AAPI LGBTQ Pride: I Am My Father’s Son & My Mother’s Daughter

TOU FONG LEE

My secret dwelled deep. I asked myself if I could live in my secret forever. I am a Hmong gay man and a Hmong Drag Queen. I am my father’s gay son and my mother’s drag daughter. I am both a man and a woman and at the same time neither a man or a woman. I do know that I am Hmong, no matter if I identify as a man, woman, or neither. My gay identity made me “less” of a man, according to my family and my culture.

As the oldest son of four children, I was told that Hmong men are expected to grow up, attend college, get a career as a doctor, marry a wife, and raise a family. I was expected to carry on the family name and become a role model to the rest of the younger generations. I have lost count to how many times my father and uncle told me to “man up.” I was expected to be the leader of my household and one day have beautiful kids to carry on my family name.

At age 18, however, these expectations became a great failure to my parents. On graduation, I revealed my biggest secret to my parents that I am gay. I was known as the “lady boy” of my community. Gay to my parents, and perhaps to many Hmong parents as well, meant that I was transgender, confused, a prostitute, and it meant a loss of hope. To them, being gay meant that I want to be the other “gender.” The only definition of what my parents know to be gay was what they heard and a few times seen growing up as kids in the country side of Thailand. To them, I defied the Hmong culture. I went against every hetero-normative belief and I went against the only life they ever knew, the life of Hmong. To them and to everyone else before them, I was known as the sick and a sexual “lady boy”; someone who they falsely think is cursed and preyed on young boys, capable of converting people to my “lifestyle.” On coming out as gay, Hmong people think I will never have a family, a career, marriage, and life. This my parents feared.

Before coming out, I never knew how much my Hmong identity and my gay identity would conflict. All of a sudden my sexual identity became the only identity Hmong people saw me as. I faced great hatred and prejudice from my own culture. I faced racism from non-Hmong people and discrimination and prejudice from my own people, my own family, and the rest of the community. I present myself as a Hmong man, not a gay person. When I put on heels, makeup, and perhaps a dress to imitate the art of drag, I become my mother’s daughter, my brother’s sister, and another Hmong person to challenge the authorities of what “men” and “women” ought to do and not ought to do.

At age 19, I became one of the few Hmong Drag Queens in America. I can literally count on two hands how many Hmong Drag Queens there are in this country. I go to school events in drag, I volunteer in drag, I speak to groups in drag, and I am in drag when I do classroom and university workshops and discussion. I started my life as a Drag Queen not because I identify as transgender but because I identify as myself.

The first time I started drag was the first time I felt so free and so liberated. As a kid I knew I was gay. As a kid growing up in a house with girls, I was always fascinated with how my sister did her hair and how she wore pretty long dresses in the summer time. I always loved how my mom had flowers in her curly hair and the way her eyelashes were bridge long. I started drag as a way of entertainment. Soon enough it became a stress reliever. The way I transformed myself into a different character leaves behind the challenges I faced as a Hmong gay man. It delivered me from the stressful daily tasks and stresses I remember from school and work. However, it was not long before I wanted to be more than entertainment. Being a drag queen meant, to me, being my mother’s daughter. I suddenly became the daughter my mother never had and for a moment in my life it felt acceptable. It felt acceptable to be in drag and to “feminine” household chores. When I put on that wig and transformed myself into an Asian lotus flower, the gay son she so felt bad for was gone.

My identity means more to me than some funky drag show with a few dollars to tip for the night. My identity as a drag daughter is a political symbol, it is a way of self expression and a way for me to bend the gender binary that so unfortunately still exist in both my Hmong and American identity. The art of drag is to imitate the gender norms of the other “gender.”

