#MeToo, three, four, seven, ten, twenty, fifty… here’s one

I remember being accosted by two security guards in an open parking lot on Burnaby Mountain. My girlfriend and I were young, and, like many young couples in parking lots, we were doing what was only natural for young lovers to express. Deep into the night, the winter air kept at bay while our body heat steamed up the car windows. Then, without warning, flashlights shone into our car, turning our intimacy into a nightmare we wish to forget.

We immediately panic and pull our clothes together, frozen in fear, shame, and terror.

One man says, “we get couples up here all the time, but we’ve never seen lesbians before.”

He wants us to continue. He wants to watch. He made sure we knew that what we were doing is illegal. He will give us a ticket if we don’t let him watch.

It became a standstill. We were trapped, trapped on top of this secluded mountain, trapped inside this car, trapped inside the fucked up imagination of this man. We were fully clothed and still, we had no choice but feel naked.

For the next 20 minutes I did most of the talking. I made sure to smile and fake my comfort. I made conversation with him while he towered over us, leaning on the car door, using his body to keep it open. I talk about how my girlfriend and I met. I tell stories to entertain him, to stall time. I have to keep stalling. I have to humanize the situation. I have to humanize our bodies. Our bodies have to be humanized. I have to protect my girlfriend. I have to protect myself. No one was going to protect us in that secluded empty parking lot, dead in the soulless night.

He asks fucked up questions about lesbians. He says we just need a man. He asks fucked up questions about how lesbians have sex. He says we just need a man. He asks fucked up questions about how my girlfriend and I have sex. He says we just need a man.

I continue to smile and fake my comfort. I continue to make conversation with him. I continue to stall. I have to keep stalling. I have to humanize our bodies.

He finally grew tired and let us go.

This whole time, the other man never talked, never intervened, just stood by while his partner accosted us in our car. reinforcing, complicit, and just as guilty. His inaction brought power to another. His silence is loud in authority. In my head, I wonder if he felt powerless to do anything, against the presence of a more powerful man. But he could have prevented it. One word, just one word from him, could have influenced another fellow man. Instead he let it happen. Rape culture and toxic masculinity hurt men too, but silence and inaction is inexcusable. The harm is done.

We never reported them.

I remember this memory only in the form of a nightmare that I wish to forget, when it should be a sweet memory of young love. Instead, rape culture implants this tape, playing and rewinding deep inside my body. The algorithm of that tape changes over time but it still plays, over and over again, and men let it happen every single day.

metoo

On Death and Ambition

My mother was an ambitious 14 year old. Born in Taiwan, she moved to the big city on her own and started working full time by the age of 16. She made a bet with herself to make her first million dollars by the time she turned 30. And she succeeded, ahead of schedule. She traveled the world courageously and I was born out of her bravery and ambition. My mother knew she had a duty to bear a child to fulfill her familial obligations. Yet, she gave no care to gender when gender was so important. She felt her duty complete despite my being born a girl. She was only 25 years old when she had me, her only child.

Inside her womb, I received what she consumed. She nourished me with coconut water, live and vital from the shell, tropical fruits borne from the rich soils of the island, classical music, and science fiction literature. I received what she consumed and she was consumed with ambition.

I won’t know this about her, or myself, until 25 years later, exactly at the age she had me, exactly at the time she made her ambitious one million dollar bet.

One day my grandfather passes away from cancer. Death is always sudden.

My mother flies back to Taiwan a whole person and returns to Vancouver a figment.

She says a dying person reveals a certain clarity around you. When you have to wipe down your own parent’s sick body. You can’t even wash the hospital smell out of your own hair and clothes.

She continues to clean his sheets. His waste. His body dies a little everyday while her body lives on, still cleaning him, awaiting her father’s imminent death.

Death is… undignified for the body, she says.

Shortly after my grandpa’s death, I visit my parents’ home to eat, sleep, mourn with them. I was still in university, with no real job. My only ambition at the time was finishing my undergraduate degree.

My mother sits at my bedside. She talks, and cries quietly while I pretend I am asleep. It’s getting later and later but I force myself to stay awake in order to pretend to sleep.

I recall what she says only in fragments that my memory struggles to piece together.

My mother says, “one of my biggest regrets in life was using work as an excuse to not see my father when he was alive. When he called and just wanted to talk, I was always short with him. When he wanted to see me I never seemed to have the time. Time was only afforded to work.”

“I wish I could have spent just a moment more to talk to him,” my mother says. “I wish I could hear his voice, if only for one more minute.”

“I didn’t even have that extra minute for him.”

“I will never get that time back.”

I can recall this only in fragments that I struggle to piece back together. And yet I won’t fully remember this moment until later when my own ambition would become the very thing that would distance my mother and I.

A week passes.

A month…

Then a year…

My career began to grow at age 25, and now, at 28, I can see the patterns recreated out of the umbilical thread that weaves through my mother and me. Her pain is visceral and I am already full of regret.

Then a year turns plural and these years would measure the distance between my mother, and me. I too, begin to forget.

