In 1989 I was the Asian United Nations Young Scientist of the Year, and I was outed by a newspaper in Malaysia. One night I went to a gay nightclub and there was a raid, and I didn’t realise there were photographers outside. The day after the raid my younger sister called me saying, Do you realise your picture is on the front page of the paper? Then my brother called me and it was horrifying.
I drove to work and people were watching me and smiling. When I went in to work there were newspaper cuttings all over my office. I ran out, went to a travel agent and bought a ticket. I ran away. I had a fantastic job in Malaysia and I came to Australia with nothing -“ no job, no money. I left everything behind, my car, my apartment, gone. I just gave it away. I migrated to Australia and finished my doctorate.
When I came here, one of the issues that I found was racism against Asians was prominent, and the gay Asian community was very fragmented. In 1993 in Brisbane I set up Asians And Friends. We had about 20 people to the first meeting, and within one month we had a membership of more than 200 people. In 1997 I moved to Sydney for work and it was a similar thing -“ there was a group here, a group there.
Because there was no real community, gay Asian men were looking at each other as competitors in terms of picking up men. I was looking for a way to unite the gay Asian community and I saw the Melbourne Marching Boys. We decided to start the Asian Marching Boys and link it to ACON’s Asian Project and hope something good would come of it. About 60 people responded to our first advertising, but then only about 36 people picked it up -“ in the Asian community everyone is more or less close to their families and people were afraid to be seen as out there.
Our first march was in 1999. Now we have a regular Marching Boys party Gaysha organised by the Shift. There are two reasons, I think, why the Asian Marching Boys are successful. People see we are organised and committed. At the same time the Asian Marching Boys is an inclusive group. We have doctors, lawyers, old, young, whatever shapes of the body. For next year we’re trying to produce the biggest marching boys ever -“ 150 people.
One of the issues we wanted to address as well as visibility and self esteem was the perception that gay Asian men were just transvestites, or just feminine, or just only dating older white men. I said, That’s not me. We’re just like everyone else in the gay community. Some of us are more masculine, some of us are more feminine. Racism is very subtle in the gay community. It was more pronounced back in the early 90s. I was walking in to a bar one day, and there were two guys having a conversation. One said, Oh that’s a good looking man, and the other said, Yeah, but he’s Asian. That sort of thing does affect someone’s self esteem -“ surely if someone is good-looking then they’re good-looking.