“Feeling like I’m hiding and that I need to hide one of my identities, which makes me feel as though being queer is shameful, when I know it shouldn’t be that way,” says a Chinese American woman who participated in a study done by Tennessee University’s Department of Psychology members Mi Ra Sung, Dawn M. Szymanski, and Christy Henrichs-Beck over the “Challenges, Coping, and Benefits of Being an Asian American Lesbian or Bisexual Woman.”
“My family won’t accept my sexuality and my mother is hiding my lesbianism from my Chinese grandparents . . . she thinks they’d be ‘heartbroken about what I’ve been doing’,” says another Asian-American participant in the study.
It’s time we shed light upon an intersection rarely discussed in not only feminist media but in our general society as well. Although many conversations about intersectional feminism have surfaced, and the issue of invisibility among LGBTQ+ persons of color has been increasingly discussed, there is still a lack of acknowledgment of Asian American lesbian and bisexual women (LBW).
Sure, many may think of Asian American Hayley Kiyoko, humorously also known as “Lesbian Jesus” among the LGBTQ+ community, but there remains a huge issue concerning the invisibility of Asian American LBW in media, among their families, and the communities around them.
Many of the struggles that Asian American LBW often face are unique to their cultural backgrounds and intersections of minority experiences, which are not typically shown in media. These struggles, according to the previously mentioned study, include “living with multiple minority identities”, “traditional gender roles”, “intolerance of homosexuality and bisexuality in Asian American cultures”, “invisibility”, and “sexual stereotypes, fantasies, and fetishization”. It is especially difficult for Asian American LBW to accept their sexuality and find support from those who are closest to them. Families are often dismissive, disappointed, or outright homophobic. Asian American LBW do not only face the oppression of being of the LGBTQ+ community but endure traditional expectations such as raising a hetero-normative family and having children to uphold the idea of family honor. These struggles, along with those that come from the racism and sexism that is typically more discussed in media. These societal burdens may make it very difficult for Asian American lesbian and bisexual women to be true to themselves.
These burdens though may be uplifted through multiple ways of coping, such as through “empowerment strategies.” For example, “building social support systems/creating safe spaces”, and “engaging in social activism”. These coping mechanism help women find spaces to feel safe and identify with others. Building supportive communities is important for anyone, no matter a person’s sexual orientation or identity. These communities grow from individuals learning to understand one another, and not erase the struggles of others. And finally, recognizing that our voices can be heard and that we are not invisible is sometimes the most empowering way we can learn to be ourselves.