When I come across other Hmong people I get treated differently. Hmong men do not want to talk to me in fear of association of being gay and Hmong women only talk to me because of my “gay” or “drag” status. I become a sick fantasy for some women to have a need for a “gay” best friend. You see, to my friends I am their “gay friend.” To my cousins I am their “gay and overly feminine” cousin. To my community I am an embarrassment. I come to embrace all parts of my identity and no longer have time for shame or embarrassment. So I like to wear a dress. Some say I enforce the social construction of gender expectation in the Hmong culture. Some say I fight against it. I say, I fight for me.

I am my father’s son and my mother’s daughter. I am just his gay son and I am just her drag daughter. To my parents, I am just their child. No labels, no hatred, no prejudice, just simply their kid.

 


Tou Fong Lee is currently a Junior at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee pursuing a double degree in Psychology and Religious Studies with an interdisciplinary in Hmong Studies. Tou’s primary emphasis is in clinical depression and how external and internal factors influence the way we perceive ourselves and the world. He uses pronouns he//him/his and uses pronouns she/her/hers when he is in his drag form. Tou serves as the Executive Assistant and Pride Discovery Camp Coordinator for the UWM LGBT Resource Center and is participating in a research team. Tou created his university’s first Hmong Safe Space Training Program and is currently working on a project to create a Hmong Queer Campaign to raise awareness to target the Hmong queer stigma. He plans to graduate from his undergraduate studies and pursue his graduate and doctoral work. You can contact Tou Fong Lee on Facebook.

Celebrate June PRIDE Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI LGBTQ PRIDE Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI LGBTQ and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


 

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Raising UP Cuajleeg Kennedy Yang’s Journey Forward Narrative

Disclaimer:
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I am going to take a different route in this endeavor of sharing narratives of being queer Hmong/SEA.  I never had a difficult time coming out or accepting myself as queer.  I do have troubles seeing what is to become of us, queer SEA, in our journey forward after we have come out.  Although these past stories have moved me like never before, I have had struggles that have prepared me for coming out and thus my “coming out” story has not been as inspirational.

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Cuajleeg Kennedy Yang (2013)

Story #21

Before my parent’s divorce when I was around 8-9 years old, I was just happy being myself and loving the things that I did.  Although I had toy guns and action figures as a boy, I also had dolls and mermaids.  I loved what I loved and grew a fondness for mermaids.  This love for myself was reinforced and supported by my loving family who did not care that I had an affinity for “girly” toys.  I lived with this joy throughout my childhood and nothing could have been better.  Happiness was only temporary for me though, because it took the separation of my parents to force my own growth.

Initially, I was fine and accepted my parents’ divorce.  I knew intuitively that they just didn’t function the way they used to together anymore.  However, my siblings took things differently because this divorce broke them down and shook them up.  It was like a fissure that thrashed, tore, and destroyed what they once knew was home.  Some of my siblings remained physically and mentally strong, while others were still struggling; still trying to recover from a harsh events that turned into their reality.  Out of the strong and the weak, I was one of the strong and so I did all I could to aid.

Due to this unavoidable situation my mom went through many financial hardships trying to pay off bills here and there and maintaining a house. My oldest sister struggled and persevered just trying to hold the bond of our family together.  Some of my other siblings just shut down after the divorce while the others learned to cope with the situation.  The middle brother had grown up as an angry child only to have this divorce amplify those issues.  One of my other brothers and I became his outlet for anger and we were bullied daily by him. I was targeted more so than the other and my siblings saw that, but did not know how to respond other than just shrugging it off and blaming his personality.  Despite this daily struggle I helped my family with chores around the house, like washing the dishes, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and generally just tending to my mom.

I remember whenever I would go crying to my siblings or parents, because I was being bullied, they’d always tell me to be the bigger person.  This began sinking in because I then embodied it by brushing my own feelings aside, thinking that they were wrong to have.  There were moments in my life where I remembered just crying out of no where and not knowing why.  Crying out of no where and realizing that I myself was not even feeling sad.  Crying out of no where and then telling myself that I was weak for doing so. I remember looking into the mirror and training myself to learn how to not cry because I could not take being vulnerable and targeted anymore. What I did not know was that I had come to silence myself so much that I had become detached from my own feelings and emotions.

