Before Bowen Yang was a household name as a new SNL cast member receiving praise from critics and fans of the show alike, he was a closeted gay kid growing up in Colorado. When his parents finally discovered he was gay, via an AOL Instant Messenger conversation they stumbled upon, they were far from accepting.
“They just sat me down and yelled at me and said, ‘We don’t understand this. Where we come from, this doesn’t happen,'” Yang recalled in a candid interview with The New York Times.
“I’d only seen my father cry when my grandpa died and now he’s sobbing in front of me every day at dinner. And I’m thinking, ‘How do I make this right?’ This is the worst thing you can do as a child of immigrants. It’s just like you don’t want your parents to suffer this much over you.”
Yang shared that his father came home one day and informed him he had scheduled eight sessions “with a specialist,” who turned out to be trafficking in conversion therapy, the debunked practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
“I allowed myself the thought experiment of: ‘What if this could work?’” Yang told The Times. “Even though as I read up on it, I was just like, ‘Oh, wait, this is all completely crackers.’”
What started as basic talk therapy, which Yang said he liked, soon “veered off” into “pseudoscience.”
“It was a cultural thing for them, this cultural value around masculinity, around keeping the family line going, keeping certain things holy and sacred,” Yang said of his parents’ attempts to change him. “It was me wanting to meet them halfway but realizing it had to be pretty absolute. It was an either-or thing. There was not that much middle ground.”
Eventually he had to tell his parents they would either need to accept him for who he was, or he would have to accept that they couldn’t. While he said his parents still have some work to do on the issue they remain close.
“I can’t resent them for not arriving at any place sooner than they’re able to get there,” Yang said magnanimously.
While there remains no federal ban on conversion therapy, a number of states have banned the practice on minors. This month Utah became the 19th state to ban it.