Category Archives: Speak Out

For Pulse in Orlando, for us everywhere

I was in disbelief when my friend told me the news about Orlando’s Pulse this morning. It felt surreal, remote. I may struggle with the eloquence others have expressed, but I can at least try. It feels jarring when just yesterday I was at Boston Pride, a moment of community and celebration.

Today we mourn.

With 50 confirmed dead and many more injured, there is a wake of many familes and friends who are heartbroken today. What must it feel like if you didn’t even know your loved one identified as lgbtq? How many families are reeling in the confusion and hurt of it all? Make no mistake – this was an act of hate. It was a latinx night at Pulse so I can only imagine how many QTPOC lives were lost or in the limbo. What felt so remote, suddenly felt so personal. This could have so easily been me or any of my friends. It has been repeated, but lgbt clubs aren’t like “regular” or straight clubs. They are a place where we feel we can feel unpolgetically free, a place of radical self-love and celebration.

I have built my community on the dancefloor. QAPA has organised countless events at clubs, and I’ve made my share of closest friends at Queeraoke or Milky Way. For someone to violate that kind of sacred space, for someone to steal and hurt so many lives, it is a heartbreaking tragedy with a rippling effect everywhere. Where can we be safe? What does it mean to be safe? Can we ever be safe?

I also want to take this moment to discourage any Islamphobia rhetoric that will consequently make those of that faith unsafe. Many of our LGBTQ+ are also Muslim or Sikh and will be unfairly targeted for how they appear or what they believe. Hate has no religion. Think about all that hurts even more lives than the lives lost at Pulse. For us, Pulse is a visible body count. But the pervasive transphobia, homophobia, police brutality, racist immigration policies, and more takes so many more lives than we can even grasp. To the LGBTQ+ youth that we lose to suicide from immense bullying and in the face of domestic policies that turn the other way. To the QTPOC lives and futures we lose to police brutality, incarceration, or deportation. Just because your politician didn’t use a gun doesn’t make them less guilty of the blood on their hands.

Please mourn for the lives we lost in Orlando. We will feel this heartbreak, but please also understand this is not a simple incident and it only represents the work that remains for us to do. Hold each other gently, love fiercely, and work hard to make sure this never happens again.

What to do when your own face hates you

So yesterday I watched the Mass House of Representatives debate and ultimately pass HB 1577, a bill we affectionately call the Trans Equal Access Bill. I have worked on this bill for over 6 years, and I have spoken about it at length before. This bill would protect transgender people from discrimination in all public accommodations, a legal term for spaces like libraries, restaurants, hospitals and parks. In short, every place that isn’t your home, workplace or school.

Those spaces also sometimes include locker rooms, and often times include bathrooms, so of course it has been derided as “The Bathroom Bill” by the opposition. They argue that predators posing as transgender women would use this bill as a cover to prey on women in bathrooms. They forget that criminal activity perpetrated by anyone in a bathroom is already a crime. But the root of their fear is the passive crimes: peeping or upskirting, and ultimately the most dreadful, exposure of male anatomy in a women’s bathroom.

I sat in the gallery of the state house and watched the parliamentary procedures. It can be a dry process, and this day was long. As guests to the proceedings, the gallery is not permitted to interrupt, cheer, applaud or offer commentary in any form; doing so would be a cause for ejection. This bill was the only thing on the schedule, and it still took 7 hours to go through all THIRTY SIX proposed amendments. I live updated to Facebook for the entirety of the proceedings.

PA-FB image

Most of the 36 amendments were attempts to remove the heart of the bill and limit the basic protections that the legislation provided. With each proposed amendment, an opposing legislator would get up and talk about what is essentially transphobic fear, coupled with a sexist righteousness to be protector of women’s modesty and virtue. After several hours of listening to the rhetoric, I quite frankly became numb to the monotony of white cisgender men droning on, and thankfully, each and every amendment was voted down, and by large margins.

But the board looked way more green than red, and the count was quickly rocketing up.

We picked up a lot of steam once we got to the last few proposed amendments. Speaker DeLeo made a sneaky return (having abdicated several hours of procedural work to his deputy Patricia Haddad) and we cruised into the vote. It happened so fast I almost didn’t realize it was happening. It took confirmation from the vote board turning green to realize THIS WAS THE VOTE. And then it happened. We had expected the vote to pass, because our own polling numbers showed we had more than a majority of votes. But the board looked way more green than red, and the count was quickly rocketing up. The final tally was 116 votes in favor of the bill, and 36 opposed. One hundred and sixteen. That’s TWELVE more than a super majority, and a Governor’s veto, the thing we were all afraid of, was no longer a possibility. In the din of the applause and back slapping, I quickly ran outside, stating “Time to go to work” to my friend James who was sitting in the gallery with me.

