[Author's note: This post is in conjunction with NQAPIA's coverage of Trans Awareness Week. It is an update to a post from 2012. Please to Enjoy!]
Foto: © Anh Ðào Kolbe/adkfoto.com
It’s Trans Awareness Week (TAW) across the country; that means communities everywhere are busy holding educational and social events. This week of events culminates with an event called Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR): a candlelight vigil where we remember and memorialize people around the world who have died for being Trans or gender non-conforming. TDOR started here in Boston, after a woman by the name of Rita Hester was murdered in Allston just for being who she is: a Trans woman of color.
When I was still a baby queer, I like so many others trying to figure out identity, searched high and low for community. I had been exposed to the lesbian and gay community; a community that has become it’s own culture, complete with genre music, media icons and cruise ships. As compelling and as shiny as this world of unicorns and rainbows is, it was not where I belonged.
What I found instead, was TDOR, and let me say, it was a stark difference. TDOR is not a glitter clad parade down Main Street USA. There are no Dykes on Bikes or Go-Go boys. It is NOT a celebration. It is a somber, solemn event, where the names of murder victims are read from a frighteningly long list. And as dark as this event can be it continues to be one of the largest events for the Trans community: a time to be with friends and loved ones, and a time to recognize our fallen.
This year, one of those names that will be read aloud is Leslie Feinberg. Feinberg came to me the same way she came to so many of you. In the gut wrenching 1993 novel, Stone Butch Blues. I was 19 when someone pushed that text into my hands with the mystical command “You must read this.” The story was dark and real, and gritty and terrifying. But it also seeded a magical quality of truth, perseverance and hope. Maybe it was naïve of me to squint my eyes through the passages of sexual assault, and bathe in the paragraphs that described so perfectly, the joy of finding a person to love. But I did these things, and took Feinberg’s words as a blanket, a road map, and a shield into my own journey that I knew would be plagued by heartbreak and discrimination.
And here I am, so many years later thinking about a world without Leslie Feinberg, and I am at an incalculable loss. One of the unfortunate side effects that I’ve experienced since starting testosterone is that I no longer have the ability to cry. So I find it ironic that the one most influential author who enabled me to start my path has also rendered me unable to shed tears over her death. Consequently, I can express tremendous rage. Feinberg was a warrior poet and a pioneer who would never allow herself to be victimized, but still was suffering from basic human discrimination by an inability to access health care as a transgender person. This is an injustice that horribly affects so many, and is something tangible that I can punch with my activist fists.
I like to remind people that gay pride in the USA was catalyzed by the Stonewall Riots in NYC. On that fateful night in June of 1969, a group of drag queens and butch dykes had the gall to fight back. They took a stand and said they would not be targeted any longer for their gender presentation or identity. The modern gay civil rights movement owes it’s start to Trans and gender non conforming people who were being abused, persecuted and murdered. Today, we will read hundreds of names of people who were killed violently: people like Jennifer Laude, the 26 year old Filipina whose hateful murder also highlights the problems with US armed forces serving abroad. And we will also add hundreds of other names of people like Leslie Feinberg who were killed by systemic and institutionalized transphobia.
My own personal copy of Stone Butch Blues was battered and loved, with notes in the margins and torn cover. Just as it was shared with me, I needed to pass it along and share with others. TDOR is in all our roots. Please remember. Come this Sunday to the Boston/Cambridge observance of TDOR. Or, find another TDOR near you.
QAPA is Co-Presenting a special screening of “To Be Takei” as part of the Boston Asian American Film Festival. Come see it!
Mr. George Takei Himself will be in attendance this night. So buy your tickets NOW before they sell out again.
Members can also use the discount code ‘QAPA’ for a discount of $5.
I’m very pleased to offer discounted tickets to this year’s GLAD Spirit of Justice Awards Dinner. Urvashi Vaid will be honored as the 2014 recipient, marking the first time an Asian lesbian has received the honor and putting her in a circle with Deval Patrick and Chief Justice Marshall.
Because of QAPA’s place in the community, any QAPA members who would like to attend, simply enter in PROMOSOJ14 to purchase $75 tickets (in lieu of the $250 ticket) and then select Maxwell Ng/QAPA as your table captain.
QAPA will be seated with our friends, MASALA, of whom Hema Sarang-Sieminski has worked tirelessly for LGBT refugee asylum. And I am hopeful that we can also honor our own Janson Wu who has given so much as GLAD’s Deputy Director.
