Mei. Like Chang Hui Mei, Ah Mei. The most famous pop singer in Taiwan. [SINGING IN MANDARIN] You are my sister. You are my baby. Oh yeah.
[CLIP] CHANG HUI MEI - JIE MEI
KATHY: Here's the thing I want to try. The next couple of days you and I are going to be hanging out.
KATHY: I’m going to need you to be like my queer guide.
ANDREW: For the queer girl. Queer eye for the queer girl. The Taiwan version.
KATHY: Love it.
ANDREW: I'm totally on it.
KATHY: Because I'm curious, like what would life like had I never left.
ANDREW: If you'd never left Taiwan.
ANDREW: So I have this friend. She's really cool. Her name is Nan Gua, that means pumpkin. Her real name is Lee De Yun. She’s a singer-songwriter. She also recently cut her hair short like you did. I have a feeling you two have a lot in common.
KATHY: We’re gonna add to the gang.
[SCOOTER FIRES UP]
KATHY: Andrew fires up his scooter and hands me a helmet. I jump on the back, and we’re off to meet Nan Gua.
KATHY: Andrew and I fall in with the other scooters on the giant main road. Scooters are everywhere, crammed up against buses and cars. It’s humid, it’s sunny, and the city flies by around us.
KATHY: Man, I really want a scooter.
KATHY: Then we turn off into a small side street and park the scooter on the side of the road.
ANDREW: Hey look who it is!
NAN GUA: Hi!
ANDREW: It’s Nan Gua!
KATHY: Hello! Hi. Kathy.
KATHY: Nan Gua is a thin woman, about my height, and 32 years old like me. She’s got short, black hair, just slightly longer than mine. And she’s carrying a guitar. Nan Gua, Andrew, me, and a few of their friends all sit down for a quick lunch at a Korean restaurant to get to know each other a little.
KATHY: After lunch, Andrew, Nan Gua, and I walk over to 228 Park. It’s the place where the first gay pride parade was held in 2003. Back then it was known as one of the only places where gay people could hang out.
ANDREW: Oh...dating spot!
NAN GUA: Very quiet spot.
KATHY: Do you remember the first time that you came here?
NAN GUA: [LAUGHS] The first time. Yeah. That was the day when I tell a girl that I like her and she also like me.
KATHY: OK. Set the scene.
NAN GUA: She became my first, my first lover.
KATHY: Oh my gosh. How old were you?
NAN GUA: 17.
KATHY: So young, so young.
NAN GUA: [LAUGHS]
KATHY: Nan Gua went to this high school that my mom always told me she wanted me to go to: Bei Yi Nu. It’s basically the Harvard of girls high schools in Taiwan.
KATHY: Did you have gay classmates?
NAN GUA: Uhh...yes. But I figure it out after years from graduation.
NAN GUA: Because when we were still classmates we didn’t ask each other these kinds of questions. At least me. I didn’t ask people about their sexuality.
KATHY: But were there couples?
NAN GUA: Yeah, there were.
KATHY: There were actually quite a few people who were queer at this school. And honestly, part of me wonders if I would’ve come out then because I would’ve seen queerness more than I did in my school in the US. I can’t remember a single person in high school who was queer.
KATHY: Like me, Nan Gua’s first serious relationship was in college. But unlike me, she was outed by a teacher.
NAN GUA: One of my college teacher. And he called my parents and tell them that I have a girlfriend.
KATHY: [Gasps] No!
NAN GUA: And I was in kind of trouble balancing my relationship and my college study.
KATHY: OK, first of all, was that true? Were you having trouble balancing?
NAN GUA: Yes.
KATHY: So he was right.
NAN GUA: Yeah, he was the right, yeah. After years, I admit he was right. [LAUGHS] But at that time, I told, I told the teacher that I don't think it's the relationship’s fault. When my girlfriend at that time want to fight, have a fight, then I say, “OK let's have a fight today. I don't go to class today.” Even if it's a final exam or something, I don't go to class today. We just fight. [LAUGHS] So when the teacher realized that my situation is kind of dangerous or something, he thought of one of his students before. And the student is a lesbian. And finally she committed suicide.
KATHY: Oh no.
NAN GUA: And so the teacher told me that he thought that if the girl could find him before she do something silly, then maybe the girl is still alive.
KATHY: I see.
NAN GUA: So I think the teacher has some thought that, “OK there's another lesbian student and I have to help her.”
KATHY: I see, so it wasn't a malicious thing. He was genuinely trying to help.
NAN GUA: In his way, in his way.
KATHY: Instead of talking to you. He told your parents.
NAN GUA: It's also very shock to me, when I received a letter from my mom.
KATHY: Wait she wrote you a letter? She didn't call you?
