Even within our community, queer Asians can sometimes be pushed aside from having their needs met. In this episode, my close friend Angela and I will be sharing our thoughts and opinions on some of the issues that the LGBTQIA community face in and outside Asian America. What role does gender presentation have on how queerness is perceived? How do your gender and sexuality impact your relationship with race and religion? What are some resources and safe spaces that we can go to for guidance and solidarity? I hope that this episode will further more dialogues on the dynamics between queer culture and the Asian communities in the U.S. If you would like to continue this conversation in future episodes, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I am currently seeking out for volunteers who are passionate about sharing their take on LGBQTIA issues.
Angela Y. Law is an aspiring educator, poet, and artist whose passion is finding beauty in people and places around her. She is a first generation Chinese Pacific American and college graduate. Read her work at: http://yutongthepoet.wordpress.com
She is also a dear friend of mine who I can never get tired of having conversations on social justice and identity issues with, so I'm very excited to have her voice finally being heard on my Podcast. We actually recorded this episode back when the series was starting out so we only got about 20 minutes' worth of content related to this topic. Again, if you're looking for ways to contribute to the queer Asian community, being a guest speaker of mine is one way of doing so!
TRANSCRIBED BY MINNIE NG
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JESSICA NGUYEN, HOST:
Hi; thank you for tuning in again, or not - this might be your first time. [LAUGHS] My name is just Jessica and this is Project Voice. Today I have the privilege to interview a very close friend of mine. Her name is Angela Law and she is currently working towards their Masters in Teaching at Mount Holyoke College. So, I have to say the person who I have the most conversations about identity politics would have to be Angela. Whether it's about our race, religion, sexuality, we always have something to share. So for this episode I wanted to cover a topic that caters to a specific community within our Asian American community and identity that we bond over every now and then. And that [is] navigating through a life as a queer Asian American. So Angela, thank you so much for saying yes to my interview. I would love to hear about your thoughts on the queer Asian American experience from your own personal lens.
ANDREA LAW, INTERVIEWEE: Hi Jessica. It's great to have you. And yeah, this is a topic I enjoyed talking about a lot and I remember in a lot of our conversations before we talk about how appearance is so linked to queerness and I think about masculinity and femininity a lot particularly since I came to terms with a lot of my sexuality and being bisexual a lot during undergrad years where I was fortunate enough to go to a women's college with a very strong queer culture. And I also discovered a lot of my friends who were also queer and people of color. And that was also when I started to change how I dressed and presented myself. And I started feeling more comfortable in like, just jeans and a T-shirt and wearing not traditionally feminine things, stop being putting on makeup but I also noticed that there's a lot of gendered things that go into this, like, I'll sometimes feel more attractive or be told that I'm pretty when I wear makeup and dress more traditionally feminine way. But I do feel more comfortable wearing just not so traditionally feminine things just like- I guess, sometimes I would call my style a mix of just gender neutral clothing and I'll definitely wear some pieces that are menswear but unfortunately because I'm kind of a small/petite person, that's not an option to wear men's wear that's my size.
NGUYEN: You know that we share frustrations over how others perceived us. And it's hard to accept this but sometimes because we present ourselves as more feminine through fashion, people assume that we're not queer and it's a very invalidating feeling.
