WESTWOOD, CA — As the temperature began dipping below eighty, Matthew Park, a junior at UCLA, felt the familiar festive tingle in the air and knew it was that time of year again. As his friends packed to visit their hometowns, Park eagerly began to prepare his own suitcase for his annual return to the closet.
“It’s been such a long time!” says Park quite animatedly. “I’m so used to being comfortable with my identity and having all my peers accept me as I am. I’ve been getting nostalgic about having nightmares of being tortured in hell every time my heart skipped for another dude.”
One of the most exciting parts of going home for the holidays is that Park would not be making the journey alone. It has become a Christmas tradition for Park to phone his friend Tanya Chao to be his date for holiday dinner. Park and Chao had been close friends all throughout high school, where they were honored as the Most Valuable Players of their track and field team every year. Both went on to attend the same university, where Park continued to run track while Chao joined the rugby team. Both found romantic partners of their respective genders.
“See, it works out so perfectly!” says Park. “Since Tanya and I have always been so close, everyone back home just assumes that we’re dating. And we’re always happy to help each other out and keep each other’s gay at bay, just for a little while.”
Chao admits that while the situation is not ideal, it is better than the arrangement that she had maintained prior.
“My girlfriend Mica would come home with me during school breaks, and I would have to introduce her as my best friend,” said Chao. “My parents started getting suspicious when they would ask us about our boyfriends and we’d both start cracking up. It also didn’t help that we always fell asleep on the living room couch spooning while ‘The L Word’ was still playing on the TV.”
Park is thankful that having Chao over for a single dinner over the course of a year is enough to convince his family that his heterosexual love life is thriving.
“It isn’t great that I have to deny the existence of the most important person in my life on a day that celebrates all the profound and meaningful relationships we have,” says Park. “But it is sort of nice to relive the days when I couldn’t even try to find a romantic relationship due to the vicious rumor mill of my town. You know, sometimes we regard the toxic environments we grew up in with comforting familiarity. So then we’ll always feel compelled to return to it, because it’s really all we know. I guess that’s why I always look forward to this sham dinner, where I can go back to pretending that I’m the perfect child that my parents love, rather than someone with what they think is a mental illness that will condemn me to hell.” Park laughs. “It’s either no homo or no home, I guess!”
Park and Chao leave for home the day after finals. Both will take the Flyaway bus to the airport, where they will sit together and practice holding hands while actively trying not to cry.
Article by Sophie Gu
Illustration by Jakob Kiebach