Category Archives: Speak Out
May meets June: The Intersection of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Queerness
This post can also be found at MTPC’s website as well.
In May I celebrate and honor the work that has been done by my Asian and Pacific Islander brothers, sisters and siblings in the fight against racism. The month of May was chosen to commemorate the completion by Chinese laborers on the transcontinental railroad as well as the first immigration of a Japanese person to the United States.
And in June I remember and honor the work that my LGBTQ brothers, sisters and siblings have done in the fight against homo/transphobia. June is the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the event that is credited for creating the modern LGBTQ Civil Rights movement.
While most of the time, it feels like this work is distinctive, isolated and separate, for me as a second generation Asian American and an out transman, these worlds have always been linked.
Have you looked at a map recently? Asia is big. Really big. There are 49 countries in Asia, a region that stretches from Saudi Arabia to the Kamchatka Peninsula and includes 60% of the world’s population. “Asia” as a concept was created when westerners were exploring the globe looking for exotic lands and rare spices. In fact, the earliest disputes about the border between Asia and the “western” world were centered on the Caucasus Mountains and so we interpret Asian to mean other.
Today “Asian Pacific-Islander” is a geopolitical term that refers to blobs of color on an atlas that are approximately close to each other. But in the “melting pot” of American race politics, to be API means you have yellow skin and slanty eyes. It possibly also means you’re good at math, have demanding parents and slur your Rs. To be Asian American is to remove all the subtlety and nuance of a rich cultural heritage and to boil it down to a degrading stereotype that was created during the Wild West, institutionalized at Tule Lake, and given household recognition by Stanley Kubrick.
I remember as a child in the early 80s, my mother would caution me repeatedly, “Make sure you tell people you’re Chinese.” The fear was that if people thought I was Vietnamese, I would be construed as The Enemy because “we all look alike”. In 1982, Vincent Chin was bludgeoned to death by two Detroit autoworkers. Even though he was not an autoworker, or Japanese, they blamed him personally for the rise of Japanese automobile companies. He was brutally murdered for the way he looked and the perceptions of his race. In the months immediately following, Asians all over this country realized that it didn’t matter where we were born or who our parents were, we would still be labeled a Chink, a Jap, a Gook, and hated for simply because we are different. Vincent’s murder inspired a movement of togetherness that has lived to this day. In fact, immediately after the attacks on 9/11, Japanese Americans who survived Tule Lake were the first to come out in solidarity to make sure the same institutionalized racism didn’t happen again to Muslim Americans.
I talk about these things incessantly because so many people don’t know the fundamental link between racism and homophobia the way I have experienced. Vincent Chin’s murder changed hate crime legislation in the United States. Something that happened again with the murder of Matthew Shepard. So much of the hatred in this country is based on perception of power. Most recently, a troubled misogynistic young man went on a killing spree in Isla Vista aimed at the women he perceived to reject him. It is difficult to rationalize any of his actions or his beliefs, but it is very obvious that his own internalized racism at his half Asian self was a contributing factor to his self loathing.
Intersection Junction, what’s your function?
The simple truth is that no one’s identity is simple. For me, my world and life are profoundly shaped by the color of my skin. I have long said that the two things people see about me are 1.) my race and then 2.) my gender. Before I say a single word, they assume that I don’t speak English, and that I will be submissive to them. 2011 statistics show 46.9% of hate crimes were motivated by race and 20.8% by sexual orientation. In my own life I have been subjected to decades of microaggressions that are in accordance with those statistics.
To be both API and LGBTQ in this country means you stand at the cross roads of intersecting identities. Often times we are forced to choose allegiances. We can either fight to end racism OR end homo/transphobia, but apparently not both. Could you choose to favor the right half of your body and willingly remove the left half of your body? Could you select between your head and your heart?
Queer it up America
People who are Asian American or Pacific Islander are subjected to stereotypes that only limit us. We must continue to defy those stereotypes and break down the imagery that dominates this thinking. Not all Asian Americans come from stable two parent homes. Not all Asian Americans work in STEM careers. Not all Asian Americans are yellow. Similarly, just because you’re a gay man, doesn’t mean you’re automatically a hairdresser. Just because you play softball doesn’t mean you’re automatically a lesbian. LGBTQ people have been working for decades to break down these misconceptions by living their diverse and full lives in between the extreme polarities that people perpetually use to try to define us. We should all be working to breaking down the same and preposterous myths and stereotypes of racism.
