A Qi Magazine article written by Christian Hui, Photography by ACAS (@ACAStoronto)
This article also appears on the website of ouragenda.ca here.
I was born in Hong Kong in 1978. As a child, I never imagined I would become a community worker or activist. Instead, I was raised with traditional values and expected to become a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or other successful provider for the family. Secretly, I harboured wishes to become a singer instead.
As a child, I knew I was different from others at a young age and that I was attracted to those of the same gender as me at elementary school. While most of the Catholic school boys called me names such as “sissy” or made fun of me because I acted in effeminate ways, I nonetheless was able to establish friendships with one or two others whom I could call friends. When I moved to the U.S. for school at the age of 12, I not only had to face the ostracism I had experienced back home as someone who acted queer, but also as someone from another country who spoke with an accent, had a traditional Chinese name, and dressed like an “F.O.B.” (a “Fresh-off-the-boat” person). Though I pushed myself to do well academically, interpersonally, I was shunned as a loner for being who I was: an Asian young man who was born gay.
In high school, I volunteered as a peer educator to talk about safer sex to other students. Somehow I thought that was something that held important meaning despite the fact that I had no dating or sexual experience whatsoever. While I knew about HIV and the various forms of STIs, deep down, I just wanted to meet that special someone to share my life with. When I went to university, I started telling others that I was gay. Yet that still did not make me any more relatable to others, as I was never given an opportunity to develop friendships with my peers. All the teasing, name-calling, judgment and discrimination I had faced throughout my childhood had made me find comfort in my solitude and to treat loneliness as my best friend.
Life was definitely not easy when my family and I relocated to Toronto in 1999, after my dad lost his business in Hong Kong. With no money, no friends, not being able to complete my education at a prestigious university, and great difficulty finding work due to my lack of “Canadian experience,” I turned to the gay internet sites such as Gay.com to meet other queer men. When I first stepped foot in the village bars and clubs, I remembered there being only cold stares, and that all the non-Asians would stand in one corner and all the few Asians would be at another corner, with both groups rarely interacting with one another. I had no one to show me what being gay meant.
Now in retrospect, I can say with certainty, I had not done anything to deserve the many moments of heartache I had experienced growing up as a gay Chinese man. Yet during the first quarter century of my life, I was faced with many forms of oppression including homophobia, xenophobia, racism, classism, and horizontal violence within the gay community toward ethno-racial queer people. Such experiences had no doubt shaped and impacted me in many ways as an Asian gay man, including my ability to negotiate safer sex. In 2003, I was tested HIV+.
As a gay, HIV+ Asian man, I did not become truly comfortable with my identity over night. Such transformation required self-acceptance, time, and various forms of support. Knowing what I know today, I would recommend LGBTQ youths to take advantage of community resources such as QAY or S.O.Y. as they provide safe spaces for queer youths who might need support, role models and mentors during their coming out process. When I joined ACAS as a volunteer a few years ago, I felt the racism that I internalized slowly disappeared and made way for me to reconnect with my Asian roots. As an HIV+ man, joining community capacity programs provided by organizations such as the Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment (CAAT) and Ethno-racial Treatment Support Network (ETSN) have no doubt made me become more comfortable with my sero-status as an Asian man.
Today, I take pride at being a community and social service worker. As the Community Engagement Worker at ACAS and a Steering Committee Member at the Toronto HIV/AIDS Network, I feel truly fortunate to have found a profession where I can provide support and make a difference in our community. Being an HIV+ Asian man, my journey as an insecure and lonely person who faced multiple forms of internalized oppression to become a community activist took time, courage, support and some very hard lessons in life: contracting HIV, overcoming addictions to crystal meth, successfully treating hepatitis C, returning back to school to become a social worker, and now writing this article series for Qi Magazine. Though I had struggled over many years with the issue of self-disclosure of my HIV+ status and my drug-use history, I realize that it is more important that we have the opportunity to normalize the very important but often neglected conversations around HIV, Hepatitis C, drug-use and sex. It is by uncovering the deadly silence that we can truly do our part as pioneers and leaders in our communities and feel safe to be queer, Asian and HIV+.
Christian Hui has lived with HIV since 2003 and had undergone a successful treatment of HCV in 2011. He is currently a steering committee member of the Toronto HIV/AIDS Network and a member of CTAC’s National Stakeholder Committee for Good Practices Guide on HIV and HCV Integration. His work as the community engagement worker at Asian Community AIDS Services allows him to engage various communities and agencies within and outside the HIV sector to raise awareness on the specific issues facing ethno-racial PHAs and LGBTQ community members. He is currently pursuing his advanced standing Bachelor of Social Work degree at Ryerson University, and is a peer research associate of two community-based research studies – the CHAMP Study and the Asian MSM Pathway to Resiliency Study. Christian has engaged in many knowledge translation and exchange activities at local and national forums, conferences, and other community engagement events.
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