28 january 2017
to celebrate Chinese New Year is to celebrate Chinese resistance, to plant seeds in Chinese hope and the shared Chinese belief in a greater and more prosperous future. it is to wash all of your clothes and sheets in preparation for renewal, for rebirth, for the new year and a chance to start over again. it is to look the past year in the eyes and forgive both it and yourself and what brought you here in favor of a tomorrow colored by gold and light and red envelopes.
to be Chinese is to know hunger, to be hungry, it is to be asked “have you eaten?” before “how are you?”, it is to be first, second, third, fourth or fifth generation, it is to be immigrant, to know distance, barriers, and entire families whose lives you may never know, it is to know lifetimes of sacrifice. to be Chinese is to flee your home and seek refuge in Taiwan in the late 1940s as my mother's family did and Burma during the Chinese Civil War as my father's family did. it is to come to the United States with nothing but a few pieces of luggage and the fledgling belief that a better life might exist for you and your family somewhere, anywhere.
to be Chinese is to be called chink, to be reduced to a fetish or a fever, or made to feel yellow against a white backdrop, or too Asian, or "not Asian enough" or "white-washed" or less than, or nothing at all. to be Chinese is to assimilate, to lose contact with your mother tongue, to be forced to forget or even hate your skin color, it is to be banana, or Twinkie, or ABC, to be model minority, or token, or costume, or quota. it is to be invisible.
to be Chinese is to be Vincent Chin, murdered a week before his wedding and blamed for a failing auto industry at the hands of hateful men who blamed Japanese automakers, to be Chinese is to be mistaken for "other," to be conflated with many, to be seen as an empty vessel, to be shortchanged and silenced. to be Chinese is to be Grace Lee Boggs, to have a given name that means "Jade Peace," to follow her timeless words that "the only way to survive is by taking care of one another." to be Chinese is to be my Abu, who told me she "didn't care about any of that shit" when I asked her what she thought of Chinese culture prioritizing boys over girls.
to be Chinese is to honor your history, your elders (both here and no longer with us), and to honor yourself. it is to take all the hardship, the darkness, and bad chi from the past and expunge it from your body and your home in preparation for the new year.
to be Chinese is to love yourself, your family and your history, it is to eat nian gao, xi fan, zongzi, mien, har gow, suan cai, crab, bok choy and to feed yourself, to really feed yourself and make yourself feel whole. it is to hold your loved ones close in your heart and seated at this table and to know there is always home in the things we give each other.
to all those celebrating this beautiful lunar new year in the face of so much hatred, pain, islamophobia, fear-mongering, violence, and xenophobia, I hold you closer with me today and in these days to come. I send you my fiercest and most unrelenting second-generation Chinese American love and I wish you GONG XI FA CAI and XIN NIAN KUAI LE
20 january 2017
i want to find the words to name the heaviness that i feel today but i keep coming up short. it's a heaviness i have felt more achingly and overwhelmingly in these past few months, a feeling that demands my attention, that lives in my body and lingers in every new room, a feeling i have known long before january 20th or november 8th, a feeling that has always known my safest hiding places and the spaces i strive to call home, my own and good. i want to find the words to both hold and hold space for the people of color, the queer, trans, non-binary, the differently abled, the marginalized, disenfranchised, the forlorn, the sick and tired, the most likely to be ridiculed, persecuted, policed, harassed, assaulted, and disregarded. i want to find a way to see and feel the love people keep speaking of that conquers hate, i want to see more than the performance of togetherness, of allyship, of holding hands. i want to find the words to allow myself the space to hurt fully and unabashedly today, to not be silenced again and again and again even in our most intimate grief, to not be tone-policed or made to feel small, to not be minimized again at the hands of a society and culture that is so toxically enamored with the abuse of power, the abuse of privilege, with abuse in all his many faces and forms.
i hold myself closer in these dark times when i cannot shake the feeling that the darkness wants us to forget what we deserve to feel in our hearts and in our hands. i want to let myself know that it's okay that there have and will be many days when i cannot feel the good, that it's okay to draw the blinds and choose the shadowed, seemingly unlovable rooms, that it's okay to sit in this dark unknowing and listen to nothing but my own quiet heart, in this space where light hasn't touched anything for days - here, too, things can bloom.
