David Ng: Homophobia and transphobia don't come from being "ethnic" Chinese

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.

Comments (14) Add New Comment
Ash
"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?" ON point!!

I'm so happy that David Ng and this article exists. Happy for a growing variety of writers getting exposure for their views too.
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Fae
Sounds like Stockholm syndrome, or battered-wife syndrome. Abuse can be psychological as well as physical. I pity people who can't let go. The practice of psychiatry exists because of people who can't let go of things that happened in childhood.
Religion has always been a form of social control and manipulation, thriving off of human irrationality. That some religious people manage to also practice compassion in the community doesn't justify the negative aspects of religion - any social group can act altruistically, it's an innate drive also found in other species. Religions aren't alone in being responsible for gay-bashing, but they're a significant contributor.
It's good that you practice love and dialogue; but sometimes you have to take a stand too.
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loverboy
Christianity is a slippery little idea. Im pretty sure under their spells love can actually be the same or worse than hate.
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Bruce
"Why is it that when white Christians are homophobic and transphobic, they are “homophobic and transphobic Christians"

No, they're stereotyped as "white trash" or "rednecks". The stereotypical bigot is an ignorant white conservative evangelical, and quite a bit of cultural airtime goes into trashing them. They do bring it on themselves, but I'm not sure it helps, it just drives people further apart.

Otherwise - on the basic idea that there shouldn't be stereotyping re "ethnic chinese", I agree.

But wow does the article just cement in the idea that "critical theory" is a kind of mental illness picked up on campus. It reads like a conspiracy theorist screed. What happened to clear, simple writing?
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@Fae
All of life is relegious. It is simply a matter of WHICH religion you practice or follow.

And that includes Atheism, Agnostisim, etc. as well as the more recent and popular ones now, like liberalism, "humanism", and of course Cultural Marxism.
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Save Vancouver
Cool, I just went to grad school and regurgitated all the worn out cliches I learned about colonialism to excuse my tribe of all its sins.
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Baffled
Can you pls explain just what your 'activism' entails/ Other than the ramblings of critical theory---and the airing of grievances.

Settler/immigrant/colonist. I'm sorry that you feel that you are all of those things---and within the 'context' of white male oppression/privelage...Wait! But...that sounds a little discriminatory...

See what i just did there? :-) Instead of baffling with BS, why don't you lay out exactly how you think Evangelicals and the VSB might come TOGETHER over this argument---instead of each side fear mongering?
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EY
Chinese people have a lot of misconceptions about LGBTs. They believe we are sexual deviance that will cause chaos to the family structure if they simply let us be. We don't have resources that are written in Chinese that can educate these people about their own prejudice. Even translation of books like Torn or God and the Gay Christian won't work because Chinese people cannot relate to the stories. Things will only change if we can have more avocates like Justin Lee and Matthew Vines in the Chinese community. I am afraid we will have to wait a long time.
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wat
That your church and community perform these actions out of love is irrelevant. The actions are out of place in today's society. Thankfully Canada is becoming more accepting of a gender neutral philosophy and your group will be on the wrong side of history very soon.
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Victor Wong
I would ask the parents opposing this policy if their own school-aged children support them. Likely they would go to their friend's birthday party, call out anyone bullying their friend, rely on their friend's peer tutoring and vice versa. No media has yet to cover this angle or research this story.

Parents, teach your children? Maybe just the reverse is what is needed here.
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Bob
Why? Because white media, that's why.
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Bob
EY

You say Chinese people have a lot of misconceptions... then list Chinese people who don't!!! talk about generalising.
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Alex
David you completely missed the point. It was absolutely the disinformation coming out of the Chinese Christian Churches that send all the Chinese parents into a hatful frenzy. For example, some parents thought that with this new ruling strange men can now enter her little girl's bathroom any time they want and with out any consequences. They were never told that the new ruling only apply to a single stall free standing washroom that are accessible for male, female and people with disabilities. David you might love your church but they really hate the idea that LGBT acceptance are being taught by the schools.
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Two Cents
What do you really expect? Unfortunately, often inaccurately and far too often hurtfully, people stereotype. These perceptions however may have certain basis of fact.

Jen Sung herself wrote: "Indeed, many of those who opposed the updated VSB policy were Chinese and spoke Cantonese. But some also spoke in Mandarin."

In this simple statement there are two indicators that would lead virtually any reasonable person to assume that there exists significant opposition (in either proportion or participation, or both) to the VSB policy from persons who are "ethnic Chinese". "Many of those opposed" implies a substantial proportion and "spoke in Cantonese, spoke in Mandarin" clearly denotes ethnicity.

I'm not saying this is accurate, or just, only that it is, to some degree, understandable and not unreasonable. For what it's worth I commend the work you and Jen are doing.

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