- Queer Politics in China:A Conversation with “Western” Activists Working in Beijing
This project aims to provide perspectives on queer activism in China. This piece is an edited transcript of an interview/conversation with activists who have experience with Chinese queer organizing groups. This project addresses gaps in knowledge available to activists and scholars in the “West” about the complexities and diversity of queer activism in China. Addressing these knowledge gaps for Western audiences is important given that China, and by extension queer communities therein, are often homogenized, if not rendered invisible in mainstream Western discourse inside and outside China. Along the same line and aligned with QED’s mission, this conversation provides experienced perspectives on how queer worldmaking praxis unfolds in China, a sometimes elusive geopolitical context even to those working within its ranks. This project is specific to queer activists mainly working in Beijing but also on projects that extend to broader regions of mainland China and, in some cases, overseas Chinese diaspora. The participants each maintain different levels of insider/outsider status in relation to China and the Western world, meaning that our experiences place us each in different locations on that spectrum from insider to outsider. We use the demarcation “Western,” in quotation marks, to signal a balancing act between our insider and outsider positions. Not all the participants are from Western countries, but we all have attended, are [End Page 109] currently enrolled, or teach in universities in the so-called Western world, meaning Western Europe and the United States.
I organized this project by contacting a few activists and organizers in my social network and inviting them to partake in this project. One person declined to participate due to privacy concerns and three others due to scheduling conflicts. All of the participants, save for Karma R. Chávez, have lived in China and have experience in one form of queer organizing or another. I am one of the interviewers and I will speak from my experience as a queer organizer for a short time in Beijing. I invited Karma as my co-interviewer because her expertise in Western queer theory and organizing will serve as a compass to keep the conversation relevant and informative to QED’s audience. Karma primarily helped to construct interview questions, to edit and frame the final product. We begin by talking about our experiences in relation to China’s queer communities.
I went to China on a whim and out of necessity. After obtaining my MA degree in communication studies, my employment options as an undocumented migrant in the United States were limited so I decided to look for opportunities elsewhere and China seemed the most adventurous. While in China, I worked as an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) instructor. In terms of queer life, I first joined and organized social events with the Beijing Gay Lesbian and Allies Discussion (BGLAD), a grassroots group organizing social events online. I then branched out and volunteered for the Beijing LGBT Center, primarily in facilitating discussions in an English Corner, or what later became known as LGBTalk, a discussion forum in English for Chinese individuals about queer issues. Currently, I am a human geography Ph.D. candidate at the London School of Economics. My research examines the intersections between performance and migration in relation to Latin American migrants living in London.
I have never been to China. I teach about queer theory and politics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States. Most of my academic and activist queer work is foremost about the United States, but it has transnational implications. I also write and work on immigration issues and the U.S.-Mexico border. My book, Queer Migration Politics: Activist Rhetoric and Coalitional Possibilities, explores the intersections and interactions among queer and migration politics in the contemporary United States.1 I am the co-founder of the Queer Migration Research Network (along with Eithne Luibhéid) and so I am very interested in how gender and...