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27

Jan

Out and Successful Interview: Mandy Hu, 1/26/2012

Mandy Hu, 1/26/12

posted 6 minutes ago by Miyuki Baker
Mandy is one of the most passionate and talented people I have met. I have so much respect and admiration for all that she’s involved with, and so I was delighted when she agreed to be interviewed for Asian, Gay and Proud.  Last week, we had a conversation about law, being queer in China and other hot topics! Enjoy!
On weekday mornings, Mandy Hu dresses up as a commercial litigator.  But what she really lives for are coincidences, lexical ambiguities, observant compliments, late night conversations, impromptu foot races, and other small, delightful moments of art and connection. Mandy considers her biggest achievement her continuing (and often unsuccessful) struggle to do the right thing. 
 
She is on the board of directors of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), is active in her local communities in San Francisco, and is a prolific producer of typed confessionals for her blog, Bananarchist.

Name, age, what you identify as (or not):

Mandy Hu, 31. I identify foremost as a special beautiful unicorn. Other identities that fit: queer, second generation Chinese-American, bicultural, Californian, short-haired gender nonconforming who’s that boy-looking-girl in the girl’s bathroom call security!!?? And I don’t think of identity as just demographics or phenotype but also personality, interests, characteristics, thoughts, e.g., I’m a Chatty Cathy who likes stringed instruments and word games and feels lots of lust for life.

Miyuki: What do you do for a living?

Mandy: I’m a lawyer, currently doing commercial litigation for a firm in San Francisco. On a good day, litigation works for me because it channels the competitive, verbal, cerebral, and performative parts of me into a productive occupation. On a not so good day, it’s a lot of sitting in front of a computer wondering why judges can’t write simpler sentences and when people stopped talking and started suing each other to resolve their differences.

My job is fulfilling, but I also care about social justice and political issues that my paid work can’t capture. So it’s important to me to plug into my communities and work for the changes I want to see within them and in society at large. Right now that means being on the board of directors of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, and doing local organizing with other queer communities in San Francisco.

Miyuki: When did you come out? Any stories?

Mandy: I don’t think I can isolate coming out to any single moment. Did I come out in 1992, during Kristi Yamaguchi’s long program at the winter Olympics in Albertville, when I first identified my funny feelings for girls? Or at sixteen, when I told the person who would be my first girlfriend that I thought I was bisexual? When I told my first friend? A teacher? Or when I told my parents a week before leaving for college that I was in love with that girl on my wrestling team? Or never telling my aunts and uncles explicitly that I’m gay, but bringing the same partner to several family functions and acting affectionately?

Coming out is not a one-way street, either. I’ve come out of the closet, then returned for a change of clothes, then stepped out partway and changed my mind, then tried to take a sledgehammer to the whole damn thing. For example, my first job after college was teaching in a public high school. I certainly did not come out to my students, but I did share my progressive opinions with them freely. I did not tell the evangelical Christian music teacher that I was gay, even when she said idiotic things about gay people. At times I’ve looked more feminine, and I can tell people assume I’m straight, and I don’t say anything to suggest I’m not. These days I present fairly androgynous, leaning toward masculine, and I assume that most people have enough awareness of social norms to understand that there is something unusual about my gender and therefore about my sexuality too.

And I think other people can come out for you! Take my mom, for example. About a month ago, a nosy uncle asked why I don’t have a boyfriend. Mom said, “Oh, you know Mandy. She’s just too busy!” That’s the kind of response I’ve gotten used to; I see it as a very Chinese way to avoid conflict and deflect the issue. But then two weeks ago, we were at a friend’s wedding, and a nosy auntie asked the same question, and my mom leaned in and said, “Actually, Mandy’s gay!” I almost dropped my drink when she said that. I was elated. It really felt like progress.

Miyuki: How did coming out impact your career or relationships with others?

Mandy: I told my parents when I was seventeen, after my car got broken into when I was visiting my girlfriend in San Francisco. I had to explain why my car was parked in SOMA at dawn. I remember nothing but lots of crying, and my mom saying that she basically already knew. I guess I didn’t hide it very well. Since then, they’ve met several of my girlfriends, gone on family trips with a few. I can talk with my parents about the women I’m dating, and my activism on queer issues. Still for about a decade my dad kept trying to set me up with his co-worker’s son. And once every few years my dad and I will get into an argument about something unrelated to sexuality, and in the heat of the moment he’ll say something nasty about gay people.

I’m mostly laughing about it now. I’m proud to have a good relationship with my parents - it’s something we’ve all worked on for a long time. I lived on the opposite coast for most of my 20s and I didn’t have an ethnic identity until I was about 25, I think because I saw being queer as my primary identity, and something incompatible with being Chinese, which I associated with my family of origin, and my way having a queer identity was to live far away so that my Chinese family didn’t have to know what I was doing day to day. I’m 31 now, and really grateful to have found friends and experiences that have taught me how to be both queer and Asian. It’s vastly improved my relationship with my parents.

I would say I’m pretty far out of the closet now. Definitely in my professional life. I put obviously LGBT organizations on my resume and I talk about the work I’ve done for them during job interviews. Actually, it probably works in my favor in a town like San Francisco, where queers and allies are everywhere. In other towns I’ve worked in more conservative/formal/frat guy environments, where it’s been a challenge to connect to mentors or co-workers because everyone is a good ol’ boy named Brandon or Chuck, so I feel lucky now to work in an environment where homophobia, not homosexuality, would be frowned upon and there are people who look like me.

As far as how being out affects my effectiveness on the job, how a judge or jury will receive an androgynous Asian-American female litigator - jury’s still out. I haven’t gotten far enough in my career to find out.

Miyuki: Queer communities are constantly changing depending on laws, societal acceptance and dynamics within the community.  Can we talk about the relationship between laws and societal acceptance in the US? Do we really need to change laws to see change in society?