NAN GUA: She didn't call me. She wrote me a letter and [MANDARIN] used registered mail, how do you say that?
ANDREW: Oh registered mail. She sent it by registered mail.
NAN GUA: Yeah. And all written by her hand, which she really hasn’t written anything other than recipe's or something. I was like, what?
KATHY: What did it say?
NAN GUA: It begins with, “Oh, your teacher called and told me everything and we are worried about you. We’re worried that...are you slowly killing yourself? Or would you be another case on the newspapers that you die because you have a fight with some lovers or something?” They have that expressions about being a lesbian.
NAN GUA: So they are afraid that I'm going to be that way. But at the end of the letter she says, “Family is always your…” [MANDARIN] how do you say it? “Your safe harbor.”
ANDREW: Your safe harbor.
NAN GUA: Yeah, yeah.
NAN GUA: So my parents choose to accept rather than put me out. Yeah.
KATHY: I ask Nan Gua if her mom reacts the same way to her hair as my mom does to mine.
NAN GUA: We’re gay inside, that's OK. But when we're very gay outside.
KATHY: [GASP] Yes!
NAN GUA: They feel pressure!
KATHY: What is that about?
NAN GUA: They say, “So everybody would know that you are a lesbian and maybe everybody would know that I'm a parent of lesbian.” You know? [LAUGHS] So that's their pressure. They feel there's other people's view everywhere.
NAN GUA: I have this feeling that actually parents are from different world with kids. So we have to accept that parents has their limitations, too. Like I cannot change my shape for my parents, but they can't, maybe they cannot change their shape for me, too.
VOX: [MANDARIN] Nancy will be right back.
ANDREW: What’s something your parents are super stubborn about?
VOX: They think that everyone should get married and have children. Then your life can become complete. They push the idea very hard and they can’t let it go. They will find all sorts of way. And it’s been decades. They still can’t let it go. That’s why I wish they could stop and see that there are other possibilities.
KATHY: Early the next morning, Andrew and I scooter to an apartment building in Taipei. On the 12th floor, we walk into a place called “Tongzhi Hotline.” The “Hotline” is an inclusive LGBTQ center that runs all kinds of programs for the queer community in Taipei. And it’s literally in an apartment. There are posters of different queer Asian movies on the wall and we sit down in the cozy living room. The center runs a hotline for people who have come out. And there’s also a hotline for their parents.
GUO MAMA: I’m Guo Mama.
KATHY: Andrew and I meet Guo Mama. Guo is her last name. And Mama means mom. Guo Mama has been volunteering at the Hotline for 14 years. She says that when her kid was first coming out, she and her husband had trouble finding information.
GUO MAMA: We’re all looking very, very hard for those informations on internet then. There’s no Line or Facebook then. 16, 17 years ago when he come out. He was very young so how can we expect him to know anything, you know, concrete? So we had to do all the homework ourselves.
KATHY: Did he come out as transgender then?
GUO MAMA: No, no, no. As a lesbian.
GUO MAMA: Almost like a “T.” Definitely a T. You know, T? Tomboy.
ANDREW: Yeah, butch.
GUO MAMA: Butch. Right, butch.
KATHY: A few years later, he came out as trans. Guo Mama has been volunteering at the hotline ever since.
ANDREW: What makes it hard for people in Taiwan?
GUO MAMA: You know some parents, for Chinese parents, we still believe that children are our property. So we will do all the decisions for them. We buy houses for them. We protect them, over protect sometimes. We have the control freak hands, whatever, or the helicopter parents all over. We are probably not like that. But still the society, the pressure are different, because they are judging the parents first. How come your kids are like that?
KATHY: How do you think a kid can come out to their parents? Like what is the easiest way to do that so they understand?
GUO MAMA: Five steps.
KATHY: Oh wow there's steps.
GUO MAMA: Five steps!
ANDREW: Oh wow, what are they? Number one.
GUO MAMA: Write a letter. First, when was the first time you realize you were different? Really early, as early as possible, so you force the parents to know this is not the outsiders, this is not the school you’re in or the friends you’re dealing with, that make the problem, become the problem. It started really, really early in their lives. And second, when you confirmed you were really different.
ANDREW: When you confirmed it.
GUO MAMA: Confirmed. You have certain steps yourself, you know. You check. You try different ways. And you blame the classmates or the movies or everything. Your kids will do that a lot alone. But at certain point you confirmed, like you’re desperate, [MANDARIN] I’m beyond saving. [ENGLISH] No one can help me. I’m definitely that kind of person. There’s a date and year. Tell your parents then.
