Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Finding My Way: Another Personal Story (Part II)
When I arrived in Madison, only 186 out of 40,000 – 50,000 of the students were Asian -that didn’t count foreign students. By then, I had regained some pride in being Asian. (Before I’d wanted to be white.) What radicalized me was how the police treated the protesting students. You ended up protesting because the police were beating the sh*t out of the students. I began to read up on the war and I realized we weren’t being told the truth.
My consciousness was growing all over the place. I was a sponge, soaking up so much. I led two distinctly different lives. Madison was the probably the best place to become politically educated because everything was happening. I started the Asian American organization on campus. My white friends would say, “Why are you starting that group? You are American like me.” I would say, “That’s because you know me, if you didn’t know me you would treat me like I’m a foreigner.” I had heard them talking about ‘foreigners.’ Everyone knew me as head of the Asian American group. I used to be out there making speeches about how Vietnam was a racist war. Then, in afternoons or evenings, in bathrooms, I was meeting closeted gay man. Men’s library bathrooms were places where closeted gay men met. Nobody was out of the closet. I didn’t go to a gay bar until 1973 when Kenny dragged me, and Kenny was not even gay. We got there and the men weren’t in dresses.
Even though I was in the closet and didn’t tell anybody, I didn’t stress out. I knew I wouldn’t tell my parents, so that wasn’t an issue. Once I began going to gay bars, I realized I needed to come out to other demonstrators. There weren’t many of us, people who were political and lesbian or gay. You didn’t get a sense you could talk about it freely. You got the sense you were in two different worlds. The people in the anti-war movement were pretty much white accept for me and a few other people. Then in the end, in late evening, I was going to gay bars every night. Most of the guys were white and didn’t want a foreigner so I hung out with the African American and Latino gay and lesbians. I decided there was no way I could fully come out in Madison. I wanted to do progressive work. People were fine that I was gay, but they were just polite. It was their own homophobia playing out.
There was a whole movement that supported looking at alternative values and overthrowing the establishment. It wasn’t just being anti-establishment, it was overthrowing the establishment. It was a very exciting time to be in. Even though there were conservatives in power, there were enough radicals in place to counteract that. I got involved in the anti-war movement, and the local labor movement. At that time, Gardner’s bread workers were on strike; Holmes Tire workers were on strike. What happened was a lot of people involved in the anti-war movement were connecting with local people. I learned that things were interconnected. It was not just about the war over there, but how people were treated here.
I know that our student groups wanted to support local workers. Madison was one of the three college campuses supporting the war through defense contracts. University of Michigan at Ann Arbor was the second institution and the third may have been Princeton. Intense research was happening on campus’s, on computerizing the war. I didn’t finish school right away and moved to San Francisco. I came back to Madison to finish my degree later. I went to San Francisco for two reasons. 1) I wanted to work in China town and 2) I wanted to come out (this was before we knew about AIDS). It was a 1 ½ - 2 year vacation. I was on new turf. I went out in evenings and met people. My first jobs were with gay employers. I submerged myself in the gay community. I also tried to work in Chinatown. When they found out I was gay, I was kind of blacklisted. Someone once said, “In some ways he is more politically on target than anyone else. Too bad he’s gay.”
One of the students I had worked with in Madison came to New York. He was a historian and came to New York to become a professor. He became a professor in Asian American studies at Hunter. I co-taught a course in Asian American studies. We had 20 students and broke them into 3 work groups. That was my introduction to New York. I had a ball! I had quite a few jobs after that. After I worked in the public school system for a year, I was offered an opportunity at Project Reach, and saw it as an opportunity to start my own program. The director of Project Reach at that time was my classmate at Madison. I had heard of Project Reach before. Everyone knew it dealt with Chinese gang groups. I ended up talking him into hiring me to run the program. They do a lot of good social service work for Chinese Americans. The director knew I was gay. Initially, it was only a counseling program. In the summer program, I started to do anti-discrimination training. I included other young people of color. It made sense to do lesbian and gay stuff too.
The AIDS epidemic began as we know it in 1981. For myself, when I first heard people were dying, it was gay white men, not good but at least I felt it didn’t include me. Four years later two Pilipino men were infected and died. Everybody that I know that was diagnosed with HIV AIDs died within two years. It was really scary. All these guys, it was unbelievable how many people were passing away. It didn’t hit too close to home for me. Most of my closest friends were O.K. Every time I had a cold, I would ask my brother [a doctor] if he thought I had HIV. He would say no. He never said get tested. He had treated me for an STD. In the gay male subculture, there were no standards. We weren’t accepted anyway so it didn’t matter. Some gay men who were catching this disease, I heard on the news, had 1000 partners in one year. Well, in San Francisco, in a bath house, I would play with four to five guys. Even you added it up, even five people a week is 250 people. And I thought Uh-oh. I fit the profile - that also made me not want to get tested.
In 1983/1984 I had two incidents that happened that were unexplainable. I got very sick and dehydrated and had to go to the hospital. And, I got a really bad cold. My brother said it’s O.K., it’s just ‘walking pneumonia.’ My brother was in denial. I ended up going to get tested. I was seeing this guy who was really in the closet. I didn’t start using protection until 1984. I had been with this guy for two years. We had played without protection, and then in 1984 we thought we better start using protection. My friend decided he would go in with me. We went in together. Fortunately he came out with negative result. I tested positive. It was 1992.
In terms of my daughter, Alice, she is 28 now. You know when I raised her with Steve, I think what was most important for us, that she be in as multiracial community as possible. I had never thought of raising a white child. I had always worked with children of color. When we started raising her it was pretty clear that she kind of took a liking to me. Steve was more of the disciplinarian. I was all about giving her space and decision-making. I always wanted to expose her to as much as possible so she could make her own decisions. Also I wanted her to be critical because there is so much propaganda out there. Her being a white child, blond hair, blue eyes, she fits the stereotype of the attractive female. As she was growing up, I realized she had every right to have black role models and Asian role models. I think there were times I scared her, from my own anger about racism. She didn’t understand it because she didn’t experience it the way I did. When she was 13, she asked me,” what would you do if you if I told you I was pregnant?” I said, “I don’t know Alice, let’s wait till you come home and tell me.” I wanted her not be afraid to tell me something. I wasn’t going to give her the answer. She would have to think about it. I always believed that by her and I communicating in an ongoing sort of way, she would develop a complex sense of the world. I always gave her the sense that I trusted her to make good decisions.