- Sung and Spoken Puns as Queer "Home Making" in Toronto's Chinese Diaspora
Frank Su stood facing a wall-sized white screen inside a private suite in a tucked-away karaoke bar in downtown Toronto.1 The music video of the Mandopop hit "Super Girl aìwúweì" (Super girl's fearless love, 2012) had been playing on the screen through an overhead projector, and female Mandopop star Elva Hsiao's winking face was superimposed on Frank's sweat-soaked back.2 As the song progressed to the break, Frank's friends in the suite cheered exuberantly. They gathered around him and screamed several gender-crossing nicknames that played on Frank's family name, Su: the alliterative Su Shěn (Auntie Su) and its near homonyms, Susan and Suzanne. They emphatically elongated the second syllable of each cheer and ornamented it with what sounded like a melisma.
Frank held up the karaoke microphone. He bopped his head rhythmically and gestured for everyone to get ready to sing. The beat dropped, and the eight friends sang the song's refrain together: "You can be a su-su-su—su-su-su-super girl,/su-su-su—su-su-su-super girl./Aìwúweì [loving fearlessly] I'm super girl./Together we can rule the world."3 With each sung utterance of the syllable "su," the friends repeated a gesture of pointing in Frank's direction and verbally interjected [End Page 50] the musical phrases by shouting Frank's nicknames again. In that moment, Frank Su—Auntie Su, Susan, and Suzanne—was also a su-su-super girl.
Frank was one of the central figures within the group of friends in the karaoke suite that night, a group with which I conducted participant-observation and interviews from 2013 to 2016. Friendship within this mixed-gender group builds on the members' shared experiences of identifying as queer, coming from Taiwanese middle-class families, immigrating to Canada alone, and struggling, in their late twenties to early thirties, with underpaid knowledge-work careers. The group is tightly knit. Members participate in what anthropologist Dai Kojima describes as "practices of queer kinship": cooking and eating family-style meals, providing emotional and financial support in difficult times, and revealing vulnerabilities to each other, as well as in-fighting, gossiping, and maintaining the group's internal hierarchy.4 As such, even though new friends are sometimes invited to group events, there is a fairly clear sense of who is (or is not) "in the family," so to speak.
In our interviews and casual conversations, Frank wove together many stories about passing, covering, coming out, and leaving home into his personal migratory history. These stories, presented as integral parts of his transnational experience, resonated with many in the group and with scholarly works on queer diaspora. Growing up in 1980s rural Taiwan, Frank was mercilessly bullied by classmates and disciplined by schoolteachers for his nonnormative physique and feminine-of-center gender expressions. When he was sixteen, Frank's mother exhausted the family's savings in order to send him to Canada so that her eldest son could catch a glimpse of happiness at the tail end of childhood. The family had neither prior connections in any of the Chinese diasporic networks nor the reservoir of cultural and economic capital of many post-1980s Chinese immigrants to Canada.5 Through an expensive study-abroad broker, Frank was placed with a white host family while finishing high school in suburban Vancouver. There, he found himself frequently hiding in terror from his host brothers' mockery and physical abuse, and eventually he moved out to stay with the family of a Chinese Canadian classmate. After college, Frank moved out east to Toronto, where he came to terms with his sexual orientation and cultivated lasting friendships in various queer Asian Canadian circles, one of which provided the context for my ethnographic research. Fearing that coming out will be the ultimate failure of his filial duties as the heir and eldest son of the Su family, Frank keeps much of his social life a secret from his family in Taiwan and from his professional contacts.
In this article, I...