The "Saturday Night Live" breakout star says his Chinese parents struggled with their discovery that he was gay: "Where we come from, this doesn't happen."
Bowen Yang, who has made a huge mark in a short time on "Saturday Night Live," becoming the show's first Chinese-American cast-member, opened up for the first time about his experiences with gay conversion therapy when he was a teenager.
The 29-year-old comedian first gained national recognition for his impression of Kim Jong-un -- stepping in from the writer's room last season -- before breaking boundaries and joining the repertory cast this season where he has continued to shine.
But Yang showed a more serious and compassionate side in opening up about some of the darker experiences in his life with The New York Times, including how his parents found out he was gay and their drastic next move.
According to Yang, he never got the chance to come out formally to his parents because they discovered it on their own when they found a rather lewd AOL conversation he was having with someone. It's certainly not the kind of conversation anyone would want their parents to see at 17 years old, and it's even worse that he was outed this way.
To say it came as a culture shock to his Chinese parents is a huge understatement. "They just sat me down and yelled at me and said, ‘We don't understand this. Where we come from, this doesn't happen,'" Yang said.
He also said that he'd only ever seen his father cry at his grandfather's funeral, "and now he's sobbing in front of me every day at dinner."
Yang said he was devastated to have thrown his parents into such turmoil and so desperate to do whatever he could to make it right that he even went along with it willingly and determinedly when his dad surprised him with gay conversion therapy sessions.
"I allowed myself the thought experiment of: ‘What if this could work?'," he said. "Even though as I read up on it, I was just like, ‘Oh, wait, this is all completely crackers.'"
Unfortunately, as Yang explained the process by which the therapist tried to work him through and away from his homosexuality, it was clear that he was much smarter than whatever this technique was, seeing through its circular logic and disjointed data.
"The counselor would go through the circular reasoning thing of, ‘Well, weren't you feeling uncomfortable a little bit when saw that boy you liked?' And I was like, ‘Not really,'" Yang recalled. "He goes, ‘How did your chest feel?' And I was like, ‘Maybe I was slouching a little bit.' And he goes, ‘See? That all stems from shame.' It was just crazy. Explain the gay away with pseudoscience."
He said he even tried his best to be straight when he first went away to college, even going so far as to almost convince himself he'd developed a crush on a female student. But it didn't last, obviously, and so he found himself having to have a second "coming out" with his parents.
This one, at least, was on his own terms. And as he was older, and had certainly been through some experiences by this point, he was able to deal with their lack of acceptance from a healthier and more self-aware place.
"Eventually, I just got to this place of standing firm and being like, ‘This is sort of a fixed point, you guys. I can't really do anything about this. So either you meet me here or you don't meet me.'"
Through it all, Yang continued to love his parents unconditionally and he was able to accept that this wasn't malicious on their part; it was just something they weren't able to deal with yet. And he says they're still working on it. "I can't rush them," he said.
Nevertheless, they were both there when Yang made his debut appearance on "Saturday Night Live," showing their support and love as he realized a dream.
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