On Being Chinese, Culture, and Identity

This past Monday, I was walking through the streets of Chinatown, and someone yelled at me “You’re going to starve in World War Three, you yellow piglet!!”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

This past Monday, I was walking through the streets of Chinatown, and someone yelled at me “You’re going to starve in World War Three, you yellow piglet!!”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

It was a painful reminder that no matter where I am, even in “Chinatown”, as a person of colour I don’t belong.

I don’t need to list the reasons why reclaiming culture for a person of colour isn’t popular.  It’s much easier – and safer – to “be more white”.

Which is why for me, reclaiming my culture was more than just a journey to embrace my Chinese heritage – it’s an act of resistance:

This video is for every time I was called a “chinky faggot” (by white gay men),

For every time someone laughed at the food I brought to school,

For every date with a rice queen that I’ve ever subjected myself to,

For every time someone is “shocked” that I’m Chinese and I suck at math,

…This video is for a safer future for everyone – including yellow piglets.

Silent Pain: Rape Culture in the Gay World

If patriarchy has taught men that women are property; subordinate, unequal – that sex is for men’s pleasure, not women’s…and if heteronormativity has taught society that queer folks are inferior and deviant, and if being truly free means relinquishing our communities from these systems that use power to subjugate and hurt us…why are we allowing this sort of pro-rape culture to exist within our communities?

Grindr Guy: “Hey, you’re cute”
Me: “Thanks, you too :)”

Grindr Guy: “What are you looking for”

Me: “Friends, Fun, whatever goes”

Grindr Guy: “Can you host?”

Me: “No, sorry”

Grindr Guy: “You can come over?”

Me: “Can we meet first somewhere for a drink?”

Grindr Guy: “Why don’t you just come over, and we can fuck”

Me: “I would prefer to meet somewhere first”

Grindr Guy: “Why don’t you want to come over?”

Me: “Because I’ve never met you, and I don’t feel comfortable with that. That’s kind of where I set my boundaries.”

Grindr Guy: “Boundaries? Why? Are you scared I’m going to rape you?”

——

Adjusting to dating life after a (tumultuous) long term relationship has had it’s added stresses with the advent of these dating apps; which did not exist the last time I was single.

Time and time again, I come across (gay, cis) guys who outright refuse to respect boundaries, and to be blunt – it’s really fucked up.

By all means, be upfront about what you are looking for – I’d much rather have all of this (honest) information laid out in front of me before we meet/hook up, but when someone puts down a boundary of where they feel safe, why is it that some gay guys think it’s okay to push around it?

Guys – we have some serious work to do.

We know, as gay guys, that the hurt that homophobia and heteronormativity has in society is rooted in the power that it has.  Decades of gay, queer, trans*, black, women and feminist organizing has fought to challenge the way that power is exercised in it’s various forms to hurt, oppress, and subjugate “The Other”.  Challenging the way that power is accessed, and used to hurt people is at the heart of how we can truly be free.

If patriarchy has taught men that women are property; subordinate, unequal – that sex is for men’s pleasure, not women’s…and if heteronormativity has taught society that queer folks are inferior and deviant, and if being truly free means relinquishing our communities from these systems that use power to subjugate and hurt us…why are we allowing this sort of pro-rape culture to exist within our communities?
As a survivor of rape – twice – I recognize being pushed on my boundaries is obviously a huge trigger.

But how many of us gay, guys are navigating this toxic dating community, and aren’t saying anything?

How can we allow this to continue?

In love and solidarity,

David Ng

Decolonizing Canada: What will it take for a #RhodesMustFall movement, here?

…here in Canada, we have barely even begun to recognize the wrong doings that we, as settlers on indigenous land, have done to First Nations people. We’ve created an apartheid system, which inherently disenfranchises First Nations people, yet somehow we market ourselves as “apologetic, peace loving, Canadians”.

RhodesThe University of Cape Town – my alma mater – recently hit the international news headlines with the success of the #RhodesMustFall movement, in having the statue of John Cecil Rhodes removed from centre of the university campus.

