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

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

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