Queer & Foreign: Finding our own space between borders and communities
The intersection between racial identity and queerness is often being left out while QPOC exist within those multitudes.
THE MATRIX OF BEING A COLOURED QUEER
The discourse on sexual politics within the current generation, is heavily influenced and informed by the Gay Liberation Movement in late 1960s where its most significant history started in Stonewall Inn that was located in New York City, America. The Stonewall riot and its Pride march have inspired a transnational movement across the Western world, on their advocacy towards same-sex marriage and countering homophobia within the legal system. The modern conception of queer rights has been now mobilised beyond the Western world, folks from non-Western nations start to welcome the rainbow flag as a symbol of their queerness. However, the way that global queer discourse seems to revolve around Western epistemic understanding is a byproduct of colonialism and further complicates how people of colour come to gain their space in the movement.
As I was having a conversation with Amari – who is a Singaporean that moved to Australia for university. Amari didn’t feel safe in their own country due to the homophobia that could potentially harm them and took a toll on their mental health. Since they had moved to Brisbane, Amari found a queer society within their university to finally feel more comfortable with their queerness, but only to find out how frustratingly white the circle tends to be and how it fails to grapple with their experience of queerness as a Singaporean. Finding a queer Singaporean network has been a challenge, even non-Singaporean or just any queer people of colour (QPOC).
Similarly, Vivienne grew up in a Chinese-Australian immigrant household where her parents wouldn’t fully support her queer identity but she found community and solace with her high school and university friends. Especially when it comes to the student politics and activism space, Vivienne got to see more queer people than she initially thought she would, and as she wittily put it: “Queer people are among us”. But much like Amari’s experience, Vivienne’s circle is also overwhelmingly riddled with whiteness. All to say that the intersection between racial identity and queerness is often being left out while QPOC exists within those multitudes. Due to the dominant assumption of queer/LGBTQ+ being a Western phenomenon, the queer social space is undeniably a white and racialised place where QPOC got fetishised, while their migrant community doesn’t fully embrace the “Western” queerness phenomenon. Furthermore, the historical legacy that queer rights is about social progress within the US, it’s been used as a propaganda point for nationalism for segregating a paradigm of a progress West versus a homophobic non-West; queer scholars called this as homonationalism – On how queer politics being co-opted as a tool to further advance Western imperialism.
In the end, geopolitics is still a factor for countries to adjust and position itself. Queer transnationalist politics then become a useful lens to acknowledge how queerness interacts between local discourse and its positioning across different racialised borders. Indeed, the way American politics (or the West) as a whole could potentially undermine the efforts by non-Western activists on the ground. There is a need in a thorough organising strategy for racialised queers to come together and push against the white xenophobic and queerphobic sentiment from different governments. More importantly, QPOC across national contexts should not idealise how the other country is better or worse off from their local place, as the oppressive nature of nations could be the same while it comes with different potentials for organising.
The call for a transnational organising for global queer advocacy is needed, if not fundamental. Given the challenges of how white nationalism has segregated QPOC folks from joining each other, it requires effort between racialised groups to understand their own history and social positioning. By recognising how queer history extends across time and space, and continuing the effort of making an intersectional space that is conscious about the given constraints; only then that queer liberation is possible. For queer diaspora to be in touch with their generational queerness is an important thing to account for and it could inspire how queer space organising can happen.
THE WAY AHEAD
Indeed, there’s been a global movement almost for the QPOC nightlife scene to emerge. In Sydney, namely Queer Worship Collective has been a familiar name amongst QPOC locals to come join their venue that celebrates Asian Queer Excellence, or Kerfew – A space that celebrates South Asian creativity, and Club Chrome – A queer pole dance & creative collective that put POC and sex workers to the front. Additionally, there’s also a digital project called Queering The Map with their simple concept of allowing any queer people on the globe to share their experience and pin it on the map. This exposure to a global and intersectional practice of queer transnationalism, either via the digital space or the physical space, are all a part of the ongoing movement and struggle for queer folks across borders.
“Things are changing and I am optimistic that things will be better the next time I visit home.” – Said Amari when I asked them about if they’ve been keeping in touch still with the queer community within Singapore. Because of the fact that we’re both temporary migrants in a foreign country, our future with residency is precarious and not so secure, and one way in another, our experience from existing as a racialised queer have made us reflect on how queer politics and culture play out in our home countries. In a sense, this exposure to the complex roadmap of alienation and belonging between identity groups have brought a greater awareness on how important queer solidarity can mean for PoC.
The visibility of queerness in the diaspora community provoked a radical concept of thinking about borders and cultures, about our history with colonisation and the legacy it’s inflicted on us in contemporary politics. All of those only affirms a strong sense of community and shared aspirations amongst QPOC folks across nationalities and upbringings, where we learn to come together and find each other in all ways possible.