Mandy: That’s a really interesting question. Since I don’t work on any LGBT related legal issues in my career so I can only speak from my general experience as someone who has thought about the law and how the law prescribes morality for society.  First of all, I don’t think it’s fair to say that it’s perfectly legal to be gay in America. Up until 2004, before Lawrence v. Texas, criminal sodomy statutes were constitutional.  And even though that’s now unconstitutional, in states where there is no sexual orientation protection under state law, it’s still legal to fire someone because they’re gay, because there’s no federal law prohibiting discrimination against people based on sexual orientation.

As far as the social change question, I think the law leads public morality. It’s a statement on public morality. So even if people disregard the law, if there’s a sodomy law in the books — which probably doesn’t just cover homosexual behavior but bans anything except for procreative missionary position sex — even if people disregard it, I think it still says something that it exists and no action has been taken to overturn it.  So that’s why it’s important to have a decision like Lawrence come down, to declare that it’s not okay for the government to regulate sexuality in this way.

Miyuki: How do you feel about the equality campaign? Certainly in many queer communities, there has been a lot of backlash because marriage is seen as an institution rooted in traditional beliefs.

Mandy: I have personal opinions on the marriage issue and then I have a political strategic opinion. My personal opinion is that marriage is not necessarily what the movement should focus on because of the message it sends. What’s so great about being queer is that we have to be a little more deliberate about our family structures and about our partnership structures.  You get to create alternatives if you don’t fit into a social norm.  So why give up the opportunity to redefine what a family looks like?

The policy reasons for the government recognizing a married couple over any other relationship is that the government wants to encourage social stability. It sends the message that this is a basic unit of society — we want to protect it, give it tax breaks and do all we can to nurture it because it creates society.  But I don’t think that that’s the only model on which society can be built.  For example, I wonder why we can’t have more varied partner recognition so that if two siblings want to live together and want to create a household together, or if two people who don’t want to have sex who live together, they can go ahead and be recognized and supported by the government.  That’s the ideal.

From a resource perspective in the LGBTQ movement, so many resources have been devoted to marriage equality, even though there are lots of issues pertaining to LGBTQ people.  Not everyone wants to get married, not everyone is a citizen, not everyone is capable of being married, it’s all just so narrow.  So that’s my personal opinion about the movement.

But then again I feel that marriage is a very easy hook to get people who are not in the movement to understand gay people.  It’s a great way to lure non-LGBT support to gay people and create initiative.  

Miyuki: You mentioned that learning how to be both queer and Asian has vastly improved your relationship with your parents. Can you talk more about that process?

Mandy: When I first came out, I felt like my gay identity was my most important one to me and in choosing that I felt like I had to step away from my family of origin and what I had been raised in .  It’s hard for me to describe this because there was such a variety of emotions — this was also back when I was a teenager. I came out to myself at 15 and then my parents at 17 so I wouldn’t have been able to articulate at the time that I was very consciously stepping away from being Chinese or having an ethnic identity. For me it was more that I felt like I had to reject what I had been given. Which was an easy thing for a privileged Chinese girl from Palo Alto, CA to be doing.  

Miyuki: But you speak Chinese and from what I know of you, you seem like you have a strong Chinese heritage.

Mandy: I spoke Chinglish at home and I went to Chinese school where all the other Chinese American kids were tortured by their parents. I wasn’t a very diligent student—my Chinese wasn’t very good and I communicated with my parents in a mixture of Chinese and English.  My vocabulary was universally limited, meaning I could only talk about a few things like what are we eating or can you take me to this place.  A very functional and non-emotional and poor medium for expression. I didn’t take any Chinese in college but then two years ago I was in China for five weeks and did some language study specifically to improve my Chinese so I could speak to my parents.

Miyuki: Do you think that has helped you reconnect with your cultural background?

Definitely. But then again, my parents have never lived in China so I’m pursuing some idea of what it means to be Chinese, not theirs.  They ethnically Chinese but they grew up in Taiwan.  I don’t know if my experience of being Chinese is the authentic experience of being Chinese. It’s kind of like a hodgepodge, putting together my own groping around in China and with the language as well as with other Chinese American friends.

Miyuki: How did you feel in China as a queer person? Did it feel different than being in the US?

Mandy: I’ve been to China a couple of times in different formations of being a queer person. The first time I went to China for language study I was more gender conforming looking which meant that I had long hair..well that was pretty much it, I had long hair. So even though I was more androgynous in my clothing, hair makes such a difference in giving people an immediate idea of what your gender is. And I didn’t know anyone there so I wasn’t out to anyone or even have the opportunity to come out to anyone because I didn’t have friends. I was just going to my language classes. Eventually I became friends with my language teacher and my Chinese roommate and I came out to both of them. My language teacher took it well but my roommate was in disbelief the whole time. She kept saying ‘You can’t possibly be gay’ and just refused to believe me.  I’ve had that reaction before too from other Chinese people so I wonder if that’s just a polite thing to say like, “Oh no, no you’re not gay!” So it wasn’t an unpleasant experience. I did go to a lesbian bar in Beijing.

Miyuki: How was that?

Mandy: It was fine, it was like any bar anywhere—loud, shouting and trying to connect with people over the music and not being able to hear anything.  It was interesting to see that there was a dyke bar.  Actually it was just a queer women’s night in a hotel bar.  

The last time I was in China I was much less gender conforming. I had short hair and I wore a chest binder. In fact I went into the men’s room and I was trying to pass as male just because I thought 1) it’d be easier to travel alone that way and 2) because I thought it’d be an interesting experiment.

Miyuki: Wow…interesting! I actually read your article from 2003 in the Harvard Crimson, “A Drag Diary”—

Mandy: Oh for god sake, yeah?

Miyuki: It was one of the top 10 hits on google when I searched your name :)

Mandy: I was just talking to a friend about how the stuff we wrote on the Internet ten years ago is still coming back to haunt us.

Miyuki: Well I mention it because it seems like you’ve had several experiences trying to pass as a man, what with your experiments you talked about in the Crimson and with your time in China. When you were passing in China how did people react? What was it like mentally and emotionally to do that?

