Can I be Asian or queer, not both? This complaint arose in the recent week when I was undergoing family conversations on these two identities of mine. I confided to my White in-laws how I have been feeling as the sole Asian and person of color in the family. Meanwhile, my mother tried to pressure me not to reveal my queer identity on social media. The reasons she gave were the danger of discrimination against my sexual orientation and the risk of our relatives and her friends finding out.
I have been feeling overwhelmed by the Black Lives Matter movement. Of course, the most taxing part is witnessing police violence against Black people and protesters. But witnessing other parts makes it harder: White people’s responses as if they have just opened their eyes to the centuries-old oppression of Black people; All Lives Matter argument which is now so cliché to my ears I just cover them up immediately. There are also a series of posts about what to do in order to become an ally—reading books, watching documentaries, and donating to nonprofits, etc., which are definitely helpful but still are missing an important piece: creating space in yourself to feel the pain of others.
Watching Kimberly Jones’ rage and screaming with her. Crying over George Floyd gasp for his last breath under a cop’s knee as if he is my father, nephew, student, and lover. I understand the motivation behind this narrative of “White people should de-center their emotional struggles” because we need to yield the stage to Black voices. But in no way, it should be interpreted as an encouragement to suppress your emotions while going through this experience of working for justice. It is supposed to be painful. Witnessing injustice should wrench your heart, and that can be one of the most powerful motivations to take action.
I have struggled with a feeling of inadequacy my whole life, but it has been more severe recently. I haven’t spent as much time educating myself on racial issues or attending protests as I can afford, which made me feel guilty. But I just realized that time was not the issue; it was the capacity of my heart. My heart was twisting and turning while dealing with issues of my own, and I was trying to wrench my heart even more.
I consider myself privileged because I grew up with sufficient support, was allowed to attain higher education, and work in academia. I am a cisgender woman married to a White man. But I have underestimated how much emotional work it takes to live as a queer Asian immigrant woman in this country. Asserting my authentic self in private and public is a work of its own. Voicing my identities and struggles against the fear of pushback and retaliation takes a toll on me time after time. Crying becomes a common routine for self-care, and I have to repeatedly tell myself this idiotic statement: It’s okay to be Asian and queer. Because without it, I end up hating my own identities. I end up wishing that I am “normal.”