LAW: That's really true. I do agree with that. I think a lot of it stems back to the early years of Chinese immigration and a lot of how Chinese women were viewed when they first came to the country around, like, the, maybe, 1910s. Well, even before that, andlike the 1890s, after the US started letting in Chinese women. And that was when some of the government at that time didn't allow Chinese women to come in because they viewed, like all Chinese woman as prostitutes based on some Chinese woman being prostitutes in some early ghettos in California. So I think a lot on that, that exotification and the oversexualizing combined, maybe might generate a sort of heteronormativity- heterosexual norm being like, imposed on Asian female bodies. And also I think media does a horrible job of, like, perpetuating the rule of Asian woman, White male and commodifying that Asian female body or even me going on translation websites and sometimes even just the regular media -I'll see websites with advertisements that feature a lot of, like, Asian women whether they're Thai or Chinese seeking like a husband or someone, and like those are clearly targeted for White males to consume and even a documentary comes to mind, Seeking Asian Female which like is this middle aged White guy’s reflection on his desire for an Asian woman. And like I only know about the storyline my friends have seen it, but that’s just that sort of trope really frustrates me especially since I think about all the plays, like Madame Butterfly and Miss Saigon where it's always like, a White male savior who saves this Asian woman from her “oppressive” culture, and sort of takes ownership of her body and she actually has no voice or agency of her own. All you're seeing is media and things that are marketed towards like White people's consumption.
NGUYEN: Yeah, that's something to think about. You see the constant hypersexualization of Asian American females on mainstream media over, and over again. Even until now and this is 2016. So recently I read a pretty cool Tumblr post - I'm a huge Tumblr person, if y'all know me, personally. And it basically argued that even if we're not perpetuated as the Asian housewife character, we will always be stereotyped in some way because we are Asian and we are women. We are always going to have a stereotype assigned to us whether it's as someone whose body has been exotisized and dehumanized like a “Dragon Lady” archetype where the Asian woman is portrayed as domineering, or deceitful, mysterious, or the Asian woman is hypersexualized and fetishized. So traits like being submissive and docile and even childlike are being normalized for everyone to consume just because we don't have a White male body, we're always going to have something going against us. And even in 2016, there's a huge lack of representation of the real modern day Asian women in films and TV shows. And that to me is a huge issue that needs to be addressed because we haven't even discussed how much of that percentage that's representing our community is for queer Asians.
LAW: Yeah and it's so frustrating because I think of the few figures I know and a movie comes to mind immediately and that's Alice Wu's, Saving Face, where I can see an example of authentic queer Asian American female romance. And I'm just wondering where all the movies of its kind, like where are the people who I'm looking for who I share this identity with? Although I understand that it's hard to navigate a lot of predominantly White spaces. I mean, both of us went to a predominately White institution, Right? And both of us have family that never went to college or formal school. And you, Jessica, might be a first generation student and like, I think class has a lot to come into play with it and ah, so many things. I know this might be a little bit meandering off the path of what we're talking about, but I'm just thinking of the model minority stereotype right now and how all of that comes into play with like, our bodies, our queerness, and also the issue of diaspora, too. When we're talking about a lot of Asians of different ethnicities that are thrown into one large melting pot and one large category which is othering for our bodies, and in others, our identities and like aggregates us all under one uniform label because I'm just- there's a lot of questions I have. Like, not only what does it mean to be us, how does it mean to navigate predominately White spaces and communities, but like, how do we navigate romance in a predominately White constructed White, queer world in the few queer spaces we have, and just so many questions about how do we navigate spaces we weren't meant to navigate.
NGUYEN: And not just predominately white spaces either. but also spaces within Asian American communities as well. And I know we talked earlier about how religion is connectedness, more specifically how often are religious and sexual identity is can be conflicting with each other and we don't want to separate these two identities or choose one over the other either. I identify myself as a Buddhist and although from my personal experience my religion takes more of a neutral position on homosexuality. Other religions like Christianity I know may have a more conservative view on it. So my question for you is whether you have found a way to marry these two identities together, whether you have a space dedicated to providing support services or groups like queer Christian Asian Americans such as yourself, where you feel safe and comfortable to start dialogues about your identity.