Mandy: Well it wasn’t what I thought it would be. In my travels the past, I’ve had people in Europe or South Asia just come up to me and ask ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’ and be really forward about it. But I found that people were a lot less straightforward about their curiosity in China. Part of it I think was that I look really Han Chinese and kind of fit in so I stick out far less as an androgynous Chinese person in China than I do as an androgynous Chinese person in Munich.  

People actually thought I was a guy. They’d say “I’ve got this daughter who is looking for a boyfriend” and I’d say “actually, I’m a woman…” And after I revealed my gender, most people reacted by saying “Oh I was really curious but I didn’t want to ask you, you’re very androgynous.” People weren’t freaking out about it.  I was expecting a bit more pushback you know? It never became the centerpiece of our conversations.  I never felt like I was being judged.

Miyuki: Along the lines of what we’ve been talking about, how do you feel we can come to terms with the dissonance created between how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us?

Mandy: Let’s see..okay I have a story. There was this one time where I went to a gay lawyer’s conference in Los Angeles. On the Saturday night of the conference I went out with a bunch of other women to a bar and we were all sort of smallish queer women.  Actually I was the only gender non-conforming looking person—most people had long hair and all of us wore put-together lawyers outfits. And I just remember standing outside the bar and we had to get somewhere and — I love lawyers because they get shit done. So we were like “Okay we need to get to this place, this person is going to lead us, we need a cab, this person is out in the street hailing a cab.” It just felt really badass and independent, like yeah, we can get anything we want done. We felt powerful and maybe it was because we were in this social class of well-educated, mostly wealthy people working for law firms that we felt empowered, and to top it off we were around queer folks.

But then I took a step back and saw that actually, we’re just a bunch of small sort of gay-looking women. Other people are not going to think that we’re powerful. In my mind I think that I can get anything done, like don’t mess with me, but then I’ll go to a bar where I’m five inches shorter than everyone else and the bartender literally overlooks me or people don’t register me because I’m Asian.  That startles me because I have this narcissistic imagination of myself as an awesome person.  

Miyuki: Well you do have a lot on your plate—you sing, you dance, you’re a lawyer.  How do you juggle it all? What keeps you going?

Mandy: That’s a really hard question to answer…I mean why do you do the things you do?

Miyuki: Yeah, I guess it is a hard one to answer…haha

Mandy: I suppose I’m just trying to chug along in life without getting bored.

Miyuki: Do you feel like you get bored easily?

Mandy: *laughter* yes, NO haha I think getting bored is such an awful thing.  This is getting very far from being queer and Asian but there’s so much in the world, how could you possibly be bored? You just have to seek it out. If you’re feeling bored I feel like it’s up to you to stimulate yourself.

Miyuki: I completely agree.

Miyuki: Okay, to wrap things up, do you have any advice you can give to other Asian, Gay & Proud readers?

Mandy: Keep doing what you like doing and eventually other people will learn that you’re as awesome as you know you are. Surround yourself with people who inspire you. Smile a lot and be attentive and patient and nonjudgmental with people. Everyone’s just like you, another person, in this world, with other people, trying to get along.

And this is anti-advice: I don’t only want to give advice, I want to receive it. Asian, Gay & Proud readers surely have a lot to teach me! How exciting that we all get to learn from one another!

Check out Mandy’s blog here:
See the original post at Asian, Gay and Proud here:

26

Dec

Out and Successful Interview: Leow Yangfa, 12/26/2011

Leow Yangfa is a social worker and trainer in Singapore. Having lost a gay friend through suicide, he went on to create a website and collected real-life stories for an ebook called “I Will Survive: Personal gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender stories in Singapore”. http://iwillsurvivesg.wordpress.com/

Who? name, age, what you identify as (or not)
Leow Yangfa, 36 & identify as gay-veggie-Chinese-uncle-of-5.

What? what do you do for a living or things you would like to do
My educational and professional background is in social policy and social work, and currently work in a non-profit organisation in
Singapore, where my main role is in training co-ordination, conducting workshops and supporting volunteers.
I’m a big fan of Kylie and like watching popular classical operas. I also enjoy my white wines and green teas (not necessarily together), and for fun I like wandering around IKEA stores and collecting their catalogues from all over the world.

When did you come out? Any stories?

I never came out to my parents – I was outed by them when I was 18 years old and they found my stash of gay porn magazines and some personal letters from an overseas pen-friend (this was way before the Internet and email!).  My coming out story, along with those of 14 other Singaporeans, was collected in the book “SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st century” which was published in 2006. http://www.oogachaga.com/sq_21

How did coming out impact your career or relationships with others?
My parents took a long time to get used to it, understandably. In truth, we often forget the impact that our own coming out has on them, and I’ve just bought and started reading a book called “My child is gay: How parents react when they hear the news” edited by Bryce
McDougall.

My relationship with my family now is great – even though I have my own flat, I still often stay with my parents, as both my older sisters have their own families, with 5 gorgeous daughters between them.

I’m out to my colleagues, maybe it was a non-issue in the first place, and feel grateful for the non-judgemental attitude in my workplace.

Advice you can give to other Asian, Gay & Proud readers.

Come out, come out, wherever you are, but in your own time, and always on your own terms.

Check out the website Leow started here: http://iwillsurvivesg.wordpress.com/
And a book in which his coming out story is included: http://www.oogachaga.com/sq_21
—-
Originally posted at Asian, Gay and Proud: http://www.asiangayandproud.info/out-and-successful/interviews/leowyangfa122711

20

Dec

Out and Successful Interview: Vanessa Huang 12/20/11

Vanessa Huang is a poet, cultural worker, and activist whose practice draws on teachings from the prison abolition, migrant justice, gender liberation, transformative justice, disability justice, and reproductive justice movements. Vanessa’s poetry manuscript quiet of chorus was a finalist for Poets & Writers’ 2010 California Writers Exchange Award. A Macondo and Kundiman fellow, Vanessa lives in Oakland, California and consults with social justice organizations. http://vanessahuang.com

Who? name, age, what you identify as (or not)
Vanessa Huang, 27, queer, born and raised in the Bay Area to Chinese immigrants from Taipei, middle class, education privilege, disabled.

