Life

Bowen Yang from SNL was sent to conversion therapy as a teen

Bowen Yang
Bowen YangPhoto: YouTube Screenshot/HBO

Bowen Yang has made waves this year as Saturday Night Live’s first Chinese-American and third openly gay male cast member. His SNL characters have become universally adored, and his fame has been skyrocketing as of late.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Yang, 29, revealed that as a teenager, he was forced to attend gay conversion therapy.

Related: Saturday Night Live hilariously spoofs CNN’s LGBTQ Town Hall

It happened when he was seventeen, after his parents discovered a sexual conversation Yang was having online.

“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 told the Times.

Yang’s father, Ruilin, grew up in rural China. He lived in a straw and mud hut, and while his parents were illiterate, he loved to read and managed to attend a university.

His mother Meng was a gynecologist in China, and the couple moved to Australia before Yang was born. Yang lived with his family in Australia and Canada before settling in Aurora, Colorado, outside of Denver.

After his parents discovered Yang’s sexuality, Yang watched his father cry at the dinner table every night, feeling horrible about the agony he’d caused his family.

One day, his father told him that he had signed him up for conversion therapy.

Yang told the Times that he bought into it for a little while, hoping it might even work.

“The first few sessions were talk therapy, which I liked,” he said, “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 you 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.”

After the therapy ended, Yang attended New York University, where he continued to try (and fail) to be straight. He said he finally had to come out to his parents for a second time and explain to them that he was gay and it wasn’t going to change.

“Eventually,” he said, “I just got to this place of standing firm and being like, ‘This is sort of a fixed point, you guys. I can’t really do anything about this. So either you meet me here or you don’t meet me.’”

Yang never planned to cut his parents out of his life, though, or vice versa. He continues to visit home, and his parents continue to support his career.

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

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