This event is the premier networking event of Boston’s LGBTQ community, drawing thousands of people. Purchase discounted tickets here.
As part of a collaboration with the Asian Pride Project, NQAPIA has released a series of PSAs of parents speaking directly about their love of their LGBT children. These PSAs have been recorded in
Mandarin (with English subtitles):
Japanese (English with Japanese subtitles)
Korean (with English subtitles):
Laotian (English with Laotian subtitles):
Hindi (with English subtitles):
Tagalog (English with Tagalog subtitles):
This is a resource that is greatly needed and I am thankful for all that helped to put this project together as well as the parents who contributed their voices. More still to come.
May meets June: The Intersection of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Queerness
This post can also be found at MTPC’s website as well.
In May I celebrate and honor the work that has been done by my Asian and Pacific Islander brothers, sisters and siblings in the fight against racism. The month of May was chosen to commemorate the completion by Chinese laborers on the transcontinental railroad as well as the first immigration of a Japanese person to the United States.
And in June I remember and honor the work that my LGBTQ brothers, sisters and siblings have done in the fight against homo/transphobia. June is the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the event that is credited for creating the modern LGBTQ Civil Rights movement.
While most of the time, it feels like this work is distinctive, isolated and separate, for me as a second generation Asian American and an out transman, these worlds have always been linked.
Have you looked at a map recently? Asia is big. Really big. There are 49 countries in Asia, a region that stretches from Saudi Arabia to the Kamchatka Peninsula and includes 60% of the world’s population. “Asia” as a concept was created when westerners were exploring the globe looking for exotic lands and rare spices. In fact, the earliest disputes about the border between Asia and the “western” world were centered on the Caucasus Mountains and so we interpret Asian to mean other.
Today “Asian Pacific-Islander” is a geopolitical term that refers to blobs of color on an atlas that are approximately close to each other. But in the “melting pot” of American race politics, to be API means you have yellow skin and slanty eyes. It possibly also means you’re good at math, have demanding parents and slur your Rs. To be Asian American is to remove all the subtlety and nuance of a rich cultural heritage and to boil it down to a degrading stereotype that was created during the Wild West, institutionalized at Tule Lake, and given household recognition by Stanley Kubrick.
I remember as a child in the early 80s, my mother would caution me repeatedly, “Make sure you tell people you’re Chinese.” The fear was that if people thought I was Vietnamese, I would be construed as The Enemy because “we all look alike”. In 1982, Vincent Chin was bludgeoned to death by two Detroit autoworkers. Even though he was not an autoworker, or Japanese, they blamed him personally for the rise of Japanese automobile companies. He was brutally murdered for the way he looked and the perceptions of his race. In the months immediately following, Asians all over this country realized that it didn’t matter where we were born or who our parents were, we would still be labeled a Chink, a Jap, a Gook, and hated for simply because we are different. Vincent’s murder inspired a movement of togetherness that has lived to this day. In fact, immediately after the attacks on 9/11, Japanese Americans who survived Tule Lake were the first to come out in solidarity to make sure the same institutionalized racism didn’t happen again to Muslim Americans.
I talk about these things incessantly because so many people don’t know the fundamental link between racism and homophobia the way I have experienced. Vincent Chin’s murder changed hate crime legislation in the United States. Something that happened again with the murder of Matthew Shepard. So much of the hatred in this country is based on perception of power. Most recently, a troubled misogynistic young man went on a killing spree in Isla Vista aimed at the women he perceived to reject him. It is difficult to rationalize any of his actions or his beliefs, but it is very obvious that his own internalized racism at his half Asian self was a contributing factor to his self loathing.
Intersection Junction, what’s your function?
The simple truth is that no one’s identity is simple. For me, my world and life are profoundly shaped by the color of my skin. I have long said that the two things people see about me are 1.) my race and then 2.) my gender. Before I say a single word, they assume that I don’t speak English, and that I will be submissive to them. 2011 statistics show 46.9% of hate crimes were motivated by race and 20.8% by sexual orientation. In my own life I have been subjected to decades of microaggressions that are in accordance with those statistics.
To be both API and LGBTQ in this country means you stand at the cross roads of intersecting identities. Often times we are forced to choose allegiances. We can either fight to end racism OR end homo/transphobia, but apparently not both. Could you choose to favor the right half of your body and willingly remove the left half of your body? Could you select between your head and your heart?
