Coming Out to Parents

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Coming Out to Parents

I was visiting my sister in Chicago while my mother was in town from Korea. She always went to see my sister as she had a small baby. My sister left and took the baby with her to give us a little bit of privacy. I came out to her a few months back and she knew that I had to come out to our mother. I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I spent countless hours pondering exactly how to say it. Working through in my head how I wanted to phrase it. Going through scenarios and wondering if she would understand what I am saying. How I would bridge the language gap.

My mother was in the bed relaxing. I crawled in next to her. Preparing to turn my and her life upside down… Umma… I am Trans…

I knew my mother was open to gay people as my sister introduced her to many of her gay friends. I never dared talk about my gay friends as it would potentially open the door to talking about my sexuality or my gender identity. Being open to gay people is one thing but trans is asking for so much. To learn your child is transgender?

One of the things that was always a concern for me was being a burden. I always feel like a burden. My parents and my grandparents sacrificed so much for me to be able to grow up in the states. My college educated mother worked night shift jobs in a factory. My father lived alone in Korea to send us money. My grandparents worked well into their old age just so that we could go to school in the states. And I felt that I was being selfish. That I would dare to want something that is just purely for my own happiness. And that I would ask them to go through this journey with me and accept me for who I am really.

그래? 이제까지 힘들었겠다. She said which roughly translates to… Really? It must have been really difficult till now. I wasn’t prepared for her answer. I didn’t expect her to automatically go to an area of such concern. I asked her if she knew what it meant when I said that I was transgender? If she knew what transgender was? She told me it was ok and that she loves me regardless.

Every single person you come out to is different but there is something really special about coming out to a close family member. If you come out to a friend and they end up rejecting you, you could always make more friends. But your mother? There is no replacing her. For me and so many other people, this is the reason why it is so difficult and scary to come out to close family, even if you trust them to love you regardless, that tiny little doubt represents a chance that you have to be ready and prepared for.

As I explained to my mother exactly how bad it is for LGBTQ people and how often they get rejected by their family, my mother held my hand and told me… never…

I would like to say that things went well from that point, but coming out is a long process. In the coming months our relationship would become strained and filled with awkwardness. I knew my mother didn’t know what to say to me anymore and I didn’t want to talk about my life as if it was some report… I knew my mother needed resources, information, and support but I was unable to provide her with any that would bridge the generational, cultural and language gap that lay between us. I have come out to her and she accepted me but we still grew apart. This is not how it is supposed to happen. If your parents accept you after coming out, you are supposed to grow closer to them…


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What’s in a name?

My legal name is not Sophia, it is actually Sangyoon (상윤). I still go by my Korean legal name to people who speak to me in fluent Korean. It was when I moved to the US during high school I was asked if I wanted to be referred as a different name. I thought about it for a short moment and I choose Sean. I was tired of people not pronouncing my name properly, and also I guess I kinda wanted to fit in too.

One day I was talking to a friend and I jokingly told them how my Korean name is Sangyoon while my colonized name was Sophia and it all of a sudden came rushing back to me. The feeling I had when I realized that the water we drank at home was actually tea. Being asked by my friends if I was Japanese or Chinese and them not believing that a place like Korea even existed.  Not knowing if anything in my life that I considered to be normal would be also be normal to my white friends. That one day that I realized that I was not “Normal”…

Is this what black people mean when they talk about their colonized names? The names that we take on to blend into a culture that has oppressed us for generations?

I was tired of being different. I was tired of not seeing people on TV who were Asian. I was tired of living in a world where Asian men were viewed to be less desirable to date. I didn’t want to be exotic. I didn’t want to be an outsider. I just wanted to be “Normal”. I choose my English name, and I willingly turned my back on my own culture.

Over time, I became stronger. I was able to stand up in strength as an individual and transcend my cultural backgrounds. Instead of being the Asian trans girl Sophia who is identified by her backgrounds, I became Sophia, an individual who is known for her accomplishments. I had succeeded in breaking those chains of my backgrounds… Or did I?

As part of my work with the transgender community I have slowly learned to value people not only as individuals but also for the backgrounds that they bring. And I took some time to look at myself. I never really broke free of my backgrounds. I have erased them from my mind, but the rest of the world still viewed me by them.

So now I am working on evolving. I am working to be more than the individual Sophia who is known for her accomplishments. I am working to be Sophia, the immigrant, transgender, Korean-American, woman with all of her accomplishments, who lives proudly while fully embracing all of her identities. (Who also occasionally goes by Sangyoon to those who are fluent in Korean)

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Reaching Out

One of the many issues that I had when I was early on in my transition was finding positive role models in the transgender community. transgender visibility is a real issue these days. I wanted to find young professional transgender women, and all I could see were people struggling to survive. I wanted to see someone who was thriving!

I ran into a few of Andy Marra’s articles she wrote for the Huffington Post.

I am love worthy

My Beautiful Daughter

Andy’s story really resonated with me for multiple reasons, from our cultural economic background, her beautiful writing and the timing of when I encountered her stories. I decided that I had to reach out to her.

I searched for so long looking for an email address that I could use to connect to her. Eventually I did find an email that she didn’t use anymore but I did send her an email in desperation hoping that she will read it…


I am here sitting in a coffee shop trying not to cry after reading your articles.
My name is Sophia and I am also a Korean American transgender woman like you.
I am a software developer at Microsoft and I been having difficulties connecting with young professional trans women and my therapist suggested that I try connecting with you, which lead me to read your articles on Huffington Post.
In about a month, I am going to go visit my sister for my nephew’s first birthday. My mother will be there also from Korea and I am planning on coming out to her as trans. Since I have first been able to admit to myself that I am trans, there has been 2 people that I found myself terrified of coming out to. One was my sister, who says she loves me and said that she is prepared to stand by me, defend and protect me from any of my family members who may reject me. The other is my mother who I love with all my heart and I cannot stand the thought of losing.
I have been counting down the days in which I need to talk to my mother and I been seriously dreading the worst case scenario in which she will reject me, but reading your article, I feel for the first time hope that she will be able to accept and love me.
I am still very early in my journey, but reading your articles gives me so much hope that one day I could be happy, loved and accepted too.
Thank you so much for your beautiful articles, and even more so, thank you for living proudly as an intelligent, cultured, strong, beautiful transgender woman and showing the rest of the world what we are capable of.
-Sophia Lee
I have since met Andy, and many other amazing strong transgender women that I surround myself with on a daily basis. I get so much of my strength and support from them.
If you need someone to reach out to, please reach out to me. @GeekGirl1024