Family life

Bowen Yang opens up about undergoing conversion therapy as a teen

Bowen Yang
Bowen Yang (Photo: Alex Schaefer/NBC)

In a profile in the New York Times, SNL’s Bowen Yang, 29, has opened up about his parents’ intial reaction to him being gay.

His mom and dad found out about his sexuality when they read an AIM conversation between him and another guy. He was 17 at the time.

Unfortunately, they did not react well, with his father paying for him to undergo so-called “conversion therapy.”

“They just sat me down and yelled at me and said, ‘We don’t understand this. Where we come from, this doesn’t happen’,” he recalls.

His parents grew up in rural China but emigrated first to Australia, where Yang was born, and then to Canada and the US.

“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.”

Related: Gay comic Bowen Yang joins SNL, becomes its first Asian cast member

He agreed to see a therapist to appease his parents, despite thinking it “completely crackers” at first.

He says, “I allowed myself the thought experiment of: ‘What if this could work?’”

“The first few sessions were talk therapy, which I liked, and then it veers off into this place of: ‘Let’s go through a sensory description of how you were feeling when you’ve been attracted to men’.

“And then the counselor would go through the circular reasoning thing of: ‘Well, weren’t you feeling uncomfortable a little bit when saw that boy you liked?’

“And I was like: ‘Not really’.

“He goes: ‘How did your chest feel?’

“And I was like, ‘Maybe I was slouching a little bit’.

“And he goes:‘See? That all stems from shame’.

“It was just crazy. Explain the gay away with pseudoscience.”

Conversion therapy is the discredited practice of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity through psychotherapeutic means. It doesn’t work and usually does far more harm than good.

It has now been banned on minors in 19 US states, most recently Utah, as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico.

Yang says he soon realized the sessions would do nothing to change his sexuality. He went to study at NYU and came to fully accept his sexuality.

He began to make a name for himself posting lip-syncing videos to Twitter and hosting the queer-flavored comedy podcast, Las Culturistas.

He began writing for Saturday Night Live in 2018 and became a regular cast member in 2019. In doing so, he became the show’s first resident Chinese-American cast member.

Although Yang’s now one of the most high-profile gay Asians in the US, he says his father still doesn’t fully accept his sexuality.

“Like my dad every now and then will be like, ‘So, when are you going to meet a girl?’ And I’ll just calmly be like, ‘Dad, it’s not going to happen.’”

“I mean, it’s OK. Both my parents are doing a lot of work to just try to understand and I can’t rush them. I can’t resent them for not arriving at any place sooner than they’re able to get there.”

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After the story appeared in the New York Times, several other media outlets reported on it, with some painting a picture of Yang having a “strained” relationship with his folks. He took to social media yesterday to reassure people this was not the case.

In an Instagram story he said that while being interviewed, he’d thrown in “about a dozen lil addenda about my relationship with my parents being loving and beautiful and nuanced that didn’t make the cut.”

In a separate posting, he said, “There is a mildly cloying Western fascination with Asian family dynamics (which I get!) and modulating gayness onto that always lurches things into pure melodrama.

“I promise it’s not as sad as I made it sound and things are chill and great and good. I’m sure that mirrors other people’s situations too.”