Our plan was to form a line and thank the legislators as they exited. To cheer them on for doing the right thing and as they say “stand on the right side of history.” But I came to a screeching halt because the opposition had already beaten us to that exact plan.

A wall of people were standing there, holding signs and chanting “Shame!” to the legislators exiting. I was completely taken aback and afraid of what looked at first glance, like a riotous mob. The signs were pretty vile, they depicted the men’s glyph peering over the bathroom stall wall at the women’s glyph and said “No Bathroom Bill.”

And to my great shame, most of them were East Asian.

Photo by JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF

Photo by JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF

We did our best to drown out their chants of “Shame on you” with our own applause and cheers of “Thank you.” The hall with it’s marble finishes quickly became a cacophony of echo. The media was whirring, taking photos and grabbing 10 second interviews from anyone who wanted to step in front of the camera. I saw my friend Bobbi who also serves with me on the MTPC Steering Committee engaging with someone from the opposition. Bobbi, who I have always thought of as a pacifist looked like she was going to strike the man who was forcefully shoving his sign in her face and vacillating back and forth between “You’re confusing.” and “You’re just confused.” with “what about the children.” I walked over to Bobbi and gently tried to get her to disengage from the confrontation, knowing the lights and cameras were focused on us. Bobbi added “I am a parent too, what about protections for my child” and walked away.

it was very clear that when she thought about the transgender menace, she was not thinking of transmen. And she most certainly wasn’t expecting someone who was East Asian.

The crowd started to thin, and I saw the heart of the opposition and their terrible signs. And then I did the thing that I told all of our constituents not to do. I walked up to one East Asian woman and said “I’m transgender, do you want me to use the women’s room?” The look on her face was alarming. She did not try at all to hide the fact that she was judging me. But it was very clear that when she thought about the transgender menace, she was not thinking of transmen. And she most certainly wasn’t expecting someone who was East Asian.

This was a modern day battlefield.

I squared my body, put my hands in my pockets and locked slanted eye with slanted eye. Here is my loose memory of the things she said to me.

“I’m thinking about the future generations.”
“We need to protect the children. I don’t want my five year old daughter exposed to male anatomy.”
“You need to be stronger. I think you are too easily offended.”
“Are you Chinese? Where were you born?”
“What do your parents think of you?”

As I write this, I want to tell you that I refuted every one of her arguments with tact and grace. But it’s been less than 24 hours and I cannot remember the exactness of the exchange. I hope that I remembered to smile and be polite and respectful. I think I kept my voice to a non threatening decibel level. I was very aware of my body movements.

I tried to explain to her that I am indeed a strong transgender man and that I don’t belong in the women’s room. I told her that my parents love and support me and give me the strength and mandate to fight for my rights. And yes, I am Chinese, my father was born in Hong Kong.

But really, the lights, the screaming, and the setting were never correct for a civil discourse. There was no moderator, clock, or footnotes. This was a modern day battlefield. In action movies I always thought it seemed so farfetched that every single combatant from side A would square off against one combatant from side B. But here we were. The rest of the room melted away, just extras and set production, and it was just the two of us locked in the world’s most polite fight of whose feelings were more important, who was right, who was wrong, and why.

This to me seemed the most ridiculous and illogical of all her arguments.

She repeatedly said “I want you to know that I love you,” and kept touching my arms with both her hands. It seemed a strange exchange. I live in a world where you don’t touch another person without their consent, but I know she was trying to connect to me as a human being. It was a small way that her Christianity was manifesting. But even though it was a loving touch, and her words were meant to be kind, her eyes, and her heart were patronizing and condescending. It reminded me that until recently my own experience with Christianity had not be pleasant, but imperialistic with tones of superiority. I was also keenly aware that after almost 10 years of testosterone, I am very much male bodied, and men do not touch women that they do not know. I kept my hands in my pockets and was grateful for my suit jacket.

She also kept saying, “This isn’t personal.” This to me seemed the most ridiculous and illogical of all her arguments. Of course this was personal. Why else would we both have spent hours at the statehouse listening to parliamentary procedure. No one does that in their free time. And unfortunately, our society has made going to the bathroom, something that is very personal, into a public activity. Yes, this is personal.

Mason, my ED, was circling our tete-e-tete and I finally pulled away. I asked if she wanted to converse further. She just kept reiterating her beats, “I want you to know I love you,” and “this isn’t personal.” I walked away wondering if this conversation could ever be resolved, and knew that there could never really be a victor.