“I’m too busy to talk, mom.” I would say.

I work. And I forget some more.

And then at age 28, full of ambition I finally remember what my mom says.

And suddenly it’s clear.

I am repeating my mother’s cycle of regret.

Last year, I work up the courage to call my mom. To close the distance borne out of the ambition that we share.

I say to my mother, “do you remember when you were talking to me after grandpa died, and I pretended to be sleeping?” I am asking my mother to remember, out loud, so that I, too, can remember.

“Of course,” she says over the phone, without missing a beat.

In this moment I wish to be free from pain and loss through the wisdom of my mother’s own sorrow. My recollection of that night by my bedside is the only escape I have from the cycle of ambition and regret.

I work up the courage to quit the job that started my career.

My mother says, death reveals a certain… clarity around you. As your heart breaks, piece by piece, the remaining core grasps onto anything – anything – to keep on beating, or stop beating all together. It wants to reach outward, break through the skin of your chest because it is in agony and wants out. It feels trapped inside the body. When it is so vulnerable, the heart, embraced and protected by the body, still wants out.

Like a breaking heart, my mother is still trapped inside her regret.

I am asking my mother to remember as I tell her my fragmented memory of her regret, so that I can remember too. So that I am no longer trapped inside my own regret. So that I will remember not to forget her.

Ask me again why I need feminism

September 15

September 15, 3:21pm

a man sits next to me
on the bus

turns to me
touches my bare chest

he says,
I like your necklace

I was asking for it because I wore a low top and a shiny necklace

September 15, 9:40pm

a man follows me up
Main street
for several blocks

I deck into IGA market
for solace

I was asking for it because it was late at night and I was alone

– – –

Ask me again,

and again,

and again…

why I need feminism

– – –

maybe just listen –

Because all I could hear on September 15 was the sound of fear pounding through my chest – bare – because the days are warm and I’m wearing a tshirt.

The sound of my fear operates at different volumes everyday but no matter how quiet, how low the frequency, the fear is always there – tremoring, shivering, guiding my navigation in this world. I know this because I live in my body.

That fear translates into anxiety that permeates much of my waking and dream world.

Still I continue to dream, with love and (a)waking hopefulness. To stay awake so people are awake with me.

 

Some days, I can’t bring myself to leave my home. You can relate.

Some days, just being out in the world takes so much out of me as I pleasantly chat with my favourite baristas, grocery clerks, the man with the kind eyes at the till, the elderly woman who is slowly becoming invisible but trying her damn hardest to be seen, the strangers I connect with because I am so full of love to give. To see you.

I never blame any of them.

 

But we blame the victims and the survivors and the weak and the weak, and the poor, and the weak and we blame the empowered and the self-serving but we never blame the patriarchy, no.

 

maybe just listen –

Because when I share these stories they are rooted in my reality – and the many lived realities of my friends. We know this because we live inside our bodies.

maybe just listen –

men experience violence

queer, trans*, racialized and the many of us who are differently abled

 

Yet we blame the victims and the survivors and the weak and the weak, and the poor, and the weak and we blame the empowered and the self-serving but we never blame the patriarchy, no.

 

I dream and stay awake to change the system.

To be present with you is a gift, so we can change the system together. I can only hope, that our operating systems are compatible.

 

Please hold my hand, are you with me now?

Race, Religion and Language as Love

1415549_10153547352420268_587577359_o Lately I have been trying to shift my focus on love as a language. Instead of calling people out, I like the idea of calling people in. In love and in solidarity.


On May 21st I attended the Vancouver School Board (VSB) meeting that was held in regards to the updated transgender and gender identity policy. At this meeting I sat in alliance with a large crowd of supporters, but there were also quite a few voicing their misinformed opposition, and some of those who were dissenting were members of the Chinese community. After the arduous 8 hour meeting numerous LGBTQ supporters and allies approached me and asked why Chinese people allowed such homophobia and transphobia to persist—as though I was the sole voice of expertise on a rich and heterogenous culture. As if the small group of Chinese people voicing their dissent at the meeting were in any way representative of such a multi-ethnic and globally widespread community.

Indeed, many of those who opposed the updated VSB policy were Chinese and spoke Cantonese. But some also spoke in Mandarin. I wondered, at that meeting, if people knew the difference. Or did it all simply sound the same? Cantonese and Mandarin? Did it all sound so foreign, so alien, that these languages you don’t understand can so easily be grouped under hate speech?

Mandarin is my language.

It is the first language I learned. I speak it with my parents.

When I hear this language—my mother tongue—everything in me comes alive in a way that no other language can invoke. I love the way that Mandarin feels as the sound of it travels through my ear canal and into my body, how it activates a sense of familiarity within myself that reminds me of who I am and where I come from.

I remember the way that Mandarin feels so deeply connected, and rooted, in a sense of home.

I am a queer woman of colour born in the city of Taipei on the island of Taiwan. I embody queerness in a racialized body, as a settler on unceded Coast Salish Territories, home of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish nations.

