Panel Tackles Asian Sexual Identity

AAA, BGLSA Sponsor Forum About Sexuality, Family Pressures

Asian American sexuality and sexual identity were the subjects of a free-wheeling discussion sponsored by the Asian American Association (AAA) and the Bisexual Gay Lesbian Students Association (BGLSA) in Emerson Hall last night.

Speaking to more than 60 students, the panelists--Imtiyaz Hussein, Daniel Lee and Sharon J. Limhing--debated topics ranging from family pressures and coming out to images of Asian Americans in popular gay culture. The panel was moderated by BGLSA Co-Chair Royce C. Lin '96.

Lee, a student at Harvard Divinity School and a community activist with the Boston-based Queer Asian Pacific Alliance, said gay Asian Americans face societal pressures to conceal their sexual identities and to maintain a "stoic forbearance."

"We're taught not to make waves, and that often leads to invisibility, to our voices not being heard," Lee said.

He added that Asian cultures place an emphasis on community values, which often precludes discussion of individual sexual orientation. "One's emphasis on one's place in the community trumps one's own desire," Lee said.

Lee, who was born in South Dakota, said he believed his family was unusual in being supportive when he announced his homosexuality.

The gay community sometimes "tokenizes" minorities, he added. "Images of beauty are thoroughly white," Lee said. "In terms of finding models, where do we look?"

The editor of The Very Inside, an anthology of Asian and Pacific Islander lesbian and bisexual women's fiction, Lim-hing discussed her experiences in Jamaica, where she was born, and in France, where she completed her graduate work.

Lim-hing studied Vietnamese French-language novels while a students at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. "For French people, sexuality falls under the realm of private, whereas for us it's a more public thing," she said.

In addition to editing work, Lim-hing conducts anti-homophobia workshops for the Gay Lesbian and Bisexual Speakers Bureau, an advocacy organization in Boston.

The third panelist, Hussein, was born in Tanzania, grew up in Toronto and studied at the Massachusetts Institute ofTechnology. Hussein discussed his five-monthjourney to India, where his parents were born.

Hussein said he initially faced opposition fromhis father when Hussein came out. Continuing thefamily line is important in many Asian cultures,said Hussein, who is the housing-advocacycoordinator for Positive Directions, anAIDS--service organization based in Boston, andwho also works as an advocate for Gay and LesbianAdvocates and Defenders, a legal-support groups.

Hussein, a co-founder of the Massachusetts AreaSouth Asian Lambda Association (MASALA), whichbegan last year, said cultural approaches tosexuality in India are different from those in theU.S. He said Indian society does not discouragegay men from marrying while also maintaininghomosexual relationships.

Following their presentations the paneliststook questions from Lin and from audience members.

Lin noted that many personal ads placed byAsian American men in gay publicationsspecifically request white partners.