Living in Taiwan, Chou Kuan Ting remembers watching American movies. He dreamed of studying abroad, laughing with American students and walking through campus in the sunshine. These were experiences he thought were only possible in the movies.
“But when I actually got here and I actually seen that and the feeling is something that I cannot describe but just that I am into the movie,” he said.
Chou Kuan Ting is a gay international student from Taiwan. At 23, he moved to America to take part in Kent State University’s English as a Second Language program. Chou Kuan Ting has been attending KSU for the past five months. His friends call him Chandler, after his favorite character from the TV show Friends.
When Chandler first moved to Campus Pointe with three other roommates, his sexual orientation stood out.
“The one say he not even meet me yet, but when we talk first time on the phone he knew I’m gay,” Chandler said.
This never proved to be an issue, though, with any of his roommates.
“I feel very curious about that you don’t mind living with gay people? I mean maybe someday you lie on the sofa on the living room maybe I will kiss you. You don’t afraid that? [My friend] said, ‘No, I don’t afraid that.’”
Living at home in Taiwan, though, Chandler did not feel the same understanding from his parents. Although he has been out for five years, he has never told his mother or father. He felt added pressure, he said, because he is the only male child to carry on the family name.
“I always feel that they always try to warn me that, ‘That’s wrong. That’s not right. You cannot be gay,’ and I feel very nervous of course, and then I tell them, ‘No, of course I am not. Why you keep saying that? I’m not.’ Because I think really easy to feel they don’t want me to be gay, so I don’t going to tell them anyway.”
Even though he has not told them, Chandler does wonder at times if his parents don’t already know. One evening, they saw the replay of a show their son had attended, where its host prompted Chandler to kiss another boy. He complied.
Upon watching the program, Chandler’s parents confronted him. He did not even formulate a response before his father could rationalize an explanation. The kiss was scripted, the father said. The show told his son what to do, what to say, and that was that.
“Yes, and my mother took that. Sometime I will feel maybe my family already know I’m gay, but they just so afraid to accept the truth. I don’t think they ever will.”
Despite the fact that he refuses tell his parents, Chandler said he thinks it is much easier to be gay in Taiwan than in America.
“Before I came here people always say, ‘Oh my gosh, America is so open-minded. You definitely can get so much boyfriend in United States.’”
Chandler agreed with his friends at the time, but changed his mind when he got to America. Although he is openly gay with many U.S. friends, he is more hesitant to be open with the general public.
“I think telling people that I’m gay here is more difficult because the United State, men should really be men and very strongly and very manly,” he said. “I can feel that maybe if I tell them that I’m gay, maybe they will don’t want to make friend with me anymore or even punch me.”
Such masculine standards are not the same case in Taiwan, though. Chandler said it is easier for him to meet other gays and lesbians in Taiwan. Gay men are easily distinguished by their chosen attire—skinny jeans and brightly colored, fitted shirts—the same outfit Chandler likes to wear.
“The gaydar I have in my country is really not working in the United States. I cannot tell who’s gay and who’s not.”
Chandler’s straight friends in Taiwan picked up on his style, which made his sexual orientation obvious.
“When I tell my friend the first time, they feel very shocked,” Chandler said. “But next second they say right away, ‘I knew it!’ I never really met someone that really hate a gay. I think I can tell them, and if they cannot accept, then it’s okay because at least I’ve got another friend.”
Aside from trying to fine-tune his American gaydar, Chandler said he likes sharing Taiwanese and Chinese movies with his new friends. What he enjoys most, though, is sharing his culture through cooking.
“Cooking dinner for American friend and also international student because I can sharing with them about the food in my country about the tastes because every time they get so excited,” Chandler said. “Also, when after they eat my food they also will feel ‘Oh my God, Chandler, you are the best chef ever!’”
Chandler remembered receiving a culture shock of his own when he first came to America. Unlike the Taiwanese, he said, Americans are more outgoing and personable with strangers.
“People will always love to have a conversation with you,” he said.
Connections and friendships Chandler has made in America have allowed him to visit Pittsburgh, Niagara Falls, Cleveland and Amish country. After a minute of silence, he reflected on the Amish community.
“My country also have that kind of people that don’t rely for outside of world,” Chandler said. “I think is really good for global warming. Yes.”
After arriving in America five months ago and attending Kent State since, Chandler realized there was something he missed about home life.
“I think I start to feel homesick now because my teeth is really painful. I no see doctor, especially dentist, will be extremely expensive, and also because I don’t have the healthy insures.”
When he looked ahead, though, a more serious answer disclosed what he will miss after leaving America.
“My friends. I want to have job in United State, and I want to feel myself is a United States citizen, yes.” Chandler said. “And I want that I can contain the friendship with my friend just like the friendship I have at my country because I don’t want to feel that I am only international student. I want to feel that I am also American. I think the thing I will most miss is that I am foreigner and I make friend with America.”
Pending acceptance into the master’s program for hospitality management, Chandler hopes to return to America in the fall, prepared to both gain an education and fine-tune his gaydar.
Emily Inverso is a freshmen magazine journalism major and a Web reporter for ThatGayMagazine.com.