When I sat down to write this blog post I was inspired by this blog post about pioneering Black Transwomen. My intent was to try and write a historical perspective of API LGBTQ persons who have been doing trailblazer work. But I am not a historian, and sadly, my cultural knowledge is hugely augmented by Wikipedia. And while I could sit down and do scholarly research, I am hampered by language and terminology that is not always culturally appropriate. We need more Asian American elders who are doing pioneering work. I was mournful of the death of Senator Daniel Inouye, and most recently the death of Yuri Kochiyama, Japanese Internment Camp Survivor and Civil Rights Activist. But I am also thankful for contemporary LGBTQ activists like Helen Zia, Patrick Cheng and Pauline Park who continue to work on Civil Rights and recognize that their visibility doing so inspires us all to do more. And I am excited about rising stars like Andy Marra who bravely puts her own personal life into public scrutiny. I look forward to the day when I can rattle off hundreds of names of API LGBT activists who are household names and hope that you do too.
For additional reading (Thanks Prof Mo for the Bibliography):
Q & A: Queer in Asian America, ed. Alice Hom and David Eng (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998)
Asian American Sexualities: Dimensions of the Gay and Lesbian Experience ed. Russell Leong (New York: Routledge, 1996)
Howard Chiang and Ari Larissa Heinrich, eds., Queer Sinophone Cultures (New York: Routledge, 2014)
Martin Manalansan, Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003)
Yes. November in the United States is marked with that all important spectacle of Thanksgiving where millions of Americans eat Turkey. But I’m talking about a different T.
November also marks the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. For those of you who don’t know what that is, check out my post from last year.
These next few weeks there will be a variety of events to raise awareness for all walks of Trans* people. There’s a Comedy show, a cocktail reception, a workshop on how to be a Trans Ally, a workshop on the intersection of Race and Trans Identity, and of course TDOR itself. For QAPA’s part, we’ll be holding our next Speakout to address the intersectionality of gender and sexuality.
Check out an event. Think about the amazing work that Pauline Park, Kit Yan and Andy Marra (to name just three) do for our community. Save the Turkey for another day.
QAPA is hoping to strengthen our relationships with local AAPI organizations! If you have a specific interest, talent or identity that you’re interested in exploring, we want you!
-Interested in films? Be our liaison with the Boston Asian American Film Festival.
-Interested in Government? Help us partner more with the Massachusetts Asian American Commission.
-Want to meet more Japanese people? Be our ambassador with the JACL!
We are also trying to strengthen our speaker’s cabinet. With our increased presence across NE, we have gotten more requests for speakers and tabling opportunities. If you feel comfortable talking to people about being queer and Asian, please let us know! We need more strong, out, proud QAPIs who are willing to share their stories. Not ready for a panel, but willing to help us with a tabling event? Let us know! If you’re bilingual we could use your help translating information resources!
Don’t delay, there are exciting possibilities everywhere! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org!
In light of recent events, we just want to emphasize how important community and support systems are. We had the honor of having Marsha Aizumi come speak at Makeshift earlier this month and prior we had a group discussion about coming out (part of our QAPA Speaks Out series). The Boston Marathon bombings showed us that we can unite together to heal. When we are reminded of our mortality, we feel the universal vulnerability that deeply connects us.
When we are struggling with our sexual orientation, coming out, or grief, we turn to those that we love and trust most. Marsha Aizumi showed us the power of a family’s love and acceptance. Our Coming Out discussion revealed that many of us relied on close friends to give us courage and confidence. The Boston Strong spirit that runs through our area now shows that even strangers can instinctively rush to rescue in times of our need. The point is - you never nor should you have to go through any of these life changing moments alone.
We are so thankful for those that have come to our events, and even those who haven’t just yet. QAPA is nothing without the care and consistent support we have received. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us if there is something we can help with. We are more reliant on each other than we ever realise, and we hope to see you soon.
Special thanks to Marsha Aizumi for graciously sharing her new book and personal journey with her trans* son. If you would like to read her heartwarming story, please check out her book, “Two Spirits, One Heart.” Special thanks to MakeShift for generously helping us provide the space for the intimate event.
Often we find that we have to separate our parts to feel like we belong somewhere. We go to queer groups and then even those groups can be further subdivded. Our discussion last week with theologian Patrick S. Cheng was insightful because it encouraged us to embrace the intersection of our identities.