You self-identify as a poet, writer, and community organizer. Can you tell us a bit about the intersectionality of these professions?
My practice finds home in the dialogue amongst the offerings and work possible in each of these and other mediums. Poetry has a precious place, a specific contribution to this call and response. Poet and activist Alexis Pauline Gumbs makes this offering in the July/August 2010 issue of Left Turn magazine: 
We don’t know how to say it: the shapes our hands make in the world we deserve, the names we call each other past gender and domination, the feeling of how free we could be and the ways we will recognize the signposts and markers for how to get there. The meaning of life that we are building with our breathing is so radically different from the structural oppression we live under, we couldn’t describe it if we wanted to. And we want to. 

Revolutionary poetics is about the shape of that desire, the queer untimely affirmation that another world is not possible, but is here waiting for us to recognize its presence and transform ourselves accordingly. Anticapitalist Jamaican thinker Sylvia Winter teaches that the poetic is the magic process of describing relationships between people and an environment that capitalism, as a relationship and as a language, make impossible.

We don’t have a grammar to describe how full gender sovereignty walks or how life free from violence, punishment, and ownership tastes. But we know. And our chance to live in that world, our best hope of sharing that world with the future, depends on our ability to imagine it, to say it, to mean it, to invoke it, to drum it up in a rhythm our ancestors and our dreams can recognize and rally behind.
I hope my love and labor as a poet feeds resilience and courage from the margins in the ways we need to spark and sustain the work of transformation: to enliven our spirits, make possible new ways of feeling, understanding, and building and transforming relationships with each other and our “work.” And I trust in our work as organizers to create more and more spaciousness in how we live, love, and work so we may each and all celebrate and inhabit our always courage beauty, and create and re-create what it is to be free.

How have your queer and/or Asian American identities shaped your writing? 
My inherited legacy through generational migration, and the sensibility of our queer and transgender movement elders, has gifted me with the responsibility to be a steward of our senses, always returning to what we’ve held and nurtured in silence, what is now safe to sound.

You mention in another interview that your “practice of poetry is called by the quiet bodyprayer, unsounded and unpracticed words—the seemingly missing.” Can you explain? Does this relate to the voice of the minority or is it a spiritual reference? 
Poetry requires deep listening with our beloved present: the conditions we live in, and the yearnings that encourage us to continue creating, returning to breath. The writing of poetry is a spiritual practice — a practice of inviting that “for which no pronunciation exists” (Myung Mi Kim), this place where “things patiently unfurl, open up and trust us with their secrets” (Yahia Lababidi) —; a practice of deep, utter necessity “living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding”: “What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?… Because in this way alone can we survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth” (Audre Lorde).

The (incredible) poem on the main page of your http://vanessahuang.com is about home.  Can you share some thoughts with us about your idea of home in the context of queer and Asian identities?

"Home" is complicated for so many of us in diaspora, and for our loved ones and comrades. It’s something we yearn for and mourn the loss of, stolen from so many, from First Nations to dear ones taken by rising state terror for lockup to Palestine, and through the workings of capitalism then and now, near and far. “Home” is visceral when we create and experience it, something we create alongside our ancestors and loved ones today create amidst conditions and systems rooted in exploitation and domination, something we reclaim. 

Can you share a coming out story with us?
The last couple years have been a bit of a coming out with my work and practice as a queer, disabled poet, after a phase of time primarily dedicated to political practice through the medium of organizing and activism. It’s been a journey reclaiming voice through the ruptures of language and migration, shame and silence, of reclaiming power in community, in movement, with deep humility. I invite Asian, Gay, & Proud readers to join my journey here, and support as you’re moved and able to: http://kck.st/tm3dHE

What’s the next step? In your opinion, what can we all do to move in the right direction? 
Get to know our neighbors. Invite a practice of care for each and all, and nurture a culture within and around the families and groups we create that encourages transformation towards relationships rooted in love and resilience.

On a related note, do you have any advice you can give to other Asian, Gay & Proud readers.
Trust your own wisdoms. Listen to what arises. Practice compassion and courage, together.

Visit Vanessa’s website at: www.vanessahuang.com
Support her kickstarter here: http://kck.st/tm3dHE
See original post and more at Asian, Gay and Proud: http://www.asiangayandproud.info/out-and-successful/interviews/vanessahuang122011 

Asian Pacific Coalition: Power Map of Queer Asian Pacific Islander Resources

This is filled with really great resources! Check it out!

apcucla:

Power Map of Queer Asian Pacific Islander Resources

Compiled by Asian Pacific Coalition’s Gender and Sexuality Committee

 

UCLA 

Counseling and Psychological Services – talking circles

04

Dec

Out and Successful Interview: Tania De Rozario, 12/4/11

Tania De Rozario is an artist and writer interested in notions of love, loss, desire and home. As a woman and lesbian, she believes that creating common emotional ground through art, facilitates conversations about sex, gender and sexual orientation, that start from a point of commonality instead of difference. 


Tania has exhibited and curated in Singapore, Amsterdam and San Francisco. In Singapore, she has shown at spaces such as the Esplanade, The Substation, and the Singapore Philatelic Musuem and is co-founder/curator of Etiquette, Singapore’s first annual arts event focused on feminist issues.

Tania is a 2011 Hedgebrook alumna and the 2011 winner of the English poetry section of the SPH-NAC Golden Point Award. Her poetry and prose can be found on the Santa Fe Writers Project, Softblow, Moving Words Journal, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore and GASPP: A Gay Anthology of Singapore Poetry & Prose.

When she is not writing about herself in third person, peeling paint off her clothes, or leaving passive aggressive one-liners on her Twitter account, Tania freelances as a writer for TimeOut Singapore’s Art & Design section, and as an art educator teaching drawing at the Substation and Contemporary Contextual Studies at LASALLE College of the Arts. 

