Reclaiming Our Traditions, Rituals, and Spaces

Some Common Experiences

What are some common experiences that are shared by QAPAs? As noted above, the term “QAPA” refers to a wide range of sexualities, gender identities, and ethnicities, and it would seem that few generalities could be made about QAPAs. Nevertheless, there are at least two major themes experienced by many QAPAs: metaphorical homelessness and alienation from the body.

First, many QAPAs experience a sense of profound metaphorical homelessness. In other words, we never belong fully to any particular community. Unlike most “straight” Asian Pacific Americans, we are often excluded from our families of origin because of our marginalized sexualities and gender identities. Also, unlike most “white” LGBT people, we are often excluded from the mainstream lesbian and gay community because of our different races, ethnicities, and cultures. This experience of exclusion is further compounded for those of us who come from organized faith traditions, because we are often excluded from those communities as well. To be QAPA is to experience exclusion from multiple communities.

Second, many QAPAs are deeply alienated from our bodies. We are profoundly aware of how our bodies differ from those individuals who belong to mainstream North American culture. We are rarely seen for who we truly are. Sometimes we are fetishized for our “exotic” and “foreign” looks, and other times we are ignored because we do not meet “white” standards of beauty. Sometimes we are even categorized by other QAPAs. For example, there are labels for QAPAs who only date other people of Asian descent (“sticky rice”), as well as for others who only date non-Asians (“potato queens”). As such, many QAPAs experience alienation from our bodies from an early age. We learn to dislike our bodies because of the differences that they signify.

What is QAPA Spirituality?

In light of the above, it is not surprising that a central task of QAPA spirituality is to heal ourselves of the metaphorical homelessness and bodily alienation that we experience. Unfortunately, many traditional Christian spiritual practices—for example, worship services, sacraments, prayer, reading scripture—are often not the most effective ways for allowing this healing to occur. Most of these practices do not address the issues of race and sexuality that are central to our identities. In fact, some of these spiritual practices might actually alienate us even further from our communities and our bodies (for example, Christian dualism in separating spirit from flesh; the queer “texts of terror” in the Bible). Not surprisingly, many QAPAs have sought to redefine spirituality on our own terms in order to facilitate this healing.

Patrick S. Cheng is the coordinator of Queer Asian Spirit, an organization that affirms and supports the lives of LGBT Asian people of faith. He is a graduate of Yale College, Harvard Law School, and Union Theological Seminary.