DisOrienting Encounters: Gays Everywhere But Here
In her stand up comedy routine I’m the One I Want, Korean American comedienne Margaret Cho describes to her mother that she may be bisexual. In broken English, Cho mimics the her mothers reaction leaving a message on her answering machine asking Cho why she hasn’t discussed the matter with her.”You have cool mommy. Mommy is so cool and Mommy know all about gay. There are so many gay. S0 many gay all over the world … But not in Korea!
Funny as it is, Cho’s joke can easily refashioned for almost every ethnic community.Within many U.S. communities of color, sexualities other than heterosexuality are still viewed largely external to the culture. Being queer is often assumed to be an uneasy by-product of American assimilation.
Growing up in my very diverse neighborhood, I was around many families of diverse backgrounds and I played with their kids when I went to school. I found comfort and escapism within my community of friends. When I grew into myself and began recognizing my attraction to guys, the comfort of being around my friends grew hostile and eventually dwindled.
Part of being a queer person of color is to also realize its complex interplay with being queer. Heterosexuality is expected within communities of color. Queer and homosexuality are pathologically erased from public conscious. Growing up as a recently arrived immigrant was hard enough, being queer was silenced or ridiculed. As a my friend Kevin profoundly said on a car ride once, ‘”You can be your race within your community and go home to your family and easily identify with your family. But when your gay, you don’t come home to a family of gay people.” His disidentification from queer and race, in this case, strikes at family and community where sexual identity may be a stronger identity marker than being a racialized individual.
For me, I reflexively express my identity politics to people as queer, Asian, male. Queer comes first because it was the first identity I had to grapple with. That is not to say that it is the most important of my identity. For some, racial identity is more central. Environment affects so much how we come to value and understand these strains of our identities. Queer for me came at such an early age when my feelings were invalidated and admired with a sense of expiration by my family. As my feelings for the same sex grew stronger, I learned that my family was not very receptive to the idea. they knew that if our community, our church, our extended family ever knew, it would be a source of shame and non redemption. But for me, growing up in my very diverse neighborhood and community, being Filipino was certainly central to my life experiences too but not comparable to the amount of fear and insecurity of being excommunicated by family and friends by sharing they were gay, lesbian queer or transgender.
Margaret Cho’s comments touch on how queer people of color discuss being queer and racialized. It’s everywhere, but in their own communities. Thankfully, this sentiment is changing nowadays with even more queer visibility not only on television and in movies, but also in news and legislation. That isn’t to say it goes down without a fight.
It remains important that we are everywhere now. Queer people of color occupy a very important role in queer struggle where they can bridge the understanding that sexual identity can also be a part of their racial identity and neither can they be kept secret or ignored. Gays are everywhere and they can be here.
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