Rhodes was a British businessman who helped colonized Southern Africa.  He had a vision for a railroad to be built from the Cape to Cairo, and it is said that at the place where the statue of Rhodes stood at UCT, on Devil’s peak, Rhodes proclaimed that as far as the eye can see, would be the British Empire…Ironically, the statue overlooks the Cape Flats, which is where black and coloured people were forced to live under apartheid.  In “post-apartheid” South Africa, part of the vision for a “transformed” South Africa was to consider all the ways that the country has been colonized, and to find ways to “transform” the country towards a new, equitable, decolonized, Rainbow Nation.  This includes grappling with how places, buildings, streets have been named after colonial rulers, and to contend with the impact of having those names attached to land and property.  The #RhodesMustFall movement grew out of a larger dialogue about systemic racism at  UCT, both within the student body, and within the teaching staff and faculty.  The removal of the statue (and other statues and symbols of apartheid, white supremacy, and colonization) is only part and parcel of a larger movement about decolonization, and contending with what it means to be “transformed”.

I have been watching this movement closely for personal reasons, but also because it has forced me to reflect on my own

Rhodes Must Fall
#RhodesMustFall

context, living in colonial Canada, and what it would mean – or what it would take, rather – for a #RhodesMustFall movement to happen in Canada.  In my experience, here in Canada, we have barely even begun to recognize the wrong doings that we, as settlers on indigenous land, have done to First Nations people.  We’ve created an apartheid system, which inherently disenfranchises First Nations people, yet somehow we market ourselves as “apologetic, peace loving, Canadians”.  Fun fact: the South African apartheid system was actually designed after the Canadian system – the South African ambassador to Canada had a special relationship to visit Canada to learn from Indian Affairs, how Canada “managed” indigenous people.

It makes me think about our own “reconciliation” process that we are still going through here in Canada, and how we still have an “Indian Affairs” department in the federal government that continues to manage, marginalize, and give different rights to First Nations people.  I think about the systemic racism towards First Nations people that this country continues to reinforce again and again.  I think about the comments that we all regularly hear about “lazy Indians who don’t pay taxes” and “chugs”.

I think about the elementary school that I went to: Sir James Douglas, a fur trader and first governor of British Columbia. I think about the high school I went to: Eric Hamber, the first Lieutenant Governor (the representative of the Queen) of British Columbia.  Even the name of our city, named after Captain George Vancouver, and province – British Columbia.  I think about how we don’t even think twice about what that means to have the names of these icons of colonialism emblazoned all over this land.

How complicit am I, when I don’t even think twice about the fact that we still have the queen on our money – a monarch?

#RhodesMustFall has been a big wake up call to me, that we need to seriously check ourselves here in Canada, about what we are doing to indigenous people, by being totally complicit in the colonial violence and oppression.

What will it take for a #RhodesMustFall movement here?

In love and solidarity,

David Ng

Rhodes must fall crowd

Love Intersections Video Series!

We are super excited to FINALLY be able to announce that we are launching a video series this Spring 🙂

Love Intersections will be releasing a series of “Quips” that will feature personal stories about intersectionality, and being an activist, through a language of love.

In our first preview below, David talks about why he is excited about LoveIntersections.com, and what he hopes might happen with the project.

Love Intersections: Shifting into a Language of Love from David Ng on Vimeo.

Stay tuned!

– Andy, David, and Jen

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Race Textures

Clifton Beach

Vancouver is a very interesting place to be Asian.

There are so many pockets of the city where speaking Cantonese or Mandarin is the norm; there are Chinese supermarkets on every corner, the quality of dim sum is renown – compared to many other places in the Western world.  It can be much easier to navigate being a minority in this city if you are of Asian descent.  This is something that I really have taken for granted, being a Canadian born Chinese person (aka “CBC”), living in Vancouver.

In 2010, I moved to South Africa to pursue graduate studies with the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town.  In my two years that I lived in Cape Town, one of the things that I really struggled with, was how I was navigating race in my new home.  At the beginning, I really had a hard time adjusting.  There are very few Asians in the city, and even fewer that looked like me.  Everywhere I went, people were constantly making comments about my race.  I was asked on a regular basis if I was related to Bruce Lee, if I eat anything other than rice, and if I could do “kung fu”.  It was very frustrating.

That being said, I quickly started to understand how much social mobility I had as well, despite some of these racist experiences directed at me.  My Canadian citizenship – and accent – granted me a ton of access to different social circles.  And even though I incurred a massive student loan to study in South Africa, my financial situation (including have a bank account in dollars as opposed to rands) – compared to most (black) people in Cape Town – granted me a access to a lifestyle that was above and beyond most people around me.

