The Politics of Sexy: Race, Body Politics, and Desireability

Nomonde and I had conversation about sexual currency, “attractiveness”, race, and body politics

…and we filmed it for Love Intersections! 🙂
Sexual Currency is not something you choose, you are assigned it – but I think it’s something that, I think it’s important to emphasize, that you can reject. You don’t have to accept the way people see you or view you, you don’t have to accept the way people think about whether you are attractive or beautiful. That is something you choose. And the only way I think you survive this world? Is by deciding what your own sexual currency is going to be.”

Travelling Safety and Etiquette for POC’s: The Fat Black Girl & Gay Chinese Boy Edition

The ability to access spaces – and the ability to then exist in those spaces in an entirely natural and joyful way, to fully participate in those spaces – has often been a privilege I have had to do battle for.

 David and Nomonde recently travelled to Bali, and reflected together on some experiences travelling as racialized bodies

David: Nomonde is one of my dearest friends in the world – since we met in 2010 w11899797_10153467782959462_3467395100888588362_nhile we were both studying at the University of Cape Town, we have become very close friends.  Mondes is now living in Pretoria, and I’m back home in Vancouver, but every year or so, we make an effort to meet somewhere “half way” in the world to hang out, and travel together.

We recently visited Bali, Indonesia together, and something that we’ve had to talk about seriously – though we do (nervously) joke about – is that when we pick places to travel, we literally have to consider the likelihood of one of us getting lynched or gay bashed.

The reality is, that when me and Nomonde are together – whether it be in New York, Johannesburg, or Bali – we stand out, and often makes many situations unsafe.  The negative attention that we receive ranges from awkward, judgmental stares, to literal public mockery (pointing and laughing).

I’ve also recognized that in many cases, especially when I’m with Nomonde, I have the ability to pass more than she does.  My body, my skin, my accent, breeds a reaction sometimes, and while we have shared difficult traveling situations, I also recognize the differences in the challenges that both of us face.

When we are together, for example, people usually speak directly to me only – not to her.  Servers will always hand me the bill, and not to Nomonde.

Luckily for us, we always manage to navigate these situations with humour…especially when people ask us if we are on our honeymoon! 🙂

——-

Nomonde: The ability to access spaces – and the ability to then exist in those spaces in an entirely natural and joyful way, to fully participate in those spaces – has often been a privilege I have had to do battle for. Because of racial history, my class, education, the kind of work I do – many of the spaces I move in are very white spaces and I have often had to navigate those spaces with extreme caution. My fat black body is perceived as threatening by many white people. When I laugh, or talk, I’m told I’m fighting. When I express myself passionately with gestures, wide eyes and sincerity I am perceived to be angry. Perpetually angry. Eternally threatening. A big, fat, black freak in delicate white, light spaces.

Travelling with 11903843_1006688486037601_7857794658221783731_nDavid, who I adore, and not just because he always makes me feel so safe, has only confirmed and re-emphasised how difficult it can be for non-white bodies to access spaces of leisure. From sitting in a restaurant in New York and being ignored for a solid 45 minutes until David sat down and a waiter arrived at our side seconds later, to wandering a night market in Bali (which shall henceforth be known as the Night-market of Horror) and being laughed, harassed and jeered at while just desperately clinging to some form of dignity, to the reminder that yes I am a person and I do not deserve to be treated this way. To having those spaces turn threatening and dangerous, which I have never experienced with David, not yet anyway. At home in South Africa while at concerts, restaurants and clubs with other black women I have often been physically threatened and attacked by white men ‘defending’ their girlfriends from the existence of fat black womanhood in spaces they perceive as just their own. I have been spat at, stoned, shoved and punched right in my own back yard because I am a black body ‘trespassing’ where I do not belong and so when it comes to venturing to new shores, particularly knowing and acknowledging that David and I are both highly visible as individuals and even more so as a pair, I do intense research about black and poc experiences of the places we are visiting.

We had a very interesting, and amusing, conversation in Bali after our surreal and ugly experience at the Night-market of Horror, about how white travellers often boast about ‘getting to know the locals’ and ‘avoiding the touristy areas.’ While for black and other poc moving in those ‘authentic’ spaces can very often spell extreme humiliation, if not actual physical danger, and those are simply not conversations that I hear when black women particularly speak of travelling and exploration.