Who? name, age, what you identify as (or not)
Tania De Rozario, 30,
"Lesbian", for the purpose of convenience and occasionally "queer", because it feels less limiting.

What? what do you do for a living?
I work as an artist, writer, curator and art educator. I also read a lot of Jeanette Winterson and pretend that she is my wife. But that last one fails to pay the bills.

When did you come out? Any stories?
I don’t think I was ever in a closet that I could have come out of to begin with. I liked girls from a very young age and never really found that I had a real reason to hide it. I had supportive friends who did not really care either way.

As for my blood-family, I never officially came out, but my mother knew. She was (is?) religious and believe me, when the church crazies come to your house and try to cast the “lesbian demons” out of your body when you are twelve, you can be pretty sure that your family knows. The rest is a long but predictable story.

I officially came out to myself  (i.e. called myself a lesbian) when I was sixteen.  That was the first time I consciously started understanding that I was not only attracted to female-bodied folk, but that it was going to be a life-long affair. Before that, liking girls was part of who I was and I never hid it but that part of me  did not have a name. To associate yourself with a word that means so many different things to so many different people was kind of scary. But it was also very liberating.

How did being out impact your career or relationships with others?

Well, because I deal a lot with love and desire in my work, sexuality and the fact that I love and sleep with women has been an inherent part of my practice from the very beginning. So I guess for me, it is not so much about how coming out has affected my career but more about how being out has been an indispensable part of it.

In terms of my relationships with others, especially in a (largely) conservative country like Singapore, being out has also helped me develop a very effective filter that enables me to negotiate social space in a way that I would not be able to if I was in the closet. When I encounter homophobic attitudes, being comfortable enough to out myself in such a situation, enables me to be in control of it.

When you can tell someone you are gay, you relinquish the ball to their court. They can take you or leave you and you really don’t have to put up with shit. Also, you realise that you have options and are in a position of power: You can choose to use yourself as evidence for debate, you can choose to walk away, you can choose to make an effort, or not make an effort. I feel as though these are choices I would not have if I was in the closet.

I feel being out is important and count myself lucky to have had a pretty easy time being out. There are so many people living in situations where they cannot be out, where being out would compromise their physical safety or well-being, so I feel as though there is a social responsibility for the rest of us to be out; for the rest of us to be visible. You never how or who you are helping by just being comfortable in your own skin. You might be the reason that colleague in your office thinks twice before telling that homophobic joke. You might be the reason your classmate or student has decided that being who they are is not as bad as they have been taught it is.

How have your racial and/or sexual identities affected the formation of Etiquette, the annual multidisciplinary showcase of art, writing and film created by and about women?

Well. First and foremost, I think that one thing all of us at Etiquette value is racial and sexual diversity - we are a multi-racial team and comprising individuals of various sexualities.  

Secondly, I suspect that sexual identity might have played a small but crucial part in what some of us were interested in and eventually chose to study back in school, and therefore, a large part of what our respective bodies of knowledge comprise. Collectively, we have backgrounds in art, literature, film, gender studies and women’s studies, so there is a great understanding and dynamic that goes on between us when we plan projects – an appreciation for criticality is reflected in the choices we make. Also, we understand the importance of platforming marginalized voices and of selecting works that question the status quo regarding issues of gender.

On a similar note, what do you think is the role of art in activism?


I believe that advocacy is a lot about communicating particular ideologies and that the role of art in communicating ideologies has been an inherent part of most cultures since forever. Religious practices almost always involve visual symbols that people focus on, music or sound that people chorus to, words that are deemed holy, that are repeated, that are not allowed to be spoken.

Contemporary capitalist and consumer cultures are also perpetuated by an urbanity that utilizes images, words and sounds to manipulate all of us into brainless consumption.

The tools that fuel widely accepted ideologies are also the tools that can be used to dismantle them. In this case, these tools do not belong to the master. They belong to everyone.

Do you have any advice for other Asian, Gay & Proud readers and/or Asian Pacific-Islander artists?

Haha oh dear. I don’t know if I am in any position to give advice to anyone! Right now the only thing I feel compelled to say is that the easiest way to sleep at night is to be someone whom you can respect. This is something I do my best not to compromise on. If I cannot respect myself, I find it hard loving myself. But that is just me.


Check out Tania’s work here:
and Etiquette’s page here:
——
See the original post at Asian, Gay and Proud’s website here:

26

Nov

Out and Successful Interview: Erica Cho 11/26/11

When I found out at the beginning of this semester that the Film and Media Studies Department at Swarthmore College had hired a new professor who was queer and Asian, I could barely contain my excitement. I sent Erica an email right away to see if we could meet and she has quickly become an important role model for me in the past couple of months. Not only is she queer and Asian but she is also an artist in academia (triple-A as she put it)! Asian, Gay and Proud is honored to highlight her on Out and Successful.

Who? name, age, what you identify as (or not)

Erica Cho, 37, Queer & Free & Bi-coastal

What? what do you do for a living or things you would like to do
I’m a visual artist, writer/director in film, tarot reader/healer… and teacher at Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr Colleges.  I’d like to draw more.  I’d like to have access to the city but live in a home surrounded by nature, trees, and a babbling brook.  My girlfriend says this is called a suburb.  

When did you come out? Any stories?
Coming out is a long and endless process. I pronounced my first lesbian love when I was in kindergarten. But I seriously started the process when I was 17.  Sometimes it feels like I have to come out everyday: to strangers, people in ignorance, or people with regenerative denial -  otherwise known as my family.  

How did coming out impact your career or relationships with others?
It helped me mature emotionally and creatively.  The energy spent on hiding, fear and denial was re-directed to connecting with other folks and developing my voice as an artist.   

Miyuki: Although you teach film at Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr, you’ve worked in a number of mediums: comics, sculptures, printmaking and installation work.  What is it that attracts you to these different mediums?

