My parents were both born in Cambodia along with my two sisters. I am their first child to be born in the United States. I was born in the Bronx, New York, and we moved to Long Beach, where I have resided for almost 30 years.
Growing up, I disowned my heritage and culture. My family was not that picture perfect family that was shown on TV. We never had family gatherings. We never spent holidays together. We didn’t have family dinners. We were so consumed in our personal lives that family wasn’t a priority.
Distanced myself from family
Throughout the years, I distanced myself further and further away from them to find that all-American family. Since everyone was so consumed in their personal lives I had to find out who Sam was. Am I gay? Am I bi? Am I American or Cambodian?
All through high school, I was “raised” by other families, most being of white descent. I would spend all my time at friends’ houses having dinners, for holidays, etc. They showed me the definition of family or what family should be. I was trying to fill that void that was missing in my life.
Losing my mom
In 2005, I lost my mom. I was devastated, and my life turned upside down. I was in my first semester of college, and I was failing miserably. I couldn’t concentrate. My drive for college didn’t exist.
Joining Jehovah’s Witnesses
In 2006, I met a friend that introduced Jehovah’s Witnesses to me. I thought I found my calling card. I would attend three meetings a week. I felt it gave me a purpose and direction in life. As much as I enjoyed being a Jehovah’s Witness, it never completely sat right with me.
I wanted to be a part of a family so bad I was willing to ignore a big part of my life. I was willing to erase and dismiss that fact that I was gay. For many years, I preached the word of the Bible and suppressed who I really was.
Coming out to my sisters
Christmas of 2008, my sisters were living together, and I knew I was ready to open up to them on who I really was. Although nervous and scared, I knew it was time to come out to them and just mentioned, “I have something to tell you. I am gay.”
To my surprise, my older sister said, “So am I.” At that particular moment, I felt safe and authentic for the first time in my life.
Coming out to my dad
I decided to come out to my dad months later. At that time, I was living with my first boyfriend. We lived together for about a year. One evening, I invited my dad and stepmom over to dinner (not how I planned to come out to my dad). My dad wanted a tour of the apartment. I showed him the bathroom, the kitchen, and so forth. We got to the bedroom, and he asked, “So where do you sleep?,” and I responded, “Right there, dad.” He said, “Where does your friend sleep,” and I responded, “Right there, dad.” He was silent.
We had dinner and never talked about it again.
‘Where does your friend sleep?’
The following month he asked to have dinner with us again. He decided to take his own tour this time. When he got to the bedroom, again he asked, “So where do you sleep?” I said, “Right there, dad.” He said, “Where does your friend sleep?,” and I responded, “Right there, dad.”
To my surprise, he said, “Oh…you guys sleep together in the same bed.” Without hesitation, he asked, “Are you happy son?”
I knew right there and then everything was OK, and that he accepted me.
International Imperial Court
In 2016, a dear friend of mine opened up that he had been using a local food bank for the past year. Coincidentally, in the same year, I was approached by a member of The International Imperial Court of Long Beach to run for King of Hearts. I won, and all proceeds went to the AIDS Food Store of Long Beach. Because I wanted to help a friend who was hungry, this is where my journey began. Right then and there, I knew that I wanted to make a difference in my community.
Cambodian-American gay man
Growing up in America, it’s easy to lose your connection with your heritage and culture. I am proud to say I am a Cambodian-American gay man. As much as I want to move the needle with my LGBTQ+ community, I also want to bridge that gap within cultures, religions, and how we identify. Ultimately, I want to bring our community together to accept our true self.
Editor’s note: PFLAG offers support to all families and friends who might be struggling after a loved one comes out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. PFLAG has resources for Asian-Pacific Islander families and friends, including chapters in New York and the Los Angeles area.