i've made daily attempts to choose light over dark countless times in my life - not out of a predisposition for optimism or half-full glasses, but, as most people of color, queer people or marginalized folks will tell you, out of necessity. we’ve been hurt, devastated and broken by the strangleholds of racism, misogyny, queerphobia and hatred for much longer than many people care to acknowledge. as char adams from bustle put it, “you don’t just get to join because now you’re scared, too. i was born scared.” be mindful of the space you take up and in the noise you make - in a culture increasingly invested in gaslighting and silencing, there is radical growth and power in just listening.
today is a heaviness i cannot name. to name it would allow me to be able to look today in the eyes and ask it to be gentle and patient with me and to the people i love most. i have always been a slippery, shaky thing, but today and every day moving forward, i am fighting to seek refuge in love, in the insistence that to be soft, kind and fluid is to be strong, that there is hope and potential in leaving your heart open despite all the reasons to shut its heavy doors. i am learning to love all of this heavy unnamed feeling even though today i do not know what to do with it, i am learning to grow in many directions at once and sometimes even backwards, i am loving with more tender and more grace at my fingers because to do so feeds my smallest seeds too, and finally, i am finding peace in the words of the great Asian American civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama, “so, transform yourself first… because you are young and have dreams and want to do something meaningful, that in itself, makes you our future and our hope. keep expanding your horizon, decolonize your mind, and cross borders.”
to all those hurting today, especially those who have called the hurting home too many times to count, i am here for you and hold space for you as you have held it for me, and i love you, i love you, i love you. today and every day moving forward.
9 november 2016
i did not go to work today. i know that's a huge privilege not everyone who is hurting today can afford to do, but i did not go to work today. the last time i could not bring myself to go to work was two days after the Orlando shooting, when my body felt heavy with the weight of being queer, in danger, afraid, unsteady, of being Other. that day i held family and friends a little closer. i peeled myself away from my bed to reach out to my community, i tried to make sense of senseless violence, i tried to wax poetic about a tragedy, i tried to stay - in my body, tethered to something greater, something kinder, something that felt like home.
i am more afraid today than i was this summer because this country has told us, with resounding clarity, how much it values the LGBTQIA+ community, Black and Brown lives, Muslim Americans, immigrants, undocumented families, women, survivors of sexual assault, people of color, differently abled people, people who have tried - despite every inclination not to - to believe that this is the kind of country where an Other can be free. where an Other can love herself, her history, her community, her Otherness, her future.
it feels like this year has been one ongoing - at times fruitless - attempt to reconnect myself to the idea that love can, and should, free us. bell hooks taught us that love is the revolutionary action, that "the practice of love offers no place of safety. we risk loss, hurt, pain. we risk being acted upon by forces outside our control," that we risk everything to love and to love wholly, unafraid, in our bodies, in our places of worship, in our mother's homes and our chosen family's arms, in the margins and the spaces in between, in the silent rooms we all come back to at night.
it's hard to write that "love conquers all" today. it's hard when america has such a storied history of denying love, incarcerating love, assaulting love, victim blaming love, abusing love, deporting love, harassing love, disenfranchising love, breaking love, burning love, hating love. it's hard to believe that we still have the agency and ability to create a more loving, just, patient, compassionate world when the people, structures and institutions that could architect that world do not see so many of us as human, as valid, as worthy of an inkling of either love or power, truth or care.
i keep wanting to come to some kind of resolute conclusion today, to hold that smooth stone in my hand and repeat a mantra to myself and the people i love and hold closest, but the silence is deafening. i am more afraid and unsure than i have ever been in a year that has, like an envelope perpetually returning itself to sender, continually tried to break down these communities i call home and erase the work we have sacrificed everything for.
maybe the only conclusion i can come to today is that i will never stop loving myself, my queerness, my gender, my race, my body, my friends, my family, my work, my identity, my Other. to all who are hurting in profound, undefinable ways today and in these years to come, i see you. i will hold you as you have held all of me for the rest of my life. i love you. i hurt for you, with you. i will only ever hold space for you. please believe that.
you may have voted to deny me and so many others that fundamental truth, but my body was never on the ballot. i am my home. my family and friends are a chorus of loving, unbroken truths and we will not be silenced. i will not be silenced. i will dig deeper into the hurt and into who i am and what i believe in because this is mine to own, to hold tender, to plant seeds into and love beyond limit. this was never anyone else's to have. remember that.
