Queer and Diasporic in Vietnamerica

I used to equate whiteness with unrestrained homosexuality. I grew up in Vietnam with a murky idea of the West as all white and liberated. I absorbed these reductive ideologies from Western media and porn. My childhood ranged from the 2000s — 2010s when Vietnam had reestablished its relation with the US after the Vietnam war; so typical Vietnamese TVs and the internet enabled access to American representations.

When my (homo)sexual reckoning occurred in middle school, I was isolated and desperate, in a similar vein as the rural queer narrative evoked by Eli Clare. I believed that Vietnamese culture is inherently homophobic, for homophobia was/is internalized and reinforced in terms of gender roles within my family and in any aspect of my life. The interesting twist is that it is the Western media, cinema, and porn that affirmed my sexuality around this time. I watched the trend of ‘coming-out’ videos on youtube (where white people say things like “I’m gay and it gets better”), any American movies, and free-range gay porn (anything other than heteronormative is censored; however, Vietnam fosters a culture of illegal online streaming, so I could find any Western movie for free online). I experienced a shock of existence to see unrestrained flesh and desire on screen. All of them were white. At the same time that occidental media and gay porn affirmed me, offered me a masturbatory outlet, and a lexicon to identify myself, they also let me internalize unwitting racism.

Vietnam is racially homogenous, so I did not understand race or why it mattered. I thought extremely naively of America as white and gay. For the latter half of high school, I secured a scholarship to study in Maine as my family was progressing from middle-class to upper-class in Vietnamese standards and could afford my education abroad. Yes, at the time I was convinced the only solution to my sexuality was moving to another country.

I had a very reductive binary idea of racism as well. The racism I experienced in America confused me. A Black man threw racist slurs on me on a subway train; a truck full of white boys drove past me once, hollering “Go back to China”; a Turkish man shouted in my face “Corona” as I walked by on the street. I never questioned these incidents, because I didn’t know how to. I was a teenage foreigner, fresh in a country, which I was still glamourizing, knowing not how to navigate the complexity of America’s racist and multi-phobic bones. To make matters worse, the year I arrived in Maine, Trump was elected and I had shingles (it is rather funny to think of it now).

Then, when I started to have sex, it was only with white men. I tried to assimilate into the script of the model minority and white homosexuality without realizing it. One of my female friends remarked once: “You only like whiteboys, don’t you;” I defended myself, saying I am attracted to everyone, and it was true, I found myself attracted to different men, but when it came to actual sex, I always chose white men. I was conditioned to whiteness as the ideals from my media introduction to America. I started to distance myself away from any other Asians, hated my skin, wanting to be “normal,” the way Eli Clare was determined not to be one of the “special ed” kids (108). Clare calls this “horizontal hostility” because it is easiest to enact oppression within one’s own community (108). Like Cherríe Moraga, later, I found it “frightening to acknowledge that I have internalized racism and [homophobia] where the object of oppression is not only someone outside my skin, but the someone inside my skin” (46). This is not about renouncing whiteness, this is about me. About recognizing myself, recognizing the “primary source” and understanding “the meaning of [my] own oppression… and that [my] oppression of others hurts [me] personally” (Moraga 45, 49).

While the Western media first affirmed my (homo)sexuality, giving me a sense of community, it also conditioned me into racism, which I come to enact within my (homo)sexuality and my racial community. Even while I’m delineating all this, I’m still trying to make sense of my experience, for it contains too many interlocking and competing spheres; it is a diasporic queer racialized reality which I am never finished with. Leaving Vietnam and entering America has disrupted my leaving and entering into any place, physically or psychologically or sexually; I find myself in constant liminality, liminal futurity, though it’s not inherently bad. This post is only a small chaotic contemplation.  Recognizing all these maneuvers leaves me to find alternatives to thinking and being, not just assimilating or resisting any script but towards something more ambivalent, liminal, radical, something new.

2 thoughts on “Queer and Diasporic in Vietnamerica”

  1. You have written such an amazing close read of your life! This piece was informative and reflective for me as much as it must have been for you. Before my family moved to America, I also thought this was a country of freedom and expression of self – homophobia and anything “bad”, I thought, did not exist here. However, as you point out, America is not perfect either. Racism is rampant and – most recently – has become more hostile. Homophobia is very much present as well. While the American media may portray acceptance, that is not always the reality. Also, your analysis on how the media you consumed has shaped you was very well done. I loved how you reflected on how that has “conditioned” you into racism – simply because it only represented the lives of white people. In addition, I liked how you made it clear that you are not finished in exploring this reality because that is true about life.

  2. You’re writing is phenomenal… it’s raw honesty is something I strive to do in my own but find myself shying away from constantly. Not only is your experience of America so wildly fascinating on its own, but the way you interspersed quotes and thoughts from outside sources that we’ve worked on throughout the semester is amazing. The moment that particularly struck me was when you said: “Yes, at the time I was convinced the only solution to my sexuality was moving to another country.” Your emphasis on the word “moving” sent chills through me as I remembered the Angel in Angels in America’s command to for us to stop moving if humans want any sort of peace. I knew then that “moving” was only going to mean more pain and confusion for you, and the way you followed up that line with the paragraph about your experience with racism in America, hurt beautifully. You are a very very gifted writer – thank you for sharing your story.

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