I recently attended a “town hall” discussion initiated by some folks around the use of the word “Queer”. This discussion was meant to to be an intergenerational dialogue between young people who embrace the word queer, and the “older” generation, who have had to live through a history, where the word “queer” is so viscerally unacceptable because of its history as a derogatory term. I was immediately perplexed when I found out that it was going to be held at a bar, because a lot of young voices would not be heard, because they aren’t even allowed to be in the space. Being in a bar, and talking about trauma in a place where there is consumption of alcohol is also something that I acknowledge about the space.
Queer or gay?
“Gay” jumps out at me first, because I am sexually attracted to men. But then I start to think about the ways that it excludes my other identities as a feminist, as a Person of Colour, and how it actively works to invisibilize all of these other parts of me. If I think about this “movement” that I am a part of, this movement that seeks to change inequality, and transform our communities to have less hate, and love more, “queer” speaks more to me, as it allows me to embrace the work that I want to do – that work being to transform “the norm”. To challenge and subvert “the norm”, because “the norm” oppresses many of us.
I am so privileged to be in a place today that I can be visible as an openly queer person of colour – and I am grateful to my elders, the queer people that fought for my equality. I am so thankful, that I am in a community today, that I would argue, grants me even more privileges than some of my straight male counterparts. I am so humbled by the fact that as a gay Chinese man, I am afforded even more privileges than some straight people – I have access to education, I have no social constraints of having a family, I have a wonderful career in the field of my choosing: this is something that most people don’t have, and I am incredibly privileged.
One of the things that I’ve really learned from being a feminist, and from being called out by my feminist friends, is the importance of engaging with privilege, and being constantly aware of the spaces that I occupy. This has been a difficult journey for me, as a survivor of rape, and as a survivor of homophobic violence to come to a place that recognizes the privileges that I am afforded. For a long time, I was blatantly excusing my own misogynist language, because I was gay – I’m an oppressed person! How can I be oppressive to other people?! Yes, I’ve suffered from trauma, but that does not give me the right to exercise oppressive power, and silence the experience of people who also experience oppression – especially oppression coming from me. To me, it’s fundamental as a queer person to embrace the women, the people of colour, the trans* community, the intersex community, the migrant worker community – and to give them space to call ME out as a gay person of colour who occupies such immense spaces of power and privilege.
As gay men, I think we need to really ask ourselves, why do we actively endorse misogyny in our communities? Why is it okay to be racist on GrindR? Why is it okay to make jokes about trans* and gender queer folks? Why is it okay to use words like “oriental”, and accept racist ‘identities’ such as being a “rice queen”?
We need to remember that we call ourselves the “LGBTIPANQ-TTS” community – not because this is a movement about “inclusivity”. This is not a movement to be “inclusive”. The acronym grows because folks are keeping us accountable. The movement is about challenging the norm, or, “to queer” the norm – it is not about being “accepted” into a community of a growing acronym.
And so, as I reflect on my experience at this town hall discussion, I am again reminded of the work that still is to come. LGBTQ rights are only achievable if we actively engage with our own histories/herstories, as oppressed people, but also as people who are afforded many, many more privileges than a lot of people around us. Our liberation is not only tied up with the liberation of others, in fact, other people need to be liberated from the oppressive structures that we actively endorse, and are privileged from.
In love and solidarity,