Editor’s Note: Christopher Murray was asked to be a guest blogger for the Chapter as an honoree of the 2009 Emerging Social Work Leader Award.
As a gay clinical social worker in private practice in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, my caseload is about seventy-five percent gay men. Gay men struggle with all the universal human emotional struggles, for example the fundamental human conflict: we want to be close to people but it’s often dangerous to be close to people. But gay men have their own unique versions of these universal struggles and social work’s core ethics remind us that it’s important when working with a person to recognize and validate the special circumstances of that person’s culture and identity.
Sometimes the multiple identities we carry can complicate this, especially if they seem to conflict with each other. Recently, I’ve been learning about some of the special struggles of Asian gay men and how their complex identities can create pain, especially in the context of the legacy of the difficult immigration and acculturation experiences of their families.
I’ve been spending more time researching the concept of inter-generational trauma, particularly that of people of Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese nationality and descent.
In China, “Chairman” Mao’s death in 1976 ended the so-called “Cultural Revolution” during which his state-sanctioned call for procreation led the population almost doubling from 550 million to 900 million people. This rapid growth was accompanied by massive migrations from rural areas to the cities and the subsequent problems of hunger, economic displacement and culture shock, all on top of the trauma of the repressions of the Cultural Revolution.
The children of the Chinese immigrants who came to the United States in search of a better life often aren’t aware of the internalized pressures they feel to achieve success to validate their parent’s suffering, nor the alienation that their own American identities may cause in relation to their parents often partial acculturation. This story can be mightily complicated when these brave new Chinese Americans realize they are gay.
Such conflicts led to painful splits in self-concepts that often take great effort and much time to heal. Gay Asian children of immigrants can benefit greatly from identifying these conflicts and finding supportive peers who can validate their seemingly unique experiences.
More needs to be understood and written about such complex personality conflicts. My gay Asian clients are teaching me about resilience and courage as they struggle to integrate their sense of themselves and embrace their own complexity as a way of healing.
Fung, R. (1991). Looking for My Penis. In Bad Object-choices (Eds). How Do I Look? Queer Film & Video, pp. 145-168. Seattle: Bay Press
Ying, Y. & Meekyung, H. A test of the intergenerational congruence in immigrant families—Child Scale with Southeast Asian Americans. Social Work Research. March, 2007
Christopher Murray, LCSW, graduated from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College and is an adjunct lecturer at the Silver School of Social Work at New York University. He can be reached via www.christophermurray.org.