By Anna Zheng
I am a complicated world, filled with intricacies that are denied by the Western gaze. I am a queer femme with androgynous tendencies. First generation Chinese-American, I grew up in Kansas. Shifting between Cantonese and English, I rooted myself in the Pacific Northwest for college.
I learned the intricacies of exotification and Chinese femininity before I could speak. Mama tells me she used to force me into dresses. As an infant, I’d throw tantrums and rip them off. Three years later, the world conditioned me to love dresses.
In fifth grade, I wear capris and sit with my legs spread out. A girl in my class points at my crotch and tells me that “it” looks fat. She says that I sit like a man. This is the first time I am fat-shamed, and to this day, I still think of this when I undress myself in front of lovers.
Racial and sexual injustices plague the liberal cities. I am 21 in Capitol Hill, Seattle. My naivety thought that Seattle would embrace my newfound liberal identity. Walking out of a gas station with a new pack of cigarettes, I tear the plastic film and light one. A man stops, looks me up and down, and gasps, “I’d make love to you. Damn, you fine.” I shoot him a dirty look because mama told me to never fight in public because “nice ladies” don’t fight. Ladies submit and are soft like rose petals. He rushes off and whispers an apology, but the harm is already done. I wade through a thick river of anger for the rest of the day and wonder if I’ll be prone to feeling this way for the rest of my life.
I fear people who wear liberal goggles and blind themselves from the lived experiences of people of color.
In Portland, I interact with white queers; I wonder if they shed tears in the arms of women of color, if they’re aware that tears they shed exhaust our bodies. I wonder: if they talk to me because I’m an exotic enigma with purple hair, if they see me as a human with dreams, if they’re thinking about what I could do in between the sheets instead of what I can do to change communities. When I tell them I’m a Gender Studies major, they ramble about womxn’s rights and politics. I wonder if they understand that theorizing is only a circle-jerk in cloud space of an empire that only a few can visit. I wonder if they know that name-dropping Judith Butler or Michel Foucault only masks as pretentiousness. I wonder if they understand that womxn of color are disenfranchised in real life and not just in textbooks. I fear people who wear liberal goggles and blind themselves from the lived experiences of people of color. Like a T-bone accident, a jumble of thoughts about exotification, racialization and sexualization collide in my head. Whiplashed, I choke and don’t bother talking to them.
Walking down streets in Portland, paranoia bursts through my pores as people stare longingly at my legs, lanky body, yellow skin and almond eyes. Shifting my eyes from one corner to the next, I hope today will not be the day I have to use pepper spray or dial 911.
At Portland Pride, I meet a gay Japanese man. He tells me about coming out to his ex-wife and kids. I tell him about the Midwest. I want to hug him for being at Pride, coming up to me and being so friendly. “You are brave,” he repeats.
A month later, I know what he means: I had the courage to come out to my traditional Chinese family in Kansas.
I have felt myself grow cold and guarded in Portland, more so than I have in any other place I’ve travelled.
I walk down the streets and people assume my racial identity and can ask pseudo-liberal questions, like, “no, where are you actually from?” It takes energy to be outwardly queer and Chinese in a white space that tells me to be complacent and silent. Doing social justice work can destroy the tenderness of my soul. Determined to make the world just, I constantly find myself performing and placating to what white folks want out of me instead of being who I truly want to be. I have felt myself grow cold and guarded in Portland, more so than I have in any other place I’ve travelled. I’ve walked down many streets in the past month and have yet to see someone else who looks like me. I am brave.
I am a complicated world filled with intricacies that are denied by the chains of the Western gaze. My resistance came from profound self-love and love for others. I used to cry myself asleep, burying the anger inside of me instead of releasing that energy into the world. Feeling unsafe and anxious in the streets of the PNW is normalized; I’ve felt silenced and belittled many times. I don’t want to go back into the closet in Kansas, but the PNW isn’t a paradise either. So don’t tell me that being here is better than Kansas. At least people in Kansas don’t hide behind liberal goggles.