You would think that I could find solace from this over at my dad’s house, but that wasn’t the case.  I was one of the only children to visit him and sleep over on a weekly basis.  I knew that he loved me and I loved him too.  However before I would go, my mom would tell me that I was never going to be worthy of his love because of the sole fact that I was also her son.  I remember hearing from my father multiple times that my mother did not even love me and is only using me for child support money.  At such an early age, I had to learn how to interpret their messages because they were only protecting me from the harm that they had faced with each other.  This however also bred much distrust and corruption within myself, and also brought so much internalized pain and altered my idea of love.

I began seeing the flaw within all that I cared for, and in order to protect myself from the risk of any further internal mutilation, as well as of my own growing bias of those I cared for, I closed myself off and denied myself the one thing that I always wanted and knew: love. I suffocated my heart and crushed any feelings that began to flourish all because I would rather have dealt with that pain than the more overpowering torture of loving someone, only to realize that it was all a lie.  All that had laid where my heart used to be was nothing but an empty husk of hollowness that slowly pulsated, gasping for life as the void slowly crept inside and began growing within it.

Darkness was the only thing that that held my heart, free of judgment and unconditionally, I was all too eager to accept whatever embraced me in that way.  I came to love the one thing that had been there with me throughout all the tribulations.  It was the only thing that evoked me of my humanity while I already lingered so far off the edge.  It constantly reminded me of how alive I had been through the sufferings that I endured.  When I could no longer see with a clear conscious and vision, it was darkness that enabled me to feel instead.  The very sensation that I had casted away.  I flourishing in the shadows of my own isolation.

I became my own morphed beacon of hope.  My mentality evolved from corruption into my own truth of knowing, that in the end, I was always going to be alone in my own journey and that no matter how similar someone was to me they would never completely understand. There was a haunting tranquility in knowing that even though there are those who loved me, they will not always be there; and the only person to be there with me in the face of darkness will be myself. So from this, I learned how to stand on my own and thus began my transformation into who I am today.

It has been and still is such a lonely path that I continue to tread on.  Overwhelming sadness that crawls through me and makes me motionless at the most spontaneous of times.  What seems like demons whispering into my ears and twisting my mind.  Pushing people who care for me away and bringing myself solitude just so that I can feel the familiar and welcomed touch of sadness to rush through me and have me feel something if anything at all.  Realizing that moments of true happiness has escaped from me and then already being so out of tune with myself that I was never present to experience them.  The most unbearable feeling of all though are the moments where I sense a state of surrealness within myself.  The feeling radiates coldness as well as warmth through my body, but I have become so numb that it even happens; it is as if I am undergoing an outer body effect.  Purgatory would seem is the closest definition that I have to describing it.  Neither feeling good or neither feeling bad, just there as if I was nothing at all and what seems like a moment just stops and feels like an eternity.

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Cuajleeg Kennedy Yang (2013)

The only things that seemed to have grounded me into reality was different aspects of myself who made me, me.  Part of that is myself identifying as a queer hmong man.  I had previous thoughts about this in middle school when I would be called gay on a weekly schedule, but I never thought of it as an insult nor was it spoken to me as such.  It was nothing big for me though, I was not going to let folks define me anyways.  One of the only examples was that I remembered this boy who was very handsome named Jared who just had an amazing smile, amazing hair texture, and style.  Sadly he moved away when it came time to high school.  Other than that one singular attraction, I hadn’t really thought about my sexuality back then.

This did get my mind going about what I really did find attractive, in terms of man or woman.  I began thinking and coming into realization that I had a different and stronger attraction towards men.  This was not coalesced until my sophomore year in high school because I was able to better articulate and have more access to resources to learn from.  I was more equipped to look up terms and definitions to identify myself more.

