My Story by Eric Calderon-Phangrath
My earliest memory of knowing that I was different to my childhood peers was probably when I was only four years old. I recall being at a supermarket and telling my mom in Lao that I thought the man in the white tank top was handsome. Of course, at the time, my mom didn’t know how to respond and she shrugged it off and we moved along.
Growing up, I’ve always felt the need to overcompensate in everything that I do so that my achievements could outshine the fact that I was attracted to other boys. I always had perfect attendance, was always on honor roll, was always the teacher’s pet and was even Class President. I played sports, I was in almost every school club, and I was the typical “Mr. Know-It-All”. This allowed me to graduate from high school when I was barely turning 16.
I knew that coming out wasn’t going to be easy. My parents never talked to us about sex or sexuality. The just pushed us to do well in school and to succeed. I guess we were the stereotypical Asian-American family. My parents came to the United States to escape a war torn nation. My mom is from Cambodia and my dad is from Laos. Two different worlds but yet they left their homeland to seek refuge in a nation of endless possibilities.
My four siblings and I were raised in a Buddhist faith based household. We went to temple as often as we could. I went to temple more than most kids; sleeping there for weeks at a time. I remember being dropped off at school by the monks and sometimes not sure if my parents were picking me up, or if I was going to get picked up by the monks. I enjoyed temple. I was able to do a lot there. I meditated, I cleaned, I did yard work, I cooked, I studied and I prayed. It was like clockwork. I was actively put in temple from when I was about 9-years old and I left when I was going on 16.
Sixteen was a big year for me. I just graduated high school, was accepted to Fresno State, earned two scholarships, worked a full-time job at the local meat market and it was the year that I realized that I could no longer practice my faith in Buddha because a monk molested me.
I’ve never talked about this before to anyone because the monk is no longer around and he has paid the price for what he had done to me all those years. Rather than talking about it, I made a decision to run from it. I couldn’t figure out a way to tell my parents about what this monk had did to me, so instead of telling my mom that I didn’t want to go to temple anymore, I told her that I wanted to move Seattle to be with my eldest brother.
About two weeks after I told my mom that I wanted to relocate to Seattle, I found myself packing my belongings and boarding a plane on my own for the very first time.
Now I was in this big city, no parents, and I was almost on my own. I had my brother and his wife (now ex-wife), but they were physically around but absent. My brother is a War Veteran and was honorably discharged in 2006. He suffers from 3rd degree burns on his body and severe PTSD. His ex-wife, she suffered being a spoiled brat. It took me about a year to establish myself in Seattle. I was able to find work with a great company, I was going to school to finish my degree and all the while, I was struggling with coming out.
We always hear the saying, “live life to the fullest.” Well, I wasn’t able to because I was a burden to myself. I wanted to live my life to the fullest, but I always felt that my sexuality was shameful and disgraceful to my family. So instead of coming out, I stayed closeted, and put on a show to show how “straight” I was.
Right before my brother and his ex-wife married, I made a decision to move out of their house and to live on my own. I felt that this would be the only way for me to try and live my life the fullest. I even thought about how I could delete myself from my entire family’s existence. Meaning, as soon as the wedding was over, I would be on my own. I would change my name, my number, and maybe even relocate out of Seattle to a completely different part of the country; just so I could be gay and proud. I was so worried about bringing shame to my family that I was going to go to this extremity to be happy.
My brother’s wedding was wonderful. All of my family was there and even a cousin from France flew in for the occasion. I saw so many people there and saw how happy everyone was. I decided that because everyone was on “cloud-nine” from the wedding, I thought to myself, “why not come out to them?”
I came out to my family via a typed letter, folded away in a shoe closet. I wrote it, hid the letter in the closet and went off to work. I received a call while I was at work from my family and they told me that they cannot accept me for being gay and that they’re going to come by with my belongings and drop it off at work. I didn’t know what to expect, but I did prepare myself for the worse.
As I walked out to the parking lot to gather my belongings, my brothers jumped out of the car and gave me a hug. They said that they’ve always knew that I was gay and that they love me regardless. It was the phone call that I had to make the next day to my parents. They were already back in Fresno now. I called them and it didn’t go well at all. My mom has not filter and was spouting off about how wrong it was, and how confused I am and telling me that I would grow out of it. She even said that I wouldn’t have been this way if I didn’t move to Seattle. My dad was more reserved, as he has always been. However, I could hear him mumbling words in the background and saying awful things about me. I didn’t know how to take it, so I hung up the phone and I wanted to kill myself for bringing shame to my family and for causing such strife.
I didn’t try to commit suicide until I move out of my brother’s home and into my own little studio apartment. It was my first night in my apartment when laid down on the floor listening to everyone’s voices in my head. Everyone was telling me how disgraceful I was, how disgusting I was, and how disappointed they were in me. I began to believe them. I began to think that I was this person and I sat up and started hearing the sounds of the birds chirping outside of my window. I started hearing cars going by down at the street below. I heard footsteps of the neighbors upstairs. Then I heard my phone ring, it was my eldest brother.
My brother was calling me because he said he was in the neighborhood and wanted to visit with me. I didn’t share this with you earlier, but my eldest brother and I share a very close bond. In 2005, my brother was in Mosul, Iraq and his infantry was attacked by a suicide bomber. He was the sole survivor. He was rushed to Germany then to Texas for treatment. I was there by his side the entire time during his treatment and recovery. I almost didn’t graduate from High School, but it didn’t matter since I was already ahead of my class. I dropped everything and went to be with him to help with his recovery and for that, my eldest brother and I have this bond. Well, the bond grew stronger.
