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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 

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
See original post here

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!
—-
See original post here

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!
See original post here

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.
See original post here

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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Out and Successful Interview: Cori Wong 6/2/11

Cori Wong grew up in Boise, Idaho, studied philosophy at Colorado State as an undergrad, and is currently a graduate student at Penn State University in Philosophy and Women’s Studies. A large part of her academic work is motivated by the desire to make philosophical reflection accessible to people beyond the university setting and relevant to real-life experiences. Her approach to public philosophy, or doing philosophy more publicly, is reflected in her coinage of the term, “philifesophy.” which aims to capture the interrelatedness of life and philosophy. 

In addition to spending time on her own philosophical work, Cori has equally strong passions for food (cooking and eating), dancing, and sitting around cafes having long and enjoyable conversations with friends. 


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

Cori Wong, 24.

Though I think labels can do important political work and often help in terms of legitimating identities, I also think that they often are too limiting, inadequately capture one’s experiences, and can create unnecessary anxiety. As a result, I’m loosening up on my own identification. At different times I’ve called myself a lesbian, identified as just “sexual,” and have recently thrown around with the idea of being “pretty queered up.” The last one is funny and subversive all at once. I like that.

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

I’m a graduate student in Philosophy and Women’s Studies at Penn State University where I specialize in feminist and Continental philosophy. My research centers on affective experiences, embodiment, sexuality, gender, oppression and resistance. I passionately love to learn and to teach, so I hope to continue doing both after I graduate.

When did you come out? Any stories?

I started the slow process of coming out in college. It was relatively smooth for me given that my studies provided me with very helpful language and concepts over the years that enabled me to make sense of, and be really okay with, my own experiences. Once I started being explicit about it with friends hardly anyone was surprised. It took a while longer for my family to feel more comfortable, but again, I think that being able to articulate myself clearly helped our process along. There was one instance that I think counts as my “official,” public coming out moment—it was the last round of a slam poetry contest and I performed a steamy and sentimental poem about a woman (not really anyone in particular). As I walked away from the microphone, I sort of squealed into my friend’s ear, “Oh my, I think I just came out to 100 strangers!”

The strange thing about coming out, though, is that it’s not really just a one-time thing. There are many situations where one has to decide whether and how to repeatedly and continually come out. Sometimes these situations can be frustrating, nerve-wracking, or empowering, and the repetitive quality of coming out is something that many people under-appreciate.

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

I’m fortunate to be on a career path that is pretty open with respect to acknowledging sexual identities. Because my work aims to resist oppressive attitudes about topics dealing with gender, sexuality, and sex (to name a few), I think that being out myself has allowed me to engage more deeply with these issues. Both professionally and personally, my own ability to be open, accepting, and positive about my own identity has probably helped to foster some unique connections with others. In a lot of ways, once I came out I started to “see” a lot more queer people around me (Maybe it’s better “gaydar,” or maybe it’s just the kind of recognition where you pass someone on the street and give each other the, “Hey, we’re cool, we’re family” look…) Other people started to find me, too. I have been approached by numerous others (friends and acquaintances) who have been in the process of trying to better understand their own identities, and I’ve been told that my own comfort and openness made them feel like they could approach me and ask more poignant questions.

Miyuki: Why did you start your youtube channel, “My Philifesophy” and the Think for a Change video series?

Cori: When the September suicides were happening with the young gay boys and Dan Savage started the “It Gets Better” project, I thought for a really long time. It took me over a month actually to finally upload a video to the project because I didn’t know what to say.  I really wanted to do something but I just didn’t know what to say. So then I finally realized that I didn’t know what to say because just saying that if you wait and push through, things would get better, felt so empty to me and really dissatisfying.  So I felt like we needed to be able to say something more.

For me, it was one particular class that introduced me to feminist and queer theory and so after that I started exploring both of them. That changed my life and I thought, “That was when I was in college. We have to get resources available to younger people when they can’t take the college class.” And so I thought, well, they’re on the internet. Maybe we can put some resources on the internet and maybe that would help.  So in my “It Gets Better” video I say “Find resources” and since it’s hard to just say “find resources” without pointing to them, I decided that that was something I’d do—it’s now my task to make resources available.  So I read from books that are really good and also try to demonstrate what it is to think and talk through these issues.  I wanted to provide the material and lead the questions along.  

