As a mixed-race, queer, gender-questioning person, the (identity) struggle is real. From oscillating between my Japanese to German side depending on the social context, to coming to terms with my sexuality, and to now questioning my gender identity and gender expression… it’s safe to say I’ve had my fair share of existential crises.
Throughout ACPI (Asian Canadians and Pacific Islanders) Heritage Month, I’ve continued this introspective journey and come to a particular realization: rarely do I let my race and queerness co-exist. In many spaces, I am lucky and privileged enough to be able to proudly say “I’m queer” or “I’m Asian”—but claiming my full identity as a queer Asian has never felt like an option for me.
For some reason, I tend to keep these identities separate from one another and treat them as if they’re mutually-exclusive—which, of course, they aren’t. As I began to reflect on this, I also began to wonder whether there are other folks out there also experiencing this internal struggle to recognize their intersectional identities of Asian queerness. Hence, this article.
It is important to recognize that trans and queer Asians exist, and have always existed. On top of this, we are—and always have been—fighting for our rights and the rights of various marginalized groups through social movements and community-based activism. Despite the deep-rooted “silent, submissive Asian” stereotype that not only contributes to the harmful model minority myth but has also fueled the rise in anti-Asian violence during COVID-19, many of us are loud, strong, outspoken and proud.
Of course, anti-Asian violence has also always existed. We have always known and experienced its existence—implicitly and explicitly, socially and systemically. The only difference now is that these realities are beginning to garner mainstream media attention. Despite this wider coverage, the experiences of queer ACPI folks in particular are still rarely recognized. The same goes for all TQBIPOC (Trans, Queer, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) communities. We experience compounded forms of violence and erasure due to intersecting oppressions, such as racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and intersexphobia.
This is why queer ACPI visibility and activism is important. With all that said, below you will find some of the movements and conversations taking place within and outside of the LGBTQ+ ACPI community, as well as some of the key trans and queer ACPI people mobilizing them:
Challenging Stereotypes Surrounding Queer Asian Sexuality
In an article from Sticky Rice Magazine, journalist Philip Mak and legendary filmmaker Richard Fung address the common misconception that all queer Asian men are submissive bottoms. They discuss how North American colonial, patriarchal and heteronormative ideologies position Asians as weak, inferior and powerless both inside and outside of the bedroom. Through a celebration of sex and sexuality, they state that although not all Asians are bottoms, those who are should be valorized rather than put in a state of victimhood. This conversation shows us that queer Asian sexuality should be seen as diverse, powerful and beautiful.
In another article from Sticky Rice, Eric Leong shares their personal journey with sensuality and pleasure, as well as the ways we can practice self-love and confidence through self-pleasure. It challenges society’s desexualization of Asian men and speaks to the shame associated with Asian sensuality and sexuality.
Promoting Safety & Harm Reduction Within Asian and Migrant Communities
Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network is a leading organization for Asian and migrant sex workers. They provide support, education and advocacy; promote safety and dignity regardless of race, gender or immigration status; and facilitate solidarity among all sex workers.
Currently, Butterfly is working with the No Pride in Policing Coalition to put an end to Bill 251, otherwise known as the Combating Human Trafficking Act. Although the theory behind this bill is that it aims at protecting people, many organizations, including Butterfly and the HIV Legal Network have brought forward important criticisms of how legislations similar to this further harm sex workers, especially BIPOC sex workers.
Asian Queer Alliance (AQUA) is a community organization created by and for queer Asians of marginalized genders and sexualities in Toronto. They work to promote safety and support within the community by creating safer spaces, promoting connection and friendship and hosting capacity building events and workshops.
Safer Sex Education and Support Services for Asian Communities, People Living with HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ+ Communities
Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS) is another organization doing amazing work to support Asian LGBTQ+ and HIV+ communities. They offer safer sex education and support services for folks, such as HIV support, HIV/STI testing, PrEP referrals, women- and trans-specific services, queer Asian youth programs and mental health initiatives.
Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) is a non-profit organization committed to providing culturally responsive and holistic health promotion, support and settlement services for people from South Asian, Indo-Caribbean, Middle-Eastern and related communities who are living with, at risk of or affected by HIV and related health conditions. They are focused on advocating for racialized LGBTQ+ communities in the areas of sexual and mental health.
Addressing Anti-Black Racism Within ACPI Communities
On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was arrested and killed by (now ex-) police officer, Derek Chauvin. As Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for over 9 minutes, Tou Thao stood with his back turned away. Tou Thao, a Hmong American (also now ex-) police officer, and his role in George Floyd’s murder has come to represent the anti-Blackness and passive bystandership that exists within Asian communities.
Some ACPI folks and groups are working to address this. In an article titled It’s Time to Confront Anti-Black Racism in the Asian Community, writer Anna Haines talks about why it’s important for Asian Canadians to challenge the model minority myth and refuse the harmful pressure to keep quiet, work hard and never complain. She equates Thao’s passive bystandership to our silence in, and contribution to, the oppression of Black and Indigenous people.
Hua Foundation, a queer Asian-led youth empowerment agency, has been working to engage Asians in Black-Asian solidarity through various initiatives, such as an open letter to Chinese Canadians on anti-Black racism, social media engagement aimed at raising awareness on how to be an ally/accomplice and an anti-racism & solidarity resource collection with tools on how to address anti-Blackness within households, social groups and general society. These are positive starting points, but by no means capture all that needs to be done in order to truly enact change on a social and systemic level.
Celebrating Queer ACPI People and Artforms
New Ho Queen (NHQ) is a Toronto-based party collective focused on spotlighting queer Asian talent within drag, dance, fashion, photography and fine arts. Its popularity shows us the true need for representation and celebration. Some of the artists you may find performing at NHQ include intersectional feminist drag artist, Maiden China, non-binary dancer and storyteller, Sze-Yang Ade-Lam, and queer genderfluid Asian revolutionist, Shay Dior.
Dora Ng is a Chinese-Canadian gender non-binary person who has been working to challenge gender norms and barriers through Chinese lion dancing. After being told they weren’t allowed to join a prominent dance team because they “menstruate and are therefore unclean”, Ng decided to push back against this traditionally gendered artform and find other ways to practice and perform. One way they do this is through Raging Asian Womxn (RAW) Taiko Drummers. In recent years, RAW has become more active in 2SLGBTQ+ advocacy and works to provide “womxn-empowered spaces and performances.”
In 2018, Jackson Wai Chung Tse, an acclaimed Hong Kong-Canadian interdisciplinary artist and facilitator, created Breaking the Silence, an award-winning short documentary featuring legendary multimedia artist Paul Wong. This piece highlights the discrimination felt by generations of queer Chinese migrants in Canada, and explores the importance of taking up space as marginalized communities. It is a beautiful representation of queer Asian celebration and visibility.
Gaysian and Proud
By no means does this list cover all that is queer and trans ACPI activism. Really, it barely scratches the surface. However, recognizing even just some of the movements taking place and individuals supporting them, serves as a simple reminder to all of the queer and trans Asians out there: we exist and we are not alone.
Gaysian and proud.
Note: It is important to consider “ACPI” as a significant, yet inherently problematic, term. While it recognizes Asian Canadians and Pacific Islanders and promotes solidarity, it also groups a diverse and enormous population into one. This is reminiscent of the way “2SLGBTQ+” and its many variations are used in an attempt to include all queer and trans folks, but simultaneously dismisses the range of identities and experiences that exist within the broader 2SLGBTQ+ community.*
As a result, individuals and groups who experience intersectional forms of oppression tend to be forgotten and even erased entirely. As a queer, mixed-race Japanese Canadian, I want to recognize my privilege and pay attention to the fact that my experience does not, and cannot, reflect the realities of all ACPI folks.
*This is not to imply that the experiences of these marginalized groups are the same, but rather to recognize that strategies of oppression often impact marginalized groups in similar ways.
Check out the accompanying Instagram post for this #Pride365 blog here.