What if I could have spoken to her in Mandarin?

So many emotions are swirling in me right now. If we had more time, would I have been able to convince her that trans people aren’t threats? Would my chances have been better if I was wearing something different? What if I could have spoken to her in Mandarin? If my mother was standing next to me, would she have gotten into a fight with her? Would she have gotten into a physical altercation with this other mother?

In my preparations I was expecting the legislators to be horrible. I knew it would be a long day of assaultive language veiled in savior complex. But the hours of procedure left me completely unprepared for the opposition. And then to meet an opposition that was both vitriolic and had my face was like stepping into a bad twilight zone episode. And I am left hurting, wanting and confused. We may have won that vote yesterday, by several touchdowns, but there is still so much more to do in our own communities.

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.

Power politics 

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?

The author shaved his mustache to raise awareness for API Heritage month.

Do I look less like Fu Manchu, Ming the Merciless or the Mandarin, and more like Captain America?”

 

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)

November = T Day

Yes. November in the United States is marked with that all important spectacle of Thanksgiving where millions of Americans eat Turkey. But I’m talking about a different T.

November also marks the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. For those of you who don’t know what that is, check out my post from last year.

These next few weeks there will be a variety of events to raise awareness for all walks of Trans* people.  There’s a Comedy show, a cocktail reception, a workshop on how to be a Trans Ally, a workshop on the intersection of Race and Trans Identity, and of course TDOR itself.   For QAPA’s part, we’ll be holding our next Speakout to address the intersectionality of gender and sexuality.

Check out an event. Think about the amazing work that Pauline Park, Kit Yan and Andy Marra (to name just three) do for our community. Save the Turkey for another day.

http://www.masstpc.org/community-events/trans-awareness-week/

Volunteers, Ambassadors and Emmisaries

We want you.

QAPA is hoping to strengthen our relationships with local AAPI organizations!  If you have a specific interest, talent or identity that you’re interested in exploring, we want you!

-Interested in films?  Be our liaison with the Boston Asian American Film Festival.
-Interested in Government?  Help us partner more with the Massachusetts Asian American Commission.
-Want to meet more Japanese people?  Be our ambassador with the JACL!

We are also trying to strengthen our speaker’s cabinet.  With our increased presence across NE, we have gotten more requests for speakers and tabling opportunities.  If you feel comfortable talking to people about being queer and Asian, please let us know!  We need more strong, out, proud QAPIs who are willing to share their stories.  Not ready for a panel, but willing to help us with a tabling event?  Let us know!  If you’re bilingual we could use your help translating information resources!

Don’t delay, there are exciting possibilities everywhere!  Contact qapa@qapa.org!

Support

In light of recent events, we just want to emphasize how important community and support systems are. We had the honor of having Marsha Aizumi come speak at Makeshift earlier this month and prior we had a group discussion about coming out (part of our QAPA Speaks Out series). The Boston Marathon bombings showed us that we can unite together to heal. When we are reminded of our mortality, we feel the universal vulnerability that deeply connects us.

When we are struggling with our sexual orientation, coming out, or grief, we turn to those that we love and trust most. Marsha Aizumi showed us the power of a family’s love and acceptance. Our Coming Out discussion revealed that many of us relied on close friends to give us courage and confidence. The Boston Strong spirit that runs through our area now shows that even strangers can instinctively rush to rescue in times of our need. The point is – you never nor should you have to go through any of these life changing moments alone.

We are so thankful for those that have come to our events, and even those who haven’t just yet. QAPA is nothing without the care and consistent support we have received. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us if there is something we can help with. We are more reliant on each other than we ever realise, and we hope to see you soon.

Special thanks to Marsha Aizumi for graciously sharing her new book and personal journey with her trans* son. If you would like to read her heartwarming story, please check out her book, “Two Spirits, One Heart.” Special thanks to MakeShift for generously helping us provide the space for the intimate event.

QAPA Speaks Out: Queerness and Religion

Often we find that we have to separate our parts to feel like we belong somewhere. We go to queer groups and then even those groups can be further subdivded. Our discussion last week with theologian Patrick S. Cheng was insightful because it encouraged us to embrace the intersection of our identities.

We don’t have to separate our need for a spiritual fulfillment from our queer identity. Religious extremists make it easy for us to forget that religion is not exclusive with the social conservatism that ostracizes us. We may long for that social unity that happens so infrequently in our communities; often these communities may be centralized in a religious setting. For example, I grew up in a sparsely Asian-populated area so church or temple were the few times the community would unite to socialize and keep our cultures – our roots alive. For us to deny those cultural or religious roots can be painful or cause “spirtual abuse.”