I officially “came” out to my sister when I was able to define myself.  It was just a weekday and my sister was in her room.  I had gone in very quietly and just said that I needed to talk.  When I finally told her that I was gay, she consoled me and said everything would be fine.  During that time I had cried and only after I “came out”, did I realize that I had nothing to cry about because there was and is nothing wrong with being queer.  After this, I never came out again because it shouldn’t be an “obstacle” that us queers, majority of the time, dread looking forward to.  I am fine with expressing my sexuality but it is but a part that contributes to a larger picture of the whole person that I am.

When seeking out help and friends from the gay community, I was mistaken by many folks whom were interested in other things.  I was not looking for sex at all and only looking to expand my perspectives and insights as a queer Hmong man.  One thing that I do remember was that majority of the people who messaged me were old white men.  It was fine but when they were only trying to dominate me, that was when I had enough of them.  I did message out other folks with more diverse backgrounds but only things I received were silence or ignorance.  I was so done with this and so I went back into my mind.  I did this to find out and process why and how racist and sexist the gay community really is.

Having become my own support, I was able to rely on myself again when I was not receiving support from the gay community. I casted them aside because they were nothing but a mirror of the oppressive ways that I did not need or wanted to be a part of.  I once again shut myself out but I am glad that I did this time because I was then able to seek out more specialized support with other Queer Asian Folks whom were not internalizing racism and sexism.  This then has lead me to being great friends and acquaintances with wonderful people who do great work with racial, social, economic, and intersections of all injustices in our world.  (MWSM)

There are also a lot of things that I wanted to incorporate into this story and how each aspect of my life had intertwined and affected one another, but for the sake of time and my own sanity, I have chosen a few major events that have shaped me.  Other things that I wanted to incorporate were: White Supremacy, Racism, Race, Classism, Sexism, Sexism within the Gay Community, White Supremacy within the gay community, body imaging, Social Justice works, and much much more. If you all have any questions, I am a core member of MWSM so feel free to send me an email Cuajleeg@mwsmovement.com a phone number can also be provided via email.

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If you’re compelled by Kennedy’s story, we invite you (if you identify as Hmong LGBTQQI) to contribute your narrative to our collection and documentation by taking this 5 minute survey: http://tinyurl.com/HmongLGBTQQIStories

©Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement, 2011 – 2013. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution with the intent to sell, use and/or duplication of these images, audio, video, stories, blog posts, and materials on this blog without express and written permission from this blog’s authors and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links as stated by MidWest Solidarity Movement members may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Come Celebrate MINNEAPOLIS PRIDE with Us!

 

HAPPY PRIDE WEEK! Come Celebrate Minneapolis Pride with us and meet other Hmong LGBTQ people! We have awesome activities that you can have FUN and learn at the same time:

  1. History of PRIDE through multiple communities and their stories.
  2. What is PRIDE beyond the glitz and glam?
  3. Where do you, we belong in the history of PRIDE? Mapping and documenting our stories into Pride History.
  4. Learn & research about LGBTQA organizations in your area that provide services you need.
  5. March with us at the Trans and Dyke March!
  6. Soulfriday Dance Party.

*If you haven’t filled the Raising UP the Hmong LGBTQQI Narrative Survey, please do so here: http://tinyurl.com/HmongLGBTQQIStories

For more information about celebrating Minneapolis Pride with us, please contact us at: linda@mwsmovement.com or txoov@mwsmovement.com. Thank you!

HND Conference IMPACT Award: VOTE for LINDA HAWJ

Thanks for visiting our website! We’ve been hiatus for a while after the 2012 Election Campaign, but we’re back and refreshed for 2013. To start off, we want to invite you to take 30 seconds to support and get to know Linda Hawj a change maker in our community through 2 actions below:

1. VOTE for Linda Hawj for her Innovation, Advocacy, and Mentorship for the Hmong National Development Conference’s (HND) IMPACT Award. –https://www.facebook.com/HmongNationalDevelopment/app_162850930432266

2. If you VOTED for Linda Hawj, to ensure she is the Top 5 IMPACT Award Recipient by February 14, 2013 at Midnight (Central Time), you must help by copying and sharing the information below in the quotation marks on your Facebook page/social media:

“Never before, has there been a Hmong lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer recognized for their leadership, community organizing, art, and as a change maker in our Hmong community, nationally. Since this IMPACT AWARD is part of the biggest Hmong National Conference in history, we want to support Linda Hawj who identifies as a Hmong lesbian/queer womyn, to highlight her as an Innovator, Advocate, and Mentor. In the past 4 years, she has changed many people’s lives through courageous leadership, community organizing, commitment, and love for her Hmong community.”