11 october 2016
the other day my mom and I were going through some of her old clothes and she happened upon a dress she wore at her wedding, a traditional Chinese qipao embroidered with gorgeous multifaceted beads in a big ornate bird shape. in the unspoken sartorial language I share with my mother, we admired it by hand together, until she looked over it again and said to me, "one day your wife and you will wear one too."
there are a handful of memories I rush to immortalize in my mind, ones that, in an instant, connect every "self" I have worn and lived by an unbreakable thread of love and of feeling loved, and of unquestionably feeling seen. this was one of them. in my immediate storage overload of emotional gratitude I could only mutter something along the lines of "wow," but I hope my mom knew how much those handful of offhanded words meant to me, her daughter, a young, queer Asian American woman.
on #NationalComingOutDay, I am proud of how far I have come from the days when I would feel an indescribable wanting, a palpable urgency to feed myself something, anything that would feel "right." Queerness has both given me everything and challenged me to understand and better myself as a friend, daughter, sister, lover, and amorphous human blob in ways I could have never foreseen when I first "came out" to my family one night in November just a few years ago. if you asked me then what I thought the next few years would bring, I would have never have guessed that my heart, my fractured, sensitive, lumpy bean bag heart, would grow and expand and feel and love, love, love so much of itself and others because of queerness.
please remember that you don't have to be "out" to be valid in your queer or gender identity, and for every person out there who (for financial, cultural, social or emotional reasons) cannot be "out" today, I love you, I see you, and I stand with you. you are every bit as valid and real and worthy of love as anyone else.
as I lower myself from this soapbox, I just wanted to say that queer, trans and gender non-conforming folks are living in a time of particularly intense visibility and surveillance - though many of us are being seen - some of us, for the first time - with it comes increased levels of harassment, misunderstanding, and violence. please see, seek to understand, and love the queer people in your life. you will never regret having given more good feeling into the world, especially to a community that knows all too well what a world without that feeling looks like.
as always, endless and growing love to my queer friends, family and community - I love you and thank you for always seeing me for everything that I am
14 june 2016
Today I left work after 2 hours of being there because I was sobbing uncontrollably and could not handle my own grief. I have not been able to make it through a single day without crying exactly like this. Yesterday it was on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall as Lady Gaga read off some of the names of the victims of the Orlando shooting, today it was in the middle of replying to emails. I tried to take a nap today, my body exhausted from the aforementioned mourning and I thought a respite of rest would calm the storm. In my dream I was in an office, a normal day, but then there was an alarm, the sound of gunshots and screaming, only to quickly be revealed as “just a joke” by the people around me. I wondered if this was my own body telling me that the nightmare of normalized homophobia is all too real or if I had just been consuming too much media in the past 72 hours. In either case, when I woke up, I cried again. There are not many ways to accurately put a name to the unrelenting feeling that I am harboring – that it is not safe to be LGBTQIA+ in America today, that it has never been safe to be a queer person of color, that I am always at risk in this body, in this broken heart, in a gay club, in the streets, and even now - as melodramatic as it may seem - in my own dreams.
