Yes, I’m old. It was Berkeley. 1990. What could have been a better time to be queer and a person of color?
My coming out wasn’t an anonymous on-line hook up (I shall write about my first traumatic sexual experience perhaps on another blog). It was a protest at Sproul Plaza, the administrative building of U.C. Berkeley. All my early coming-out memories seem to focus on protests… including one where we stopped San Francisco street traffic on Market Street. We marched from Castro all the way down to the mayor’s office and protested against Proposition K, an initiative repealing certain rights of domestic partnership.
It felt empowered walking down Market Street, stopping traffic and holding hands with Teddy and Ryan.
On a sunny day, we would sit outside Sproul Plaza having lunch with a ghettoblaster playing dance beats, chatting and dancing in queer political T-shirts. We needed to be visible. We needed to be out. And it was one of the best times in my life.
By today’s standards, I came out kinda late… at 19. I made an oath to myself when I came out—that I would never let anyone put me down because I’m gay and out loud. That I’m queer and curious. To celebrate my graduation, I went to my one and only graduation that I’ve attended in drag. It was the perfect day where my parents were puzzled, my professors proud and my friends in joy.
Neither I was an accident, nor democracy.
The protest system has been built into American democracy as a mechanism of cultural criticism and social change. Berkeley has been the safe haven for the protest culture. I felt I was at Berkeley for a reason.
And let’s face it… Life isn’t the same in other parts of the world. I grew up in Hong Kong and I knew how conservative that culture could be. In Iran, they might hang you if they find you having gay sex:
In Iran, they jailed you if you make a movie that is considered “anti-regime.” Filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been sentenced for six years of imprisonment since February 2010:
For those of us in the better parts of the world, let us not take our privileged life lightly. It is up to us who have the privilege and the voice to make history and culture that will hopefully make the world a better world.