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

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

Voices of Love

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In the spirit of love and intersectionality – we are super excited to be supporting this community dialogue about the controversy surrounding the recently passed Vancouver School Board gender/homophobia discrimination policies.  Please come and join us for an afternoon of creative dialogue and community building!

Theatre for Living is partnering with the Vancouver Public Library to present a theatrical dialogue about family values, gender, and the controversy surrounding the recently passed Vancouver School Board gender policy updates.

The theatrical dialogue will be facilitated by David Diamond on September 13, 2014, in the Alice MacKay room at the Vancouver Public Library (350 West Georgia Street), on unceded Coast Salish Territories.

We hope this is an opportunity for diverse opinions to come together in a way that builds community – instead of building barriers.

Everyone is welcome.

You can access the facebook event page here.

For more information visit the Theatre for Living website, or please contact David Ng, Outreach Coordinator at 604.871.0508 or email outreach@theatreforliving.com

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

Gay or Queer: the Work Underneath the Words

Town hall
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,
David Ng