We don’t have to separate our need for a spiritual fulfillment from our queer identity. Religious extremists make it easy for us to forget that religion is not exclusive with the social conservatism that ostracizes us. We may long for that social unity that happens so infrequently in our communities; often these communities may be centralized in a religious setting. For example, I grew up in a sparsely Asian-populated area so church or temple were the few times the community would unite to socialize and keep our cultures - our roots alive. For us to deny those cultural or religious roots can be painful or cause “spirtual abuse.”
It doesn’t have to be this way! There are many religious communities that opened their doors to the queer community. Whether you can wander into a church, temple, synagoue, or mosque, you can also look for other resources to help reconcile your spirirtual and queer identity. There are plenty of online groups and forums (For starters: LGBT Religious Archives: http://www.lgbtran.org/). Patrick S. Cheng is also releasing a book soon called Rainbow Theology: Bridging Race, Sexuality, and Spirit. More info on his book here: http://www.patrickcheng.net/rainbow-theology.html.
We want to thank Patrick S. Cheng for his resources and outreach in our discussion, and of course many thanks to our attendees!
EDIT: Patrick S. Cheng will be speaking at Trinity Church on May 5, 2020 about his newly released Rainbow Theology book! More details at:http://trinitychurchboston.org/calendar/event/10/2h0k5e4moos5a1828snacn8qq0
A few weeks ago, our friends John and Belinda at API Famnily Pride poised the question, “How Do We Make The Transgender Community Part Of Our Conversation?
It’s kind of a funny question to ask, since Trans* people are and have been the backbone of the Queer Civil Rights movement.
During Barack Obama’s speech during his inauguration, he passionately linked three locations together: Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement, Selma, the birthplace of the black civil rights movement, and Stonewall, the bar that is often cited as the birthplace of the LGBT civil rights movement.
Note that I said the birthplace of L-G-B-T civil rights. I did not say gay civil rights.
NPR, has since graciously offered a quick history lesson to any who didn’t understand the President’s three references. But in all the synopses of the Stonewall Riots, the “historic” voice was so narrowly presented that anyone reading/listening can easily deny the richness that sparked the next 40 years of civil rights activism. The people who rioted for FIVE DAYS were transvestites and bull daggers and drag queens and cross dressers and nancy boys and fags and faeries and butches and femmes and people like you and people like me. Some of them were on the fringes of society, and yes, it can be argued that some of them were on the fringes of queer society. But they were there and they were the reason why City Hall plaza flies a rainbow flag, and why Pride is celebrated in June.
People often like to separate out the T from the LGB community. I understand. I am a self identified transman, and I can tell you that my own personal journey of identity has been focused around gender and NOT sexuality; a key distinctive difference. However gender expression is such a crucial and HISTORIC piece of the queer rights movement, and safeguarding gender identity is not just protection for Trans* people. It’s protection for everyone who does not fit the image of Suzy Homemaker of John Q. Public. It protects butch lesbians and effeminate men and everyone who isn’t David or Victoria Beckham.
So as we go forward and divide up among our respective Ls, Gs, Bs and Ts, let’s try to remember that it was once “us” verse “them”. And as I sit here wrapped in the comfortable blanket that those brave souls fought to provide for me, I ask you to remember the cataclysmic movement where we defined our spirit of unity and defiance TOGETHER in the face of opposition.
Did you know that 1 in 4 LGBTQ people will be abused by a partner?
For this month’s QAPA Speak Out! event we will hear from Chai Jindasurat from the Network/La Red (TNLR), and Qingjian Shi and Dahvy Tran from the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence (ATASK), about partner abuse in LGBTQ communities. We will discuss the definition of abuse, myths and facts about LGBTQ domestic violence, root causes, resources and ways to support survivors. Domestic violence is a community issue, we are all responsible for ending partner abuse.
The event will take place on Wednesday, April 27, 2020 from 6-8PM at MAP for Health, 322 Tremont St., Boston, MA 02116.
Are you Queer (sexual minority) and of Asian and/or Pacific Island descent? The Queer Asian & Pacific Islanders Alliance (QAPA) Speaks Out! group can provide a safe and welcoming environment for discussions on our unique experiences of being both Queer and Asian in America. These are possible topics: Coming out, interracial dating, identity issues, intergenerational differences, model minority stereotype, rice queen/sticky rice/potato queen, assimilate/acculturate, and any topics you might want to talk about. So if you have an idea, topic, concern, issue, suggestion, or just want meet other Queer Asians such as yourself please come to our first group meeting and lets Speak Out!
The first meeting, led by Hung, will be on Thursday, Sept 30, 2020 at Andala Café in Central Square, 286 Franklin St., Cambridge, Ma., from 6-8pm.