GUO MAMA: The third, it's like the history of your LGBT life. Like what happened, you tried the opposite sex. You have a boyfriend, girlfriend, many things. You have, went to the doctors, you went to the hotline and things like that, like a history. Also telling the parents this is no way you can change now. Fourth is now, what happens now. You're 28 or 35. You have a boyfriend or girlfriend. And what you're really seeing yourself. You have already adjust to your orientation. And tell your parents, I’m really happy and have a partner and what I’m gonna do. And the fifth, most important, what's my futures look like. I want to get married. I want to have cats, dogs, or babies. Everything.
GUO MAMA: Plants. Live plants. It is really important. So your parents would say, “Oh my kids were so alone, he would die alone.” They have a very scary pictures in their minds. You have to tell them, “No, I have my own plans for my future.” Write a letter. If you’re really lazy, just write five sentences.
GUO MAMA: You can always fill in later. And your parents will read it probably 100 times. They really want to know what is going on.
KATHY: So, I’ve sent emails to my mom about being queer. But I’m realizing now that I've only been doing step 4, the one about what’s happening right now. I haven’t done any of the other steps that would let her know about my past and my future. Maybe that’s what I need to do.
ANDREW: ...See at nighttime, these will be all totally packed.
KATHY: Uh huh.
KATHY: Andrew takes me to where the gay bars are in Taipei. They’re in XiMenDing, a bustling area that lights up at night. I’ve been there a million times, but never saw the gay bars there. Turns out I just hadn’t looked across the street.
ANDREW: These are all the bars.
KATHY: What’s this called?
ANDREW: Bear Village. [MANDARIN] Bear Village.
KATHY: And the bars really are out in the open. There’s plenty of outdoor space for drinking and dancing. Andrew says that at night, this place really gets loud and crowded. But right now, it’s pretty quiet.
ANDREW: Sip of tea before we start?
KATHY: Sip of tea.
KATHY: We sit down and Andrew takes out his laptop. I’ve decided that I’m gonna write that letter to my mom that Guo Mama suggested.
KATHY: And Andrew because he's proficient in the language of Mandarin
KATHY: He’s gonna type it in Mandarin for me.
ANDREW: But you've already come out to your mom, a million times.
KATHY: But I feel like maybe this is a way for me to give it to her and let her, Because I don't think I filled in the history for her and give her all the information, I was just sort of like, “Here it is. Deal with it.” So let's do it in five simple steps.
ANDREW: Five simple steps. Alright. “Dear Mom.”
KATHY: Do we write number one? No...
ANDREW: No! Don't put numbers in your letter.
KATHY: Tell them when you realized you were different. I think I realized I was different in elementary school…
KATHY: You don’t need to hear the whole letter writing process, it took two hours. In the letter, I tell my mom about how I discovered I was queer in Taiwan, and how I hope to eventually get married and have dogs, and maybe even kids. And I have to say, it was really nice to get all of these things down on paper, because all this time I thought this stuff was only important to me. At the end of the letter, I tell my mom she can even play matchmaker for me if she wants.
ANDREW: “Ha ha. Kathy.”
KATHY: [LAUGHS] Aww this is great, Andrew. Thank you so much. Are you okay?
ANDREW: I’m having a moment!
ANDREW: Kathy, I think it’s really beautiful.
KATHY: I love it, too. Thank you for helping me.
ANDREW: Yeah, it’s really sweet.
KATHY: I’m back in Taichung, and back at my uncle’s house, it’s almost time for the wedding banquet, the thing we’re all here for.
[BALLOONS BEING BLOWN UP]
KATHY: The house is full of balloons that we’re gonna bring over to the venue. My cousin Hanna is all dressed up and ready, and she’s surprisingly relaxed. She’s watching TV and eating snacks. And she shows me her favorite feature of her dress…
HANNA: [MANDARIN] My dress has pockets.
HANNA: [MANDARIN] I want to inform you about how awesome this dress is. Look!
KATHY: Part of the reason Hanna’s so chill is that she knows that this party isn’t really about her. It’s for her parents, and she’s cool with that. She’s always been xiao shun, has always been deferential to her parents.
KATHY: It’s time for the banquet. More than 100 people packed into a small restaurant, most of them my uncle’s friends.
KATHY: 10 courses of food...chicken soup, whole fish with ginger, braised beef, veggies, 8-Treasure Rice Pudding.
KATHY: I’m gonna eat!
KATHY: And lots of cheering and drinking at each table.
UNCLE: [MANDARIN] One at a time, one at a time!
KATHY: My grandpa is trying toast everyone and my mom is laughing and chatting with all of our relatives. Over the night, I watch Hanna and her husband weave in and out of guests, saying hello and thanking all of her dad's friends for being there. She doesn't complain once. She even seems to be enjoying how happy it's clearly making him.