You know, I really wish there was something more that I could do—and there are advocacy groups out there—but it takes such an effort on the part of a young person to put themselves in the position where they have resources available to them. I’m happy that I had the idea to do this and it’s been getting such good feedback but I also feel like it’s pretty minimal in its reach and capacity right now.  The other really scary part of this is that a youtube video is such an insufficient way to have a dialogue.  

Miyuki: Since my website is geared towards the coming out process and what it means to be Asian and gay do you have any thoughts on the intersectionality of those two identities? Also what would you advise someone to do to create change when they don’t have the resources that we do or the vocabulary to talk about queerness?

Cori: This question is complicated for a lot of different reasons. First, the intersectionality of those two identities is really complicated because I think Asian American identity is sophisticated and queer identity is sophisticated—bring those two together and it’s going to be a network of different nodes that match up and other ones that don’t.  So for me personally, my answers are geared more towards coming out and queer identity because my Asian identity has been less central to my queerness.  I’ve done separate work trying to figure out my Asian identity in a similar way that I have done with my sexual identity, because that is itself already another bucket of worms and is really confusing for me.  So I think the intersection of the two is important and will be unique and specific for each person, and it can create a different set of challenges and issues that a person would have to work through.  But, independent from one another, both identities are challenging enough on their own.  

In terms of lacking resources and finding ways to articulate your own experiences, if you don’t have exposure, whether that’s classes or books, it’s such a hard thing because I think that having resources is one of the most important things we can do. I don’t think there’s much we can accomplish if we just sit alone in a room and ponder these things on our very own. You might be able to get yourself somewhere into thinking new ideas but we need to have the dialogue, different perspectives.  We need different approaches to open us up to things that we couldn’t have imagined on our own.  Like “wow people really do that?” or “people really live that way?” and “that’s possible? I had no idea.”  We need to find resources—it doesn’t have to be in a book or in a classroom.   And I think it’s just as important to be able to recognize what’s around us and what can possibly be a resource.

When I went to pride for the first time I was so happy that people were wearing leis around their necks because as we decided to go for lunch in downtown Denver, outside of the pride parade area, you’d see all these people wearing leis on the streets and in the restaurants.  Anyone else might have thought, “here are a bunch of straight people” and it probably wouldn’t have even enter their minds, but you know that they’re wearing leis because they’ve been to pride!  So, in that moment, the leis functioned as a kind of marker that helped me to see differently what is so easily assumed. Though we won’t all be wearing such obvious markers, I think that it is important and beneficial for everyone to be better able to recognize that there are other people with different kinds of relationships, with other identities.

On a similar note, I think that we can do our own work to try to first be able to recognize the differences that are available to us if we don’t have immediate stimulation from resources outside of ourselves.  I think that your website and finding resources online and doing a bit of initial work is really important.  That’s why I do what I do, and why I think you do what you do, because we need visibility. Not to persuade us and not to tell us what to think and not to give us a handbook on how to do certain things, but only to provoke new ways of thinking and understanding.

Miyuki: At the same time, I think that while we can provide all of these resources, if the person reading or being exposed to it isn’t open-minded, all of these ideas are just going to hit a brick wall.  While I was talking to my mom about queer issues this afternoon, she explained her own thought process. We all have the ability to think but we also all have different lenses through which we think.  So the lens through which my mom thinks is very much sculpted by traditional Japanese values so even though she thinks a lot as well, it’s hard for her to come to the same conclusions as I do, and that’s where we have our disagreements because I’ll try to explain the way that I see the world but she’ll say “yeah but you grew up here, you have different tools to use when you’re thinking about things.” So as a philosopher, how do you grapple with that kind of cultural difference in the ways that people think?

Cori: That’s a really good question… and it’s reminding me of one of the most difficult conversations I had with my mom during the first year when I came out.  She said that she was frustrated and didn’t want to talk about it because she felt that whatever I said I would think that I was right and that she was wrong—that I had to correct her every statement. When you hit a wall like that you recognize that you don’t understand in the same way as another person.

