June 4th and Me

Late evening, I came home after finishing some lab work in the Chemistry Department at the University of Toronto.  Tired, I lay in bed wondering about the tense situation on Tiananmen Square.


I picked up the phone.  “Kai qiang le — they opened fire…”  It was Guo-chen, my fellow Chinese student on campus.  “Enn, enn…”  He was sobbing.

It was the morning of June 4, 1989 in Beijing.  The army had shot its way from the suburbs to Tiananmen Square, killing protesters and civilians.  The pro-democracy movement had been suppressed. 

I couldn’t find words to respond.

The next day, as I went through the motions to coordinate a campaign to fax reports with pictures of the killed in Beijing to other parts of China, I gave up my hope to return to China completely.

I had come to Canada in 1988 to seek freedom to be myself, since China had declared that homosexuals were decadent products of Western capitalist societies and did not exist in China. 

Third month in Canada, I discovered gay personal ads in a newspaper.  By now I had also developed a sense of inferiority of being Chinese after a series of experiences: a Canadian landlord didn’t want me to babysit his child in exchange for reduced rent because I spoke broken English; students from China all shopped in the dirty Chinatown to save money because we were all poor; my current Chinese landlord told me that in the 70s when he spoke Chinese to a Chinese friend at a bus stop the white Canadians would tell him to speak English.  So, I refrained from responding to the “young man in his 20’s”.  Instead, I responded to the “professional” in his 40’s, the “youthful man” in his 50’s and the “gentleman” in his 60’s.  Youth was my advantage.  I wanted to exist

My two Chinese roommates told me about an old man calling me when I got home on late evening.  They looked at me suspiciously, surprised that I suddenly had an old friend who spoke English without an accent.  He never called again and no one else called.

Three months later, I moved to the graduate residence and had my private phone line.  I responded to ads again.  A man in his 40’s met me in my room.  He praised my effort in studying English as he saw a Toronto Star article covered with Chinese notes on my desk, and commented that if every Chinese immigrant made similar effort, the Chinese community would be stronger.  I respected that he worked for a union, fighting for the rights of the proletariat class.  But his chubbiness, grey hair and aged skin deterred me from seeing him again.

As my English improved and confidence grew, I began to meet and date gay men around my age.  However, there would always be something less ideal in the men who were interested in me.  The pretty vegetarian was not masculine enough.  The handsome muscular fashion model wanted to have unsafe sex.  The good-looking masculine French Canadian was addicted to bars and shared little common interest with me.  Still, I felt encouraged by my progress to becoming an equal member in the society.

In a late November 1995 evening, I noticed an almost ugly-looking Asian in his 40’s at Woody’s, a bar known with good-looking white men clientele.  He had been standing there alone for as long as I had been there alone. How could he stand a chance in this crowd? I thought.  We might as well have a conversation instead of being lonely.  He told me that had come from Japan in the 70s and in those years, he went out with gorgeous attractive young, white men.  “They were curious about Orientals,” he said, “But now, with so many young Asians here, it’s unlikely that I will have that kind of fun again.”  I felt sympathetic to him, and to myself as well, for I had noticed many GOM (gay oriental man) ads in recent years and the “very good-looking GOM”s were almost exclusively “seeking GWM”s (gay white man).  I was not equally desirable.

Ironically, I too had been attracted to white men more than others since I came to Canada.  The average white men could easily fit into the general good-looking criteria accepted in China: tall with wide chest, big eyes, high-bridged nose and fair skin.  They also seemed to be more confident than Asian men.  Confidence, I had found out, was a very attractive attribute in a man.  I had once fallen for an average-looking Chinese scholar mainly because he interacted with his Asian and white colleagues comfortably with respect and dignity.  He turned out to be straight.  I had pursued an Indian-Chinese, despite his chubbiness and thin hair, after seeing him firmly directing his white teammates on a volleyball court.  He fell for a young white man.  I had, however, found some pretty GOMs unattractive because of their lack of self-assurance. As I watched many couples of an old confident-looking Caucasian man and a young insecure-looking Asian man in the gay village without seeing one single couple of an old Asian and a young Caucasian, I sensed that confidence was linked to social power, which, in general, white Canadians men had more than Chinese Canadian or immigrant men. 

White men have rightfully inherited or earned their social power.  Since the late 18th century, white men have invented modern technology, industrialized productions, developed free-market systems and established democratic societies, which have increased wealth and freedom for mankind. More recently, in Canada, white gay men have initiated gay pride and led the fight to legalize same-sex marriage in Ontario in 2003, then in Canada in 2005.  China only acknowledged homosexuality as psychologically normal in 2001.

However, to give power to every white man, regardless of his contribution to society is a racially biased practice, just as to discount every Chinese man simply because he has inherited less social power, regardless what he has contributed to our society. 

Unfortunately, we fall to such racist prey, easily and unwittingly, in our daily lives.  When someone of our race achieves significant success on the world podium of sports or science, we see it as a vindication of the capability of everyone in our race.  When a gay man holds a negative impression of a race, he discounts every man in that race, such as an Asian gay man in Shanghai recently did as he posted “No Asians” in his online chat ad.

Thus, a practical way for me to achieve social power equal to white men, I realized, would be to help my Chinese gay community achieve equal power.  In 2004, I volunteered to chair the Toronto Tongzhi Club – a social group for gay men from China – founded in my apartment in 1999.  Through social activities and skills workshops, members developed friendships and even found partners… with me being one of the lucky ones.   We also spoke in a coalition press conference to counter the voices against same-sex marriage by some ethnic churches and groups.  

For Chinese gay men to achieve social power equal to that of white men would be a long and challenging journey.  I have just noticed that in the online chat forum of gay.com, Toronto is the only city having a separate room allocated by race – for Asians, aside from other rooms categorized for fetish, HIV positive and geographic locations.  But it’s encouraging to see more couples of a young Caucasian and a young Asian in Toronto’s gay village than ever before.  These young men, having grown up in a multi-racial society, are able to see each other beyond their skin colours.

I would like to believe that freedom of being gay and equality for Chinese were implicitly included in the ideals pursued by students on Tiananmen Square in 1989.  On June 4th this year, to remember and honour their aspiration, I resolve to make my best effort to become a powerful person, empower fellow Chinese gay men, and promote respect for individuals on their merits and characters.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 2nd, 2008 at 5:41 pm and is filed under Canadian, Chinese, Gay. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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