I desperately want to end this on a positive note because travelling has been overwhelmingly positive for me. I am beyond privileged to have the money to see the world, to have had the education and access I have had when the majority of women who look like me and come from where I come from struggle daily for the bare minimum of life and I acknowledge that fact with immense gratitude and humility. I suppose I just want us all to remember that there are many ways to kill a person. Always remember the power and the joy that can come from genuinely seeing each other.

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‘Regalia: Pride in Two Spirits’

We are very excited to finally be able to release the short film “Regalia: Pride in Two Spirits”, that premiered last night at the 2015 Vancouver Queer Film Festival this year, at the Bright Eyes, Queer Hearts youth shorts program.

Last night, we premiered “Regalia: Pride in Two Spirits”, at the 2015 Vancouver Queer Film Festival this year, at the Bright Eyes, Queer Hearts youth shorts program!

Regalia: Pride on Two Spirits from David Ng on Vimeo.

Big thank you to our team member and friend, Duane Stewart, who shares his story as a First Nations queer person, who identifies as “Two Spirited”.  Duane talks about the importance of culture in his life, and his journey coming out to his family!

Today I had to refuse a gay couple from sharing a fitting room together

With the Pride parade in Vancouver, I am reminded that something as simple as this situation mirrors a continuing overcoming of heteronormativity in society. The Pride parade didn’t come from nowhere, it started as a political march in response to police raids against LGBTQ+ people at a gay bar in New York in 1969. The stonewall riot in New York happened for a reason.

A couple of days ago at work I had to refuse a couple – a gay couple – from sharing a fitting room at the retail store I work at. As I tried to explain that “our company policy” doesn’t allow two people to share a room, I felt their sense of victimization as a gay couple being singled out.

“We are married” as he showed me the ring on his finger as he and his husband walked into the same room. In this moment, I should have clarified that our policy restricts anyone, even couples regardless of orientation from sharing a fitting room.

“But you let that other (straight) couple share a room.”

“The man’s arm is broken so his wife is helping him,” I replied.

The couple didn’t look convinced, and neither did I as they both closed the door as I told them, “sorry, it’s just our policy that two people can’t use the same room.”

I told a co-worker about the situation who went to them, in a more assertive manner, telling them repeatedly to “please come out” until one man left the room dissatisfied.

I tried to be cheerful and told him, “congratulations on your marriage”. To my ignorance he replied, “we’ve been married for (insert respectable amount of time/years) that I could not hear in the heap of the noise and chaos working in retail embodies. He walked away.

In this short moment, I felt mixed. I felt their sense of othering, and I felt empathy for them as I envisioned myself in their situation, as a gay man being refused our dignity and rights. I was worried I was causing a scene and that I was embarrassing them, and I wanted to tell them not to take it personally, because, I like them, felt what they were going through.

With the Pride parade in Vancouver, I am reminded that something as simple as this situation mirrors a continuing overcoming of heteronormativity in society. The Pride parade didn’t come from nowhere, it started as a political march in response to police raids against LGBTQ+ people at a gay bar in New York in 1969. The stonewall riot in New York happened for a reason.

I am very pleased that this year’s Pride parade in Vancouver included an agreement for marchers to sign stating their recognizing and commitment to trans*/transgender rights and freedoms. The initial Pride parade was political, and the fight for equality transgender and gender variant people is a very real political issue.

When I think of that gay couple that felt denied a right to share the same fitting room, I am reminded of struggles they may have faced in the past. Just maybe, could companies, politicians, and elected officials further entrench policies that guarantee and secure a person’s legal right to not be discriminated or denied essential services?

As much as gay rights have been achieved in a majority of Western states, the absence of legal protection, condemnation, and execution of homosexuals is a reality for many people globally. When 76 countries worldwide have laws against homosexuality, I know I cannot say that our rights as a community have been met if only my immediate surroundings have made progress to some extent.

And I say only to some extent because when a gay couple wants to use a change room, they shouldn’t have to feel that they are being discriminated. When discrimination has become a norm, when trans* people, racialized minorities, and women succumb to this daily reality of being treated as second-class citizens not because they are weak, but because social forces are too entrenched in our every day lives, social change is needed.

