This is important for you to know and for me to say: I am Will Dao. I am a gay, Asian American cisgender male raised Buddhist and broke.
At home, I grew up with a lot of older brothers so it was a sausage fest from day one. While they’ve since changed, my immediate and extended family picked on me intensely for being too feminine throughout most of my childhood and teenage years. I’ve been called “gay” for as long as I can remember and definitely not always in an endearing way. Outside my house, I was verbally and physically assaulted for being Asian in my predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhood. As a a kid, I figured if I couldn’t hide my Asian-ness then god damn it, no one would ever find out that I was gay, too. If my family was that critical of me acting the way I did, what would strangers do? So I learned at a very, very young age how not to be me. I built myself a Mariah Carey-worthy walk-in closet that I could stay in forever. I became a caricature of what a kid might think a straight guy is: I learned to speak a little deeper, avoided overly “feminine” gestures, swaggered instead of strutted, nodded in agreement at how hot Paula Abdul was when my heart belonged to 4 out of the 5 New Kids on the Block. When family and friends wondered aloud if I was gay, I’d give them the answer I thought they wanted to hear: “NO.”
I learned to hide. To stay silent. To never draw attention to myself in public spaces ever for fear of getting insulted or worse, beat up or killed. I watch the news. I know what can happen.
I knew from an early age I was some sort of queer, but denied this through elementary school, through middle school, through high school, opened up a little bit in college, opened up a little bit more post-graduation, opened up a lot more when I moved to San Francisco where I met the love my life, and in what I thought was the ultimate act of self-acceptance, opened the whole fucking closet door and came out to my mom over a bowl of noodles this past Christmas at age 35. THIRTY. FIVE. You can’t be more out than that, right? Well…
I have been with MGS for almost seven years now. He is an amazing man. He is the most generous, intelligent, and kind person I know. He’s spontaneous. He’s fun. He’s shameless. He’s loved me for who I am from Day One and has helped me become more open and honest to myself and in turn, everyone else around me. I cannot imagine life without him. I love him I love him I love him.
Just last Thursday or Friday, we were walking towards downtown Ashland, and he reached his arm out and looped it around mine. Instinctually, my whole body grew tense.
This has happened before. He would hold my hand or kiss me or say “I love you” out in the open and I would get nervous, look straight ahead, pull away, or walk as quickly as possible to our destination. Only when I’m sure we’re not being watched or when we’re walking in the dark or when we’re surrounded by close friends would I ever dare to show any sign of affection to him in public. But I had never spoken to him about my anxiety. I had never told him, “I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want to be insulted. I don’t want to get beat up. I don’t want to die for loving you.”
Instead this time, I brushed him off and told him, “Honey – I don’t like PDA.”
He wears his heart on his sleeve. I saw what those words did to him.
Two days ago we learned about Orlando and the unraveling story of shooter Omar Mateen, a potentially closeted, gay man who purchased a ginormous, dangerous, lethal weapon COMPLETELY legally, and who targeted a gay Latino nightclub and its patrons to slaughter. For the next day and a half after the incident, I felt an overwhelming sense of melancholy. Was it the sheer number of people killed? Was it because they were gay? Was it because they were so tragically murdered in a location that’s supposed to be a safe space for LGBTQ of color?
I decided to attend a vigil organized by my amazing colleagues at OSF. MGS, my friend and cast mate PT, and I walked over together from a fried chicken dinner we all attended. It takes a lot for me to walk away from fried chicken and booze, but I needed to be around other LGBTQ and allies at that moment. There was a large crowd assembled on the Bricks around the Green Show stage. As we settled in our spots for the tail end of CHY’s moving cover of “Man in the Mirror,” I scanned the crowd. Lots of hugging, lots of holding hands. I stood with my hands in my pockets and put on my hat. I didn’t want to be noticed.
TB took to the stage. He opened with a story about a train ride he took where he spotted a straight, cisgendered couple doing what straight, cisgendered people do without a second thought: publicly flaunt the privilege of public affection. In contrast were two males sitting across from him, staring straight ahead, with a bag between them. Nothing special except that beneath the bag, they were holding one another’s hands clandestinely.
That was the trigger. The story hit me hard. Tears poured out. As much as I didn’t want us to be, we had become that couple. This melancholia I was feeling was actually a deep feeling of shame, even as an “out” gay man. It was a feeling of regret for not walking down the street proudly with MGS in my arms. It was the pain of his reaction when I brushed him aside.It was guilt for the awful things I said and did as a closeted man because I hated myself so much that I treated others like jerks. It was the burden of fearing that at any moment, some asshole who doesn’t give a fuck about me, who only sees a faggot homosexual, can kill me because of one piece of my identity that he — and it’s most often and likely HE — dislikes. It was feeling like I wasn’t doing enough for the LGBTQ community, not being as vocal for them as I have been for the APA community, not speaking out against all the hate crimes that have been targeted at us, especially as of late.
It’s said we are most apathetic when we don’t have a personal investment in a situation that will incite us into action. I am writing this entry in a very public forum so you know who I really am and to get you personally invested.
Orlando has been San Francisco has been New York could be anywhere could be MGS could be me. If you love me, help me. I need my family and friends to stand with me so that I am not alone because I am so so so tired and scared and angry. So please help me. I’m especially addressing you straight, cisgendered people, especially if you’re white, who have it so fucking easy you don’t even know:
Speak out against homophobia and against racism, write your representatives to enact stricter gun control laws NOW, love your kids, family, and friends for who they are, teach your children not to be assholes. Help me build a world where my nieces and nephews, your kids, and my children don’t have to live with hate, fear, shame, and repression. It sucks. Whatever beautiful beings they grow into, I want them to be happy about who they are and live openly without worry about being hated or harmed for whatever insane reason.
Help me, PLEASE. Help me, NOW.
The vigil continued with more poetry, a candle lighting ceremony, and ended with CHY and CC singing, “True Colors.”
And I’ll see your true colors
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow
The song ended and the crowd blew out their candles. We all turned to hug our neighbors. I felt a release. Love is a strong antidote and even stronger ammunition. MGS and I walked home, my hand in his out in the open.