Together with Pride: Willie shares his journey of coming out and the advice he would give his younger self
Throughout Pride Month, we’ll be spotlighting personal and inspiring stories from our 2SLGBTQ+ team members – Here’s Willie’s story.
As part of the Rogers Pride month celebration, we’re featuring stories from a few of our team members who identify as 2SLGBTQ+. Throughout this series you will read open and vulnerable personal stories about their lived experience and what Pride month means to them. Click here learn more about how Rogers celebrates Inclusion & Diversity during Pride month and beyond.
Chun Wai Willie Wong, who goes by Willie at work and with friends started at Rogers in 2013. Currently, Willie has the role of Team Manager, supporting the Central Region. With a passion for the arts, Willie is a talented musician who plays five classical instruments and over the past few years, has successfully picked up a fourth language. Here’s Willie’s story.
You shared that when you were growing up, you experienced challenges both at school and in previous workplaces with colleagues and friends struggling to embrace your full identity. How did these experiences help shape who you are today and how have you turned these difficult moments into growth opportunities?
The “cool kids” used to call me names in the hallway, it started around Grade 10 when I transferred to a new school. They used to call me gaylord or gay loe (Cantonese for gay man) unprovoked. They weren’t necessarily mean about it, but it didn’t help when I was also figuring out what this whole gay thing is for myself. The most traumatic experience I would say was in Grade eight. It was my second year at a week-long Arts Camp. Around the third day in, it was my turn to pick what music to play, and I whipped out my favourite Christina Aguilera CD. Immediately, another boy in the cabin said, “Wow Willie. That’s the music you listen to? You know you don’t have to act like a girl to hang with us right?” I wasn’t too sure how to react at the time. I was so young. I’m not sure why, but I felt that I was unworthy of their company. I felt that I was less than them. I felt like I didn’t belong in this heteronormative world. It made me feel that nobody understood me, and that people actually looked at me with disgust. Like I was this creature, this human, that was born wrong, that was born sick.
At a previous employer, after my interview and offer letter, I found out later that there was an email going around the managers that they, “have to be careful because a gay guy might start working here” and that they might have to “not share a room or get too close just in case” (We sometimes work out of town, so room sharing might happen). By that time, I was already about 19 or 20. I had already come out to my family and close friends who had all accepted me with love and open arms. I was already surrounded by love and acceptance, from outside and within, so things like that don’t hurt me anymore. Certainly, those people were not a full representation of the company, as I’ve made life-long friends at that job. But the lack of diversity training and inclusion programs made it difficult for someone to speak up and stand up for themselves. I pretty much just held it all inside.
These experiences made me love myself and accept myself. My worth is not dependent on my sexual preference. We must learn to believe that we are so much more than the names that people call us. I learned that words only have meanings if you give them meaning. I learned to focus on myself instead of what people are saying about me.
You’ve mentioned that coming out to your friends and family was a key milestone in your life – tell us about those special moments and why they were important for your journey.
Coming out was very scary because my parents actually sat me down at around 13 or 14 and asked me if I was gay. Even I wasn’t sure! I said I 100% was not gay at the time. When I actually came out, I had just finished high school, I was around 18. The stress of looking for love and validation was getting so much that I couldn’t take it anymore, and I felt if I don’t find somebody to listen to my voices inside, I might harm myself. I got home after a rainy night, it was about 6:00 am in the morning. My mother was standing at the door, furious at the fact I returned home so late. After being lectured for a few minutes, I just broke down. I kneeled to the ground and started crying. I don’t remember much of what I said, but my mom told me that I cried about nobody understanding me, and that I was just a creature that is sick that doesn’t deserve love. My mother held me in her arms and said, “you will always be my son.” I know it sounds cheesy, and like a scene from a movie, but that’s actually what happened. My father, who is usually calm and quiet, a man of not many words, came downstairs after hearing the ruckus, handed me a glass of warm water, and said “let’s get some rest first, you must be tired.” I cannot put it into words, how saying those words, “I am gay”, lifted such an enormous weight off my shoulders. It was as if 18 years of pain and suffering was released from my body all at once. It was liberating, but scary. How are my two brothers going to react? What if they hate me? What if they start distancing themselves? Will my parents disown me tomorrow when I wake up? Will I have to start living in the streets? It was very awkward in the house for a week, until my parents sat me down a week after. They were still in denial or shock at the time, but they quickly came around. By the time I was 20, me bringing a date home is normal. It was common for my boyfriend at the time to have meals with my family during the holidays. I was treated the same as my two brothers from then on.
Coming out to my close friends were much less stressful. The moment I came out, they all reacted with, “We all knew. We were just waiting for you to tell us. Now we can finally get to know the real you.” It was a relief to know that I’ve been surrounding myself with people who love me beyond what other people saw.
These moments were important to me because I didn’t want to be treated differently. I didn’t want to be treated as someone that is sick. I didn’t want special treatment because I’m gay. I just wanted to live in a world where loving somebody of the same sex or opposite sex, is the same. The response that I received from my parents and friends. Until I could bring my authentic self to every interaction in life, I felt like I was holding back. I was not my true self. I was afraid of being laughed at. I was afraid of being an outcast. This is important because it shapes me on my journey in life as well. Once I’ve accepted myself, I can do the things that I want. I feel brave enough to face challenges head on, whether it’d be going back to school at 23, or learning a new language. I wasn’t afraid that I was going to be laughed at, because I know I am carving my own journey, living my own experience.
Looking back, what is one message you’d share with your younger self about accepting and celebrating yourself as you are?
The message I will definitely tell my younger self is, “There is no rush to come out to any body. It is nobody’s business but yours. You don’t owe it to anybody to come out to them. You owe it to yourself to learn to accept yourself and find people who accepts you. Nobody is born to be alone.”