Family Portrait: K.C. Choong

K. C. Choong has been out, loud and proud for as long as he can remember. Choong is a member of Out & Equal, an advocacy organization that works with businesses and individuals to ensure LGBT individuals have safe and accepting workplaces. A member of his employee LGBT group, Choong helps others find dignity and pride on the job. A charming man with an infectious laugh, a welcoming smile and a musical accent, he spoke to PGN about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

PGN: So what does the K.C. stand for? KCC: It stands for Kar-Chan, but most of my friends call me Casey or K.C. Recently, I have been calling myself “Kay-sea.” My friends made fun of me that I “Americanized” my name to Casey, and now I am “Africanized” to Kay-sea!

PGN: Where are you originally from? KCC: I was born and raised in Malaysia.

PGN: Are you an only child? KCC: No, we have four kids. I have two older sisters and one younger sister. I am the only boy in the family, and I happened to be gay. How ironic for my family! I was always gay. I reject the nurture concept of homosexuality. I have been 100-percent pure, natural gay all my life and I grew up in a perfectly healthy family with loving parents and siblings. On the Kinsey scale, I am a rating of six [exclusively homosexual]! I never have seen the private part of a woman (I like to call it vajayjay) in person, and am not planning or curious to do so. [Laughs.] The last time I was anywhere near a vajayjay was when I was born, and trust me, I screamed my lungs out!

PGN: [Laughs.] What were you like as a kid? KCC: OK, I guess I will tell you a page of my life story, which isn’t that interesting or out of the ordinary so far. I was totally a “sissy boy” when I was a kid. I have to admit I loved my sisters’ Barbie and paper dolls growing up! I enjoyed making dresses for the dolls and I remember I hosted many tea parties for my cousins and sisters. I vaguely remember it bothered me when I was being made fun of in school (though it couldn’t be that bad if I can’t remember most of the comments or jokes, right?). In high school, I had four really good friends: I can now confirm that all of them are gay. We really spent most of high school together to avoid bullies (I went to an all-boys’ Catholic school). We stood up for each other when it was needed. It probably was good training for me to be made fun of when I was younger, because I learned how to bite someone’s head off when they harass me in any way. Mess with me and you will see the true colors of “Kay-sea” come out.

PGN: When and how did you come out? KCC: I am asked often when or how did I come out. Honestly, I have no idea what a coming-out process is like. My best friend, Joe, told me “you have to be ‘in’ to ‘come out,’” and he is right: I was never in. My closet was always too full with clothes to let me hide inside. Everyone knows I’m gay. You can have a 1920s gaydar and still be able to detect me a mile away.

PGN: What brought you to the States? KCC: I came to the U.S. for college in 1998, and completed an undergraduate and master’s in chemical engineering at SUNY Buffalo, N.Y. I was so flamboyant that the administrative assistant, who I knew for years in school, thought I majored in theater. I remember the second week of school in Buffalo, a classmate was shocked to find out I was actually not a girl. He found out when he saw me walk into the men’s room! I excused him, considering I loved to wear turtleneck sweaters, had hair length down to the shoulder and it wasn’t uncommon to see a flat-chested Asian girl. I had a nickname of “Chiquita” in college, because once my hair was dyed a yellowish-banana color. I spent most of college life in the library and I always regretted that I didn’t party hard during spring break or go on more dates when I was young and stupid.

PGN: What do you love about your job? KCC: After I graduated from college, I started working for Merck, a pharmaceutical company, as a research biologist. I love my job, which involves early drug discovery. Besides the innovative science, more importantly, my company truly respects each individual and their differences. I feel comfortable being myself at work, either being an Asian or gay. I am totally out at work (you will find a handful of pink triangle magnets on my desk). We have an LGBT employee affinity group (GLEAM) that assures that LGBT employees can work comfortably. Not having to worry about their jobs lets employees work to their full potential. I have met so many wonderful people there. Being relocated to Pennsylvania from New York, they really made me feel a little more like home here. I would like to involve myself more with LGBT organizations like Out & Equal.

