By Kay Lu
Lying in bed, barely dressed due to the heat of the long summer that slept eternally over my country, I told myself “I am lucky to have reached this long with him.” I had just wished my boyfriend goodnight, as he, on the other side of the world, headed downstairs to open Christmas presents with his family. We had not yet given each other presents this Christmas, but we promised each other when we next saw each other, we would have something ready.
This was the first Christmas my boyfriend and I had to spend apart. When we had first started seeing each other in 2018, I had convinced my family to let me stay in Europe for the winter break, and I visited my boyfriend to spend three weeks wrapped indoors, with Christmas dinners and an endless string of fireworks, bursting in applause to welcome in the New Year. If we had it our way, we would be participating in that same tradition this year, but I had not seen my family for ages. So back home I went, on a red-eye to the familiar heat of my country.
Threading our voices through the phone the night before I flew, my boyfriend told me he would miss me and think of me. Unspoken but assumed, we promised to see each other soon after I returned from my sojourn back to Asia. “We’ve made it more than a year, and I know we can reach a second,” he said, with a simple sentence acting as an anchor.
In that conversation, with only the slightest pause, I had responded I think so too. In that silence, I had thought but what about after the second year? This deadline floated in almost every visit we had, every night before we went to sleep. Like a great white shark gliding through the air, the question of what comes after had begun to overshadow my final year of undergraduate studies.
It all felt impossibly large to comprehend. I had spent the better half of the 2010s leaving my family behind as I worked overseas before starting my studies at St Andrews. During these years, I lived the fantasy of living my life away from familiar faces, placing me squarely in the lineage of other queer folx who found themselves searching for a better home. The trope of found family endures in our culture even now, recounted to us in stories, op-eds, and interviews. I let that myth guide me like a lodestone.
The trope of found family rears its head in how my boyfriend and I met, at a comics convention in Belgium. He was a mutual friend of a friend whom I was visiting, and he had invited himself along when he heard I was coming. He was a full head taller than I was, and when he looked at me, I was met with the bluest eyes. Ones I wanted to see again. When it came time to go, we exchanged our details. Afew months of messaging flew by before we would meet up at his place. He brought me to a water theme park, and on the last night of my stay, he asked me if we could see each other exclusively.
From the very start, our relationship was a long-distance one, peppered with calls and the occasional visits. Over the next year, I would meet my boyfriend’s family - his younger sister, his mother, and his father. We would both start learning each other’s native languages, our beginner’s accents rough as we searched for the right turn of the tongue. There was friction: thunderstorms of anger and raised voices that vanished almost as soon as we cooled off. The year would wind down into Christmas, where I would stay with him and his family.
Now, as I lay in my childhood bed, I wondered if things were still simple. We had discussed what comes after my graduation, what we would do if things were to go serious. I was to go live with him and see if things would work out. That would however, necessitate a job, or an offer to study in another country. My boyfriend, understanding as he was, was not always the best help. You just have to try, he would say, the simplicity of that sentence, unbeknownst to him, a near-insurmountable task for me to overcome.
The act of trying is a deceptively difficult choice, and I struggle daily with letting someone say “yes”, for the possibility of human interaction precludes the possibility of being rejected. This sense of paralysis lives alongside other, more familiar fears: the fear that a family member - however cool they would be - would not be okay when they find out I am gay; the fear that a beautiful boy - lit up with laughter and easy charm - would turn me away with a disappointed tilt of the head. In each of these circumstances, I took the quiet route of shutting these futures into little boxes that I could keep beside me, hoping the possibility of warmth would translate into warmth itself.
It is perhaps too glib, to say “I am afraid”, because that source of fear can become a perverse sense of comfort, a method to survive hostile environments. I spent a year working in Brunei before coming to St Andrews, in a workplace where I had to close off parts of myself in order to feel safe. However, as I came to realize when I came to St Andrews, what kept me going in the toughest times would not help me enjoy my life when I got to St Andrews. My body, filled with fear, would shiver, my hands turning clammy with sweat when I tried attending LGBT+ meetups. I would feel alone, when I visited Pride for the first time in my life, watching people enjoy the life I wanted so desperately to have. What had kept me alive would slowly kill my dreams of truly living.
I imagined what my boyfriend would be doing as I lay in my bed. Him going downstairs to the kitchen, where his family would have gathered their gifts on the mantelpiece. The laughter and cheer as each gift was opened. My own gifts, bought in advance and wrapped by my boyfriend, addressed to people I had come to think of as close friends. My family, religious as they were, did not celebrate Christmas beyond the yearly church service. When my family joked about the gifts I had bought (and took photos of) for my boyfriend’s family, they said that my presence at home would be what they wanted best.
It is a very real possibility that I may have to return home after graduation to find work and accumulate the funds for a Master’s. Gaining citizenship has its own battle of rules and restrictions, and the idea of spending time away from my boyfriend is a bitter truth I must confront each day. The options are drilled into me by now: apply for the long shot, or face two to three years of barely seeing the man I love. Faced with the possibility of not seeing the person I care so deeply for is a uniquely exquisite fear, heightening that same fear of being rejected.
In some queer shows, like “Pose”, the found family is embraced due to the rejection of one’s birth family. The joy of found family, then, rests on its freedom to restructure and form a new life from one that has chosen to disown you. While my parents may not know of my relationship, my siblings have accepted me for who I am. How could I begin to reconcile the pull between my siblings who I love, and the man I want to be with?
The sophomoric struggle of romance appears in the decisions to build something together, and by doing so, bind two people into one singular life. The differing constellations of age, belief, family, culture, and history are blended into a lived landscape that people slowly come to see as having always existed. But there is, as I have realized, tensions in that process of combining two different lives. That fear that lives within me is afraid of losing this future we will find together, and of losing the family that I will have to move away from.
I am lucky to have reached this long with him, my brain reminds me, and I realize that this rings true. To have been together so long in itself is a victory, to reach this stage where the path appears to be running thin and unstable. But to be consumed by visions of the future is akin to seeing the totality of the problem, and not the tools in front of me to solve my problems. Yes, I might be unable to see him for a few weeks more. This separation is a possible harbinger for my future. But there is still joy in the faintest of music, grasped from slender possibilities.
When I come back to Scotland for my final semester, when the future is so awfully dark with ambiguity, there’s still pinpricks of light to hold on to.
So, before I slept, I texted my boyfriend one last time and told him I love him. I checked my heart and found that is still true. Then I gave myself to sleep.