Is it possible to bridge between the two of you and come to some sort of common understanding? When you come together and you say “I’m a thinker, you’re a thinker and we disagree,” you can reach a sort of stalemate and this is really tricky territory because as a philosopher I’m also really skeptical of what it means to be right, or to have a handle on the Truth.  So I wouldn’t ever want to tell my mom “I’m right and you’re wrong.” Most importantly, I’ve become very pragmatic in the sense that I try to agree on the bare minimum of values like respect and life first. But, for example, I put values on things like pleasure and any sort of affirmation of enthusiastic joyfulness about life…and it might be that someone like my mom might disagree with me and say that they don’t believe in being able to do what you want to do with pleasure.  

Actually after I had that conversation with my mom, I went to one of my role models, a philosopher, and I asked her “what do we do when people just don’t agree?” and she said “you have to pick your battles wisely.” And I think there’s some wisdom to that too…because if you’re coming from a completely different lens I would never want to impose that I’m right.  The point isn’t to persuade another person, but rather to undergo the practice for ourselves* and if it comes down to that, than I can live without my mom fully agreeing with me. At least I can live! At least I can better understand for myself or I can go through this process for myself and whether or not my mom or whoever else wholeheartedly understands where I’m coming from, that’s really a lesser issue than me and my own existence and how I’m going to go about doing that.

I think it gets complicated and hard and dangerous and really conflictual if we think that what we have to do is convince all the haters that we are right or okay or normal. I think we’d be better off if we’re doing work for ourselves by understanding who we are and trying to better live our lives and not constantly trying to change the minds of others.

So when I say “think for a change” I mean it on a personal level of one’s self being able to think and live differently for one’s self, not so much “think for a change” just so that you can convince others that you deserve something, like their recognition or rights (though, of course, I think we do).  

Miyuki: It’s interesting to look at the different ways we come to our own identities and affirmations of ourselves and because we’re always interacting with other people, often times it’s completely influenced by other people’s opinions of ourselves.  And in Asian societies in particular, “face” is so important and the familial bond matters so much that your child’s actions tie directly back to the parents. And when everything is in relation to that core and keeping face, it changes the way that Asian people see themselves because they’re always comparing it to the ways that people see them.  This is what my mom constantly tells me, that I’m able to tell people confidently what I’m all about without caring about people’s opinions because of my Western upbringing.

Cori: The Asian culture about keeping face and strong familial bonds is something that emphasizes the fact that I know I speak from a very different position but that I didn’t fully appreciate until I started dating my now ex-girlfriend who is Taiwanese.  We had so many conversations about family expectations, and I even wrote a blog post about saving face because of our conversations.  I had to really appreciate the cultural differences in our relationship.  This is because growing up in Idaho, I was really Asian to a lot of people, but when I was dating someone from Taiwan I was made to feel like I wasn’t really that Asian in a lot of ways.  I also taught Asian philosophies this semester to my students and when we got into different ways of understanding one’s self in relation to others like your family members or your society, I realized that it is hard to just talk to American born and raised citizens about these differences because they often don’t get it.  It came down to the point where I said “You know what? this is where we have to say, we don’t get it.  It’s different.” We can’t just say, “Well, just do this, or think this way,” because there are real, serious differences.  

At the same time, it wasn’t until I started talking to more people from Asia and people with really strong Asian family identities, and when I started to see these differences, that I was also able to better recognize some elements of Asian influences in my own upbringing.  So, again, it’s the same process for me (much like with sexual identity), I need to constantly try to see differently, think differently, learn to listen, talk to people, explore and investigate.  Honestly, I’m still working through a lot of this stuff.

Is there any advice you can give to other Asian, Gay & Proud readers.

