In an interview with The New York Times published Saturday, the actor-comedian revealed that he briefly attended reparative, or “gay conversion,” therapy sessions as a teenager in Colorado in hopes of appeasing his Asian American family after they learned he was gay.
“They just sat me down and yelled at me and said, ‘We don’t understand this. Where we come from, this doesn’t happen,’” recalled Yang, who joined “Saturday Night Live” as a full-time cast member last year. “I’d only seen my father cry when my grandpa died and now he’s sobbing in front of me every day at dinner.”
“This is the worst thing you can do as a child of immigrants,” he added. “It’s just like you don’t want your parents to suffer this much over you.”
The religious agenda of the therapy sessions was a turn-off. Nonetheless, Yang told the Times he opted to stick with it.
“It was a cultural thing for [my family], this cultural value around masculinity, around keeping the family line going, keeping certain things holy and sacred,” he said. “It was me wanting to meet them halfway but realizing it had to be pretty absolute. It was an either-or thing.”
When Yang left Colorado to study at New York University, he said he spent much of his early months away from home “trying straightness on for size and failing miserably.”
Eventually, he reached a “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.’”
Now 29, Yang has found creative ways to reflect his intersecting identities in his comedy.
He was one of the stars and co-writers of the viral “Sara Lee” skit on “SNL,” in which Harry Styles played a social media coordinator who is reprimanded for using the titular bread company’s Instagram account to comment on his sex life.
And as Yang’s career has taken off, things within his family have improved.
“Both my parents are doing a lot of work to just try to understand and I can’t rush them,” he told the Times. “I can’t resent them for not arriving at any place sooner than they’re able to get there.”
The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have discredited conversion therapy, which attempts to end or reduce people’s same-sex attraction or sexual activity.
At present, 19 U.S. states have passed laws prohibiting licensed mental health professionals from practicing conversion therapy on minors. The most recent state, and one of the most conservative, to adapt such legislation was Utah on Jan. 21.
Still, the controversial practice continues to be promoted, often by members of conservative religious communities. A 2018 study conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, found that 698,000 LGBTQ Americans between the ages of 18 and 59 had undergone conversion therapy at some point in their lives. About 350,000 of those received that treatment as adolescents, according to the survey.