When we talk about homophobia, queerphobia and transphobia, let’s talk about more than just Orlando. Let’s talk about the myriad ways we normalize the dehumanization of queer people. Let’s talk about how queer people are pushed to the margins every other day of the year but today we care about homophobia because we can’t ignore the loss of humanity. Let’s talk about the close friend I had in high school who once joked to me about “killing fags” for "sport." Let’s talk about the friends I lost when I came out in college who told me this was “selfish” of me and a “phase.” Let’s talk about how normal it is to hear people still say “that’s so gay” and not even blink. Let’s talk about the two men, at two separate bars, who harassed me and my date for kissing just last Thursday when we were together. Let’s talk about how my co-worker just a few months ago made an egregiously homophobic comment right in front of me, but only apologized after I physically left the office out of disgust. Let’s talk about over 100 anti-LGBT bills and pieces of legislation (related to bathroom bills, same-sex marriage, rights to deny business services and resources) that are currently active this year. Let’s talk about how my mom called me on Sunday and told me not to go to any Pride events in LA out of fear for my safety. Let’s talk about how lucky I feel to be grieving because it means I am still alive and how small verbalizing those words makes me feel. Let’s talk about how the past few days have been cyclic states of crying, wanting to cry, being surrounded by fellow queer people to avoid crying, crying anyways, rinse, recycle, repeat.
Let’s talk about every time you have uttered a slur, used queerphobic language, glared at and ridiculed someone whose identity “confused” or “upset” you so much that you reached for the tools of mockery, disgust, and malice instead of ordinary compassion. Let’s talk about how it took mass murder for you to acknowledge the humanity of queer people, and that homophobia is alive and well in this country, that it has always been homegrown and able to flourish in this country, regardless of how “progressive” or “liberal” the city. Lets talk about how Jeramey Kraatz perfectly put it, "if you can't wrap your head around a bar or club being a sanctuary, you've probably never been afraid to hold someone's hand in public." Let's talk about how people come to our gay bars and clubs, drink, party and revel in our pride parades and relish when queerness is fun, but are nowhere to be seen when we are murdered in cold blood. Let’s talk about every single time you’ve let a best friend, sister, brother, mother, father, cousin, co-worker, acquaintance, love interest, professor, boss, or stranger say something malicious, offensive, or hurtful about a queer person.
Let’s talk about your silence.
Let’s talk about what that silence does to people who identify as LGBTQIA+, as the thing you willfully do not defend but gladly change your profile picture for. Let’s talk about how while this might have been an attack on “humanity,” it was an attack on queer people who possess that humanity first. As the beautiful Tyler Ford put it best, “if you are only able to humanize people by erasing the marginalized identities they were attacked for embodying, you're part of the problem.” Once you want to talk about those things, then maybe I will feel safer in your “thoughts and prayers,” maybe I will feel that “love is love,” or be able to sleep peacefully, maybe I will remember exuberant and unbridled joy is a feeling I am capable of possessing, not a fleeting memory of a former self.
I am not done talking about the #PulseShooting because I am not done being queer. I am not done being mindful of holding a girl’s hand in public when I am walking down the streets out of the fear – a fear so engrained and routine in my body’s ritualized function that I hardly notice it anymore – that I could be harassed, assaulted or far worse. I am not done crying, screaming, and mourning the loss of these 49 luminous souls and the 53 injured because their loss is still a black hole in our queer constellations, just as their families and loved ones cannot stitch back together the holes they have now left in their lives. “Apathy produces a climate in which queers are killed.” When you avoid confronting discussion about queerphobia and transphobia, your silence speaks volumes and is, in itself, an action and a choice too.
I cannot pretend that I am not having a hard time this week. Too often, social media posts feel like a race to the seventh stage of grief, accepting what’s happened as done and packaging the trauma in a digestible and understandable wrapping paper for all to marvel at. But I am not over what has happened, and I am having a really hard time. So many friends and family members have told me how grateful they are that I have a strong voice and am vocalizing this pain, but each time I open my mouth, a ghost speaks for me. I have tried to allow love, warmth, softness, and the strength of my own vulnerability dominate my internal conversations, but I am feeling so quiet inside. The pain and trauma that I share with fellow queer people has not subsided, it has only dove deeper into the recesses of my mind because I am thinking about every act of violence – physical, verbal, psychological and otherwise – that queer people have experienced long before Orlando, and who are bound to experience long after as well.
As I sit in my bed and write this, I think about what it means to be proud. How so much of Pride month is about carving out a space where we can exist freely, complicatedly, beautifully, and unabashedly. I think about how before we are proud, we are unsafe, we are self-doubting, we are heartbroken, we are lost and seeking community. How we seek communion in gay clubs, in the arms of our lovers, friends and family members, how we fight just to remember our own heartbeat, how we give birth to a culture forged out of love, loss and resistance, how we are still so far from home. I have nothing left to say to my queer family and community except I love you, I love you, I love you. I am still here. We are still here.