Queer it up America
People who are Asian American or Pacific Islander are subjected to stereotypes that only limit us. We must continue to defy those stereotypes and break down the imagery that dominates this thinking. Not all Asian Americans come from stable two parent homes. Not all Asian Americans work in STEM careers. Not all Asian Americans are yellow. Similarly, just because you’re a gay man, doesn’t mean you’re automatically a hairdresser. Just because you play softball doesn’t mean you’re automatically a lesbian. LGBTQ people have been working for decades to break down these misconceptions by living their diverse and full lives in between the extreme polarities that people perpetually use to try to define us. We should all be working to breaking down the same and preposterous myths and stereotypes of racism.
When I sat down to write this blog post I was inspired by this blog post about pioneering Black Transwomen. My intent was to try and write a historical perspective of API LGBTQ persons who have been doing trailblazer work. But I am not a historian, and sadly, my cultural knowledge is hugely augmented by Wikipedia. And while I could sit down and do scholarly research, I am hampered by language and terminology that is not always culturally appropriate. We need more Asian American elders who are doing pioneering work. I was mournful of the death of Senator Daniel Inouye, and most recently the death of Yuri Kochiyama, Japanese Internment Camp Survivor and Civil Rights Activist. But I am also thankful for contemporary LGBTQ activists like Helen Zia, Patrick Cheng and Pauline Park who continue to work on Civil Rights and recognize that their visibility doing so inspires us all to do more. And I am excited about rising stars like Andy Marra who bravely puts her own personal life into public scrutiny. I look forward to the day when I can rattle off hundreds of names of API LGBT activists who are household names and hope that you do too.
For additional reading (Thanks Prof Mo for the Bibliography):
Q & A: Queer in Asian America, ed. Alice Hom and David Eng (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998)
Asian American Sexualities: Dimensions of the Gay and Lesbian Experience ed. Russell Leong (New York: Routledge, 1996)
Howard Chiang and Ari Larissa Heinrich, eds., Queer Sinophone Cultures (New York: Routledge, 2014)
Martin Manalansan, Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003)
So with all the recent shenanigans by Pope Francis, I think it’s time we start to talk about the place of Christianity in Queer API lives. Last year, we were lucky to have our very own hometown hero facilitate a talk with us about this very topic. Let’s continue the talk! (With Mimosas).
There are various different churches in the Boston area that are Queer affirming. Let’s check them out together!
Starting off with Easter Sunday, let’s go to Dignity Boston (Catholic). Dignity’s service is Sunday evening, so afterwards we can go out for dinner/drinks.
Check out our Meetup for more details! And if you have a church that is Queer welcoming and think would make a good stop on this little tour (and there’s a good brunch place nearby) please let us know!
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!
We here at QAPA.org love you and we love being proponents of all types of love. So whether you celebrate Valentine’s day with roses and chocolates, or you just think it’s a plot from Hallmark to control our wallets, be good to yourself and all those you love. Your bestie, your mom, your boo. It’s all the same.
Today, QAPA would like to shout out our love for our besties over at MASALA.
So recently QAPA was asked to participate in a larger collective of LGBT and POC groups in Boston, named the QPOC Bridge. I am hopeful that this will lead to some great partnerships, allyships and collaborations. As part of that participation, we will start posting other organizations events on the QAPA FB page. This will be a great way for us all to extend our networks and exercise our voice in the larger world. YAY QAPI Visibility!
We love you QAPArs! But we (the Steering Committee) want to make sure it’s a mutual attraction! Won’t you take our super short survey and give us some feedback? It will take you just 10 minutes and it will help us immensely!
All people who are Queer and/or Asian are welcome to respond. But we’d especially love to hear from you if you live in New England.
Please join us for our annual Lunar New Year dinner as we welcome the year of the Horse!
Sunday, February 2nd from 3:30-6pm
(Please note this is a change from previous publications. Please RSVP via Meetup or Facebook)
Our Prix Fixe tickets have sold out! But you can still come and order off the menu.
Our member and friend just opened a new restaurant and has agreed to graciously host us for a fabulous party. So let’s do it up in style this year. Wear something stylish, something dapper, something red, or something stylish, dapper, and red!
Bring your fabulous selves and your marvelous friends! Newcomers welcome! We’ve even invited the people from NAAAP and a few other professional groups, so it’ll be a great chance to meet someone new. Check out the details on our Meetup or Facebook.
This event is open to all partners, friends and allies regardless of race, gender or orientation. But please RSVP so we can properly prepare.
And there’ll be dancing with DJ Lady Spindrift!
So get fancy and come out and party with us! Let’s make sure the Year of the Horse starts with a smash!