KATHY: And I can actually sort of see myself doing something like this. Not marrying a man, obviously. But I could imagine myself having a traditional Taiwanese celebration and humoring my parents in this way. The thing is, I don’t know if they’d be willing to host a celebration like this for me.
[BANQUET SOUNDS FADE OUT]
KATHY: I’ve been in Taiwan for about a week, and it’s time to go back to the US. At the airport, my mom spends an ungodly amount of time in a duty free store looking at an expensive wallet. I tell her she and I are not so different, I spend way too much money on backpacks.
KATHY: Then I finally get her to sit down with me.
KATHY: I need to tell you about what I learned in Taiwan this week.
KATHY: Um. I learned that Asian parents are not good at showing support outwardly, but they show support inwardly.
MOM: [MANDARIN] Parents will always do what they need to do for their kids.
KATHY: She says parents will always do what they need to do for their kids.
KATHY: You know how I’m really hard on you because I want you to be supportive like American parents.
MOM: I try to, okay?
KATHY: I tell her about Guo Mama’s idea to write a letter about my life.
KATHY: ...and you give it to your parents. So I had Andrew help me write a letter [MANDARIN] for you to see.
KATHY: Can you read it?
MOM: [MANDARIN] Now?
KATHY: It’s in Chinese. [MANDARIN] Andrew helped me. We sat down together and wrote it. [ENGLISH] You don’t have to read it out loud.
KATHY: And she reads the letter. Her face stays the same. I can’t tell if she’s feeling any emotion at all.
MOM: [MANDARIN] Okay, I will tell Dad.
KATHY: I ask her to give the letter to my dad and she says okay.
KATHY: What do you think?
MOM: [MANDARIN] I respect you. If you think you’ll be happy living this way, that’s all I want.
KATHY: She respects me and if I’m happy living this way, that’s all she wants.
MOM: [MANDARIN] But you can’t expect us to have the reaction you want. That’s too much pressure.
KATHY: But I can’t expect her to have the reaction I want. That’s too much pressure for her.
KATHY: Well, I just wanted to say I think you've come a really long way from when I first told you and you were yelling at me.
MOM: [MANDARIN] That’s right.
KATHY: Thank you for trying.
MOM: [MANDARIN] That’s it. Anything else?
KATHY: “That’s it,” she says, “Anything else?”
KATHY: [MANDARIN] Nothing else.
TOBIN: You’re back from Taiwan
TOBIN: There’s been some time to process. I am dying to know: has your mom said anything more about the letter?
KATHY: She...has not.
KATHY: Nothing. I’ve heard nothing.
TOBIN: What about your dad?
KATHY: I usually hear nothing from him, so it’s like a normal thing. [LAUGHS]
TOBIN: Why don’t you think they’ve said anything about the letter?
KATHY: I think that they’re okay with me talking about being queer. But I don’t think they can be the initiators right now. Maybe one day it’ll be okay. But right now it’s too much.
TOBIN: But you feel more comfortable bringing it up yourself?
KATHY: Oh yeah, I bring up the person I’m dating. I bring up you all the time, and I always include something about how you’re gay.
KATHY: And your boyfriend’s in there, doing gay things.
KATHY: And yeah, they’re fine with that.
TOBIN: That’s good. Well, so where do you think you and your mom are in your relationship now?
KATHY: I think that we’re not where I would love us to be one day, where she’s like joining PFLAG, and she’s going to the Pride Parade. But we’re at a place where we can joke about things. And I think that’s really important.
TOBIN: Well, maybe you’ll get to that last step in Kathy and Mom, part 4.
KATHY: She’s gonna hate that so much!
TOBIN: [LAUGHS] All right, we’ll give her a break.
[CREDITS MUSIC STARTS]
TOBIN: All right, that is our show!
KATHY: Very special thanks this week to Andrew Ryan.
ANDREW: Playing the Taiwanese Tobin Low.
KATHY: And you can hear a couple of songs Nan Gua played for us on our website at nancypodcast.org.
TOBIN: Also, a very special thank you to us! Because we did it! Team Nancy, we made it to the end of another season!
KATHY: One way to keep in touch is to join our “Friends of Nancy” Facebook group! It is one of my favorite places on the entire Internet.
TOBIN: We’ll be back with all new episodes this fall, and in the meantime, keep an eye on our feed - we’ll be sure to drop some bonus episodes in there while we’re gone.
TOBIN: Credits. Producers!
KATHY: Matt Collette and Alice Wilder.
TOBIN: Sound designer.
KATHY: Jeremy Bloom.
KATHY: Melissa Lent.
KATHY: Jenny Lawton.
TOBIN: Executive producer.
KATHY: Paula Szuchman.
TOBIN: I’m Tobin Low.
KATHY: I’m Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]