Saturday, April 30, 2016

The enigmatic bolster pillow

"So are you going to come out to your mother on this trip?" I ask boyfriend K last month.

We're about to embark on a month long holiday to Asia :-). The plan is to visit several countries, including a couple of weeks in boyfriend K's home country. And as part of the itinerary in boyfriend K's home country, we'll be spending some time with his family.

"Of course not!" answers boyfriend K, with a very defensive tone in his voice.

"Each time I meet your mother, and each time she sees us spending time together, I get even more convinced that she knows anyway," I say, trying to make it seem like less of a hurdle for him.

"Well she doesn't know," replies boyfriend K with a firm tone in his voice. "As you know, I've told my sister, but that's as far as I need to go."

"How can you be so sure that your mother doesn't know?" I ask, as usual feeling slightly perplexed by his certainty on this subject, "she's a smart woman."

"Oh just leave me alone!"

I decide to leave him alone.

I know that coming out as gay to one's family is a very difficult topic for Asian guys. Often it boils down to the fact that they don't want to disappoint their families. However, two of boyfriend K's gay male friends from his home country have managed to come out to their mothers. And in various conversations, they've both told me and boyfriend K that their families accepted the news, and that their lives have been much easier since they came out.

A week later, just after the start of the holiday, and there are eight of us having dinner in a smart Asian-European fusion restaurant in the city where we're staying for a few days. However, the only women at the table are boyfriend K's mother and his sister. In addition to me and boyfriend K, there's boyfriend K's brother, another gay male couple called M and D, and also a single gay man. To my eyes, M and D are quite obviously gay and a quite obviously a couple.

"So how long have you and boyfriend K been together now?" asks M during the meal, oblivious to the fact that boyfriend K's family aren't meant to know that he's gay.

"It'll soon be two and a half years :-)," I answer, glancing sideways at boyfriend K to see whether he's worried about his family overhearing this conversation. But he seems unperturbed. I know why. He's just as convinced that his mother and brother speak no English as he is that they have no idea about his sexuality!

After dinner, I end up chatting a bit to M, out of earshot of the others.

"Did you know that boyfriend K doesn't want his mother or brother to know that he's gay?" I ask.

"What??" replies M, sounding completely amazed, "Of course she knows."

"Mothers always know!" he adds, nodding his head knowingly.

"Well, I tend to agree. Boyfriend K has been in denial about this ever since I've known him."

"Actually, you're very lucky," says M, changing the subject slightly, "because she's warm towards you :-). As you know, I've had various Asian boyfriends. Sometimes I've not even been allowed to meet their mothers."

"I know the feeling," I say, "because I was never allowed to meet ex-boyfriend T's family. In fact, I wasn't even allowed to meet any of his friends :-(".

"Well with one of my ex boyfriends, I sometimes used to meet his mother, and she was always quite cold towards me. But I can see that things are fine for you, with boyfriend K's mother :-)."

A few days later and me and boyfriend K are spending a night in his mother's house, before flying off in the morning to the next country in our itinerary. We're always given the same bedroom whenever we stay in his mother's house, and when I walk into the room, the usual scene greets me. There's a double bed, and dividing the bed into two halves is a bolster pillow:

But this time, I start to wonder what the enigmatic bed bolster signifies. After all, would boyfriend K's mother leave a bolster down the middle of the bed if we were a straight couple? After mulling the situation over in my mind for a while, I decide that there are three interesting possibilities:
  1. I'm wrong and boyfriend K's mother doesn't know that we're a gay couple, or at least she's not sure. So the bolster is to prevent two straight guys from being embarrassed when they share a bed together.
  2. I'm right and boyfriend K's mother does know that we're a gay couple, but she wants to send us a message that she doesn't like the idea of amorous gay activities taking place in her house.
  3. I'm right and boyfriend K's mother does know that we're a gay couple, but she knows that her son thinks that she doesn't know, and she wants to go along with the charade to avoid any difficult moments.
There is of course a fourth possibility, namely that the bed has that bolster on it just because it always does, in which case there's no enigma after all :-(. However, I prefer to think that my third possibility is the truth :-). Boyfriend K's mother was a business woman when she was younger, so there's no doubt that she's very smart.

