How a queer Asian saw ‘Queer’ Asia 2018

Tim Lo talks about her time at ‘Queer Asia’ 2018 and highlights some of her challenges living as a young queer Asian

It was with great excitement and nervousness that I ventured out of Bristol and into London this week to attend the ‘Queer’ Asia film festival and conference. It is the first ever large-scale event in this country that I’ve ever known of which is centred around the Asian perspective of the queer experience. Scholars, activists, artists and performers from the world over are invited and flown to London for this event. It is a week full of discussions on contemporary challenges facing LGBTI+ people in Asia and the Asian diaspora.

This is the festival’s third year and the theme is Bodies x Borders. Here are some of my highlights and things I have come away with according to the notion of Borders.

Border of the Self: Am I queer enough?

Something I have always struggled with as a queer Chinese person growing up in mixed cultures is that it can feel incredibly isolating. A question I constantly ask is, ‘Am I queer enough?’ A moment that really stood out to me in the last few days was when an audience member asked during the keynote panel discussion that opened the conference: ‘Am I queer enough to talk about my experiences and voice my opinions while there are queer comrades being persecuted in different countries and societies around the world?’

This is also a question that a lot of Asian diasporas battle with in foreign countries. As pointed out during the panel discussion, there is a lot of internalised homophobia and racism within queer racial minorities. How we begin to overcome these barriers of the self is incredibly challenging, but hearing and seeing them articulately represented and discussed was a profoundly refreshing experience, and perhaps the first steps we can take towards it.

Border of Family: Coming out

I have always fundamentally rejected the idea of ‘coming out’ as a queer individual. Although I understand the importance of it for many people, I perceive it to be a very Eurocentric or even American concept. But watching My Son Is Gay by director Lokesh Kumar – which is about the reaction a gay man in India received when he disclosed his gender orientation – made me feel the full gravity of ‘coming out’ for many people around the world, regardless of culture. The film also highlighted the importance of handling someone else ‘coming out’ in a positive way. There are far too many people who do not have the privilege to come out safely, and have been rejected by their family, friends and support system due to prejudice and ignorance.

Border of Societies: Language and Representation

As a queer individual who has travelled through many countries and moved from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom, I have yet to shake this feeling of constantly being foreign to the land I live in. Professor Geeta Patel gave words to my thoughts and talked about how people in the media, such as refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers are talked about with the same language as bacteria – words such as ‘invasion’, ‘exterminate’ and ‘control’ are frequently used. This language seems to be very much rooted in colonialism and are words used by colonisers to ‘cleanse’ the population they now dominate over of their cultural identity. Professor Suen Yiu Tung also talked about how gender and sexuality across borders of nationality are seen to be contained and controlled. As an example, he pointed out how Asian men in North American media are desexualised, and how racist queer white people can be, as seen in the film Front Cover by Ray Yeung, which shows dating sites where many white gay men state they don’t want to date Asian people.

Even the framing of ‘Queer’ Asia is very much adhering to ‘Western’ ideals. The fact that the event is hosted at SOAS University of London – SOAS standing for the School of Oriental and African Studies – in itself is a very Eurocentric perspective. How do we talk about ourselves as queer Asians with language that is not from the ‘West’? It will be a long journey, but it stems from conversations that can be had through events such as ‘Queer’ Asia, more thoughtful representation in media and also through our personal everyday lived experiences.

To be able to meet people who look like you and make new friends who understand and have similar shared experiences and feelings is an incredibly powerful thing. Being at this event has been positively life-changing for me. I hope awareness of Asian queer experiences will continue to be spotlighted. If you are a fellow queer Asian, know that there is a lot of work that still needs to be done to reposition our experiences in the queer scene, but know that you are not alone.

‘Queer’ Asia 2018 is still going on until Friday 29th June. Do check out the film festival and conference if you are around the area, or catch up on their panels and workshops after the event on their website.

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