I love Chinese New Year [CNY].
Every CNY, i would disappear among the crowds at Chinatown where the New Year bazaar takes place. How i love the hustle and bustle. A myriad of colors- red dashes everywhere and fruits of every kind. A gamut of goods- pastries, hair accessories, lucky charms and all. Away from the bazaar, the family would get ready with all things new. Two changes of clothes, a pair of new shoes and a bag are necessities for each member of the family. Spring cleaning beckons... the kitchen floor receives its most rigorous scrub of the year amidst squabbles about doing it right.
This year, i went home for 3 days. During the short stay, we went out for a Chinese movie ‘True Legend’ together... where i spent much of the 2 over hours shrieking [every time i think the protagonist was going to plummet to the ground from an enemy’s sword slash or iron fist punch], much to the annoyance of my little sister. The family outing was heart-warming, and a rare treat for a father who works seven days a week.
Outside of the immediate family is where a fresh set of challenges lies.
I have an older cousin who picks on my Mum and sister. Imagine a cousin who is almost a decade older calling my sister ‘stupid stupid’ every chance she gets; who called my mum ‘suckling pig’ [i really can’t see the resemblance] and displayed amazing rudeness to my mum. This cousin and her mother [i learned that almost every family does this regardless of race, language or religion] have an extremely competitive spirit. Think along the lines of calling me up every major exam [PSLE, ‘O’ levels, ‘A’ levels] about my results or asking my friends about me. I couldn’t forget how her mother threw a pencil at her forehead after she asked me about my school performance because her daughter and i had different class positions at primary one. We were compared on everything from academics to beauty continually. The year i fell, my mum took the blunt of it. As a home-maker, her children are her major accomplishments. If we did well, it was assumed that she wasn’t a bad mother; if we did badly, she was at fault.
Many years have come and gone. This cousin of mine got hitched and planned to tie the knot in a couple of years. Her boyfriend is the typical ‘good catch’ for a straight girl- tall, athletic, and possessing decent facial features. With a career in the financial sector, his future looks promising. They planned to purchase a condominium together. These represent what many see as the next life stage or achievement after tertiary education... as moving on... as maturing.
What a blow this was to my mum.
The only cousin she detests and who has been a pain in the neck for years is now ‘superseding’ her daughter.
When night fell that day, i couldn’t sleep.
I tossed and turned on my single bed, kept tidy and clean in my absence, and thought of what this situation meant for my mum. How devastating it must be for her. My parents, as all loving parents are, hope for the best for their children. At this point, with their current knowledge of same-sex relationships, they are still unsure of whether i am going to be happy. [This is not to say that all straight couples are happy. But as a less unknown area, there is less parental anxiety surrounding straight relationships.] When these feelings mingle with ‘face’, their angst is compounded.
I grieved that i couldn’t help her ‘save face’.
Besides caring less about straight markers of life stages, i can hang out less with the external family. But my mum, being the traditional woman she is, cares about these markers. On top of that, she has no escape from their harsh scrutiny because of the expectations of her presence. For a statement to pierce, all it takes is a moment.
Amidst copious tears that night, i thought, ‘how about a fake marriage?’
I have seen Chinese online sites [based in China] which assist lesbian women and gay men with such arrangements. Essentially, they get together and play the role of a filial daughter or son in law to each other’s parents. Many of them prefer to be good friends as the arrangement is expected to be life-long. The only thing that doesn’t happen is sex. It wouldn’t be difficult to find a good-looking and accomplished gay man. That would help two pairs of parents ‘save face’.
But... what will next happen?
First we compare boyfriends/husbands, then we compare houses/cars... and eventually we compare the beauty and intelligence of our children/grandchildren? This the ‘life’ cycle my Mum went through [more like a death cycle really]. Why do i want to repeat this vicious spiral that has generated years of unhappiness?
I questioned how far i am willing to go to ‘save face’... and shortly after, dropped the idea altogether.
I don’t want to spend my life ‘saving face’ when all it does is perpetuate a meaningless cycle of comparison... a cycle i disdain. I don’t want to live a life devoid of openness and honesty about important areas of my life. I don’t want to spend my life lying... and then lying some more to keep my life stories straight [pun intended].
The year before, fuelled by my curiosity over fake marriages, i had set up a Chinese profile in a ‘fake marriage site’. Picture-less and with little details about myself. Over the period of CNY, i received many notifications from the ‘fake marriage site’. ‘So-and-so is interested in your profile’. It isn't a surprise that most LGBT feel the blunt most when they face persistent questions that endure year after year.
'So when are you getting married?'