It doesn’t have to be this way! There are many religious communities that opened their doors to the queer community. Whether you can wander into a church, temple, synagoue, or mosque, you can also look for other resources to help reconcile your spirirtual and queer identity. There are plenty of online groups and forums (For starters: LGBT Religious Archives: http://www.lgbtran.org/). Patrick S. Cheng is also releasing a book soon called Rainbow Theology: Bridging Race, Sexuality, and Spirit. More info on his book here: http://www.patrickcheng.net/rainbow-theology.html.

We want to thank Patrick S. Cheng for his resources and outreach in our discussion, and of course many thanks to our attendees!

EDIT: Patrick S. Cheng will be speaking at Trinity Church on May 5, 2013 about his newly released Rainbow Theology book! More details at:http://trinitychurchboston.org/calendar/event/10/2h0k5e4moos5a1828snacn8qq0

Re-Writing Queer History

A few weeks ago, our friends John and Belinda at API Famnily Pride poised the question, “How Do We Make The Transgender Community Part Of Our Conversation?

It’s kind of a funny question to ask, since Trans* people are and have been the backbone of the Queer Civil Rights movement.

During Barack Obama’s speech during his inauguration, he passionately linked three locations together:  Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement, Selma, the birthplace of the black civil rights movement, and Stonewall, the bar that is often cited as the birthplace of the LGBT civil rights movement.

Note that I said the birthplace of L-G-B-T civil rights.  I did not say gay civil rights.

NPR, has since graciously offered a quick history lesson to any who didn’t understand the President’s three references.  But in all the synopses of the Stonewall Riots, the “historic” voice was so narrowly presented that anyone reading/listening can easily deny the richness that sparked the next 40 years of civil rights activism.  The people who rioted for FIVE DAYS were transvestites and bull daggers and drag queens and cross dressers and nancy boys and fags and faeries and butches and femmes and people like you and people like me.  Some of them were on the fringes of society, and yes, it can be argued that some of them were on the fringes of queer society.  But they were there and they were the reason why City Hall plaza flies a rainbow flag, and why Pride is celebrated in June.

People often like to separate out the T from the LGB community.  I understand.  I am a self identified transman, and I can tell you that my own personal journey of identity has been focused around gender and NOT sexuality; a key distinctive difference.  However gender expression is such a crucial and HISTORIC piece of the queer rights movement, and safeguarding gender identity is not just protection for Trans* people.  It’s protection for everyone who does not fit the image of Suzy Homemaker of John Q. Public.  It protects butch lesbians and effeminate men and everyone who isn’t David or Victoria Beckham.

So as we go forward and divide up among our respective Ls, Gs, Bs and Ts, let’s try to remember that it was once “us” verse “them”.  And as I sit here wrapped in the comfortable blanket that those brave souls fought to provide for me, I ask you to remember the cataclysmic movement where we defined our spirit of unity and defiance TOGETHER in the face of opposition.

Upcoming Speak Out!: LGBTQ Partner Abuse 101

Did you know that 1 in 4 LGBTQ people will be abused by a partner?

For this month’s QAPA Speak Out! event we will hear from Chai Jindasurat from the Network/La Red (TNLR), and Qingjian Shi and Dahvy Tran from the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence (ATASK), about partner abuse in LGBTQ communities. We will discuss the definition of abuse, myths and facts about LGBTQ domestic violence, root causes, resources and ways to support survivors. Domestic violence is a community issue, we are all responsible for ending partner abuse.

The event will take place on Wednesday, April 27, 2011 from 6-8PM at MAP for Health, 322 Tremont St., Boston, MA 02116.

QAPA Speaks Out! First Meeting

Are you Queer (sexual minority) and of Asian and/or Pacific Island descent? The Queer Asian & Pacific Islanders Alliance (QAPA) Speaks Out! group can provide a safe and welcoming environment for discussions on our unique experiences of being both Queer and Asian in America. These are possible topics: Coming out, interracial dating, identity issues, intergenerational differences, model minority stereotype, rice queen/sticky rice/potato queen, assimilate/acculturate, and any topics you might want to talk about. So if you have an idea, topic, concern, issue, suggestion, or just want meet other Queer Asians such as yourself please come to our first group meeting and lets Speak Out!

The first meeting, led by Hung, will be on Thursday, Sept 30, 2010 at Andala Café in Central Square, 286 Franklin St., Cambridge, Ma., from 6-8pm.