As I was sitting alone in my apartment, my brother comes over unexpectedly to hang out. This is what saved my life. I was teetering from taking my own life, and he came at the right time. We talked and he shared more about his time in Iraq. He talked to me about my childhood and about how he always knew that I was gay, but was waiting for me to come to accept it myself He said no matter what, I’m his brother, and that he loved me regardless. This was the first time I felt accepted for being me and my entire outlook on life changed from that day moving forward.
With a new sense of self acceptance, I took the whole “pride” thing seriously. I volunteered at every Pride Parade, was involved in fundraisers and rallies. I was part of a community now and I wanted everyone to know! Though I accepted myself and have learned to love myself, I always wondered how I would be able to date someone. Get this; I had never been in a relationship up until I was nineteen years old.
I met my first boyfriend online and I didn’t know much about dating. I think I loved him more than he loved me. I also think that he was a lot more experienced than I was in dating. I was taken advantage of by this man and I didn’t even know it. Finally one day, I came home to our apartment, and my belongings were outside and the locks were changed. I knew it then that the relationship was over.
Because I didn’t get any closure in this relationship, it really affected how I perceived myself. I wondered if I did something wrong. I wondered if it was me that caused him to no longer want to be with me. I kept wondering and wondering. This forced me down an emotional and mental spiral. I ultimately because careless of myself and allowed others to take advantage of me because I felt that my self-worth was crap.
After some time, I slowly dug myself out of the pit. I went on to meet a very nice guy. I felt a good connection to him, but I was always afraid to get too close to him, because I didn’t want to get hurt again. I think I liked him more as a friend, than as someone that I could see myself being with long term. I knew it wasn’t ever going to work between us because we were just two very different people and barely had time for one another. I made the decision and called off the relationship.
Having called off the relationship, I decided to invest my entire time into my career. And when I said, invest, I did. I was so committed to this job that I worked 7-days a week, and was on call 24-hours a day. The owners of this company even moved me closer to the job so I can just cross the street to get to work! This killed me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was being overworked and underpaid! I took my first vacation in many years and came back to Fresno to visit my loved ones for the holidays. I enjoyed the time so much that I really didn’t want to go back to Seattle.
After a month back in Seattle, I made a decision to resign and move back home to Fresno. I didn’t have a plan; just that I wanted to literally take a break from everything and find myself again. This allowed me to give my family time to be around me; my true gay self. I think it was an adjustment for everyone. My sisters took it well, my little brother took it well, but I think my parents still needed to get through it. My parents are first generation Americans, and they were very conservative when I came to talking openly about our sex or anything revolving around it. They never talked to me or my siblings about sex; not that they didn’t want to, but it was just not talked about period.
They didn’t have a clear understanding about what it meant to be homosexual. My mom had this misconception that you were gay when you couldn’t have an erection – boy was she wrong! I had to explain to them that this is who I am and that moving to Seattle didn’t make me gay. I can still have erections, and that they did nothing wrong in raising me. My sisters supported me. They told my parents that they knew I was gay all along and they were happy to provide embarrassing childhood stories about how I use to be just like one of the girls growing up!
After some time, my parents learned to accept my sexuality and have learned to love me for who I am again. During that same time, I met a guy online. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was going to be the man that I would spend the rest of my life with.
We met stereotypically; online. Chatted back and forth for a few days and decided that we should go ahead and meet in person on a first date. See, the funny thing was that I saw him online many times before, but I was hesitant to reach out to him. I let my nerves get the best of me. But, he too was in the same boat. However, he was gutsier than I was, and he decided to make the first move by messaging me. From there we set a date to go meet in person and have a semi-normal date.
I picked him up at his family’s house, and we went to have lunch and then off to a movie. I liked him, but I was nervous. I was so nervous that upon meeting him initially, I shook his hand! Immediately after our first date, I let him know that I had to go to San Jose because I was on a travelling volleyball team and that we had a tournament in San Jose. We texted the whole time while I was heading to San Jose and the whole time I was at the tournament. When my team was eliminated, I could have stayed through the weekend, but I decided to head back to Fresno to have another lunch date with Carlos.
We went out to lunch and then we went to Woodward Park and shared our first kiss in the Japanese Gardens. At that point, we declared that we were exclusively together.
Flash forward to August 2013. Carlos and I married one another and shared our day with 80 friends and family members. Our wedding was August 31st, 2013. We were planning on having our wedding over year prior, but little did we know, Same-Sex marriage was being legalized in California. This really meant that he and I were meant to be.
Like any marriage and relationship, Carlos and I have had our share of ups and downs. We argued, we nag, but we never walk away. We kiss and make up and like we said during our wedding, we are in this through thick and thin.
We rescued two beautiful dogs in the course of a year. And have started the process to become dads. Actually, on Friday, March 7, 2015, we have been approved by our agency for adoption. This process took a really long time from start to finish, but it has made my marriage and my family unit that much stronger.
Today, Carlos works an amazing job. He graduated from Fresno State with a Bachelor’s Degree in History. I am working and am planning on going back to school soon to get an accredited degree. We have a great family unit and both of our families love and support everything that we do.
I grew up feeling like I had to hide my true self. I felt that I needed to overcompensate in everything I did, so that my accomplishments could overshadow the fact that I wasn’t like most boys. I was molested, I was abused, I was at-risk of suicide. I felt that no one would accept me, and that they wouldn’t give me a chance to live my life happily. I’ve had failed relationships, struggles with my self esteem, but I didn’t let any of this stop me. I gave up on myself before, but if had I allowed my abuser, my exes and my suicidal self to win, I wouldn’t be here today. I wouldn’t be able to say that I am a proud husband to Carlos, a proud papa to two beautiful dogs, and a soon be dad to some amazing kids.
Growing up, I felt that being gay was deemed wrong. I let others dictate how I should live my life. For once, I stopped listening and caring about what others think, rather I listened to my own self and cared about myself and made decisions for myself.