Also, despite my own experience being racialized in South Africa, I had to come to terms with my own white privilege that I embodied, simply from being of a lighter skin tone then most people.  It was so easy to just hide under the “POC” (People of Colour) banner, that I also “belonged to” alongside black and brown people.  In fact, due to affirmative action policies at the university, I actually had to select the racial category that I fit under apartheid…Chinese people were technically under the “black” category.  But something about hiding behind the POC banner didn’t sit well with me – in fact, I came to realize that without engaging with the privilege that my lighter skin granted me, assuming solidarity with other, darker skinned, POC’s was disingenuous, and in fact silenced the experience of white supremacy by my darker skinned allies.

Moving back to Vancouver in 2012, I have tried to bring that lens of engaging with my own racial privilege, as a POC, with me.  I really have to remember that while yes, I may experience the back hand of white supremacy on a daily basis – but in many ways I also benefit from it, and am privileged by it – because I have “lighter” skin.

If I truly want to talk about racism, I have to begin with the reality of my own relationship with white supremacy, before I can even begin to dismantle it.

In love and solidarity,

David Ng

Generous Spaciousness

I’ve struggled to talk about spirituality for a long time.

When we initially conceived Love Intersections, I decided that my own intersections with spirituality is something that I wanted to explore.  Our journeys navigating the world as spiritual beings, our beliefs and how they shape who we are.

After attending ‘Generous Spaciousness’ last Friday in Vancouver – a series of dialogues about the intersection of faith and sexuality facilitated by a group called New Directions – I was really inspired by the conversations that I heard.  The concept of New Directions is to have a space where community members, including Christians, can come together and engage with an honest dialogue with each other about topics related to faith and spirituality.  Rather than lecturing churches and Christians to “be” more queer affirming, their approach is to have a space where people can hear each others stories, and be listened to.

I was really blown away by the whole event.  As someone who grew up (and to a certain extent, still identifies as an) Evangelical Christian, “honest dialogue” about (Christian) spirituality only existed  in my imagination.  The “traditional” church model is a deeply entrenched top-down model: “The Truth” is literally delivered from the pulpit – and of course, there is no questioning of “The Truth”.  I reflect upon how much misogyny and homophobia is delivered from sermons that I’ve had to suffer through, and how much of the root of these issues is the fact that there is no avenue to dialogue on how “the truth” is being interpreted from scripture, and how our spiritual lives are deeply compromised by this top-down model…a top down model that has traditionally, for 2000 years, reinforced patriarchy, misogyny, and discrimination against sexual and gender minorities.

I grew up in the era of “I Kissed Dating Good Bye” – a popular abstinence based youth movement, which demonized (quite literally) any premarital sexual relations to the extent that even kissing was evil.  I was literally taught that dating was a modern concept of the past 50 years, and that it leads to morally apprehensive behaviour.  I was taught that sex ed was an apparatus of the devil to promote promiscuity, and that condoms were actually perforated and didn’t protect you from STDs.  As a budding activist, I remember the shockwaves that went through my church when I, very vocally, as a 16 year old, began questioning the church leaders who were imposing these factually untrue, and very discriminatory things on us youth.

While I recognize that my experience as a youth in church is an extreme example, I wonder how many other layers of my spirituality are deeply affected by this top down model.  How can we engage honestly with our own spiritual lives, if the model of the organization where we receive our spiritual guidance – i.e. The Church –  itself doesn’t allow for any spiritual accountability or dialogue?  If my spirituality, as a Christian, is rooted in my deep and personal relationship with God, then shouldn’t we be talking about my lived experiences too, and how they are fundamentally related to my spirituality?

What was beautiful about the dialogue on Friday with New Directions, was the amount of honesty that was allowed in the space – something that is rejected and feared by the “traditional” Christian Church model. I was really moved by how vulnerable people were allowed to be in a space to discuss such a difficult subject.

My hopes, is that Christians today can continue to challenge the systems within their own church organizations that enforce a model that silences people and reinforces oppression. As an organization that literally preaches how love is the greatest commandment of all, I hope that we can begin to transform our own communities so that we can do exactly that – love more.

In love and solidarity,

David Ng

Serums and Sacrilege

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I’m a second and half generation, queer, Canadian Born Chinese (“CBC”).  I grew up in a working class, quaint, Cantonese speaking immigrant neighbourhood on the edges of South Vancouver.

