Decolonizing Canada: What will it take for a #RhodesMustFall movement, here?

…here in Canada, we have barely even begun to recognize the wrong doings that we, as settlers on indigenous land, have done to First Nations people. We’ve created an apartheid system, which inherently disenfranchises First Nations people, yet somehow we market ourselves as “apologetic, peace loving, Canadians”.

RhodesThe University of Cape Town – my alma mater – recently hit the international news headlines with the success of the #RhodesMustFall movement, in having the statue of John Cecil Rhodes removed from centre of the university campus.

Rhodes was a British businessman who helped colonized Southern Africa.  He had a vision for a railroad to be built from the Cape to Cairo, and it is said that at the place where the statue of Rhodes stood at UCT, on Devil’s peak, Rhodes proclaimed that as far as the eye can see, would be the British Empire…Ironically, the statue overlooks the Cape Flats, which is where black and coloured people were forced to live under apartheid.  In “post-apartheid” South Africa, part of the vision for a “transformed” South Africa was to consider all the ways that the country has been colonized, and to find ways to “transform” the country towards a new, equitable, decolonized, Rainbow Nation.  This includes grappling with how places, buildings, streets have been named after colonial rulers, and to contend with the impact of having those names attached to land and property.  The #RhodesMustFall movement grew out of a larger dialogue about systemic racism at  UCT, both within the student body, and within the teaching staff and faculty.  The removal of the statue (and other statues and symbols of apartheid, white supremacy, and colonization) is only part and parcel of a larger movement about decolonization, and contending with what it means to be “transformed”.

I have been watching this movement closely for personal reasons, but also because it has forced me to reflect on my own

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#RhodesMustFall

context, living in colonial Canada, and what it would mean – or what it would take, rather – for a #RhodesMustFall movement to happen in Canada.  In my experience, here in Canada, we have barely even begun to recognize the wrong doings that we, as settlers on indigenous land, have done to First Nations people.  We’ve created an apartheid system, which inherently disenfranchises First Nations people, yet somehow we market ourselves as “apologetic, peace loving, Canadians”.  Fun fact: the South African apartheid system was actually designed after the Canadian system – the South African ambassador to Canada had a special relationship to visit Canada to learn from Indian Affairs, how Canada “managed” indigenous people.

It makes me think about our own “reconciliation” process that we are still going through here in Canada, and how we still have an “Indian Affairs” department in the federal government that continues to manage, marginalize, and give different rights to First Nations people.  I think about the systemic racism towards First Nations people that this country continues to reinforce again and again.  I think about the comments that we all regularly hear about “lazy Indians who don’t pay taxes” and “chugs”.

I think about the elementary school that I went to: Sir James Douglas, a fur trader and first governor of British Columbia. I think about the high school I went to: Eric Hamber, the first Lieutenant Governor (the representative of the Queen) of British Columbia.  Even the name of our city, named after Captain George Vancouver, and province – British Columbia.  I think about how we don’t even think twice about what that means to have the names of these icons of colonialism emblazoned all over this land.

How complicit am I, when I don’t even think twice about the fact that we still have the queen on our money – a monarch?

#RhodesMustFall has been a big wake up call to me, that we need to seriously check ourselves here in Canada, about what we are doing to indigenous people, by being totally complicit in the colonial violence and oppression.

What will it take for a #RhodesMustFall movement here?

In love and solidarity,

David Ng

Rhodes must fall crowd

Solidarity Building with Laverne Cox: A Meta Response to Jen Sung, David Ng, and Meghan Murphy

How do we form solidarity with fellow feminist perspectives that share similar oppression in this heap of stress? Do we completely locate oppression and critique it, or are there subtle differences? Is there perhaps a different lens of feminism that can be taken where contradictions, but ultimately, compassion and solidarity take place? Is there even a place where femininity is reclaimed and shown as self-empowering? Do we find understanding and compassion for the anger that some feminists share?