Looking to the future, it's possible that boyfriend K's mother will make a trip to visit us in London this summer. If so, she'll see that there's no bolster pillow on our bed. I'll also suggest that boyfriend K's mother meets some of my family while she's in the UK. Although I'd much prefer boyfriend K to come out to his family, I'm also mildly curious to see how absurd the situation can become!


Bill said...

Interesting conundrum. I recently got married (in the UK) to my partner and my Asian husband is convinced neither of his parents are aware of our relationship; I've not [yet] met his father and from what I can gather he has on occasion voiced mild "homophobic" comments about another of their family (a cousin who now lives in the US with his male partner). I have however met my husband's mother during a visit she made to the UK a couple of years ago, with another of his (female) cousins and she was a very pleasant woman who was quite friendly towards me and I don't see how she can have been completely unaware of our relationship, but my husband says no, she remains blissfully in ignorance (according to his aunt, his mother's sister, who is aware, her own sister his mother has no idea - who knows really, though). His mother has been running her own business for some years and is, I'd say, quite a smart and savvy woman. Although I never told my own mother (now deceased) that I am gay, I think she knew that I am, a long time ago, having met a number of my friends over the years when she visited me when I lived in various parts of the middle and far east. Several other (younger) of his family members are aware though, as are most of his own friends and he seems quite relaxed about this. I think the real issue is disappointing his parents that he will never produce a grandchild for them (he's an only child). In due course we will certainly be visiting his home country together, and he is even more keen for this to happen than me. Like you I find this whole situation a bit strange, but I am just playing it by ear and not even trying to encourage him to go farther than he feels comfortable with, although we do talk about it fairly often - it's certainly not a 'banned topic' for either of us. Luckily we are perfectly happy together.

GB said...

Sounds like we're very much in the same boat, Bill!

After the dinner that I describe in this post, the story continued. M, who's English, can speak a bit of boyfriend K's native language. A few nights after that dinner, me and boyfriend K plus M and boyfriend K's brother are out in the city for drinks in an area where there are loads of bars, the kind of bars that backpackers frequent. Me and M settle into one bar while boyfriend K and his brother end up in another. We all get a bit *tipsy*, and towards the end of the evening, boyfriend K's brother comes up to me and M in a very friendly way with loads of smiles on his face and starts talking to M. This is perhaps the first chance his brother has ever had to communicate with me without boyfriend K being present. The summary translation that M relates to me is that boyfriend K's mother knows that boyfriend K loves me :-). However, when we're all sober the next day and I tell boyfriend K what his brother told M, he still denies that his mother knows that he's gay, telling me that M's language skills are deficient!

The whole thing seems ridiculous to my Western mind, but no matter, like you Bill we're perfectly happy together :-).

GB xxx

Bill said...

That about sums it up GB :) Luckily my own family (small as it is) are all delighted for me and us both - my own brother was a witness and my late father's surviving younger sister (another sister is also deceased) was at our wedding as a representative of that generation (she's now nearly 90), as were various other family members and friends. All my family and friends like my husband a lot as he is a very likeable, gregarious character whom it would be hard to dislike. The significant age gap between us is not an issue either (I am the older party), even if I did have qualms about this for a while, but it seems to have bothered no-one else. Incidentally there was an interesting and very relevant programme on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm this evening ("For Better or Worse") and I assume it will be available on the iPlayer for a while at least.

All the best to you too - Bill xxx

close encounters said...

"Oh just leave me alone!" - i can so hear him saying that :)

I agree - scenario 3 is the most likely !

And just how absurd do you think it can become ?!
Mother attending your and K's wedding without realising that it's a wedding ??!!

GB said...

That would indeed be ridiculously absurd, Close Encounters. Although I am surprised that it's got this far, it can't get that absurd. Can it!? GB xxx

PS said...

I just saw this post recently. I would like to state the weird fact that the way my mum and dad put their bolsters are exactly like the image you have - though two bolsters in the middle. LOL. I think it must be their sense of aesthetics and I even put put my bolster in the middle too.

In term of my mum's knowledge of me being gay, she said that she somehow knew it all along even before I told her about my ex. I think it must have been the maternal instinct. Pretty much she went with Option 3 and had been waiting for me to tell her when I am ready.