‘Imagine having to hide such important parts of yourself all the time,’ says performance artist Reeta Loi.
‘It’s exhausting – and terrible for your mental health.’
As one of the performers taking part in this year’s Manchester Pride, Reeta is shedding light on the reality of belonging to both LGBTQ+ and Asian communities.
‘You’d never see Asians in queer spaces because those spaces didn’t feel safe for us. Meanwhile, we couldn’t be ourselves in Asian spaces either,’ they add. ‘I remember when we could never fully be ourselves anywhere.’
Reeta, who performs under the name of RAIN and also works as a producer and poet, tells Metro.co.uk that it was after losing their family when they came out, that inspired them to help others in similar situations.
‘Unfortunately, loss of family and culture is still common in our community and something we live in fear of,’ Reeta explains. ‘If we do lose family or choose to leave, like I did, it can become a very isolating experience.’
In 2017, 10 years after coming out to their family – and 21 years after coming out to themselves – Reeta founded Gaysians, a volunteer-led movement to connect queer Asians, increase positive media visibility and improve access to support services.
‘We’ve come a long way since we didn’t see versions of ourselves in the media or nightlife or on the street. We’re more visible now and I’m immensely proud,’ says Reeta.
‘As recently as a decade ago you didn’t see queer South Asians on screen or in clubs. We’ve worked extremely hard to mainstream our narratives and it’s incredible seeing where we are today, whether that’s performing at Glastonbury, writing for TV, or starring in TV soaps and Marvel films.
‘I’m a shop kid’, Reeta continues. ‘From the age of six I was working at the till and later delivering newspapers. I can only imagine how differently life would have turned out for me and my family if we’d seen positive representations of queer south Asians in the papers back then. Every one of us matters and I want us all to know that and really believe it.’
RAIN is just one of the star turns at Manchester Pride later this month, as part of the event’s Queer Asian Takeover, curated and hosted by iconic drag queen Lucky Roy Singh.
Manchester-based Lucky – who cites Indian-British model Neelam Kaur Gill among their style influences – is house mother to the House of Spice, an collective of performers of Asian, Middle Eastern and North African heritage.
As the driving force behind this year’s Queer Asian Takeover, they explain: ‘The idea was formed out of a community session held with Manchester Pride and [artistic director of dance collective Ghetto Fabulous and founder of Black Pride Manchester] Darren Pritchard.
‘It’s the first of its kind,’ adds Lucky.
‘We don’t have enough people like me in queer spaces. Drag [show] line-ups are often all-white, particularly in cabaret. There’s almost no intersectionality or accountability from bookers or many of the booked artists involved. That’s what makes this event so important and historic. Other Prides should take note.’
The Queer Asian Takeover has been co-curated with local activities and performers like Singh, and will centre queer Asian joy, showcasing over 22 performers and collectives, including Val The Brown Queen, Gracie T, Club Zindagi and headliner DJ Gok Wan.
Celebrating and elevating the art, experiences and stories of marginalised queer people feels more crucial than ever, to help combat the very real discrimination the community continues to face both in the UK and abroad.
In 2022, the UK saw a 41% increase in anti-LGB hate crimes, and a 56% rise in transphobic hate crimes. Meanwhile, queer people of colour often facing dual discrimination, with over half having experienced racism within the LGBT community.
This is what has led many community leaders, performers and activists to begin carving out their own spaces.
‘My favourite singer is Leslie Cheung, an incredible Hong Kong pop singer, who sadly took his own life after being rejected for his sexuality and gender expression,’ singer-songwriter and model Jason Kwan tells Metro.co.uk.
‘I was just a child when I saw the news [of Leslie’s death] on TV, but also knew I was queer and wanted to sing. That’s what pushed me to apply for a music scholarship and hardship fund and move to the UK when I was a teenager.’
Desperate to avoid the queerphobia Leslie Cheung face, Jason left Hong Kong as a teen, however he was sadly met with a different type of discrimination when first arriving in the UK.
‘In Hong Kong, I’d never experienced racism as a minority, but when I arrived in the UK, people didn’t like me talking about being Asian’, says Jason.
‘They didn’t like me singing in Chinese’ and my culture was parodied or appropriated, which made me want to hide my Asianness.’
Today, Jason is co-director of The Bitten Peach, the UK’s first queer pan-Asian and gender diverse cabaret collective, who closed the Manchester Pride Cabaret Stage in 2022.
Since launching in 2019, it has hosted over 70 shows, platforming over 70 artists and selling over 3000 tickets.
‘The Bitten Peach was my debut into London’s queer scene’, remembers Jason. “Before that, I was in straight bars in Camden singing covers for hardly any money.’
The collective also supports budding performers within the queer Asian community.
‘We connect people to mentors and help them speak to people of similar experiences’, Jason continues.
