Can We Be Asian and Queer?

Simplified Chinese version / 中文翻译(简化字)

Traditional Chinese version / 中文翻譯(正體字)

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This article was translated into Chinese and published on WeChat through a collaboration with Chinese for Affirmative Action


Written by Mavis Tang


When I came out to my mom, she had a hard time accepting my queer identity. Since I was now in my third year in the United States, she thought I had somehow been changed by the “American nonsense” and “turned gay” one day. I didn’t understand how she reached that conclusion, because I was still Chinese. After talking to some of my other queer Asian friends, I noticed that they and their family members also struggled with understanding and accepting the intersection of their Asianness and their queerness. Like my mom, many other parents wondered if Western culture had somehow “corrupted” their kids. These parents seemed to erect a wall between being Asian and being queer, making it more difficult for their queer Asian kids to come to terms with their identities.


Pictured is a group of people carrying the rainbow pride flag while attending a pride parade in China

Pride in China (Source: BBC.com)


I know firsthand how frustrating and disheartening this experience can be. I often find myself struggling to find the right words to tell my mom how I feel and who I am. My queerness seems to get lost in translation, making me sound too “American” and not like the good Chinese daughter I once was. In the effort to strike a balance between expressing my queerness clearly to my mom without upsetting her, I frequently feel like I am giving an interview to a stranger rather than having a serious, personal conversation with someone I love. I am so afraid to disappoint my family again, I cannot even imagine communicating with them about my gender identity. It sometimes seems like we can only choose one of the two terms because being Asian and being queer are considered so mutually exclusive. But Mom, I can be, and am, both of those things.


Queer identities are often seen as a product of Western culture, partially due to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Western countries. Though great progress has been made for queer liberation in the West, queer identities should not be strictly understood as a product of their domain. Queer people have always been a prominent part of Asian history and literature. The story and expression “of DuanXiu” originates in one of many recorded historical instances of an emperor with a same-sex partner. In the classic novel 红楼梦 (Dream of the Red Chamber), the main character is attracted to both men and women, and these attractions each spawn detailed plots. In these stories, queer communities from thousands of years ago marked their existence and place in Chinese history.


博古葉子 by 陳洪綬, 1651 AD (Source)


Today, queer Asian individuals are still making their voices heard in many areas, including politics, entertainment, academia, and more. Li Yinhe is a Chinese sociologist, sexologist, and LGBT activist, who does research on and advocates for LGBT rights in China and whose partner of over twenty years is a trans man. She has published numerous scholarly articles about LGBT culture in China and given lectures worldwide on LGBT rights.


Jin Xing is a Chinese ballerina and talk show host, a trans woman whose work is loved by millions. She was once an army colonel and a member of a military dance troupe. In the 1990s, she underwent gender-reassignment surgery to medically transition, and later released a documentary about her journey. Through their authenticity, these trailblazers are proving to the world that they are proud to be both Asian and queer.


Jin Xing (Source: WWD.com)


Thanks to the countless individuals who devote themselves to the good fight, the LGBTQ+ community has become more widely accepted and celebrated in Asia. Cambodia, a country that rebuilt itself after a tragedy, is opening its mind to redefining what the country stands for. The LGBTQ+ community there is an essential part of that rebuilding process, and their efforts are recognized and appreciated. Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage in May of 2019, making it the first Asian region to provide legal recognition to same-sex couples.


Taiwan’s gay couple Shane Lin (second-right) kisses Marc Yuan as another couple Cynical Chick (left) kisses Li Ying-Chien after registering at the Household Registration Office in Shinyi District in Taipei on May 24, 2019. Photo: Same Yeh/AFP. (Source)


With all the positive changes happening in and for the queer Asian community, I genuinely hope that we, the queer Asian individuals, can find comfort and validity in our identities and that our parents recognize who we are without any judgment or shame. Because we absolutely can be both Asian and queer. It is not only a part of our past: it is also part of the present we live in and the future we will create. I cannot wait for the day when all queer Asians and our parents proudly announce our identities, love who we love, and feel happy in our own skin. Happy Pride!!