PGN: What issues are important to you? KCC: I am very passionate about hospice care. I believe everyone should live life to the fullest until he or she dies, and everyone should leave this world with peace, dignity and someone on their side. I was an active hospice volunteer for a few years, and now I mainly do fundraising for the hospice care. They are not “trendy” or “cool” charitable organizations and have been largely ignored. I mean, no one will say dying patients are “the hope of the future.” I guess being single, gay and not wanting a child, my deepest fear is being sick, alone, to possibily die in an apartment where the neighbor will find me a couple weeks later when the corpse starts smelling.

PGN: Favorite thing to do in Philadelphia? KCC: My favorite things to do in Philadelphia are probably to walk around the city, go to a fabulous restaurant (I prefer a BYOB), enjoy live music and people-watch.

PGN: I feel safest when … KCC: I feel safest when I am around my friends, because no matter what happens, they are always there. And of course with money! Money brings a sense of security. From a car breaking down (tow truck, repair bills) to a break-up (shopping therapy), I feel safe when I have a rescue plan.

PGN: Do you want to be married some day? KCC: Yes. I believe in marriage and I have my dream wedding cake and a wedding song picked out! Now I need to work on finding a husband. But I don’t want to have any kids right now! Maybe I will consider adopting when I achieve a certain financial stability. Hmm. My adopted son will be a quarterback and my daughter will be a Broadway superstar. Won’t that be nice?

PGN: Yeah, free tickets to Broadway and the Super Bowl? Sweet. What’s your favorite season? KCC: I love the summer; I love the heat, the short-shorts, the flip-flops, the sunny days on the beach. I feel melancholy in the fall and winter.

PGN: I can’t live without … KCC: I can’t live without freedom of speech, the right to freely express my opinions and thoughts. I have a big mouth full of unfiltered thoughts.

PGN: What is your least favorite word? KCC: My least favorite word is “whatever!” This is a common response from a sore loser who can’t think of any better word to dismiss a conversation in a passive-aggressive way. Err. I hate it!

PGN: If you could go back in time to any era, what date would you choose? KCC: [Sings the Cher tune] If I could turn back time, if I could find a way, I’d take back those words that’ve hurt you, and you’d stay. If I could reach the stars, I’d give them all to you, and you’d love me, love me, love me, like you used to do. [Laughs.] No, I don’t want to go back in time. I don’t want to be a slave, a gold miner or live without the Internet or a cell phone. I am happy with 2009.

PGN: What was your first car? KCC: My first car was a white Geo Metro. My friends and I named her Reba. She was probably seven or eight years old at the time I got her, but she only cost me $800. I never had to honk when I was waiting outside to pick up my friends: They could hear her roaring miles away! The only way the front passenger could get in the car was from the driver’s door or the back door, whichever was more convenient. The heater needed to be turned on all the time, even on a 95-degree summer day, to help cool down the overheated radiator.

PGN: Do you have any phobias? KCC: I don’t like height, I don’t like roller coasters. I don’t understand why so many people would spend money to buy fear-induced excitement? It is crazy!

PGN: Have you ever been bashed or harassed because of being gay? KCC: Interestingly, I am rarely harassed for being gay by straight folks, or at least they don’t harass me in front of my face. They might screamed out “faggot” in the car driving by, something chucked up after I passed by. But I ignore them most of the time; words don’t hurt unless we allow them to. The truth is I think I’ve been more belittled by gay men because of my femininity and/or race more than from any other group of people. From my personal experiences, the hatred of feminine gay men can be more severe among the gay community than straight folks. Gay men are judgmental. There is a subgroup of gay men who believe that the feminine gay men and cross-dressers are “bringing” the gay community down: If we are not straight-acting, masculine, the gym muscle guys or the Abercrombie & Fitch male-model wannabe, we are not accepted. I have seen too many disgusted looks and heard some harsh words on gay or lesbians with opposite gender expression of their own. It saddens me during this critical time when the lesbian, the transgender, the fem, the butch gay men are supposed to unite in pushing for equality, yet we cannot respect individualism and embrace the differences among us. But I’ll tell you, if you wonder if I am happy, here’s something you should know. If there is rebirth after death, and God gives me a choice to be whoever I want to be in my “next life,” I would want to be myself all over again — a gay man full with a loving family, great friendships and a good job. Well, maybe 10 pounds lighter.

To suggest a community member for “Family Portraits,” write to: Family Portraits, 505 S. Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 or [email protected].