Getting to Know Me

One of the things that’s always a challenge for me when I start following someone’s blog is understanding who they are.  Much like entering the cinema halfway through a movie, joining a blog that is already in progress leaves a lot of questions unanswered.  “Who is that person?”  “What vacation is he talking about?”  “What horrible illness happened two years ago?”

A friend from Xanga suggested a few months ago that going back and browsing through earlier entries is a good way to round out your knowledge about a blogger.  That’s a good idea as I’ve just set up on WordPress, you don’t have many back entries through which to browse!  To simplify things, here is a brief introduction of myself.  That way you can do as much or little catching up as you wish to do.

Allow me to introduce myself…

My name is Chris.  I’m an American citizen who was born in 1970 and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Since October 2005 I have been a resident of Bangkok, Thailand (which I often refer to using its Thai name, Krungthep) where I live with my husband Tawn.

I started blogging a few months before moving here.  Its initial (and continued) purpose was to provide my family and friends an easy way to keep tabs on what I’m up to and the experiences I have as an expatriate.  A lot of what I write is about that experience.

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Chris at the Elephant Kraal in Ayutthaya province.

I’ve written about my thoughts about possibly moving back.  I’ve written about what it’s like to live in Thailand.  I’ve been studying Thai since moving here and now read, write, speak and even sometimes understand the language.  Living abroad has a lot of challenges.  For example, learning to cross the street without getting killed!  Other challenges have included making friends in a strange land and dealing with fellow countrymen whose views on being an American rubbed me the wrong way.

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Living here has provided so many wonderful adventures.  I’ve done a lot of bicycling to explore the city and surrounding areas, resulting in some interesting and unexpected misadventures.  For more than a year, I volunteered as an English teacher once a week at a tiny country schoolhouse ninety minutes outside Krungthep.  I discovered the schoolhouse on one of my bike rides, had a great time teaching there, and concluded the assignment when the director of the school retired.  They even included me in their Teachers’ Day ceremonies, which was a great honor.

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My students at Bangkhonthiinai School in Samut Songkhram province.

Along the way, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of His Majesty the King’s reign (the longest reigning current monarch in the world, by the way!).  We had a coup.  My parents and some other family members came to visit.   Tawn and I bought and remodeled a condo.  And we hosted a lovely poolside Thanksgiving dinner.

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Watching the royal barge procession to celebrate the King’s anniversary.

Of all the writing I’ve done about Thailand, though, the one that has received the most views was one I wrote about the debate over teenage castration, a practice common in young Thai men who feel that they are transsexuals.  For some reason, there are a lot of people who Google “teenage castration” and it seems my entry is pretty high up in the results.

As I mentioned, I live with my husband Tawn.  We were married in August 2009 in the United States although we’ve been together since early 2000.  The story about how we met is a sweet one, deserving of a movie screenplay.  After we first met, Tawn lived and studied for his master’s degree in San Francisco.  Now that I’ve been here in Thailand for more than four years, I’ve spent more time living here than Tawn spent living in the US!

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Tawn and I a few days after meeting in January 2000.

When viewing those entries, you might notice that Tawn is a man and so am I.  While I don’t feel the need to make a big fuss about it, it seems that my being gay is a matter of fact that comes up quite often.  For example, when we wanted to get married in California but couldn’t because 52% of the voters thought we shouldn’t have that legal right. Thanks to rulings in mid-2013 by the United States Supreme Court, that issue is somewhat moot.

But this blog isn’t all about love and marriage and Thailand and politics.  The real undercurrent of this blog is food.  I’m a foodie.  Not only do I enjoy eating, I love to cook.  I particularly enjoy trying foods I’ve never made before, just to see if I can.  Bagels, French macaronspasta, baking bread – I’ll try cooking or baking anything just to see if I can.

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My friend Ryan and I buying bánh mì from a vendor in Saigon.

