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

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

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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

Gay or Queer: the Work Underneath the Words

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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

The VSB Gender Policy Debates: Discourses on Race and Solidarity

 

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Jen and I have been talking about doing some writing together in the aftermath of how from the VSB gender policy “discussions” has emerged all of this intense racism and transphobia. I didn’t attend any of the discussions, but I have been dealing with the impact that it has caused the queer communities and the Chinese communities I am a part of, and really struggling with where to go from here.  We decided to share our stories in relation to the conversations about race and gender that have emerged from the dialogues, and how they have impacted us personally.

David:  I want to start my story by saying that I have such respect for all these amazing allies (including Jen!) that have been doing all this incredible organizing, in supporting the changes to the gender policies at the Vancouver School Board (VSB).  It has been incredibly stressful for myself, as someone who straddles across queer and Chinese identities to see the way that from the debates has emerged these uncomfortable racial constructions, from even within the queer community.  Somehow within this process – and with the help of the media – we have responded to the organizing of conservative Chinese Christians against the VSB policy changes by knitting together yellow skin + Evangelical Christian + homophobia. That somehow, evangelical Christian conservatism is tied to being “Ethnic Chinese”.  I’ve had numerous queer allies say to me in the past week, “Why are Chinese Christians like this?” “What is wrong with Chinese people that they are so ignorant?” “Is this in your culture?” (Yes, someone actually said that to my face)

Homophobia and transphobia do not come from having yellow skin, it doesn’t come from being “ethnic” Chinese – Chinese people are not “more” conservative. These constructions are not only problematic, but they are rooted in the way that we (colonially) construct race, and through a removal of accountability to history and colonization.

While I recognize the complicity of being an immigrant and as a settler on indigenous territories, here in Canada, there are fundamental ways in which white supremacy operates with the colonial system which functions to marginalize people of colour (POC).  This also becomes relevant when we consider the ways in which Christianity – having been historically evangelized throughout the world via colonization by white Europeans – is now being (ironically) constructed as part of “Other” “ethnic” cultures and traditions.  Christianity arrived in China (and also in Canada) via white missionaries, who came to “save” these backward and primitive Chinese people from their pagan and Buddhist traditions.  Similarly, while white Europeans colonized Africa (and the rest of the world) and brought Judeo-Christian versions of patriarchy (and homophobia) to Uganda – yet somehow, the homophobic laws in Uganda (as in the rest of Africa) have essentially become constructed about being black and African. So even when we adopt the “white colonial religion” (which is the ideal/the standard) – it is never good enough, and in fact, when POC attempt to reach this standard, they are reprimanded.  When Vancouver Chinese Christians come and protest the LGBTQ programs here in Vancouver, it becomes constructed around the fact that they are “Ethnic Chinese”…it becomes about their yellow skin. And so, even when people of colour assimilate into religious institutions imposed by colonization and white supremacy (like they are meant to) – they are still inferior.  And through the colonial structures in which we continue to struggle under, I am reminded that people of colour are never meant to be equal. This is how white privilege operates.

I remember reading numerous articles, including the Douglas Todd’s blog post, and Ian Young’s article on the “Chinese communities in Vancouver” protesting LGBT programs, and seeing how my Chinese friends (some queer, many not), were feeling so ashamed of their communities, and questioning what to do about this (seemingly) “growing” conservatism in the Chinese Christian community – as the media implies. But I think we really need to ask ourselves this – why is it that when white Christians are homophobic and transphobic, they are “homophobic and transphobic Christians”, but all of a sudden, when Chinese Christians are homophobic and transphobic, they are “Ethnic Chinese” Christians who are homophobic and transphobic?

It is these constructions of race that have emerged in the aftermath of the VSB policy that I believe we have to address and keep accountable.

The second part of this conversation regarding accountability is the way that the conversations are being dichotomized, and oppositions are being constructed without a look into the ways in which solidarity can (and should be built) across these “territories”.

I am a Christian. There. I said it.

I grew up in a Chinese conservative evangelical Christian church. Yes, I went to one of “those” “ethnic Chinese” churches that you’ve been hearing about in the media lately. A church in the same denomination as Stephen Harper, a church that signed a petition to ban gay marriage a decade ago, a church that tried to tell me that abstinence was holy, and that sexual health education was a farce, and that condoms didn’t work because they are actually perforated (and thus you can still contract AIDS).  I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy growing up as a queer person in such an environment.  I don’t know how I would have turned out – or if I would have even survived – if it weren’t for the strong feminists and queer allies that supported me through my youth.  Though I never actually technically “left” my church until I moved to South Africa for grad school, I’ve often wondered why I continue to engage with my evangelical Christian community that I grew up in, and why I didn’t just pick up and leave, like so many queer people that I know.

As I reflect today on my (traumatic) experience with organized, patriarchal “religion”, and how it has again reared it’s ugliness on the VSB gender policy debates, I’ve realized that there is something so blatantly overlooked in this debate – and that is, love.  Despite my not so favorable experience with church, and while my visceral reaction to the transphobia that comes from this (misinformed version of) evangelical Christianity is to reject and “call out” the oppressive discourses, I realize that a large part of my work on myself, and in my feminist work is grounded in my desire to love human beings and always, love more.

My love, and empathy for human beings is what drives my activism, and I have to constantly remind myself of this. Despite how angry the transphobic language that comes from people who are opposed to the gender policy makes me – these people love their children, they care so deeply about their families, that they are willing to take hours out of their time to print placards, and attend meetings to fight for their children. It’s interesting that similarly on the “other” side, my queer comrades that have been doing this work fighting for this policy, and have been doing the intense emotional work of sharing their own stories, are also doing this out of love for their families, and for their children. Let’s no forget this.

The actions of my church – despite being homophobic and patriarchal – came out of love for me. Though I disagree with the way they’ve manipulated scripture to promote patriarchy and homophobia, I have to remember my church genuinely cares for and loves their congregation, and they are willing to put an incredible amount time and energy to devote to their communities. This is why I have to remind myself that I do, in fact, have such tremendous love, respect, and solidarity with my own Chinese Christian community, as all of them do their own organizing and activisms out of love.

In love and solidarity,

David Ng

Love Intersections

We are so excited to launch this blog this afternoon 🙂

Jen and David just had an interview with Jane Bouey @W2 Media Co-op around the Vancouver School Board gender policy revisions alongside Dora Ng and Wallace Wong.  We talked about race, gender, colonization, and how through the language of love we can build solidarity.

Stay tuned – we will launch in T minus 6 hours! (15:00 Pacific Standard Time)Image