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.

Introducing Duane!

Duane R Stewart-Grant is Haisla from Kitamaat Village and Nuu-Chah-nuthl from Port Alberni. His Haisla name is c’ee’hixid and he is from the Raven clan.

Full Regalia shotIntroducing our newest collaborator and team member – Duane 🙂

Duane R Stewart-Grant is Haisla from Kitamaat Village and Nuu-Chah-nuthl from Port Alberni. His Haisla name is c’ee’hixid and he is from the Raven clan.

In 2006, when he was living in Kitamaat he worked for Kitamaat Village Radio (KVR 96.1FM), where in 2008 he became the radio station manager until 2010. While working at KVR he started learning and growing closer to his culture.

In 2006/2007 he participated in the Star in Your Own Stories with Chee Mamuk, Hello Cool World and 11 other youth from the Haisla Nation. In three days they produced and stared in their own little story called Stand True. Stand True talks about how rumors can spread around like HIV/AIDS. Through Stand True, Duane was able to travel all over BC and he even traveled outside BC for the first time!

Duane came out to his family on May 4, 2010, but knew he was two-spirited at an early age. Through his travels he did with Stand True he met many other Two-Spirited people who were out, strong and proud to be two-spirited, he looked up to them for guidance during his journey.

When he moved to Burnaby in 2013 he started dancing with the Git Hayetsk Dancers and started apprenticing with Mike & Mique’l Dangeli. He now is learning to carve, paint, create regalia, dance, and is drawing First Nation art. Duane hopes to one day bring his knowledge back home and start teaching the next generation what he has learned!

Reconstructing Gay Biracialism

I feel being mixed-race is an opportunity to interrogate how identities can be reconstructed, and envisioned into social change that mirrors the queer rights movement. When being mixed-race and gay challenges how I navigate my own sense of privilege within the queer community that has lacked acceptance, I can only think of where race and queerness intersect.

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Being biracial and gay is an interesting mix. By being mixed-race, I challenge categorical thinking and normativity that is too often encountered in our lives:

“What’s your race?” I’m asked.

“I’m half Chinese, English and a bit Scottish,” I reply.

When my biracial identity is neither accepted culturally as White nor Asian, when I am indeed literally Asian and White by blood, I feel this sense of non-belonging:

“Oh, you don’t speak Chinese?” I’m asked.

“No, but I wish I could,” I reply.

And perhaps this sense of non-belonging is perpetuated by my failure to pick up Chinese as a kid, or maybe because non-belonging feels synonymous with being gay, sometimes. When our identity becomes our sense of security, when race is so often embodied as our sense of community, when being gay severs our relationships with others and ourselves:

“So, do you have a girlfriend?” I’m asked.

“Umhh…no…” I reply.

I remember being told that being gay was a choice that would put me on “the bottom of society,” where I would find no success.

I can only think of how culture transforms our identities beyond race. I’ve noticed this insidious trend to normalize “gay culture” into something fathomable by the mainstream: the idealized body of an attractive, middle-upper class, cisgender white man who resonates images of power, authority, and acceptance (see this article). These images and identities that command respect contrast with the insecurity that “gay culture” has had to latch itself to. And in turn, much of what I feel I’ve had to embody as a gay individual has leaned towards this normalized, white, classed, “attractive” stereotyped fantasy.

I will never forget a quote by Fred Wah, a Canadian poet, who wrote about being mixed-race and his fear that his White privilege would make him become “not the target, but the gun.” I’m writing this piece so that as a mixed-race subject, I can tackle the pervasive racism and normalization within the queer community.

Of course, I think it helps that my last name, Holmes, can create this immediate sense of whiteness on paper, but how would that be different if my last name was Wong, my mother’s patriarchal name? Would people have an immediate change in expectation? Would something as trivial as a name convey different ideas about personality and culture? I think to an extent, I have autonomy over culture, but I don’t over race. How people perceive “Hawaiian, Filipino, “White”, “Asian”, “mixed”, Spanish, or however far or close people have been in guessing my “what are you?” will always portray immediate ideas from race that govern how people perceive me.

