“Where are you from?” I am inevitably asked.
“Toronto,” I answer. The question is then rephrased, “But where are you really from?”
As an Asian woman, I’ve been confronted with these awkward situations as long as I can remember. I’ve found that, all too often, idle assumptions based on race, gender, religion, age, etc lead us to believe certain characteristics to be intrinsic to those identities.
As a group, queers are adamant about challenging stereotypes perpetuated against us. We argue that homophobic falsehoods labelling us as sexual predators, morally corrupt sinners unfit to raise children, man-hating lesbians, materialistic guppies, style fascists and other stereotypes that dehumanize us are hateful and wrong.
Sure, there are those who have sissy mannerisms and I’ve certainly gone through variations of the buzz cut. But most arguments used by homophobic religious and rightwing groups are blatant fabrications, conjured up to keep us from achieving equality.
One might assume that since we’re blessed with the infinite wisdom and insight of being queer that this would give us a heightened sensitivity to the struggles of other marginalized communities. This has not been the case as witnessed by Asian queers in recent debates about Bill C-250 and same-sex marriage.
The Chinese community is as diverse as any other with many competing factions. There’s no doubt that religious rightwing organizations are well financed and energized around issues like same-sex marriage. It’s also true that there are Chinese groups out there claiming that homosexuality is a Western social illness and that homosexuality does not exist naturally in Asian communities. Their views are extremist and steeped in Christian fundamentalism.
The colonization of Asia, Africa, Central and South America allowed the Christian funda- mentalist movement to set up headquarters all over the world. The far-reaching influence of the fundamentalist church is evident on many social and political fronts and continues to be a powerful and dominant cultural institution in the lives of their followers and those who live with them.
Interestingly enough, the reverse effect has taken place in the west as whites have left organized religion en masse. Churches serving ethnic populations are the only ones with substantial membership growth in recent years. In order to spread their intolerance of same-sex equality, the church is using people of colour to fight the ground war. This perpetuates a growing perception that racial minorities are more homophobic than the white mainstream, especially Asians, who have turned out in the thousands on Parliament Hill to denounce homosexuality as reported by English-language media.
As a result of this pervasive representation, progressive people of colour are being labelled homophobes. The racialization of homophobia is another form of racial profiling. This disturbing trend could result in the possible alienation of much needed allies in the struggle for sexual liberation.
The mainstream media doesn’t seem to be interested in hearing from progressive racial minorities. An example of this took place earlier this year when a Chinese social justice advocacy group was invited by CBC to speak out against same-sex marriage on their weekend flagship newsmagazine.
When questioned why an ethno-specific organization had been approached to take the anti-equal marriage side, the associate producer responded that the show had already confirmed enough speakers in favour of same-sex marriage and was having difficulty getting people to speak out against the issue. She added that the invitation had gone out to many community groups, not just this one. However the same Chinese organization wasn’t invited to send members to speak in favour of same-sex marriage.
This incident was one of many reasons behind the formation of Asian Canadians For Equal Marriage (ACFEM), a coalition of nonpartisan, multifaith organizations and individuals from diverse Asian-Canadian communities that actively support human rights and equality including same-sex marriage.
Those of us with intersecting identities can truly say the struggle for equality and liberation is about making the political connections across communities and social movements. As the nonmarrying type, I have recently become an advocate for equal marriage for many reasons but mainly for the broadening of a greater movement for social justice. Can white, middle-class queers make the political convergence to join the global movement for justice and equality incorporating all marginalized and oppressed people? Together we would cease to be segregated minorities but rather become the world majority.
*Kristyn Wong-Tam is a founding member of Asian Canadians For Equal Marriage (ACFEM) and president of the Toronto chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council. ACFEM launches Tue, Jun 8. For more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Where are you from?” I am inevitably asked.