In addition to food, I love travel and enjoy meeting new people.  I’ve had the chance to meet several other Xangans both in their hometowns and here in Thailand.  Tawn and I have been fortunate (not having children makes it easier…) to be able to travel a lot.  We had a fun trip to Tokyo last spring, a trip to Saigon a few years back with a dear school friend, a trip to Seoul the winter I arrived in Krungthep, and a honeymoon in New York City, just to name a few destinations.

So that’s me in a nutshell.  There’s so much more I could write and so much more I’ve already written.  But I’m glad we’ve had a chance to meet and I hope you’ll enjoy reading my blog.

Which brings me to one more thing… one of the things I most appreciate in a subscriber is interaction.  We’re all busy, I get that.  But when people subscribe and never, ever leave a comment, it makes me wonder what interests them about my blog.  It’s a little freaky, in fact.  And when people send a friend request but have never commented even once?  Well, that’s not much of a start to friendship.

So don’t be shy, people.  I’m not asking for a lot, but a bit of interaction and an occasional comment means a lot for me and I think it strengthens the sense of community here.

Coming Out – Final Chapter

Continued from Chapter 3

“I have to tell you something. And I want to you know that if I didn’t love you so much, I wouldn’t share this with you…”

I don’t remember who responded first. In my memory, it is as if my parents spoke simultaneously, when they said – in reference to the third college I was already attending – “Oh, we thought you were going to tell us you wanted to change schools again.” As if that would have been the most devastating news I could have shared. No, nothing that important.

I grew up in a very religious family, one where there was no discussion of homosexuality and one where we didn’t know anyone who was gay.  Because of that and because of the conflicts I had had with my father, I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  My worst fears and expectations never materialized.  At that moment – well, after the statement about changing schools – my parents said exactly the right things. They told me that their biggest concern was that I was happy and they would love me and accept me for whomever I was. Truly, I couldn’t have asked for anything more supportive than that.

To this day, I don’t know the full story of what my parents’ feelings and reactions were. Each of them has shared a little bit with me about the other’s reaction, but I’ve never asked in detail. I’m sure for them that it was a shock, something they probably didn’t see coming, and something that they had to struggle with in order to arrive at a full understanding.

For both my parents, with their strong roots in the Christian faith, praying and soul-searching was probably necessary. For my father, a consummate perfectionist and the type of person who spends a half-dozen years researching cars before finally buying a new one, a lot of reading and research was necessary for him to understand what all this really meant. Continue reading

Coming Out – Chapter 3

Continued from Chapter 2

In the space of the next few days, I turned a lot of thoughts over in my head. In the form of this relationship, I had found a vessel to carry me away from the uncertainty and anguish of my high school years. Now, I felt like I had been thrown off the side of the ship and had no land in sight. How long could I stay afloat?

After much deliberation, I came to a stark realization that if I were going to continue living, I had to come to terms with who I really was. There could be no more lies, there could be no more hoping for the right girl. The problem was I didn’t know how to find my way towards the door of a closet from which I desperately needed to escape.

I decided to quit UC Riverside and move back home. In fact, I still have the list of pros and cons I used to help me make this decision. In the next few weeks, I canceled my tuition for the autumn term, sublet my apartment lease, arranged to transfer my job and applied for school at Santa Clara University, a small Jesuit school a few miles from my parents’ home.

For all the pros and cons, there was one primary reason I chose to move back. Continue reading

Coming Out – Chapter 2

Continued from Chapter 1

During the final two years of high school, I had my first concrete thoughts of myself as a possible homosexual. As I started dating girls and gaining an adolescent awareness of my sexuality, it became clearer to me that while I had feelings for those girls, the feelings were not the same as the thoughts I was having about other boys. This recognition did not just suddenly shift into focus but was something that I realized over time. 

It is the same feeling as when you are putting together a picture puzzle and you manage to fit two pieces together, but deep down you know that the fit isn’t exact.  You’ve forced it.  Slowly, I recognized that the fit wasn’t right, that I was forcing it.  And this recognition was filled with self-hatred.  I remember thinking, maybe I am like that but even if I am, I would certainly never act on it!

