Simultaneous identities

What is history?

History is a collection of stories that narrate a sequence of events which happened in the past. History involves different subjectivities, different times, and different geographical focuses. There are varying accounts of history, and some accounts are more truthful than others, especially when privilege and power are accounted for. 

Queer people have never been the focus of history, since their stories have often been omitted, denied or silenced. LGBTQ+ History Month aims to rectify this gap, and to build a more respectful and inclusive society for all people. 

My personal story

I am a bisexual international student from China, and I live in the UK. China has a rich queer history, spanning hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Western Christian culture has been largely responsible for the demonisation of queerness, and this has had an impact on contemporary attitudes to queerness in China. 

In China, it is generally seen as taboo to speak about sexuality, and so there are obstacles to coming out as queer, whereas in the UK, I have noticed that attitudes are generally more open towards sexuality. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the UK is a queer utopia: it is far from it. This is particularly evident when we look at the history of the British Empire’s demonisation of queerness, and in the current moment- the increase in hate crimes against trans people, and the Government’s increasingly regressive stance on trans rights.

In China, queer people do find a safe space amongst queer communities, which allows them to be open, but we do not have Pride like the UK does. Attending my first Pride in 2023, in London, was a beautiful moment, and I wish my queer friends in China could have experienced it too. In the UK, people will often come out to straight people, or even to strangers, and this is not something that I feel applies to Chinese society. I also know that a lot of Chinese international students in the UK are not comfortable coming out to their Chinese colleagues because of the cultural taboo, especially if they are studying Finance or Accounting and will go back to work in China after their studies. They are more likely to come out if they are studying a field like Gender Studies. 

Personally, I am still in the closet in China. In my culture, the idea that someone would not be a “good son” or a “good daughter” is fairly prevalent, especially for parents living in smaller cities or more rural areas. Often, people end up living in the closet their entire lives, and get married to those who appear to be of the “opposite” gender presentation in order to pretend to be straight. 

I am both queer and Chinese. I hold these identities simultaneously, and I am proud of it. I hope for a world where queerness becomes so normalised that it is seen to be as normal as me saying my name. 

How do queerness and migration intersect?

Migrant justice and queer justice are naturally connected. It is important to note the specific problems and obstacles faced by queer asylum seekers, especially for those from SWANA (South West Asian and North African), South Asian or Muslim background, and for bisexual asylum seekers, who face bi erasure and are assumed to be straight. 

I work as an LGBTQ+ workshop facilitator, and so I often spend time with queer asylum seekers. I know that the UK’s asylum system is incredibly hostile towards Muslim asylum seekers. Workshop facilitators will often suggest taking a photo together at the end of our activities, and of course many queer asylum seekers are uncomfortable with this, because they want to protect their anonymity and their identity, and do not want their families back home to know about their sexuality. However, I know that the workshop facilitators mean well, because many of them have been through the asylum system themselves, and know that photographic evidence is incredibly important in “proving” one’s sexual orientation. We have to talk about how onerous the burden of proof is for queer asylum seekers who have to navigate the hostile immigration system in this country. 

Sharing our stories is so incredibly important, especially as marginalised members (migrant) of marginalised communities (queer). I have common experiences with other queer migrants, but we all have unique experiences. The uniqueness of my story doesn’t mean it’s not representative or not valuable. Storytelling allows us to see ourselves in others. 

by a queer Chinese international student

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