Being openly queer can often be seen as a balancing act, tiptoeing the thin line between the joy of unbridled self-expression and the safety of a heteronormative facade. In his autobiographical documentary, though, director Hao Wu delivers a poignant story on how this circumstance rings especially true in Asian communities.
Even from the start, “All In My Family” presents the existence of a gay Asian as sort of an oxymoron, these two opposing forces that fail to truly coexist simultaneously. Growing up, for example, China’s hyperconservative environment was the driving force that stifled Wu’s sexual identity. Western facets that traversed the Pacific, like disco, thus became a means of escapism and one of the few ways Wu could grasp onto his individuality without being punished.
On the other side of the spectrum lies a brazen confidence found in America. In spite of the stereotypical constraints associated with Asians (the ingrained desire for a traditional nuclear family structure and a STEM-oriented career, to name a few), Wu took advantage of the opportunity to “reinvent” himself without being under the scrutinizing gaze of parents or relatives. As a result, life between the two continents became torn between dichotomous identities: as a producer happily married to his husband in the West and as a closeted, unmarried son in the East.
Trouble thus inevitably emerges when these identities converged. Wu tries to make his queer marriage palatable to his parents by fulfilling their main wish — to start a family and have children — through IVF. But this attempt falls on animosity-filled hearts; his mother is the most reproachful, labeling queer families as an ordeal against the natural order of things.
So, when Wu arrives at the next family reunion with his enigmatic children, “face-saving lies” are used to preserve a status quo of heteronormativity as aunts, uncles, and grandparents hear pretenses of a nonexistent wife gone astray. It becomes quite obvious at this point that conformity and reputation take priority at the expense of a happiness depicted as more Westernized. After all, Wu’s family would rather make him a servant to fabrication than let him live freely with the truth.
Eventually, reality finds its way to the ears of Wu’s relatives, and the director is finally able to be himself in front of his extended family. What remains immensely bittersweet, though, is the fact that Wu’s mother, despite the family’s acceptance of her son’s sexuality, remains reluctant towards the familial structure that her grandson and granddaughter are being raised in. Her aversion to the unconventional nuclear family is not just a testimony to how entrenched homophobia can be within an Asian experience defined by tradition, but also epitomizes how disarming Asian parent-child relationships can be in the context of a more Western audience. Words are often devoid of open endearment, filled instead with a disappointment and acquiescence that makes vulnerability difficult to exhibit.
And perhaps that’s the beauty in Wu’s simple biopic. It’s not the commodified “gay bestie” or the archetypal unrequited love, but a genuine representation of the complexity beneath homosexuality and the joy that can be found in spite of its adversity.