LAW: Yeah, and that's a really difficult issue because you know, when we have to -when I have to compartmentalize a lot of my identities and like, playing a different role, right? Every day. Depending on my work environment, if I'm around children, if I'm walking into a church, if I'm talking to an auntie or an uncle. What part of myself do I want to portray? And what part of myself is it not safe to reveal? I think about these questions a lot. And if you're talking about religion, yeah, I grew up Christian and like, we talk about religion a lot. But not only does religion end like growing up non-denominational but on the heteronormative side. Christian, like Chinese American church growing up there, not feeling respected, like my sexuality not being respected and not being able to come out and be who I am in those spaces as well as like, not being able to fully be me, and be free in Chinese or Chinese American spaces. If I'm talking to people who are generations older than me who might come from where traditional values, like my extended family... it's... a lot of it is I would say like, survival and also practicality, like choosing to present a certain way to satisfy what is the norm of interaction and how to like, play it safe, and also like, maintain relationships and just sort of like, navigate. In terms of resources, yeah, when I first came to terms with like, sexuality and realized that I wanted to continue being Christian and continue living in my faith and going to church. A lot of resources I found was like the Gay Christian Network. But again, predominately White resources. And just carving this space specifically for Asians is hard enough where like, I have sought out testimonies by like, gay Asian Christians and one of them that comes to mind is- I think his name is Jeff Chu. But he writes this memoir about choosing the road of Christianity but also giving up his quote, unquote, lifestyle of being gay and choosing to be celibate and that's how some testimonies I've read go. But that's also a polarizing issue of like, being gay -, like is it really a lifestyle choice? And it seems to be interpreted as so for the Christian church where marrying straight and being in, like a male-female relationship is seen as the norm that like, is also seen as God's will. Um… That I'm still struggling with.
NGUYEN: Yeah and going back to resources, there are organizations existing out there acting as support systems for queer Asians. For example, I'm based in Boston and here I know that there's QAPA, Q-A-P-A which stands for Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. And there are many orgs like QAPA serving other regions as well. I think sadly, you just have to take the extra effort to find these faces.
LAW: Yeah. Thanks, Jessica. So I am from Long Island New York and I know there's family friendly resources but the ones for Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders tend to be more in York City and maybe there's some in Queens. I haven't really sought them out but there's some. It's also saying something that the fact that we have to seek out these resources and seek out acceptance,and seek out assistance to our families so that they could be more accommodating and understanding. And that just really says something about who is being marginalized and how few outreach services are available to us or like, what's being fed and streamed to us. I know like, what's available is what's there. But like, I don't know. I just feel frustrated that we have to seek these things out. And especially in the spaces that I navigate in and mostly non-LGBT friendly churches that I've been going to. These sort of resources wouldn't even be featured or available. Like, sadly, in some churches I've been to. The minute you come out is the minute people turn their backs on you.
NGUYEN: Yeah, that's really sad. It's interesting to hear your experience because as a Buddhist, I don't see this subject being too much of a focus in general. I see homophobia more often expressed in my family numbers. And it's not really surprising if you know how conservative many Asian households can be.
LAW: Yeah. So families and family values, right? That's what it comes back to and I think it's really hard for honestly, parents to accept their gay children or their bisexual or queer children because of you know, so many gender stereotypes and norms that you know women are supposed to bear children, to bear mothers. That's a huge milestone that they have to reach and carry on the family name, and to, you know, eventually bring children, grandchildren and sort of honor the family. Take care of their parents, you know, make sure they grow old with prestige to carry on the family name. That's a very traditional value. And I know that I'm speaking in very, very general terms and I can talk about like, the communities I grew up in. But for a lot of older generation Asian, or Asian American families, I feel like it's very true where it's really shameful where you lose face. To be queer, or like gay, or bi and it's not something that's really understood. But I know it helps to have resources out there. I just know that it's still something I wrestle with, within my family, and I'm out to some family members but it's just something that swept under the rug or overlooked. And the expectation is because i'm bi that I'll grow out of it at some point.
NGUYEN: Thank you so much for sharing Angela. I look forward to interviewing you again in the future. I hope that I can do a couple more episodes on queer Asian topics, so if any of you who are listening are interested in sharing, please let me know. Thank you everybody for tuning in! Hit me up on Twitter @projectvoiceaw or email at email@example.com. Watch out for the next episode, tune in soon!
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