The most recent advice that I have given to others, and that I have taken to heart for myself, is to do whatever it is that you need to do to feel comfortable, strong, healthy, and confident. For me, delving into philosophy, feminism, and queer theory equipped me with important tools that helped me develop my own voice. On the more casual level of living day to day, I think that we all need to allow ourselves to do and be how we please, without restricting ourselves to labels and expectations that, unfortunately, can sometimes be quite stifling. I don’t think that there is a “true,” deeper core to who we are that we eventually discover, and in many ways I’m skeptical of the need to feel like one was always gay but just didn’t know it or know how to express it. However, I don’t think that it simply boils down to mere choice, either. This stuff is more fluid, more sophisticated, and more open than we often allow ourselves to think.

I think that we all—gay, bi, straight, whatever—would live better if we could openly embrace ourselves and others by encouraging freedom to live and relate and love in as many ways as are possible.

Nevertheless, if you feel like you are still trying to figure out how to be comfortable and confident in yourself, know that there are resources available. Find friends who think and talk about things in ways that encourage your own self-creation, expose yourself to sub- and counter-cultural media, if you can, take classes that aim to challenge social norms, and do your best to find other supportive resources that offer a different perspective on things than what you might have been given when you were growing up. I think this site is a good example that helps reveal that other people are out there living, loving, and doing well…and that there are a lot of ways to pursue those aims.


Check out Cori’s blog:
http://littlebirdpoettree.blogspot.com/
and youtube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/myphilifesophy

*Cori elaborates on this in her video called: Freedom to Think Differently, or At All 
**Cori’s response to Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” Project: It Gets Better—Think For a Change

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Out and Successful Interview: Sony 5/29/11

Bio: I was born, raised, and currently live in Maryland. I’m mostly Filipino, but I’ve also got some Chinese, Spanish, white American, and Cherokee. I was in an abusive relationship for a substantial part of my life till about three years ago when I began doing capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that incorporates dance and music. Capoeira gave me the physical and emotional strength to free myself from that relationship. Interestingly enough, capoeira was created by Afro-Brazilian slaves who found freedom through the art. When I’m not playing capoeira, I like to play soccer and snowboard among other activities. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so I’m up for trying anything. I wanted to get into more martial arts and sports when I was younger, but my mother would never let me because “it’s for boys, not for girls.” I say, challenge accepted!
Who? name, age, what you identify as (or not) 
Sony, 27, lesbian, butch

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

I’m a graphic designer for a professional organization for those interested in actuarial science. Don’t ask me anymore than that because I don’t even know. I just do the designs. I definitely enjoy doing graphic design, but I would like to work for a place where my designs aren’trestricted to the boring and conservative variety. Fortunately I’m able to do more fun designs on the side for friends and family.

When did you come out? Any stories? 

I
 was 8 years old when I came out and innocently told my mother that I had a crush on a girl. She shot that notion down quickly. That same year, I came out to someone I thought I could trust, but she told everyone and the bullying I was already experiencing in school grew worse. Eventually I found acceptance and support in my best friend and he even posed as my boyfriend so that the rumors about me would stop. I couldn’t openly come out again (to my peers, at least) till high school
and only after I saw the support received when one of my classmates came out. As for my parents, I had no intention of coming out to them, but they found out the summer before I started college, and it wasn’t pretty. Since then, it’s essentially been “don’t ask, don’t tell”between me and my parents.

How did coming out impact your career or relationships with others?
Initially, I went to interviews dressed in women’s clothes (not a dress/skirt!) mostly because I didn’t really have any professional men’s clothing yet and also because my girlfriend at the time didn’t think people would hire me if they knew I was a lesbian. I disagreed with her, but again, I had nothing else to wear. Once hired, I didn’t feel the need to just go around and let everyone know I was a lesbian though. I let them figure it out themselves or they’d find out one way or another through interactions and conversations with me. Either way, I didn’t try to hide it. Once I finally acquired some professional men’s clothing, I didn’t hesitate to show up at work dressed like a man, and I didn’t receive any trouble for doing so. I definitely felt more comfortable at work and I had good relationships with my coworkers. Recently I’ve gone to interviews dressed as a man and I was received well, but I don’t think that’s the reason why I wasn’t hired. If it is, then I’d rather not work there anyway. One of the nice things about being a graphic designer is I can kind of get away with appearing a little unconventional, especially when I dye my hair green, for example (or have tissue stuck up my nose).

