Okay, lemme be real. For all the joy and peace and adventure and freedom I’ve found out here, building a new life away from my old church community and family… it’s still some tough shit doing it alone sometimes.
So on the hard nights, I have to write myself letters. To remind myself of how far I’ve come. To clock the loss and name it. To catch my doubts and soothe them.
Sometimes I wish there was some kinda field guide to building life on your own. Like, where’s our goddamn WikiHow for prodigals!? But then I think, the only one we’ll have is the one we write.
So I’m starting a series! Every time I write a letter to myself on a tough night, I’ll rewrite it to anyone else who has faced family judgment, distance, or rejection for following their heart or living authentically. The freedom builders, life chasers, black sheep, trailblazers.
I’m calling this series Love Notes to Prodigals. It’s for you. It’s for us.
This is the one for when you miss home.
Home is a feeling
Do you remember the last time you felt at home? Like, really at home?
Honestly? I don’t know if I can. But God, I miss it. I never miss how I was made to feel when I was at home. Still, every blue moon, I miss feeling at home. Like, hand-over-my-mouth, achy-chest, running-out-of-tissues miss it. So. Much.
It took losing home for me to realize what home even means. It’s not a couch and a full fridge and dog on your lap (yeah, that does sound amazing.) Home’s a feeling. Home is knowing that with these people, in these places, you can be safe, you will be cared for, and you are loved. Like love, you give and receive it. And we all deserve it. Need it, even.
Home requires safety. So, home requires acceptance. At home, there is no fear. There is no abuse of power. There are no rules about who you must and must not be.
If you grew up in a home that was unsafe, unaccepting, or power-imbalanced (like me), this might have taken a long time for you to realize too: home can be more than what you had. Home should, MUST, be better.
Leaving home gives you the perspective to see what needs to change (or, bullshit is generational)
Why’d you leave? Did you leave?
When I told my parents that I’m pansexual and didn’t believe in Christianity anymore, it broke their hearts. After seeing how intense their reactions were, I decided I had to support myself. They told me I was tearing the family apart. Destroying it. I was told that I was doing this to us. (Dishonor on me, dishonor on my cow…)
But here’s the thing. I wasn’t. All I did was tell the truth, to be myself. The way they reacted — choosing to no longer pay tuition for my college and place guilt on me — was their decision. They chose to let homophobia and the idea that disbelievers are disgraceful guide their actions. They chose shame over courage.
It took me a year to see this: abuse, stigma, indoctrination, shame, silence, and all that crap? Bullshit is generational. They only continue because the cycles aren’t broken.
In my Evangelical Chinese American family? I didn’t even know my mom had a sister because she was mentally ill. We can’t say the word “divorce” around my grandpa without upsetting him. Okay, yeah, we got it bad.
And you know what, that shit is cultural, religious, and family-specific. You see it in the culture of silence and blame around sexual assault, eating disorders in mothers and daughters, honor killings, long-kept family secrets, shame around mental illness… the list goes on and on and on.
It turns our homes into places where we must hide. Keep quiet. And feel afraid. It takes our homes from us.
How much of our truth is casualty to our shame? How much of that shame doesn’t even belong to us, but are relics from past generations we just never put down?
You get to redefine home for yourself and to your family
Separating from my family, disagreeing with what they consider to be love, home, and family — it fucking sucks sometimes. I know. But you know what? Now we get to figure out what we want it to be. To take our parents’ and ancestors’ flawed definitions… and show them a better way.
Shame is bullshit, and bullshit’s generational. Our families can react explosively when we break norms our elders carried for generations. But when we choose to put ourselves before the stigma of our ancestors and reputations of our perpetrators, we pave the way for the little ones who will come after us. We make shit possible. We heal shit so they won’t ever have to face it. See,
I am not shaming my family by telling the truth.
I am honoring our future generations. I am showing our ancestors a different way. I am redefining the Tangs’ “possible.”
When my twin’s children and my cousins’ children and my friends’ children are born, how many of them will be queer? How many of them will dream beyond what their parents believed possible? How many of them will be women?
Let no future child in this family ever be told that being queer is disgusting. Let no future child believe they are not their own and must die to themselves. Let no future girl be trained to be pretty, quiet, proper and submissive. And let no Tang ever think that being mistreated — by parents or others — is acceptable.
That may be the way things are. It doesn’t have to be how they are now.
We deserve more. We can heal. There is a better way. Let us be the first to try.
Of my ancestors, how many were queer? Were spirited women prevented from being independent, strong or smart? How many doubted faiths? How many were forced to conform? How many were made to accept mistreatment as normal?
May I honor them by finding the freedom they may not have been able to. By speaking my mind the way they all deserved to. By breaking cycles of abuse and shame they lived and died under. And if they too stepped outside the lines, hell: I’m just carrying on the tradition.
What questions would you ask about your past and future family? How do you want to honor them? What do you think home can be to your family now?
Finding home in the future
This is the inheritance I make for my brother’s future children. My cousins’ children. And an example to others in the community I left. Of who we can be. Of who we don’t have to be. Of how much we really deserve.
This is the example I set for everyone still living in the closet who doesn’t know if they can make it out. As young as 14 and old as 40 or 50, I’ve heard from so many who are where I was and keep up with me. It’s okay to go. In fact, it can be fucking amazing.
And that? That — my love for the people yet to come and people still in the closet — makes me feel at peace. I love them for who they are. I will fight for their right to be authentic and safe. That’s home: love, caring, and sacrifice. I’m still trying to create home for myself. But the future generation? I hope that their homes will be safer because I told the truth, challenged abuse, and slam dunked shame into the trash can. And: they will always have a home with me.
I can love the people in my family who haven’t been born yet. I can honor the Tangs who came before me. By coming out to my family, maybe one day I can heal it.
Let my future family know: Maxwell Tang, born Daniella Grace, kissed girls and disbelieved. She told the truth. She left her parents’ house. And she lived. And she was okay. And my God, she was happy.
Maybe you’re the only person in your family doing what you’re doing, being what you’re being, or saying what you’re saying.
But by being the only person now, one day… you’ll just be the first.
Love to the onlys and the firsts.