Coming out was challenging for me, mostly because there were not a lot of opportunities for me to connect with queer folks and allies that were “like me”.  GSA’s (Gay Straight Alliances) were a relatively new concept in the early 2000’s…and to join one was to immediately out yourself.  Something that I was not prepared to do at the age of 12-13, growing up in a relatively conservative evangelical Christian community.

 

Then I discovered the internet.  I remember staying up waiting till my parents were asleep to sneak to the common computer, to go onto gay websites.  Discovering porn (OMG), and also looking for support – of which there were (and are) very few in Vancouver.  The ones that were available were very far away – as in downtown – and excruciatingly expensive.  The $1.75 one way bus fare downtown was a lot, considering my $10 a month allowance.  I did manage to find some support from a few youth groups in town, but I never really joined them for long.  The youth workers were empathetic and caring, but I never really connected with them, because as much as they were trying to be supportive, it’s hard to be supportive if they were not from my community, and didn’t share my experiences as a queer person of colour (POC).

 

In the last few weeks, the Burnaby municipal elections hit the news stands, with an article about how information was being distributed in the Mandarin community about how schools were forcibly injecting “gay serums” into children, to “turn them gay/trans”.  (Ignoring the fact that the English translated word for “serum” and “hormone blocker” in Chinese can often mean the same thing.)

 

The very public ridicule – laced with a touch of racism – really struck a chord with me.  The targeting of the immigrant population for their ridiculous, backward, misogyny and homophobia – something that is not exclusive to Chinese immigrants.

 

It really made me reflect on my own experience as a queer person of colour, navigating the world, and the lack of resources available, and the resistance from society to embrace “us” immigrants.  I wonder about how other immigrants, and families of immigrants are doing today – trying to navigate these issues, while dealing with anti-immigrant state violence? How are the queer folks managing, in a community that not only marginalizes them as queer people, but also pushes away and rejects communities of immigrants?

 

The fact that immigrant communities are deliberately being marginalized, speaks volumes to the experiences that queer POC have within our communities.  If people of colour were actually embraced, there would be no opportunity for deliberate misinformation about “gay serums”, and the works, to be spread.  Instead, we’ve pushed a group of coloured people into the margins, and ridicule them because they are less versed on “progressive” language than we westerners are.

 

I wonder if instead of ridiculing immigrant communities, if we could, as queer people, consider the ways that we could build community, rather than build barriers.  Perhaps meeting people where they are (in both the physical and metaphoric sense) – instead of expecting “them” to understand “us”, think like “us”, and talk like “us”.  Perhaps instead of ridiculing the immigrant community that “came up” with the gay serum rumour, we could see how this is a failure of our own communities – including the queer community in Vancouver – to embrace people who don’t have access to the same resources, and even the same rights as we do.

 

In love and solidarity,
David Ng

Reaching Across

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One of the reasons we decided to put together this blog was to embark on a journey to discover ways that we can “do” transformation, with the idea that social change happens best through solidarity, building community, and sharing stories. Making efforts to do our work through a language of love and solidarity, has allowed me to consider ways I can texturize and nuance the approach to the anti-oppression work that I hope to do.

The past year has shifted my lens in the work that I do – especially coming from a place where, as an activist, I felt I was doing transformative work, solely through “calling out” oppression, and organizing against ‘oppressive systems’.  A few months ago, I started working for a theatre company, that uses the ‘language’ of theatre to dialogue with community  about social issues.  One of the approaches that we have is to truly honour people’s stories – including those who we believe are ‘being oppressive’ – and to acknowledge that we are all members of communities.

While my “anti-O” training gave me a lens to critique and analyze power and oppression, often times I find it is easy to use the tools of “critique” to make quick categorizations, and to “Other” people who I believe are in opposition to me – especially people who exercise oppressive power.

One of the things that has been a great learning for me in my new job is this idea of “humanizing” people that I may construct in my head as “the opposition” or “the enemy”.  While I may not intentionally “dehumanize” people, it’s easy to make judgements and categorize people who we view as “the problem”, because it’s easier for us to process them in our understanding of how “the system” works.  For example, when someone is homophobic towards me, it’s easier to categorize them as an ignorant, patriarchal, homophobic asshole – than it is to actually look at them as people from my community.

Even though I may disagree with homophobic people, when I begin to see them not just as two dimensional “homophobic persons”, but rather, when I begin to see them as brothers, as fathers, as cousins, as sisters – as people with struggles – it allows space for us to have a moment of understanding, and perhaps an opportunity for dialogue.