Erica: Although it’s not apparent because of the form the work takes - the form is usually something that’s popular or pop in some way - I actually identify as a conceptual artist.  So whether I use the plastic arts or a popular art form like filmmaking or comics, I’m motivated by the idea.  The form is also motivated by who my audience is, who I want to target, and how much money I have at the time, or even the level of risk I want to take with the project. With some work I want to just be able to play, so I’ll deliberately make sure it’s low or no budget and something I can do on my own.  

Miyuki: As a mixed media artist myself, I’ve been dabbling with the idea that queer artists who are already used to challenging gender norms or defying heteronormativity and other societal roles, tend to use more mixed media or unconventional media because they want to break out of the traditional canons that exist in the art world.  Queering the process of art making in a sense. Do you see that being a possible influence?

Erica: I think…………….. I see you transcribing this with a thousand ellipses (laughter).  It’s an interesting question, and I never thought about it that way, but I do think that that ‘queer spirit’ does translate into a lot of different spheres in your life, influencing not just how you’re creating, nor just your sexuality or gender, but what family is, what it means to be spiritual, what it means to eat and how you get your food, what it means to communicate. And I do feel that art is so much a part of the soul of a society.  So yeah, I would say, “Yes, of course!”

Miyuki: If someone asks you what kind of artist you are, what would you say?

Erica: I’ll say I’m a visual artist and filmmaker.

Miyuki: So you see those as different branches?

Erica: I see it separately not so much to define my approach, nor my methods, but more in where the work is presented or exhibited. So I’m speaking to how my audience might be able to find my work.  But personally, I don’t see there being a distinct difference.

What is the most difficult part of being an artist who works directly in the intersectionality of being queer and Asian? How do you work with and against stereotypes?

In my work, conceptually I’ve been interested in exploring the stereotypes of inscrutability or invisibility and being open to looking at what the potential in that stereotype might be.  Asians are perceived to be inscrutable or invisible or voiceless or one of the masses, and I’ll flip it and decide to explore that stereotype and begin to see people who are extroverted and space-taking as actually lacking the ability or potential to be invisible.  I know it sounds like I like the stealth ninja, but I won’t immediately accept certain qualities as a weakness.  

Miyuki: So you want to make the best of those stereotypes or be more optimistic?

Erica: More like looking at the ways in which silence is powerful and how even invisibility can be powerful.  I made this film about the Karate Kid movie from 1984, and I was really interested and curious about people’s fascination with the character of Mr. Miyagi, who’s a stereotyped character. He’s a shaman wiseman, he helps the white boy or anyone who’s not Asian, so he’s the person of color healer, he’s somewhat neutered, he’s alone, he’s somewhat silent, and he does karate.  He’s a karate master, and he has a beautiful bonsai garden even though he’s a maintenance man.  He doesn’t really have a visible community, and he exists to perform this stereotyped role, but at the same time, Mr. Miyagi was an arresting image.  So instead of directly challenging how he’s represented, I was curious and open to looking at his image in a different way, which you see a hint of at the end of We Got Moves and which is developed more fully in School Boy Art.  

To take an example of invisibility in a different context, when second-generation Asian Americans grow up, we’re like, “My mother never told me she loved me!” And while that may be true, that there needs to be a balance, it’s about looking at those things we often view as negative and instead seeing the strength and power there.  

Miyuki: It’s really refreshing to hear you talk about stereotypes in that way.  I know that you’ve spoken about your project “School Boy Art” as an attempt to show the recovery of sexuality and desire through the feminine—or through the balanced merging of the feminine and masculine? You even mention Yin and Yang.

Erica: Oh that was kind of a joke…

Miyuki: Well even if the Yin and Yang bit is more of a joke, your work often explores those two extremes of the masculine and feminine energies (i.e. the faggotized dyke) and playing with the binary. I can see that by merging the two, you are also creating a different gender or a non-gender.  How do you contextualize the traditional narrative in your radically queer film?

Erica: In my work I hope to challenge people to consider the values with which we’re measuring what’s important, what’s powerful, what a voice is.  So that’s what motivates me.  I never have a particular position or perspective that I want other people to adopt.  My work is not like a return to the cultural roots in a purist way.  It’s not even about a direct affirmation of stereotypes because those have been very damaging in our lived realities.  It’s more like being a trickster figure.  For example the word “lesbian” has often been rejected, and people have been challenging it… for good reason - because of the limitations of the word to encapsulate how one might identify, or its disconnect with certain cultures or generations. But I am also wary of the possibility of our own internalized homophobia and misogyny at work, so I feel compelled to play the trickster and reclaim the word.  Even on a personal level, just to be a brat sometimes…people will be saying “Lesbians this, lesbians that,” and I’ll say, “I’m a lesbian!”, even though I more strongly identity with the word “queer”.  Some people really need you to tell them what you are.  I remember I was confronted by a friend who was confused by my romantic involvements at one point, and they asked me, “Are you bi?”, and the trickster took over, and I said, “Yes! I’m bisexual!” I really didn’t care if they told the whole world; I just thought: “Yeah, I’m going to be this weird word.” It’s like an experiment of my own life…. Like, what would it feel like to say I’m this today?  How will that affect the way people treat me? Do people need me to be something right now? And so instead of saying “No! I don’t believe in labels,” I try the other route. I think that’s how my artist mind works too.  

Miyuki: It’s amazing what one word can signify isn’t it? You could tell someone that you’re queer and they might assume who you are, what you do in bed, what kind of relationship you’re in, etc.  But how do you think that your coming to terms with your queer API identity has affected the way that you depict queer API sexuality in your art?

Erica: On one hand with some of my work, such as School Boy Art or We Got Moves (videos), or even some of my earlier prints and comics/zines, after the piece is done, there are all these things happening that are interesting to the viewer in terms of race, gender, and sexuality. So while a scholar may be really interested in the representation of the old Asian male figure as a queer in School Boy Art, this representation wasn’t the initial inspiration behind the work.  I wanted to tell a story about art school, really to critique art school, but in the end it might not seem like that to some audiences. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that these stories feel so natural to me. I want to tell stories, and it feels most natural to tell them from my own experiences. So not quite accidentally these other interesting things start to happen.

