From China to America: My Queer Movement Journey

by Cindy Zhong, 2016 Chan Fellow

Right before I came to America, my friends in our rainbow group (an independent queer student group that I joined in) back in China joked with me, “We’re so glad that our group is going to be supported by foreign power! Go ahead and bring new experiences back to serve the Motherland.” Although they were just joking, their comments reflected our expectations and subtle feelings about an overseas non-profit organization.

Image Description: Students in Guangzhou wave a large rainbow flag as part of an organized a flash mob.

Image Description: Students in Guangzhou wave a large rainbow flag as part of an organized a flash mob.

I am glad that I come from a open city in China, where LGBTQ communities have higher visibility and the queer movement has thrived in recent years. However, in China as a whole, LGBT rights remain a sensitive topic at many levels of society, and lots of LGBT-related organizations are still struggling to survive. As a grassroots queer student group, we are troubled with many problems such as limited resources and funds, government censorship, social pressure, and worst still, we can not even register as a legal entity. For us, the United States represents an ideal place where same-sex marriage has been legalized and gender studies are booming. Because of these reasons, I had this imagination of my internship experience set in my mind even before I came to America. It was vague, but still ideal.

With endless thoughts buzzing in my mind, I finally arrived to be a fellow at APIENC. The more I get involved, the more my picture of a API queer community became less vague and more vivid. To my surprise, I felt a sense of familiarity with the community, even though it is a totally new place for me.

When interacting with other community members, I gradually grasped how racial identity and gender/sexual identity intersect with each other in concrete scenarios, and how the community is experiencing oppression under the current social structure. As an outsider from China, I do find it hard to relate to the experience of being an immigrant. But my cultural background doesn’t stop me from feeling connected with the API queer folks here in the States, as we are all under the umbrella of API queer community regardless of borders. Having read and listened to the deep and heavy stories in the community through the Dragon Fruit Project, I can relate to the personal experiences of love, suffering, and struggle. and have found common ground between us.

Image Description: 6 Chan Fellows and 2 APIENC staff members take a group photo, while each person holds up yellow pieces of paper.

Image Description: 6 Chan Fellows and 2 APIENC staff members take a group photo, while each person holds up yellow pieces of paper.

Nearly two years since my start in the movement in China, I have been greatly empowered and received incredible energy while being an active member of the queer community and serving it at the same time. My queer community remains the warm harbor where I can go back and seek support whenever I feel tired and frustrated. Thus, I sincerely appreciate and strongly resonate with the work that APIENC is doing. Being a small grassroots organization, APIENC strives to provide a homecoming space and to create opportunities for API queer people. Being surrounded by these awesome folks reminds me how important and meaningful our work is. Though feeling sad when I am confronted with countless oppressions, I’ve also been inspired by the potential and great power that lies deeply in our community. Unjust social systems are hard to break up, but individuals can definitely make a difference through community empowerment.

One evening when I was walking back home after work, a random thought struck my mind. I suddenly realized that I’ve thrown almost all of my time and effort into gender and sexuality-related social justice work in the past three months, without even being conscious about it. I am a fellow at APIENC, staying connected with my community back in China, learning queer theories, attending various community events, and meeting a lot of new people in the community. Nearly all perspectives of my life are somehow connected to queer community, which I never would have imagined two years ago. Thanks to the fellowship experience at APIENC, I have gradually come to realize what my queer identity means to me and deepen my commitment to the community.

I always remember a quote from my friend: “being engaged in the LGBT movement gets you closer to who you are.”  I fully agree. Whatever country and whatever culture, we are working towards being our authentic selves, and our shared values and commitment to a world free of oppression will always remain the ties that bind us together.