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The new kids on the block: EquAsian

Sun 27 Jul 2014 In: Our Communities View at NDHA

‘No Asians’. Sound familiar? It’s a statement that is everywhere on gay dating websites and apps. And it’s just one of the frustrations shared by a new group which is rallying together to give lgbti Asian people a voice, support, and a fun social space. EquAsian are a fun bunch and would love you to join them! A merger of the words ‘equal’ and ‘Asian’, EquAsian was forged from a gathering during this year’s Auckland Pride Festival, where people shared their experiences of being lgbti and being Asian. There is a lot to talk about, so we sat down with three members of the group at an Auckland University café this week. NZAF volunteer and student David Ting, 28, is studying sociology - plus Asian history and Asian politics, which are part of his look at his own identity. As a young person, he identified as 'very white' and it’s only been as an adult that he has embraced his heritage. That’s common at the table. First year law, linguistics and Japanese student Yan Tan Danny Lam, 18, was born in Hong Kong and has lived in New Zealand since he was five. He was raised by his mum, who decided to move her ‘sensitive’ son to New Zealand, where Lam jokes that he became very ‘Chiwi’ till he was about 15. Pema Wu, 27, is also the UniQ rep at Auckland University and is a whirr of enthusiasm. She is studying criminology and Chinese. “Mandarin was for the sake of getting to know my biological family better,” she says. Wu was brought up by Asian parents when she was small, then was part of a white family from her teenage years. Like the two boys, in recent years she has been driven to get in touch with her roots. Ting sees himself in a ‘hybrid’ way, which he explains is further complicated by the way people see him – a common feeling at the table. While Wu says it’s rare to get through anything without a mention of her Asian-ness, for Ting it’s the opposite. “I look quite ambiguous. People might not know what ethnicity I am. They might think I’m Maori or Pasifika.” There’s laughter at the table as it ironically emerges people in EquAsian initially thought so too and Ting had to be like “I’m Asian!” They’re a fun bunch. Lam has us all giggling with a story about coming out to his ‘very Chinese’ mum. “When I told her I was gay she acted very Chinese. She said ‘maybe we should go back to Hong Kong!’ It was a very Chinese thing to say!” The timing of the Auckland Pride Festival get together in February was perfect. Ting was already thinking there needed to be a an Asian group within the rainbow community, so there was some way other than apps, websites, saunas, bars and clubs to meet. “Then I came to this dialogue evening and [the organiser] had exactly the same idea, so we just joined forces.” Common experiences and issues quickly emerged. “There is a lot of unspoken racism in the lgbti ...q ... some other letters,” the softly-spoken Lam veers off, as we share a laugh at the common alphabet soup confusion. But laughter aside, as he points out you don’t have to look far to see anti-Asian racism in our communities. “One of the worst examples is on dating apps. There are a lot of racist messages. And they all look a bit gross ... those people who say ‘ooh ... I don’t really find Asians attractive’, it’s like, thank you very much for reducing all of us into one specific person. Thanks for that.” Wu’s flicked though gay hook-up app Grindr as a ‘sociological experiment’, and witnessed its ‘blatant racism’. “’No Asian’ is so common, just purely as an aesthetic basic,” she marvels. Ting adds “yeah that’s how they legitimise it, ‘I’m not racist, it’s just not my preference’.” He feels marginalisation is a big issue, particularly within the gay male culture, where attractiveness equals social and sexual capital. “And for those people who don’t have that, they feel very excluded. Not just Asian people, but many people who cannot fulfil the idealised body types of gay culture. “A friend of mine was saying a couple of days ago was saying that he thinks racism is worse within the queer community than outside, partly because people feel like they can say these things online with the cover of being anonymous. And he feels like when he goes to clubs people don’t find him attractive because of his ethnicity.” Another worrisome issue he has heard about is guys who end up wanting to be with someone so much, in the face of being told ‘no Asians’ from so many corners, they are willing to compromise on safe sex. In fact, he says recent HIV figures show the group has rising infection rates. He’s helping organise a gathering on Wednesday where gay and bi Asian men will be asked to offer feedback to the New Zealand AIDS Foundation’s safe-sex promoter Love Your Condom. Young gay Chinese and South Asian Aucklanders are also being surveyed in on their perspectives on gay life in the city by Massey University’s SHORE research group, in an NZAF backed project. “As our community becomes increasingly diverse we need to ensure that our work to promote a condom culture is relevant and engaging to these guys,” Love Your Condom spokesman Joe Rich has previously told These are just some of the issues for gay and bi Asian men in particular. As Ting points out, there are “minorities, within minorities, within minorities”. The trio, like most in the group, are ‘Kiwi Asians’, having spent significant chunks of their lives here. Reaching new migrants is one of their tough challenges - people who are often trying to grapple language and cultural differences, never mind their own identity. “It’s hard to reach those pockets of migrants,” Ting says. There are many complex reasons for this, including the fact many Asian cultures remain packed with stigma when it comes to sexuality, and centred on expectations of marriage and kids, so people don’t want to risk being outed to their families. Reaching more women and trans people is another test. An over-arching issue is that many lgbti Asian people are simply not ‘out’. Wu wants to make resource packs for people coming out, or struggling to – with support contacts and safe-sex info. She also wants to make packs for parents. “One thing that I find in New Zealand, even if you’re a second generation Asian child, your family values can almost still be as traditional, if not more traditional, than those back home where their parents came from.” The resource packs would get parents up to speed with where things are in New Zealand, and let them know having an lgbtiq kid is “not that bad, it’s really not that bad,” she enthuses with a smile. The EquAsian team will make a start on this, and in translating their ads, using the language skills they have, and widen their materials as people from varying cultures join the group. Obviously there are many cultures under the wide ‘Asian’ umbrella. “Asian is such a loaded word. It’s so big!” Wu points out.” That was one of the first things that we covered – ‘define Asia’,” she and Ting chant in sync, and share a laugh. Ting says EquAsian is a social group and a support group, a well as way to address lack of representation and health issues like safe sex, and mental health – which Wu explains can be seen with the attitude: “it’s a westerner thing, only westerners are crazy!” Ting says at the very bottom line, the group is fun, it’s safe and it’s inclusive. “We want them to feel a place of belonging in this group. If they can’t find that elsewhere, we want to provide that for them.” Wu thinks that within New Zealand as a whole the Asian community has always been really reserved. “I think, to have EquAsian start up, has been so beneficial. We need to start giving the voices back to our community … we can’t speak for everyone, but we can start somewhere.” *EquAsian meets at 7pm on the third Saturday of every month at Rainbow Youth’s office on K Rd. Join on Facebook here  Jacqui Stanford - 27th July 2014    

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Sunday, 27th July 2014 - 11:41pm

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