On the other hand, I am aware that Asians/Asian Americans who address this issue of voice or presence and visibility in their work can be a site of anxiety for Americans in terms of conversations on race and racism.  As a result we are often overlooked in our complexity and the specificity of our experiences.  So telling a story which casts API folk has become a prominent motivation in my present film, Golden Golden, which stars two young queer trans API folk in Southern California. It was a very conscious decision to have one character be hapa-Asian and Latina. At the same time I’m very much influenced by who my community is and who my friends are, and I’m often moved to create a story around them. My friends are queer, trans, API, and cute, and I wanted them to be in a film. My community is my muse.  

Miyuki: You know, I think what’s amazing about film and acting is that by examining the performance and the roles that are being played, the performativity of our daily lives becomes so apparent. So to wrap it up, do you have any advice you can give to other Asian, Gay & Proud readers.

Erica: Give yourself time and give other folks time.  Don’t let anyone pressure you into coming out to your family when you are not ready.  Take the time to deepen and nurture friendships, not just one lover. Connect with many other people (like within this forum) who have similar cultural experiences or backgrounds.  Coming out is not always pretty and neat, so have compassion for your folks, family and friends whose values and entire perspectives on life may be challenged by just saying you are queer or trans.  

Engage in spiritually healing and creative practices: walking meditation without a smart phone, tarot reading with a friend, community or personal gardening, drawing, even church can be healing.


Erica’s website: http://wegotmoves.com/
Check out one of Erica’s films: http://vimeo.com/1315248
See a previous interview here: http://www.wegotmoves.com/projects/schoolboyart_intv.html
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Out and Successful Interview: Toshio Meronek 11/14/11

Toshio Meronek writes and makes music in San Francisco.


Who? name, age, what you identify as (or not) 

Toshio Meronek, 28, queer.

What? what do you do for a living or things you would like to do.

I’m a freelance writer and a contributor to The Abolitionist, which is the newspaper of Critical Resistance—an organization that fights the prison industrial complex. I also blog about disability with my platonic soulmate, Caitlin, at whereslulu.com, and I try to make music sometimes too.

When did you come out? Any stories? 

The first time I came out to someone was in junior high, after my best friend and I went to see As Good As It Gets. It was the first gay representation I’d ever seen that wasn’t, like, a Dateline story about some dude molesting a kid. I was out to people in high school, and came out to my immediate family when I was 20. I was freaked out at the time but it wasn’t a big deal afterwards. The only people I’m not out to now are my grandparents, who I don’t have much of a relationship with. They’re super-Catholic and believe being gay is, to quote my grandpa, “an abomination.”

How did coming out impact your career or relationships with others?

I don’t think it’s had a huge effect, really. My sister, who was 14 when I came out, was excited because her concept of a gay person came from watching Will and Grace, and she was like, “I’m so excited, now I have a new shopping partner!” On that point, I think media representations are important, and I keep that in mind when I’m writing—the importance of language and the political meanings behind words.

Advice you can give to other Asian, Gay & Proud readers.

If you can find a way to get past the gay and Asian shame a lot of us grow up with, do it sooner than later. I wanted to be straight and white for the longest time, and we get messages from lots of directions that that’s the best way to be. And don’t stress yourself out trying to gain the acceptance of an intolerant family, even if that means you give up being close with them. Your friends can become your family.


Check out Where’s Lulu at www.whereslulu.com and The Abolitionist at http://abolitionistpaper.wordpress.com/

Listen to his music at http://www.youtube.com/user/tmeronek

Toshio is also a contributor to the Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex book tour.  Check it out!
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Out and Successful Interview: Timothy Wang 8/19/11

Timothy Wang has lived in Utah, Boston, New York, Seattle, Shanghai and Beijing, and still hasn’t set down his roots anywhere. He’s ethnically Chinese with an American passport, but he thinks himself a citizen of the world.
Timothy recently came out with a novel, Slant which is about James, an Asian boy who likes video games and romantic comedies, realizes he’s gay while attending college in Boston. He begins a whirlwind exploration of the gay world, negotiating its many pitfalls, including the first kiss, his first love and the first drugs. At the same time, he has to manage his insecurities and the constant pressure from his tiger mom. After Stan, a charismatic young man, dumps him, James schemes with his calculating MIT brain to get Stan back, but loses himself along the way. Will he get what he’s after?
Who? name, age, what you identify as (or not)
Timothy Wang. I prefer not to display my age in public. I am gay. 
You recently came out with a fiction novel, Slant, whose main character is a gay Asian-American boy.  Can you tell us a little bit about the motivations for writing this book and the process of publishing the book?  

The reason for writing this book is that I felt, at the time, there was so little literature about the contemporary gay Asian Americans, especially those that address the very real and wide-spread issues they face. Yet, at the same time, I wanted to write something fun and entertaining. I shared the draft with some of my friends, who said I should edit it and try to publish it. I tested out the waters two years ago and sent out one query letter. Much to my surprise, the editor replied back and wanted to see the manuscript, which I promptly sent out and it was promptly rejected. I learned the hard lesson of not sending out unpolished manuscripts. That launched a two year process of editing the manuscript and researching the publishing world.
After reading a few chapters of Slant, it became quite evident that the book wasn’t just a fluffy fiction novel that happened to have a gay Asian-American main character.  There’s a lot of racial tension and deep cultural commentary that stems from the intersectionality of the main character’s Asian and gay identities.  Can you respond to these aspects of your novel.

I wanted to explore the racial tension in the gay world, which I felt wasn’t even discussed or mentioned in most gay literature. The main thing is that so much of our sexual preferences are not just defined by gender, but also by race, which often is an important secondary attribute to our sexual identities. Okcupid often has fascinating statistics (http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/your-race-affects-whether-people-write-you-back/), and I found people’s comments on these numbers amusing also. Yet, I don’t want the main character to only whine when confronting these issues. The book focuses on James’ strategy for dealing with love, life and identity under these circumstances.  