Advice you can give to other Asian, Gay & Proud readers.
I have to confess that I was hesitant about doing this questionnaire because I didn’t think I qualified as successful compared to the other stories, especially since I’m not really actively involved with anything LGBTQ oriented, but then again, activism is not my forte. I absolutely admire activists, but I realized I’m still successful just because I survived and managed to find a place among everyone else in this world and I proved that I’m just as good (if not better) than any other non-LGBTQ graphic designer. So my advice: be good at what you do and show the world that anything they can do, you can do better as a gay, proud Asian!
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Out and Successful Interview: Jason Galisatus 5/22/11

I recently stumbled upon a really endearing documentary called "Coming out in the 1950s" (you can watch it on youtube by clicking on the title) which featured three queer youths interviewing three elderly gays and a lesbian.  Turns out one of the interviewers, Jason Galisatus, has been an extremely active queer rights activist aside from this documentary.  Asian, Gay and Proud is honored to feature Jason this week! Take a look!

Jason Galisatus is a senior at Aragon High School in San Mateo and has been the president of the Aragon High School Gay Straight Alliance since his sophomore year.  Jason has appeared on the radio on KGO and was a winner of the KQED Youth Perspectives Contest for his piece entitled “Complicated” which discusses the complications that arise from coming out.  Jason served on the GSA Network NorCal Youth Council in 2008-2009 and is currently the youngest member of the National Executive Team of the National Marriage Boycott, a Stanford-based organization that focuses on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, where he is theHigh School Coordinator in charge or recruitment and management of high school branches.  Jason won the Community Service Award from the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedoms for his advocacy for the LGBT community.  Jason also does speaking engagements ranging from GSA visits to keynote speeches with PFLAG.  He is currently a Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network Media Ambassador and will serve as such for the year.  Jason also worked as the LGBT Community Liaison Intern at San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office.  Jason runs a blog about his activist life that is written by his super gay activist alter-ego “The Power Gay.”  The blog can be accessed at jgalisatus.blogspot.com.  

Outside of advocacy, Jason is a percussionist with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, is the student body vice president, and loves musical theater.  Jason hopes to work in advocacy for the rest of his life and wants to double major in political science and communications.  After his undergrad he hopes to get his J.D. and M.B.A. at the same time and proceed to work in the non-profit sector for LGBT advocacy.

Who? name, age, what you identify as (or not)
My name is Jason Galisatus, I am 18, and I identify as gay.  

What? what do you do for a living or things you would like to do.
I will be a freshman at Stanford University in the Fall of 2011.  I currently work as an activist and political organizer, and I volunteer for the Mayor of San Francisco, Ed Lee.

When did you come out? Any stories?
I fully came out my Freshman year.  I was so blessed to have the most supportive friends and family in my life.  The most common response I got was “we know…”  My parents today are very supportive, and, as I said, always have been.  But initially it was very difficult for them to cope, not because they had anything against gay people, but because they were afraid that I would be in danger as an out gay man.  Their fears were not completely off base, as I had been bullied a couple of times.  Sadly, it comes with the territory of being gay, sometimes.

How did coming out impact your career or relationships with others?
If anything, being out benefited my career and my relationships so much.  When I came out, a barrier that had previously existed between me and my friends disappeared.  I had been “hiding” my secret from all of them for so long, that it disallowed any deep relationships/friendships.  Once I came out to them, I was able to be fully honest with them, and my relationships improved tremendously.  In terms of my career: my career literally is activism.  I work with LGBT people as my job, so coming out gave me a career in itself.

Advice you can give to other Asian, Gay & Proud readers.
We need to remember that while we have an ethnic identity to our Asian side, it’s alright to have a dual identity with our LGBT side as well.  Point being: Being Asian and being gay are not mutually exclusive.  Be proud of who you are, and be proud of being a member of the most fabulous sociological group in the world: the gaysians :)  All hail George Takei and Sam Tsui…


Jason’s blog: http://jgalisatus.blogspot.com/
Interview with David Perry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NehMBA0YmTk
Coming Out in the 1950s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGOnoPnmeH4
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