Editor's Note: You've seen Steven Colbert's "Better Know a Lobbyist," but our version is so much gayer! Each weekend, we spotlight a different TBP contributor. In case you've missed any of our previous interviews, I've got links at the end of the post.
This week's featured contributor is Jason Tseng. Jason is a contributing editor for the genderblog, BelowtheBelt.org. He went to the University of Richmond, where he studied Theater, Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, Business, and Dance. While very disparate fields, he finds himself increasingly interested in discovering the significance of bodies in systems of meaning. Jason became involved in LGBT, Queer, and Arts organizing in colleges in Virginia, Washington D.C., and Montreal. Most recently, Jason works in Development at a national service organization for professional nonprofit theaters in America. He lives and works in New York City. Jason's interest include the Arts, media & pop culture, feminsim, queer theory, activism, and all things Whedon.
1. How did you get involved with TBP?
I got involved with TBP through my work at Below the Belt. I was a contributing editor at the blog, writing op-eds and helping edit our own roll of contributors. My co-editor, ToughStuff, had been corresponding with Alex Blaze about possibly syndicating some of my work onto the Bilerico Project. I've really enjoyed becoming a part of this Bilerico family, and finding a place to voice my opinions and be exposed to new ideas.
2. What was your coming out experience like?
Oy. We're gonna go there, eh? I can point to the exact moment when I realized that I was queer. Suffice it to say, it was the first day of gym class in middle school in the locker room. I grew up in a very devout Christian home. My father is a founding elder of the Chinese American church, in which I grew up, and my mother is a worship leader and former Deaconess. From that first day of the sixth grade through my high school career, I put myself through theological hell. I experienced so much anxiety and pain trying to reconcile my faith, which was the core of my sense of self, and my burgeoning sexuality.
I, unlike many queer people out there, never got to "come out" to my parents. I was out to several of my close friends, and my parents discovered my sexuality after screening the chat logs with my friends. They were far from pleased. While I never doubted their continuing love for me, they made very clear they did not approve. My parents even went so far as to send me to an Exodus Ministries conference so I could meet other "former homosexuals" and see that I did not have to choose the "gay lifestyle." Obviously, my brush with the ex-gays wasn't very successful, but it gave me a harrowing view into the lives of the movement. It is hard for me to condemn their beliefs that being queer is wrong, because at some level it means condemning their families and their children. However, I also got to see firsthand at how damaging these practices can be.
I met a kid there, who was about my age, and we kept in contact long after I left Exodus Ministries. We corresponded throughout his "treatments" and I watched as he spun into a downward spiral of depression. We eventually lost contact, and all I can do now is hope that he's okay now.
3. You've written about your perspective on race before. What do you think some of the challenges of being an out Asian American are?
Well, I don't want to try and speak for all queer Asian Americans out there. But in my experience, I have found the LGBT community, especially the GAY community, in the US to be profoundly exclusionary towards queer Asian men. I feel that there is a palpable racialized sexual hierarchy within gay male culture that positions Asians as least desirable and white men are on top.
There are a lot of assumptions that get made about you because you're Asian. People assume that you're a bottom. That you have a small dick. That you're submissive. That you're looking for an older man. What gets me most, more than how people will automatically exclude queer Asians as potential partners (in love or sex) because of their preconceived notions, is how many of the people who ARE into Asians seem to only be able to see my race and its associated culture, and not a whole person who can occupy cultural and social spaces outside of just being Asian.
In addition, many Asian Americans come from immigrant families and communities where there is a strong emphasis on the family (immediate and extended). The pressure to take care of, contribute to, and yes . . . even expand the family is very powerful. And while Jews may be the master of guilt, Asians are definitely the masters of shame. It can be very difficult to come out to a family structure where marriage is not only expected, but demanded.
And finally, I'll bring up visibility. Granted, the Asian American population in the US is relatively small (it sits comfortable around 4-5%. Although, to put that into context: Most recent estimations of the gay and lesbian demographics place it more realistically in the 5-10% and leaning more towards 5%), but the visibility of queer Asians within the gay community is relatively low. Just look at Bilerico. Out of almost 60 contributors, I am the. only. Asian. That's not even 2%. If we go further, how many Bilerico contributors are non-white, but non-black? I think the number goes up to three, including me. I'm not sure about anybody else, but in my book, that's a problem.
4. When did you first get involved in theater?
I've been involved in Theatre for a long time. Well, a long time for me at least. I started out in the choral arts and got introduced to Musical Theatre in high school. I know, cliche, right? It was through theatre that I was introduced to my second love, dance. I got into college with a Theatre/Dance scholarship and went on to study them both (along with a Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major and some minors). I'm proud to say that I survived my senior thesis, writing and choreographing a theatre/dance composite work. Now I work for a national nonprofit theatre organization and I try to see as much theatre as I can. Naturally, living in New York is very beneficial in that category.
5. What do you enjoy most about living in New York?
The food. I love to cook and to try new cuisines. New York has a lot of everything. So much more than you could possibly experience. I particularly love the great Chinese food in town. I spent 4 years in central Virginia where a decent Chinese restaurant was just about as common as a Chinese person there. Suffice it to say, neither were in great excess.
6. If you could go anywhere, past, present, or future, where would it be and why?
Corny as it is . . . I think I'd really like to go to the Stonewall Riots. I think that we as a community have such a short communal memory. And while there are some great photos of the riots, I haven't seen any video footage. I would have loved to have seen a gaggle of gays frontlined by a veritable legion of drag queens rioting against the police.
Check out previous interviews with TBP Contributors
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Rev. Irene Monroe