The main character of Slant has a rather abrupt coming out situation with his parents, it seems because they’re Asian.  How about when you came out to your parents? Any stories? Any thoughts on being Asian and coming out to your parents.

I came out to my parents when I was nineteen, shortly after I admitted to myself that I was gay. Once I accepted myself, which was a long struggle, I just didn’t feel the need to hide it from my parents, since, after all, I live my life for myself and not for my parents, though I love them very much. 
You work in China these days.  Have you come out to any of your Chinese colleagues? How has coming out impacted your career or relationships with others? 

I had came out to some of my co-workers who are also American expats here, and I had no problems coming out to my co-workers when I was working in Seattle. But for some strange reason, I just didn’t feel comfortable coming out to my colleagues who are Chinese nationals. I suspect it is because I already get plenty of questions from them about America and Asian Americans, which already shows a deep lack of understanding of non-homogenous worlds. Basically, I don’t want to deal with even more naive and intrusive questions. 
What are your thoughts on the future of queer API activism in both America and in Asia?

In America, the key thing is raising our visibility in the media, and our portrayal in the media. Sometimes gay Asians aren’t even portrayed in a sexy/attractive manner in the gay media. In Asia, the key thing is simply to earn the respect for personal freedom. 

You can purchase Timothy’s book here!
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Out and Successful Interview: Kevin Huang 7/30/11

Who? Name, age, what you identify as (or not)
Kevin Huang, 42 Gay, Asian and Proud

What? What do you do for a living or things you would like to do.
I make sculpture in glass or fiber.  My work is influenced by textiles: a 1950’s era Japanese kimono, an Italian embroidery, a Persian carpet.  It is inspired by the dialog of scale that is required to convey ideas in space.  This is seen in the way Le Corbusier enlivened and cavernous space with small colored glass windows in Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp or the way, so I have read, visitors to Herat, Afghanistan used to be greeted by the glistening light of the sun reflected in millions of tiny pieces of glass mosaic covering mosque minarets that, together, created a cohesive whole. 
 
During the day I am the Executive Director of ASIAC an organization that has connected Asians and Pacific Islanders to health care and social services for 16 years.  Our primary focus is to ensure that A&PI in Philadelphia have linguistically appropriate access to HIV testing and medical care.

When did you come out? Any stories?
By the time I was twelve I was playing around with my male friends.  At that time I knew something was different between me and others.  What that difference was is hard for me to say today. 
 
I didn’t “come out” until I was in my sophomore year at college.  Although my friends at school knew I didn’t tell people at home until then. 
 
How did coming out impact your career or relationships with others?
Coming out has put a damper on my relationships with family members.  Although this does sadden me, I would prefer it this way than to live a perpetual lie. 

Advice you can give to other Asian, Gay & Proud readers.
Be honest for yourself. The world around will react accordingly.
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Out and Successful Interview: Masashi Niwano 6/28/11

Masashi Niwano is the Festival & Exhibition Director for theCenter for Asian American Media (CAAM). He is a Bay Area native who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Film Production from San Francisco State University. Masashi has been associated with CAAM for almost a decade, starting as an intern, then becoming involved in theater operations and, finally, being chosen as a selected filmmaker (Falling Stars, 2006). Prior to re-joining CAAM as Festival & Exhibition Director, Masashi was the Executive Director for the Austin Asian American Film Festival. He is also an active filmmaker, who has worked on numerous films and music videos that are official selections at Cannes, Outfest, Newfest & South By Southwest.

 

Who? name, age, what you identify as (or not)

Hello. My name is Masashi and I’m a queer, Japanese American. I’m thirty years old and lived most of my life in the Bay Area (except four lovely years in Austin, TX).  


What? What do you do for a living or things you would like to do.
I’m the Festival and Exhibitions Director at the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). Every March, we present the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), the largest film festival dedicated to Asian American and Asian media. Being Festival Director, my main responsibility is to design an exciting space, where attendees can engage with artists and mediamakers. With the rise of online media sources, on demand options, streaming films, it’s our mission to evolve with the changing media landscape. Aside from SFIAAFF, I’m an active filmmaker. In the future, I would love to work closer to the music industry, either as a musician or a concert organizer.


When did you come out? Any stories?

I came out in college, when I met my partner, Curran Nault. Nine years later and I’m delighted to say we are still together. As many know, coming out truly is a process. I believe that year, I came out over a dozen times. Luckily, I only lost two good friends. The hardest part was coming out to my mother; she was devastated. I knew it was going to affect her, but not to this degree. And what made the situation worse was after I came out, she would continue to ask if I had a girlfriend. I continuously had to reminder her that I was gay and every time, she took it very hard. I can’t say that she’s completely fine with my sexual orientation today, but our situation is much better now. My mother even buys my partner Christmas presents now, which shows how incredible and loving she is.


How did coming out impact your career or relationships with others?
There are so many reasons why I love living in San Francisco: the cold, foggy weather, my friends and family and most importantly, how progressive the city can be (for the most part). Being gay has not affected my career as a Festival Director. Plus, working within non-profits and arts organizations, I’m surrounded by other members of the queer community. However between 2006-2010, I lived in Austin, Tx and that was a different story. Although the city leans more liberal than most Texas cities, I still decided to stay closeted in my day jobs. My coworkers just thought I was extremely shy, since I would never divulge my personal life. It forced me to feel “on guard” at all times, which isn’t fun.


Advice you can give to other Asian, Gay & Proud readers.

In my opinion, being Asian American and Gay in 2011 isn’t as hard as it was a decade or so ago. That’s from my own personal experience. However, depending where you live, your family situation, your career choices, etc, hard times are bound to arise. Sadly, I don’t see discrimination leaving our society anytime soon. So, be confident and PROUD of who you are. Find out what makes you unique and what you have to offer this world. Once you know that, no matter what people say or do to you, it won’t hurt as much. Find your support foundation (which can range from friends, family, gay friendly organizations to progressive church groups) and share your experiences with them. Live out loud.

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