Red Lights at the Intersection

By Joyce
New Organizing Project blogger
========================================

 

 

Image credits to Human Rights Campaign.

Today, Monday, October 11th, 2010, is National Coming Out Day, which has every year for over two decades served as a day for those who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Intersex (LGBTQI) to openly declare their sexuality and to show support and solidarity for the LGBTQI community.

In light of the tragic suicides by gay youth within the month of of September alone, National Coming Out Day is more important than ever. As someone who is a straight ally, I know that I can never fully understand what it means to be LGBTQI, but I can show my support for the community by discouraging degrading insults like ‘faggot’ or ‘that’s so gay,’ advocating for LGBTQI equality and treating a person with the respect and dignity regardless of how they identify. Specific to my community, I can also show my support by shedding light on the relative lack of resources for queer Asian American women.

Being both Asian American and a woman, what I’ve found oftentimes is that it’s difficult to find resources that are specifically for Asian American women — more often there are Asian American resources and women’s resources separately available. Intersecting identities are impossible to separate, nor should we have to. They intersect to create a self that has its own unique experiences and particular issues, which also need to be addressed and talked about in their own forums and spaces. However, this isn’t always the case.

Being part of the feminist movement, for example, a movement that is still somewhat heavily dominated by white women, I experience moments where I have to ‘choose’ between my racial and gender identities. It was rare that we would read feminist theories by Asian American women in my Gender & Women’s Studies (GWS) classes or that any of my professors openly identified as Asian American. Moreover, I was usually the only Asian American woman in my GWS classes.

 

 

Helen Zia (right) & her partner, Lisa Shigemura. Zia is one of the first openly queer, Asian American women.

So I can only imagine how much more the discrepancy widens when looking for resources that are specifically made for queer Asian American women. As many LGBTQI communities are still largely tailored to white, usually middle-class, men, they continually fail to address issues that affect those who do not fit into all of these categories like cultural differences, language barriers, immigration, tokenization, etc.

Within the Asian American community, cultural differences like the notion of ‘saving face’ are especially important. Asian American women are generally ‘supposed’ to find an Asian American man, marry them and build a life together. The stereotype is that we need to be our family’s caretaker, do as we’re told and we never openly discuss our sexuality. Along the lines of this stereotype, to do otherwise is to bring shame upon the family. This additional pressure can exacerbate the already difficult process of coming out to one’s family.

Additionally, LGBTQI organizing is often approached in English, not recognizing that a large percentage of Asian American communities do not speak English or have limited English proficiency. Another challenge is that Asian Americans are lumped into one category, so while an LGBTQI publication may be printed in both Chinese and English, for example, what about other languages like Tagalog, Malaysian or Korean?

The experiences of being Asian American, queer and a woman should not be mutually exclusive, as if there were only red lights at every intersection. Asian American women and other women of color within the community face their own particular, complex struggles when it comes to their individual LGBTQI experiences. There needs to be more discussion, understanding, acceptance and action around these multiple intersecting identities. We can let our youth know that It Gets Better but that is not enough; no one should have to experience the type of hate and bullying facing most LBGTQI youth, even with the knowledge that things might get better in the future.

We all need to Make It Better.

 

Below are some website resources for queer Asian Americans (note: this is just a handful, not a comprehensive list):

  1. API Queer Sisters of DC (APIQS): (based in Washington, DC)
  2. API Queer Women and Transgender Coalition (APIQWTC)
  3. Invisible to Invincible (i2i): (based in Chicago, IL)
  4. KUE (Korean-Americans United for Equality): (based in LA, CA)
  5. National Queer API Alliance (NQAPIA)
  6. Queer Asian Pacific Alliance (QAPA): (based in Boston, MA)
  7. South Bay Queer and Asian (sbQA): (based in San Francisco, CA)