Yet, how, as individuals can we facilitate dialogue and movement surrounding this phenomenon? How do we start talking about race, gender, class, and the continuum of privilege and disprivilege when we are expected as a social justice movement to be focused solely on a singular issue? Is it tolerance, patience, respect, and understanding that are needed to understand each other from a privileged and marginalized vantage?

I think the answer lies within our lived experiences. I think back in history when interracial marriage was banned, when fears of miscegenation in post-colonial North America became a social threat. When homosexuality was greeted by the death penalty.

If anything, I feel being mixed-race is an opportunity to interrogate how identities can be reconstructed, and envisioned into social change that mirrors the queer rights movement. When being mixed-race and gay challenges how I navigate my own sense of privilege within the queer community that has lacked acceptance, I can only think of where race and queerness intersect. I think of how we can construct this façade to normalize “gay culture” within ourselves, and how we can connect historical racism to contemporary challenges faced within and beyond the gay community. Being mixed-race is a product of social change away from racism, and in turn, I see challenges within the queer community as an opportunity to connect in solidarity.

– Andy Holmes

New Friends Sharing Stories on Love Intersections

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Over the weekend, we met with Jay and Joella Cabalu, who are sharing their story about Jay’s journey with his sister, Joella, his family, faith, and sexuality.  They are also sharing part of that journey for Love Intersections 🙂

One of my favorite parts of this story, is how Joella talks about being an ally to Jay and the queer community, and what an important role allies play in the community.  Allies are part and parcel of the queer community – and we need more of them!

We are also excited to be bringing on board a friend of mine, Duane Stewart-Grant, a two-spirit artist, dancer, and activist from Haisla Nation, who will be sharing his story on Love Intersections as well.

Thank you to Jay, Joella, and Duane, for taking the time to share your stories with us!

in love and solidarity,

David Ng

Love Intersections: The Philosophy, The Love!

Check out our new trailer!

Jen, one of the co-founders of Love Intersections talks about the philosophy behind Love Intersections – the project itself, an intersection of art, activism, and love.

Love Intersections: Art as an Expression of Our Activism from David Ng on Vimeo.

Why I’m an Activist

Andy

In the pain, difficulty, and trauma of living a life governed by the daily awareness of oppression for being queer, for being a person of colour on the outskirts of normativity comes this beautiful opportunity to taste the bittersweet potential of liberation.

In this poisonous state of oppression, I’m trying to find out what keeps me navigating my interest in queer rights activism despite the immense continuous negativity that fills within me for advocating such a contentious cause.

It’s our annual family holiday dinner and I’m trying to explain what I’m studying in university; I say, “I’m taking a variety of courses, but I’m focusing on social justice”. Usually the conversation ends there. Really, I mean to tell them I’m interested in queer theory, feminism, racial discrimination and the collective spheres of social inequality. But really, who wants to talk about taboo topics without entering a heated argument? I don’t blame them though; these are complex issues and, after all, my mostly privileged family grants an innocent desensitization to what discrimination feels like.

Unlike some friends who pursue degrees in business, medicine, engineering – “respectable careers”, I feel miniscule. I cannot count how many times I’ve heard from people, let alone myself, claim, “What can you even do with studying social justice?” It’s a difficult question that I still have yet to find. But I will say this; there is no better feeling than finding someone who just understands what you’re going through, someone who can feel and comfort you in a world deprived of accepting our identities.

I want to be someone who sees you in the darkness of oppression. There is something indescribable about the paradoxical pleasure of feeling pain for being marginalized. Those eyes that light up when you accept and acknowledge their pain, breathe with them, cry with them, hug them through the ravenous obstacles of life for being queer, for being victims of racial discrimination, for being victims of rape or whatever one may experience that leaves them on the lonely, desolate edges of society.

I want to finish the conversation by saying in the midst of negativity that activism deals with, there is positivity and hope. There is positivity in reassuring someone to break free from the constraints of their internalized fear. There is triumph to be found in places unimaginable. The limitations become endless, and in turn, the way we govern ourselves, treat each other, also becomes a more welcoming space.

My blood is rooted in my veins, reaching to form tributaries to find a confluence of  equally important social causes that can be loved, acknowledged and manifested to form the bodies we live and govern ourselves in.

Andy Holmes