At the VSB meeting on May 21, I yelled in Mandarin – for the first time ever in my life. I have never raised my voice in a language that is so sacred, so rooted, in my cultural identity.


I recently travelled to Northern BC doing anti-homophobia work where the demographic of the small town I visited was predominantly white and First Nations.

While there, I encountered a friendly Chinese elder working at the hotel where I was staying. For the first two days after meeting her she spoke to me only in broken, heavily accented English. Her body language and gestures were excited towards me;  I could tell she was happy to see another person who looked like her. To look Chinese. She stood out in a small town where she lived and worked as a rare Chinese person.

On the third day, I was having breakfast in the hotel dining room while she was quietly cleaning away, humming softly beneath her breath. I had wanted to connect more with her before, but we were always in a public space where our roles were so neatly defined. Hotel patrons ate and were looked after, hotel workers serviced and cleaned.

Like the true Fire Tiger that I am (as told by Chinese astrology), I instinctively want to disrupt these neatly defined roles. Rules.

Slowly and in Mandarin, I ask if she speaks Mandarin.

Suddenly it’s as though she were lit by pure sunlight, no longer obscured by clouds of hotel dust, grime and years of experiencing language barriers settle over her body. Perhaps never having been asked in her mother tongue a very simple question that, in the very moment of my asking, cleared at least some of that grime away instantaneously. She brightened immediately, her body relaxed in movement, her eyes reflecting a sudden clarity, and in that moment she knew she was being seen by someone who really saw her.

We talk fast, a little about everything. Urban vs rural, China, Taiwan, Vancouver, beautiful British Columbia. The conversation goes deep immediately. I soon realize we are talking so fast and are so easily able to skip the courtesy small talk because it was as if, at any second, our precious connection through this shared language might be disrupted by someone walking in on us, ending the moment which can so quickly become a distant, unreconciled memory.

She asks about my work. I try, in my elementary Mandarin, to explain the activism that I do, the activism that I embody. What anti-homophobia means. How do I say homophobia in Mandarin? Dare I mention transphobia? I connect, to the best of my Mandarin ability, one type of oppression to another. Homophobia and transphobia to racism.

She tells me about being from a big urban city in China. She mentions her university degrees. She talks about the metropolitan life she had before moving to Northern Interior BC where everything is much slower.

She married someone here who does not like Chinese food. He does not like her cooking.

She likes to cook Chinese food and wants to know what my favourite Chinese dish is.

She asks about my love life and marriage plans. I tell her gently but with conviction that I do not plan to get married. In fact, not getting married was encouraged by my parents. My parents removed themselves from thousands of years of social and cultural convention by offering me the choice to be whoever I want to be, wherever I want to be. 9 years after I was born, they brought me to Canada. We spoke very little English.

I tell her that my parents practice such a deep and spiritual Buddhism that the cycle of human life/death represented some serious karma and suffering, which simultaneously can be challenging and yet is beautiful. They much prefer the company of animals and mother nature to that of humans.

A moment of silence, and shock, settles through the hotel dining room.

Well, that’s not very Chinese of us, is it? And what does that even mean anyway? I gently tell her that we might be unusual but there are many people in the world who do not always think and live according to convention. I tell her that growing up my parents and I would delve into philosophical narratives about what kind of role difference plays in the world. The kind of difference that challenges the very norms we have come to live and breathe, and expect. And how those unusual differences can move others forward in thinking and in living.

She asks if it was hard growing up as an only child in Taiwan and in Vancouver with parents who are so different. She wants to know because she too is different, having moved from one of the most urban cities in China to a rural Canadian town halfway across the world.

Of course it was hard. And I tell her that my parents raised me into the strong woman that I am today. Instilling in me all the love and compassion that their Buddhist teachings could pass down. Of course, the 6 year old Fire Tiger child in me rebelled hard against sitting still. What was with all that meditation?

She looks at me in the eye and says that she thinks her bi-racial son would benefit from living in a city like Vancouver, to look and be different in a small town is often hard. I nod and tell her that his difference should be a point of celebration, and that I empathize.

She finishes cleaning at this point. We have been talking for almost an hour.

We developed a sense of love and compassion for each other on that morning. In that moment she came to understand what I was talking about, the kinds of activism I do. And while we approach and navigate this life in such different ways, it was our shared language that brought compassion and understanding to each other.

How many people coming in and out of the hotel where she works really get a chance to talk to her? To begin to know her story? How do we suspend our expectations and prejudgements upon meeting someone when language is a barrier?

And how do we access one another without love as language?

I am going to end this story here.


Part of being an ally is to listen to folks who share their stories, and tune our empathy towards people who navigate the world with different levels of personal trauma, history and lived experiences.

The Vancouver School Board meeting I attended on May 21 was traumatic, not only because I was so viscerally impacted by hate speech in my own language, but more than anything, it was the hatred that some folks in white communities, both LGBTQ and “allied”, were so quick to direct to Chinese communities, that hurt me most of all.

So, how do we understand one another without love as language?