I’m learning that you can’t change peoples actions by proving them wrong – but by honouring their stories, we demonstrate our own willingness to affect social change through building solidarity.  And, of course, smothering them with love 🙂

In love and solidarity,

David Ng

The Fork and The Chopstick: A Tale of Two Privileges?

fork and chopstick

I was recently having Chinese food with a (white) friend of mine who has known me for a long time – and is aware of my sensitivities towards race.  After we had selected our food choices, the waitress brings out our cutlery.  Chopsticks for both, a larger than usually plate (no bowls), and puts a fork in front of my friend.  My friend was very offended, and started expressing his anger that he was being discriminated against because the waitress assumed that just because he was white, that he needed a fork.

We immediately got into a very heated argument over his reaction.  I even scoffed at first, saying, “well, now you know how POC (People of Colour) feel everyday: We get Othered, stereotyped, objectified, all day everyday.”  He replied, “It would be like going to the Spaghetti Factory, and the waiter offering you chopsticks”, to which I replied, “It would only be the same if every white person in Vancouver knew how to use chopsticks.” – and this went on and on.

After we cooled down, I really did some serious thinking (in that awkward moment of silence where we were both fuming).  What was I doing?

Sure, it’s true that as a white person he occupies a form of social mobility that I don’t have (read: white privilege), where his skin colour is the norm, his culture is the norm, his language is the norm, and his choice of cutlery outside of this establishment is the norm.  And sure, POC experience all day, every day, exactly what he is experiencing at that moment, and that he is taking his white privilege for granted…but what use is it for me to negate, and push down his experience of being Othered at that moment?  Who am I to invalidate his experience of race?

I called him the next day and actually apologized.  I told him that I felt bad about silencing his experience of racial discrimination.

In reflecting on this experience, it has reminded me of a really long journey that I have had to go through (and continue to go through) as a feminist.  I think as anti-oppression feminists, we often have the desire to call out everything.  We are so disciplined (this is a good thing) to check privilege, analyze power and “call out” oppression, that we often don’t take a step back and check our own positionality – in each and every one of our own interactions with people.  I’ve really learned to ask my self, in terms of when I choose to take action against something – especially in this moment of The Fork and The Chopstick – is it useful?  In this moment, is it actually useful to call out white privilege, in a moment where he was feeling discriminated against?  What is the work I am actually trying to achieve, and by silencing his experience of race – am I “doing” the work? Or am I just being oppressive?

If I could go back in time, I wish I would have, in that moment, chosen love and solidarity.

In love and solidarity,

David Ng

Pride: by Kai Cheng

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So, requisite annual Pride rant: The pinkwashing of colonization and capitalism sucks ass (and NOT in the fun way), and the coporatization of supposedly liberatory ideology is reprehensible, and white gay male supremacy within queer ”communities” is real and horrifyingly, violently hyprocritical. And GOD YES let’s remember our queer elders and ancestors, trans women of colour who led the way and have been pushed aside, and all the folks – trans women of colour most of all – who are literally dying every day while HRC and like spend millions of dollars on the right to marry and to militarize foreign states so that they can assimilate into heteronormativity.

But also, as a living transwoman of colour, I remember what it was like to sit at home and wish and want and dream of going to Pride. I wanted so so so badly to be a part of this community I imagined, to not be the only queer I knew, to not be alone, to seen, to be spoken to and to be heard. I can turn up my nose at Pride now because I have options for my queerness – to know that I deserve something better than the fetishization at best and violence at worst that I will receive there is a privilege that I have acquired with age and education. When I was a child, I would have taken that fetishization eagerly and mistaken it for love, and I would have accepted that violence readily and misconstrued it as a necessary risk of living in this world as I am.

And sometimes, in weaker moments, I still want to go to and be in and live Pride; I still want the glitz and the glamour and the false promises that Maybe Someday we can all have what the Dan Savages of the world have: privilege, power, a platform. I can see the rottenness of that dream for what it is, but I am still waiting for a dream to replace it. And I know dozens of queer teenagers who are also waiting, sometimes without knowing it. So whatever – go to Pride, don’t go, revel in it, critique it. That’s your choice, and a complicated one. But what I want to know is: either way, what are we offering to the young, the desperate, the defenceless? Love? Hope? Or something else? If if not love or hope, how do we get there? How do we start dreaming that dream?

——

Thank you to Kai Cheng for sharing this beautiful piece

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