Jen Sung and I have been talking about doing some writing together in the aftermath of how from the VSB gender policy “discussions” has emerged all of this intense racism and transphobia. I didn’t attend any of the discussions, but I have been dealing with the impact that it has caused the queer communities and the Chinese communities I am a part of, and really struggling with where to go from here. We decided to share our stories in relation to the conversations about race and gender that have emerged from the dialogues, and how they have affected us personally.
I want to start my story by saying that I have such respect for all these amazing allies (including Jen!) that have been doing all this incredible organizing, in supporting the changes to the gender policies at the Vancouver School Board (VSB). It has been incredibly stressful for myself, as someone who straddles across queer and Chinese identities to see the way that from the debates has emerged these uncomfortable racial constructions, from even within the queer community.
Somehow within this process—and with the help of the media—we have responded to the organizing of conservative Chinese Christians against the VSB policy changes by knitting together yellow skin + Evangelical Christian + homophobia. That somehow, evangelical Christian conservatism is tied to being “ethnic Chinese”. I’ve had numerous queer allies ask me over the past week, “Why are Chinese Christians like this?” “What is wrong with Chinese people that they are so ignorant?” “Is this in your culture?” (Yes, someone actually said that to my face.)
Homophobia and transphobia do not come from having yellow skin, it doesn’t come from being “ethnic” Chinese—Chinese people are not “more” conservative. These constructions are not only problematic, but they are rooted in the way that we (colonially) construct race, and through a removal of accountability to history and colonization.
While I recognize the complicity of being an immigrant and as a settler on indigenous territories, here in Canada, there are fundamental ways in which white supremacy operates with the colonial system which functions to marginalize people of colour (POC). This also becomes relevant when we consider the ways in which Christianity—having been historically evangelized throughout the world via colonization by white Europeans—is now being (ironically) constructed as part of “Other” “ethnic” cultures and traditions.
Christianity arrived in China (and also in Canada) via white missionaries, who came to “save” these backward and primitive Chinese people from their pagan and Buddhist traditions. Similarly, while white Europeans colonized Africa (and the rest of the world) and brought Judeo-Christian versions of patriarchy (and homophobia) to Uganda—yet somehow, the homophobic laws in Uganda (as in the rest of Africa) have essentially become constructed about being black and African. So even when we adopt the “white colonial religion” (which is the ideal/the standard)—it is never good enough, and in fact, when POC attempt to reach this standard, they are reprimanded.
When Vancouver Chinese Christians come and protest the LGBTQ programs here in Vancouver, it becomes constructed around the fact that they are “Ethnic Chinese”…it becomes about their yellow skin. And so, even when people of colour assimilate into religious institutions imposed by colonization and white supremacy (like they are meant to)—they are still inferior. And through the colonial structures in which we continue to struggle under, I am reminded that people of colour are never meant to be equal. This is how white privilege operates.
I remember reading numerous articles, including Douglas Todd’s blog post, and Ian Young’s article on the “Chinese communities in Vancouver” protesting LGBT programs, and seeing how my Chinese friends (some queer, many not), were feeling so ashamed of their communities, and questioning what to do about this (seemingly) “growing” conservatism in the Chinese Christian community—as the media implies.
But I think we really need to ask ourselves this—why is it that when white Christians are homophobic and transphobic, they are “homophobic and transphobic Christians”, but all of a sudden, when Chinese Christians are homophobic and transphobic, they are “ethnic Chinese” Christians who are homophobic and transphobic?
It is these constructions of race that have emerged in the aftermath of the VSB policy that I believe we have to address and keep accountable.
The second part of this conversation regarding accountability is the way that the conversations are being dichotomized, and oppositions are being constructed without a look into the ways in which solidarity can (and should be built) across these “territories”.
I am a Christian. There. I said it.
I grew up in a Chinese conservative evangelical Christian church. Yes, I went to one of “those” “ethnic Chinese” churches that you’ve been hearing about in the media lately. A church in the same denomination as Stephen Harper, a church that signed a petition to ban gay marriage a decade ago, a church that tried to tell me that abstinence was holy, and that sexual health education was a farce, and that condoms didn’t work because they are actually perforated (and thus you can still contract AIDS).
I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy growing up as a queer person in such an environment. I don’t know how I would have turned out—or if I would have even survived—if it weren’t for the strong feminists and queer allies that supported me through my youth.
Though I never actually technically “left” my church until I moved to South Africa for grad school, I’ve often wondered why I continue to engage with my evangelical Christian community that I grew up in, and why I didn’t just pick up and leave, like so many queer people that I know.
As I reflect today on my (traumatic) experience with organized, patriarchal “religion”, and how it has again reared it’s ugliness on the VSB gender policy debates, I’ve realized that there is something so blatantly overlooked in this debate—and that is, love. Despite my not so favourable experience with church, and while my visceral reaction to the transphobia that comes from this (misinformed version of) evangelical Christianity is to reject and “call out” the oppressive discourses, I realize that a large part of my work on myself, and in my feminist work is grounded in my desire to love human beings and always, love more.
My love and empathy for human beings is what drives my activism, and I have to constantly remind myself of this. Despite how angry the transphobic language that comes from people who are opposed to the gender policy makes me—these people love their children, they care so deeply about their families, that they are willing to take hours out of their time to print placards, and attend meetings to fight for their children. It’s interesting that similarly on the “other” side, my queer comrades that have been doing this work fighting for this policy, and have been doing the intense emotional work of sharing their own stories, are also doing this out of love for their families, and for their children. Let’s not forget this.
The actions of my church—despite being homophobic and patriarchal—came out of love for me. Though I disagree with the way they’ve manipulated scripture to promote patriarchy and homophobia, I have to remember my church genuinely cares for and loves their congregation, and they are willing to put an incredible amount time and energy to devote to their communities. This is why I have to remind myself that I do, in fact, have such tremendous love, respect, and solidarity with my own Chinese Christian community, as all of them do their own organizing and activisms out of love.
This article was originally posted on the blog Love Intersections.