‚ÄėNo Asians‚Äô. Sound familiar? It‚Äôs a statement that is everywhere on gay dating websites and apps. And it‚Äôs 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.
A merger of the words ‚Äėequal‚Äô and ‚ÄėAsian‚Äô, EquAsian was forged from a gathering during this year‚Äôs 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 caf√© 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‚Äôs only been as an adult that he has embraced his heritage.
That‚Äôs 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 ‚Äėsensitive‚Äô son to New Zealand, where Lam jokes that he became very ‚ÄėChiwi‚Äô 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. ‚ÄúMandarin was for the sake of getting to know my biological family better,‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äėhybrid‚Äô way, which he explains is further complicated by the way people see him ‚Äď a common feeling at the table. While Wu says it‚Äôs rare to get through anything without a mention of her Asian-ness, for Ting it‚Äôs the opposite.
‚ÄúI look quite ambiguous. People might not know what ethnicity I am. They might think I‚Äôm Maori or Pasifika.‚ÄĚ
There‚Äôs laughter at the table as it ironically emerges people in EquAsian initially thought so too and Ting had to be like ‚ÄúI‚Äôm Asian!‚ÄĚ
They‚Äôre a fun bunch. Lam has us all giggling with a story about coming out to his ‚Äėvery Chinese‚Äô mum. ‚ÄúWhen I told her I was gay she acted very Chinese. She said ‚Äėmaybe we should go back to Hong Kong!‚Äô It was a very Chinese thing to say!‚ÄĚ
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.
‚ÄúThen I came to this dialogue evening and [the organiser] had exactly the same idea, so we just joined forces.‚ÄĚ
Common experiences and issues quickly emerged. ‚ÄúThere is a lot of unspoken racism in the lgbti ...q ... some other letters,‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôt have to look far to see anti-Asian racism in our communities. ‚ÄúOne 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 ‚Äėooh ... I don‚Äôt really find Asians attractive‚Äô, it‚Äôs like, thank you very much for reducing all of us into one specific person. Thanks for that.‚ÄĚ
Wu‚Äôs flicked though gay hook-up app Grindr as a ‚Äėsociological experiment‚Äô, and witnessed its ‚Äėblatant racism‚Äô. ‚Äú‚ÄôNo Asian‚Äô is so common, just purely as an aesthetic basic,‚ÄĚ she marvels.
Ting adds ‚Äúyeah that‚Äôs how they legitimise it, ‚ÄėI‚Äôm not racist, it‚Äôs just not my preference‚Äô.‚ÄĚ He feels marginalisation is a big issue, particularly within the gay male culture, where attractiveness equals social and sexual capital.
‚ÄúAnd for those people who don‚Äôt have that, they feel very excluded. Not just Asian people, but many people who cannot fulfil the idealised body types of gay culture.
‚ÄúA 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‚Äôt find him attractive because of his ethnicity.‚ÄĚ
In fact, he says recent HIV figures show the group has rising infection rates. He‚Äôs helping organise a gathering on Wednesday where gay and bi Asian men will be asked to offer feedback to the New Zealand AIDS Foundation‚Äôs 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‚Äôs SHORE research group, in an NZAF backed project.
‚ÄúAs our community becomes increasingly diverse we need to ensure that our work to promote a condom culture is relevant and engaging to these guys,‚ÄĚ Love Your Condom spokesman Joe Rich has previously told GayNZ.com.
These are just some of the issues for gay and bi Asian men in particular. As Ting points out, there are ‚Äúminorities, within minorities, within minorities‚ÄĚ.
The trio, like most in the group, are ‚ÄėKiwi Asians‚Äô, 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.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs hard to reach those pockets of migrants,‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôt 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 ‚Äėout‚Äô.
Wu wants to make resource packs for people coming out, or struggling to ‚Äď with support contacts and safe-sex info.
She also wants to make packs for parents. ‚ÄúOne thing that I find in New Zealand, even if you‚Äôre 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.‚ÄĚ
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 ‚Äúnot that bad, it‚Äôs really not that bad,‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄėAsian‚Äô umbrella.
‚ÄúAsian is such a loaded word. It‚Äôs so big!‚ÄĚ Wu points out.‚ÄĚ That was one of the first things that we covered ‚Äď ‚Äėdefine Asia‚Äô,‚ÄĚ she and Ting chant in sync, and share a laugh.
Ting says at the very bottom line, the group is fun, it‚Äôs safe and it‚Äôs inclusive. ‚ÄúWe want them to feel a place of belonging in this group. If they can‚Äôt find that elsewhere, we want to provide that for them.‚ÄĚ
Wu thinks that within New Zealand as a whole the Asian community has always been really reserved. ‚ÄúI think, to have EquAsian start up, has been so beneficial. We need to start giving the voices back to our community ‚Ä¶ we can‚Äôt speak for everyone, but we can start somewhere.‚ÄĚ
*EquAsian meets at 7pm on the third Saturday of every month at Rainbow Youth‚Äôs office on K Rd.