New Definitions • Part 2: Invisible Veils (Ten of Swords)
New Definitions is an ongoing series feeling through the journey of finding home in a neocolonial homeland, as el 李 spends six months in Hong Kong visiting community organizations and reconnecting with family. Traversing geography, politics, and subcultures, these articles consider the specificity of the history of Hong Kong as former British Colony and now ‘Special Economic Region,’ as well as how diasporic queer experiences are transnationally impacted.
PART 2 - INVISIBLE VEILS (TEN OF SWORDS)
The wind quickens, the air growing hot and thick with the announcement of a high level typhoon. The rain hits the following Saturday night, forcing everyone home early, catching the subway before the two-hundred kilometer-per-hour winds begin in the raw hours of the morning.
That night, Ivan, the chairperson of the Filipino Lesbian Organization (FILO) invites me to a film screening at Art & Culture Outreach on the experience of LGBT Filipino migrant domestic workers in Taiwan, and the parallels with Hong Kong migrant domestic workers the organization directly supports.
During the panel afterwards, Ivan specifies the nature of the bind the two nations’ governments have put them in:
Seventy-five percent of workers in the Philippines are agricultural workers, so they don’t have stable jobs or access to owning property and must go abroad to find jobs. Many of these workers are also Lesbian or Trans, and are unable to choose their own employer in the Philippines and in Hong Kong — the struggle is there, and here [in Hong Kong] because both governments do not care to change the economic structures to support working class laborers. To be a migrant worker and LGBT is to face double discrimination. Because Hong Kong only ‘tolerates’ the LGBT community, without accepting them, there are no policies to protect either LGBT individuals or domestic workers in Hong Kong or the Philippines. The struggle of migrants and the LGBT community are one.
Such forms of discrimination include enforcing gender roles and performance by requiring the workers to dress feminine or face termination. If being Lesbian or Trans is suspected, the employer can use the logic of homophobia, including the fear of turning children gay, against the domestic worker and either terminate them or begin a lawsuit. The policies guiding termination and court cases involving domestic workers are extremely strict — if either occurs, the worker’s visa is revoked within two weeks, which in turn forces the worker to leave Hong Kong before their case is even completed. This discrimination becomes, cruelly and unsurprisingly, a matter of documentation and deportation.
A severe weather warning is issued saying the wind will become dangerous around 10pm. The discussion ends early, and after giving my appreciation to Ivan and Sheila of FILO, i rush home with an hour to spare before the storm.
i spend the next morning messaging friends i have made over the past week by joining a group chat containing about 20 Trans people across Hong Kong that an in-person meetup of Transwomxn earlier that week invited me to.
Although Hong Kong prides itself as embodying a ‘progressive’ socialist politic, my time here has felt like a throwback to being a teenager on tumblr, with access to a community of other Queer folks only through online chat-rooms and forums. That the chat-room exists through Discord — a platform designed to host servers for video-game chat channels — punctuates this aura of dissociation, a severing from physical reality and consequent reliance on virtual prefabricated structures. Are Queer people forever destined to inhabit the small passages that narrowly avoid mechanics of surveillance? Mechanics of economy and labor, communication and dialogue…
Like the spaces i’ve seen in the Bay Area — attempts to imagine and construct liberation for Queer Black and Brown livelihood through community organizations, occupations, parties, and other means — may we be reminded that it might not be enough to maintain these visions solely within our local polis. How do we bridge our community work so that we are not only in solidarity with the people in the margins around us, but those to whom we are connected globally? As migrants who have arrived at their current home through traumas around loss, detachment, and exile from traditional lands, it can be so easy to endlessly redress this expected embodiment of a ‘good’ (read: light-skinned, wealthy, working, heterosexual) American, that we forget where our families come from and where they are still rooted in communities abroad. Whether they are still extant, broken apart by upheaval, or just on the edges of memory, these are the ghosts that we must speak to, actively ally with, and breathe life into.
Seeing yourself as more than your life and connections in the US can begin to heal the trauma induced in the project of becoming ‘American.’ It is hard to recognize the relative privileges we gain from living in the US, at the same time that i see the sacrifices, abuses, cultural losses and spiritual violence my own family has suffered while being remade into Americans (that is, gaining documentation/citizenship and English literacy/education). But even still, those of us allowed access to those privileges gain access to things as normalized as fresh produce, or the choice and ability to build a family in any form. Knowing the specifics of what your family has gained and lost in getting to the US — which has taken the world’s resources by global destabilization — can be the first step in recognizing a family hstory beyond the US, beyond whatever narrative we are told about who we are, and help us to find allies outside of the US and build a world beyond governments and nations.
May we be reminded, too, that access to alternative spaces supporting the livelihood of Queer people is a global issue among racialized working classes. Access to unions. Access to collective bargaining. Access to knowledge and collective consciousness. Access to community. Access to choice. May we be reminded that the work for ourselves and our families remains until the access to these spaces and creation of these economies is made possible by our very own global networks of racialized working class people.