CLICK ON THIS LINK TO VOTE FOR LINDA HAWJ and Thank you! :
https://www.facebook.com/HmongNationalDevelopment/app_162850930432266

* If the browser you’re using doesn’t work, try Internet Explorer or Safari. Voting from your phone will not work.

Deadline to cast your vote for Linda Hawj for HND’s IMPACT AWARD is February 14, 2013 Midnight (Central Time).”

Linda Hawj canvassing at the St. Paul Hmong New Year about the 2012 Election.

Linda Hawj canvassing at the St. Paul Hmong New Year about the 2012 Election.

Linda’s BIO:
Linda ‘Nkauj Xwb’ Hawj is a multi-disciplined Artist utilizing writing, poetry, spoken word, hip hop and filmmaking as forms of self-healing, empowerment, reflection, and to speak truths that are often silenced, marginalized or eliminated by oppressive systems. As an activist, she advocates for justice through multiple lens: gender, racial, reproductive, immigrant, refugee, and Hmong transgender and queer justice. In 2012, she was Minnesota’s St. Paul Field Organizer for President Obama’s Grassroots Campaign, and organized to defeat the MN Marriage and Voter ID Amendments.”

Thank you so much for your support and please remember to share your support in inviting your family and friends to vote for Linda Hawj via Facebook!

Save the Date May 2, 2012: 3rd & Final Txuj Ci Showcase

A Night of Local Queer Asian American & Ally Artists
Unlimited Edition
Wed, May 2, 6:00-9:00 PM
Coffman Union Whole Music Club

Txuj Ci Showcase was originally a night where Hmong LGBTQ and their allies came together to showcase their talents and to build community and space together.

This year, we have intentionally open it up to the Asian American LGBTQ and their allies for a more inclusive community. Meanwhile still being able to include the Hmong LGBTQ community, hence it is the UNLIMITED EDITION.

The first Txuj Ci Showcase in 2010 included over 120 participants and we grew to 175 participants at the 2nd Annual Showcase in 2011. This year, as we plan for our 3rd and final Txuj Ci Showcase at the University of Minnesota, we hope to see an even bigger crowd of participants and performers. Previous performances include singers, traditional Hmong dancers, modern dancers, drag singers, Qeej instrument performances, fashion designers and show, as well as spoken word artists and visual artists.

We are excited to host another Txuj Ci Showcase and look forward to seeing fresh talents and fresh faces this year! Please join us for a night of amazing art, performances, and delicious food! This is a collaborative effort between the GLBTA Programs Office and Midwest Solidarity Movement and cosponsorship from the Asian Sorority Interest Group. For more information, please contact glbtapo@umn.edu.

Performances, Live Art, Visual Pieces and Fashion Show By:
Chann
Kevin Thao
Ka Lia Yang
Tou Saiko Lee
Hmong Her
Brenda Kothsombath
Sina Yi
Dee Lee
Shay Hicks and Tivon Yang
Rebecca “Rebel” Song
Ongers Her
Ashaley Yang
MidWest Solidarity Movement

MCs:
Fue Khang and Kong Pha
Mdy Yang and Linda Hawj

Photographer:
Maysa Vang
Check out our websites to see what we’re up to as well!
http://www.glbta.umn.edu/
https://mwsmovement.com/
https://sites.google.com/site/asigumn/

We’re on facebook: http://on.fb.me/txujci