12 june 2016
last night I danced with abandon at a queer-themed club and thought to myself "what a beautiful time it is to be queer and alive, how gorgeously untamable is the spirit of pride and loving who you are"
but today i feel smaller than the girl who danced through the night - small in my heart, in my skin and in my mind. there is so much hurt, so much pain that defines my experience as a queer person, but the solace, the place i rewind the tapes to remember my truth, the feeling i reach for when i feel this pain is love. bell hooks taught us "the practice of love offers no place of safety. we risk loss, hurt, pain. we risk being acted upon by forces outside our control.”
we risk our lives when we love, we risk the thing that makes us who we are, that is stitched into the fabric of our being (rainbow-colored or otherwise), we risk it all to live and love unafraid, to live without shame, fear, sorrow, or guilt for that which makes us beautiful, powerful, valid, and worthy of love. we risk everything for love.
i am so heartbroken today and feel so powerless in the face of such hatred, hatred that is not isolated to just newsworthy moments on your news feeds, but hatred that is pervasive, that has always found a welcome home in this country. i do not know what it takes for people to seek empathy and compassion for queer people, i do not know if any unspeakable tragedy will ever receive the care and love and outpouring of support needed to rectify the wounds and scars that we bear. i do not know how to get out of bed today. i do not know where we go from here, but i do know that love is the only revolutionary act we have left. i love myself and who i am, and that is the only truth i know today.
1 june 2016
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month may have ended yesterday, but I'm still APA today so I wanted to keep the conversation going. Asian American representation in film and TV has been a hot topic as of late, partially because of Hollywood’s blatant “whitewashing” (filling in roles originally written and imagined for Asian actors with white actors: see Emma Stone as “Allison Ng” in Aloha, Tilda Swinton as a Tibetan monk in the reimagined Doctor Strange, Scarlett Johansson as “Motoko Kusanagi” from Ghost in the Shell, and a laundry list of others), and partially because Asian Americans are, for lack of better words, just plain tired. Tired of being shut out of roles and opportunities and then being called a “silent” and “invisible” minority, tired of waiting to see our stories told with authenticity, heart and humanity, tired of being relegated to a punchline, a sidekick, Girl #3, a hypersexualized object or an emasculated piece of set dressing, tired of being tired.
If our lives are the stories we tell ourselves, then we owe it to ourselves to tell them the right way. There’s no denying that it’s an exciting, indescribable, and no doubt opportune time to be an Asian American in entertainment today, but I wanted to caveat a lot of what’s already been said - by people much smarter, more experienced and influential than me - when it comes to Asian American representation.
In order for us to truly make our stories and our truths real, we need to be sure to normalize our experiences, not neutralize them. We should fight to normalize the experiences and stories of people of color. Strive to normalize the representation of Asian Americans in film and television, and actively fight to afford APA folks the same dignity, respect, multidimensionality, grace, fear, humor, wit, flaws and heart as their non-Asian counterparts.
But we should shy away from neutralizing what it means to be Asian American, as the phenomenal Constance Wu said in her interview with the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment. In the past and still today, framing an Asian character in a show has often meant making them appear “just like anyone else!” and thus worthy of the viewer’s same respect and validation. Those representations definitely have their merit and deserve to be seen, but I often feel like something gets lost in the shuffle of putting an APA face on screen. We shouldn’t just assimilate into a traditionally white character mold and call it “inclusion.” We should remember that the thing that makes us different is the very same thing that makes us who we are, which is – more often that not – a complicated, fragmented, uncontainable, multifaceted, and beautifully alive thing. We should preserve our differences and celebrate what it means to truly be Asian American, whatever that might mean.
For me, that means speaking, living, loving and writing without apology. It means being unafraid to tell my story, not THE Asian American story, but maybe, just maybe, one of them. If any of the recent press surrounding Asian American representation is right, it’s that we are still here, still speaking our truths, and that we will not be ignored.