It is hard to convey the anguish I felt, a sense of disappointment in myself that was so great that I came very close to committing suicide. Reflecting back on this time of my life, it is a little embarrassing to share. It seems so over-dramatic and is such a poor example of the person I’ve become. But at that time, the pain of self-hatred, of fear of being different, consumed me to such a great degree that I thought that ending my life might be the only option. Continue reading

Coming Out – Chapter 1

Introduction here

Coming out in seventh grade?  I can scarcely imagine coming out in my early teens, but it seems that more and more young people in America are recognizing and vocalizing their sexual identity at an ever-earlier age.  The NY Times Sunday Magazine did an in-depth story on this interesting phenomenon in late September.

The author of the article, who is also gay, had a hard time believing that people as young as 12 and 13 could possibly be self-aware enough to recognize their attraction to people of the same sex.  But, as he pointed out, he was engaging in a double standard. When 12 and 13 year-olds express their interest in members of the opposite sex, we don’t think anything about this is odd.  Why then would we think that someone that young couldn’t recognize their attraction to someone of the same sex?

Certainly, at that age I was starting to recognize those attractions in myself, even though I lacked the language to describe them.  Young people these days have a much more positive image of gays and lesbians thanks to increased visibility in the media and the powerful influence of the internet and social networking sites.

If you asked me at what age I first knew I was gay, Continue reading

Who Am I?

“Who am I?”  Meg, a DC-based blogger whose entries I always look forward to, took up the challenge from another blogger a few months back and wrote an entry answering that question.  Finding it an interesting challenge, I sat down and drafted my own answer to the question, “Who am I?”  I’ve never posted the response, but it led me to an interesting observation.  My being gay plays a much larger role in defining who I am than I expected.

2009-10-09Had you asked me before how big a part of my life being gay is, I would have said that it is just a part of who I am, not the whole thing.  While that is still true, I realize that the experience of struggling to come to terms with that aspect of myself has influenced many areas of my life and much of how I look at the world.

Instead of being just one aspect of my life, something that can be neatly segregated from the rest in the way that a divided cafeteria tray keeps the jell-o salad away from the enchilada casserole, my gayness is a theme that underlies my life, much in the same way that the saltiness of fish sauce provides a critical but subtle note of flavor in nearly all Thai dishes.

Sexual orientation as condiment?  It is either a brilliant metaphor or a crass one; I’ll let you decide.  Regardless, because it is such an underlying aspect of my life, I want to share a story with you.  I want to tell you my coming out story.

Coming out stories are something of a currency within the gay culture.  Being attracted to someone of the same sex, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily the criterion that makes for a cohesive community.  But the nearly universal experience of recognizing your difference and then blindly finding a path through the darkness to the closet door is a common theme for all of us, whether gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

Another blogger to whom I subscribe recently wrote that he doesn’t see why gay people need to announce that they are gay.  From his perspective, straight people don’t announce they are straight.  Why can’t we all be who we are, without having to share it with the world?  While I agree with his goal – universal acceptance – I disagree with his premise that straight people don’t announce they are straight.  There are markers aplenty that send the message that you are straight, from wedding rings to photos of your spouse on your cubicle wall.  When you are in the closet, you have to use fake markers or deception in order to avoid sending out unintended messages.  It can be stressful and tiring to constantly undertake such subterfuge.

Over the next few days, I’ll share my coming out story in the course of four chapters.  People who read this blog who know me personally have heard some parts of this story.  Few, I suspect, have heard the whole thing.  Among other readers, these next four chapters may provoke a wide range of feelings and reactions.  Some readers have had very little exposure to gay people.  Others have different attitudes than I about the rightness of homosexuality.  Others are still, to one degree or another, in the closet.  I look forward to discussing your feelings and reactions and invite you to share them.

Meanwhile, thank you for indulging me as I share this story and take a short break for cooking, travel and Thai culture entries.

Part 1 of the story begins here.