Feature Article

A Little Out of Pl-Ace

Written by Lowell V Acorda

Talking about structural stigma can be a challenging thing, particularly as it affects different individuals in different ways. So, I would like to say that what I am about to share is representative of my observations and experiences only.

I am a visibly brown, queer, and first generation Filipino immigrant with a French name (Lowell means ‘little wolf’). I am a person of faith from the Latter-Day Saint (Mormon) community and I am somewhere on the asexual spectrum. Actually I am demisexual which means I am a person who does not experience sexual attraction unless I form a strong emotional connection.

I guess you could say I have several intersecting identities. As a result, I experience stigma and marginalization in many ways. The cumulative effect of this has a negative influence on both my quality of life and my ability to thrive. Many people hold inaccurate assumptions about who I am as a person and I would like to explore this a little more.

Racial Realness
I know for sure that I am viewed through a racialized lens. When people see me they see a brown person of ethnic ambiguity and very short stature. When I tell people about my Filipino identity I find that I am often stereotyped as a hard-working, compliant, and resilient minority destined to work at the nearest Tim Hortons.

I was dating a white gay man and I asked him how he understood the dynamics of our relationship - us being inter-racial. I asked him how he felt about dating someone from a different ethno-cultural background - someone who is typically cast into service industry or domestic worker roles. His response was something like, “Well you’re different but you’re not the help.” I was outraged and he apologized, saying he wasn’t trying to be offensive. I couldn’t help but wonder, if I was “the help” would that make me less eligible as a partner? Did my social position matter to him?

Reflecting on this I have come to understand the degree to which classism and racism is prevalent in our community. I understand the need to find someone you’re compatible with, in terms of education and social status but I argue that education and higher status does not necessarily make someone a better person. Whatever happened to having an open mind toward people and their potential? We all have varying life experiences and I believed that class or racial differences should not be automatic deal breakers.

Faithfully Queer
Being queer and Mormon at the same time also has its challenges. I’m told that I am too queer to be Mormon and too Mormon to be queer. I feel like an interloper, like I don’t belong in either community. Tolerated instead of welcomed and being jeered for wanting to nurture my spirituality along with my identity as an out, proud queer person. I have been told that I have to choose one or the other. I am frustrated and confused and sometimes I feel like Beyonce in that GIF where she pulls an entire pizza out of her hair.

Por que no los dos? Why can’t I be both queer AND Mormon? The mental gymnastics of this is exhausting and has pushed me into despair and depression many times. I became convinced that I would never be loved for who I truly am. And then I came across an “It Gets Better” video out of Brigham Young University that showed me I wasn’t alone in this experience. It turns out there are many people in my faith community who honour (to varying degrees) their queer identity and their beliefs. This helped me seek counseling and guidance through which I learned to embrace myself more fully. I finally felt validated.

A Little Out of Pl-Ace
Last, I would like consider my asexual identity in the context of today’s gay culture. The current image of the gay male is highly sexualized and this is yet another aspect of my life where I don’t fit in. I’ve been asked the most ridiculous things like if I identify sexually as a plant or do I envision reproducing myself by splitting in half. Everything valued in gay culture seems to be based on looks or the pursuit of the next hook-up. Just look at how many apps are dedicated to meeting others for sex. There is hardly any space for the guy who wants to meet others to just talk - about other stuff, like Disney iconography, the east coast ballroom scene, or the complex nature of umami.

I noticed at a gay men’s health summit a shift from use of the term “men who have sex with men” to “guys who like guys” as a descriptor of the larger community. This is a positive change that pays respect to romantic orientation of queerness. It is affirming to those of us who don’t always experience sexual attraction. My identity as Ace (a moniker we use in the community) has served to enhance my understanding of the intricate nature of relationships and how to best to manage these dynamics. It has shown me the importance of investing just as much, if not more, into my platonic relationships. Being Ace has helped me to share my attention across a wider scope of relationships and to really put and effort in with those who are important to me.

Parting Glances
My experience is just one of many within our community. I hope that I have broadened your perspective and inspired you to do what you can to improve the quality of life in our Queer-munity. I would encourage everyone to examine whatever privileges you enjoy to see how you can leverage them to help others. Learn about all the different communities in our larger LGBTQIA+ group and think about how each of them has a desire to feel welcome. We have a rich history. Let’s push ourselves to be more inclusive and open. We can do better.