Since my last post, I have been addressed with questions and comments about my Asian identity, or lack thereof. It then struck me, that for the past two decades, I have lived in a privileged, white bubble—albeit bordered with fifty shades of racism—far away from anything slightly resembling an Asian community. Being pushed to a sudden exit, and being in need of a clean slate, I indulged in a twenty-year-long whitewashed wanderlust. Well, perhaps not entirely true with the whitewashing—just for the sake of a good alliteration. But the truth is that I have not crossed paths with any particularly Asian contexts, and neither have I actively sought them out. And it was not until I started doing research for my writing in this blog forum that I was reminded of the significance of labels.
Of course, being gay and Asian in an interracial relationship, I am looking in on more than one majority group, and labels have inevitably been a means of both including, excluding, navigating, and making sense of it all. Perhaps that is where the label fatigue eventually sprang from. I got tired of being a first-generation immigrant. I did not fully grasp the gayness of being gay. Being Chinese was too narrow. Being Asian was too vague. And interracial was too … interracial, what with all the focus on aspects of me and my partner that I found the least relevant.
Maybe the lack of interest in the racial issue is a result of growing up in a Swedish society in which race would always raise eyebrows, along with at least half a dozen connotations of the Third Reich and its racial biology. In fact, I cannot help being bothered every time I fill out a form for my daughter—and when you have a six-year-old and live in the United States, there are plenty of forms to fill out—and I am asked to check a box for her race. I know it is for the statistics. I know that the word and its conceptions have a different contextualization than I am used to. But when I am asked to check one or more boxes, choosing from—and this is from a form I filled out a couple of weeks ago—American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian, Black, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, and White, my Swedish brain just wants to rebel and draw a gimongous penis on the form. On second thought, maybe that impulse comes from the gayness that I am having such a hard time grasping.
In any case, since my last post, I have had a number of productive and thought-provoking discussions about labels, and it has been most enlightening to examine the emotional weight of a word, depending on who is being labeled and by whom, based on what, with what objective, and how the balance of power may be described among the parameters involved. I think my own conclusion is that it all comes down to agency. Am I Othered or do I Other? Is Asian an account of my geographical origin or a half-hearted circumlocution for my being nonwhite? Is my gay label a product of linguistic reclamation or a slur that I will never own as a nonnormative member of society? Who has the preferential right of interpretation? From what and whose perspective is that interpretation made? Do I have the agency to define my own labels, or is that a privilege reserved for the white bubble in which I have lived for the past twenty years? And do I care?
I do not. If there is one thing that I have learned through the past weeks’ discussions, it is that I could not care less. I do not care if you are Cambodian, Pakistani, or French-Japanese, and whether that makes you an Asian or just a third-generation immigrant in Finland. Until a month ago, I had no idea there even was such a term as hapa. I have no interest whatsoever in how many percentages of Elizabeth Warren’s DNA bear traces of her Native American roots. (I am, however, quite interested in Trump coming through with his million-dollar donation to her favorite charity.) As a matter of fact, accounts of someone being 12.5% Canadian, 12.5% Dutch, 25% South African, and 50% Nepalese just make me slightly uncomfortable and extremely bored. It is like straight sex; I get that it is important to some people, and I respect that, but it is not for me. Because I am Spoke, the Gucci of labels—and that is just enough to contain me.
Spoke Wintersparv likes words. Writing them, stretching them, translating them, lining them up to form tiny pieces of life. In song lyrics. In children’s books. A novel. An Arthur Miller play. Short stories. Published. Self-published. Unpublished. He is currently doing his PhD in Educational Research, exploring the ways teachers teach literature. And while work is in Sweden, home is in Oregon, where he lives with his husband and their daughter. He enjoys a good conversation about things that matter. Find him on Twitter (@wintersparv) and join the discussion!