‘Our research found that the biggest barrier to entering the arts for young east and southeast Asians is their parents not wanting them to’.
Although, family can play a large part in queer art and performance, often central to the stories we see on screen and stage, for example in the run-up to coming out or the aftermath of it.
Reeta explains: ‘I’ve realised that the reason I lost my family was so I could heal and find happiness. My show [The Remedy] is about this journey.’
‘I’ve more recently been reconnecting with my family of origin. In fact, my father reached out to me for the first time in 15 years while I was touring the show. I realised this meant I would need to adapt its ending.’
‘I was obviously overjoyed to hear from my dad! But I also have had to reconcile a lot of complex emotions”, Loi reflects. Overall, I’m glad we have a chance to be in each other’s lives again and support each other. I’ve missed him more than words can say.’
Reeta, who is now transitioning to the name of RAIN, recently came out as non-binary.
‘Our stories and experiences, just like our identities, have fluidity,’ they explain. Reeta will always be a part of mine, but at 45 I’m incredibly excited to start a new one with RAIN.’
Similarly, Lucky cites the familial influence of their work, and how this has been received from family members since.
‘My style is very East meets West. It’s Bollywood, Indian, glamour and diamonds,’ Lucky tells Metro.co.uk.
‘I took inspiration from watching the women and fabrics around me, bringing both [British and Indian] parts of my identity together.
‘In 2021 I did a show for Trans Vegas [the UK’s largest festival celebrating trans artists] about watching my mum get dressed and ready in the morning, and how the fabrics made her feel’, they say.
‘That’s the style my performances often take. Holding a mirror up to women like the ones I grew up around, showing them their fierceness and power’, Lucky continues.
‘I’ve had female family members come to see my drag and they watch it in awe, because they see it’s inspired by their beauty.’
Meanwhile, Jason adds, ‘My mum flew from Hong Kong for The Bitten Peach’s first Udderbelly show [which took place on London’s Southbank]. She’d never watched anything like it and I’m probably the only openly queer person she knows. And she loved it.
‘I do think how she received it was helped by its mainstream environment, in a Spiegel tent with lots of straight, white and middle-class audience members. I think for her it was important to see me being celebrated by people outside of my community, and in the majority, as this was a clearer marker that I was safe and accepted.’
While representation has started to improve in queer performance arts, thanks to work by groups like Gaysians, House of Spice and The Bitten Peach, the discrimination faced by queer people of colour remains very real.
‘Canal Street continues to be rife with racism’, says Lucky Roy Singh, whose petition ‘End Racism In Manchester’s Gay Village’ has garnered almost 900 responses.
‘I’ve experienced this in various forms throughout my life’, they continue, ‘and it urgently needs addressing’.
This doesn’t just include members of the public but staffing too.
‘We’ve seen and experienced racist door staff and, despite reporting it to venues’ management, hear nothing back. Is it a lack of education on inclusion issues, or a deliberate refusal to be educated on them?’
Education has formed a large part of Lucky Roy Singh’s activism, in particular on honour-based violence, which they themselves experienced in their 20s.
‘I was failed by police, hospitals and victim support groups. Since therapy, I’ve campaigned to make honour-based violence recognised as a specific form of abuse, rather than just a cultural issue.’, Lucky says.
‘I’ve trained 98 police officers, including Scotland Yard and Greater Manchester Police. I share my story with them, and the signs that previous officers had missed and failed to act on.’
‘The training started as compulsory but has since been made mandatory, which I think is a great thing. Education is so important.’
So at a time where education and solidarity is more important than ever, what does allyship to queer Asians look like?
‘It’s important to understand that ‘coming out’ most likely won’t look the same for many queer Asians [as it will other queer people]. It often takes longer for us to access our identity for ourselves’ says Reeta.
‘Be sensitive and kind and don’t ask questions like “do your family know?” or “are they religious?” as these questions can trigger painful memories or cause anxiety’, they continue.
‘Instead, offer us company, in particular during times of the year that can be tough, like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, family events such as weddings or religious festivals. I wish my friends had offered to take me to [queer Asian club night] Club Kali when I was struggling, as seeing other people like me would have made a huge difference to the isolation I was experiencing.’
For those outside of the community, a big part of allyship is supporting the art.
‘Around 60% of our audiences are white, and they’re great allies. They love learning, taking part and having fun with us’, Jason explains.
While Lucky says, ‘Support Asian artists. Acknowledge our art and our fashion and where it comes from. I want people to know that they can embrace it, but with respect and while knowing what it means.’
And that can start with attending and supporting this year’s Queer Asian Takeover at Manchester Pride, they add. ‘It’s going to be fierce and fun. Expect an infusion of celebration, colour, spice, fashion and culture… What more could you ask for?’
For more information about this year’s Manchester Pride, click here.
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected].
Share your views in the comments below.
Source: Read Full Article