Aug. 24, 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of “Q&A: Queer in Asian America,” an anthology I co-edited with David L. Eng. The book paved the way for Queer Asian American Studies and helped build the Queer Theory field. But more importantly, the significance of Q & A was its “narrative plentitude,” a term coined by Viet Thanh Nguyen, at a time when that wasn’t a reality for Asian American queers in academia or in our communities. This anthology brought together academics, activists, and cultural workers who submitted articles, roundtable interviews, personal essays, and artwork that represented a vibrant queer Asian America.
David still gets emails from gay Asian Americans who struggle with the whiteness of the queer community and the dominant racial images of masculinity that don’t reflect Asian American men. They share the difficulties of being an academic in a racist institution/department and the difficulties of coming out. I’m often approached at community events with people telling me Q & A made them feel like they belonged and helped them get through some hard times.
Janet Francendese, a forward-thinking editor at Temple University Press, approached David about the book in 1993. He was in the literature field and wanted a lesbian co-editor with a different discipline. I was in my first year in the Ph.D. History program at Claremont Graduate University, after completing my MA program in Asian American Studies at UCLA.
We wanted to include activists, artists, writers, and academics, taking two-plus years to gather submissions and another 18 months for peer review, revisions and finally, publication.
Q & A won the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay and Lesbian Non-Fiction Anthology and the Association of Asian American Studies award for best Cultural Studies Book. But I’m more proud that Q & A brought together Asian American Studies and Critical Race Studies in Queer Studies at a time when this wasn’t advisable, acceptable or valued in academia or society. Our generation was engaging on the politics of identity and raising the interwined consciousness of homophobia, racism, and sexism during a time of rampant discrimination. There have been fundamental shifts since then and I’m incredibly proud Q & A had a part in this cultural change.
Q & A represented a collective desire to see ourselves in our multiplicity of identities—evident at the momentous book launch party at The Village at the Ed Gould Plaza of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center in November 1998. Sponsoring organizations included: LAAPIS (Los Angeles Asian Pacific Islander Sisters), GAPSN (Gay Asian Pacific Support Network), O Moi (Vietnamese Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Network), NAPAWF (National Asian Pacific American Women’s Network), and the Asian American Writer’s Workshop. There was a sense of being seen and validated.
Martin Manalansan, Kale Fajardo, and I are now working on Q & A 2.0. Here are some comments about our first edition.
Sandip Roy, Q & A author and writer: “Whoa. 20 years. I think it [my essay] was one of the first pieces I wrote for an Asian anthology and really the beginning of even thinking of myself as Asian because honestly when I came to the U.S. and to the Bay Area, the larger mostly white gay community did not consider South Asians really Asian. I remember a white roommate telling me I’d have better luck going to Latino bars like Esta Noche than the Asian ones like In Touch. Q & A was really important for me to figure out my place with the Asian queer community.”
Crystal Baik, Asian American Studies, UC Riverside: “I’ve taught the Q&A: Queer in Asian America anthology in my courses (Ethnic Studies and Gender & Sexuality Studies) and can’t underscore, enough, how important this collection is. Q&A’s interdisciplinary approach and its rich archive of historical, cultural and media sources have helped my students to engage methods and concepts like women of color feminism, queer diaspora, and cinematic apparatus. The different formats of the pieces (i.e., essays, roundtables, conversations) also provide students with different entry-points to read critical materials that link theory to praxis and everyday life.”
Efren Bose, Lecturer, Asian American Studies, San Francisco State University: “I remember being floored by all the great scholarship by people I knew like Eric Wat, Diep Tran, and Alice Y. Hom. Our community of Q/TAPIA (Queer/Transgender Asian Pacific Islander Americans) was emerging at that time and to have a book that chronicles what we were about and what should be studied is still amazing.”
Eric Wat, Q & A author, writer, and lecturer in Asian American Studies: “I know it [Q & A] was useful to me because of the variety of essays–personal, political, and academic. It was intersectional before it became a buzzword.”
Dr. Anna Kim, San Diego State University: “I read it in my Asian American women’s experiences class as an undergrad, and Alice Y. Hom, the author, came to speak to us. She talked about what it was like to wear a tie around her mama and family. Definitely was one of the first times I met an author and integral to my process of coming out sometime later that year.”