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Just because I am part of a collective of bodies doesn’t mean I get to speak for, reason, argue – on behalf of that collective. Complexities make interesting narratives that shape our world. We are enriched by the stories of others whose differences teach us to be more open. I will always have limitations to what I know because I trust in the fundamental truth that I only know what I know, and don’t know what I don’t know. Until then, I learn to listen – and listen to learn.

-Jen Sung

I can’t help but recall a moment I saw on The Tyra Banks show. She did a show on how racial perceptions effected attraction.  There was one moment when she asked all the men on stage to stand beside the woman they fantasized about sexually. There were women of multiple races onstage. No one stood beside the black woman.  She then asked who would you want to marry and take home to your family. Only another black man chose the black woman.  Though I’ve experienced a lot of men who fantasize about me sexually there was something about this moment that felt real to me that I somehow identified with. I was kind of shocked that no one chose the black woman on one level but on another I wasn’t. Even as men have sexually objectified me they have simultaneously devalued me. We know these two things can co-exist.

-Laverne Cox

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The Beautiful thing I find about building solidarity is that I can become one without becoming the other. That is to say, I can embody the experiences that Laverne Cox faces, but I will never be Laverne Cox. I will never know what it feels like to face oppression for being trans*, for being black in midst of contemporary racism rooted in slavery, lynching, and dehumanization, and I will never know what it feels like to experience misogyny. For these reasons, I acknowledge the privilege I have in commenting about the issues of oppression Cox faces in Meghan Murphy’s article without having to face the repercussions transgender black women face.

Yet how, do we facilitate dialogue and change about patriarchy and the objectification of women that Murphy talks about in her article? (http://feministcurrent.com/11632/laverne-coxs-objectified-body-empowers-no-one/)

How do we form solidarity with fellow feminist perspectives that share similar oppression in this heap of stress? Do we completely locate oppression and critique it, or are there subtle differences? Is there perhaps a different lens of feminism that can be taken where contradictions, but ultimately, compassion and solidarity take place? Is there even a place where femininity is reclaimed and shown as self-empowering? Do we find understanding and compassion for the anger that some feminists share?

Reiterating Jen Sung’s eloquent writing, we can only observe and listen in some instances. Because when I see Laverne Cox posing naked, I see her in a liberated space, I see not just a woman, I hear a black woman who has fought her way to have autonomy of her body in a time and place that has literally killed trans women of colour. She embodies femininity, and that is what she is rejoicing, not patriarchal structures or the male gaze.

Paradoxically, I must remember that I cannot speak for others; I can only represent myself, and my inadvertent opinion regarding Laverne Cox’s nude photo-shoot.

Because being a biracial gay man and my difficulties experienced through homophobia build bridges to the same fundamental gender-based discrimination women and trans* people face, of course, in nuanced ways, and that is why I listen in solidarity.

I want to continue to disprove myself, and continue to raise questions. Questions, with good intention I believe are essential. For as we transition in our evolving social settings, I think there is potential for misunderstanding regarding feminism. I can indeed call out social injustices, but when I read Meghan Murphy’s article, “Laverne Cox’s Objectified Body ‘Empowers’ No One”, I felt this erasure of the experiences of trans women of colour. Who is to say that it empowers “no one”?

I question because of intersectionality, I question, because when a transgender woman of colour can pose naked in front of a camera and “subvert” oppression, I believe Cox is doing so.

As I respond to Jen’s article, in response to David’s articulation of Meghan Murphy’s initial critique of Laverne Cox’s nude photo-shoot, voices are shown, and voices are heard. I see a place where discussion is happening, and although disagreement can take place, I think it is beautiful how narratives can transcend our beliefs. When ultimately, we start dialogue to keep the fire fuelling the ever-evolving need for feminism, tolerance, respect, and love that Jen Sung, David Ng, and Meghan Murphy each approach in nuanced ways.

-Andy Holmes

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

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

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

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

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

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?