"My race, too, is queer" (1): queer mixed heritage Chinese Americans fight for marriage equality (2).

Author:Dariotis, Wei Ming
Position:6D Paper - Law overview

(Original Title: My Race, Too, Is Queer: Chinese Hapa People Fight Anti-Miscegenation and Anti-Gay Marriage)


This essay grew out of a presentation at the Seventh Chinese American Studies conference, "Branching Out the Banyan Tree: A Changing Chinese America," on October 8, 2005. It has been revised to integrate my analysis with a narrative of the panel, "Queer Chinese Hapa People and Marriage Rights: Intersections between Same Sex Marriage and Interracial Marriage," which consisted of myself and Queer Mixed Heritage Chinese American community activists Stuart Gaffney and Willy Wilkinson on the subject of the interconnections between the struggle for the right to marry across racialized boundaries and the fight for same sex marriage equality. (3) Just as our parents' generation struggled against antimiscegenation (4) laws, so today are we struggling for the right of same-sex marriage.

Both Stuart Gaffney and Willy Wilkinson have one European American parent and one Chinese American parent who at the time of their marriages (in the early 1950s) were affected by California's antimiscegenation laws (my white father and Chinese mother were married in Hawai'i in 1968). California's antimiscegenation laws had been struck down in 1948, but until 1967, the year of the landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, marriage between whites and "nonwhites" was still illegal in seventeen states. Gaffney and Wilkinson married their long-time same-gender partners when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made this possible in early 2004. They are now fighting to reinstate the legality of their marriages after the California courts declared them null and void on August 12, 2004.

Because of the history of the Chinese Exclusion Acts and other legislation and customs that limited the immigration of Chinese women, some Chinese American men were involved with the struggle against antimiscegenation laws, or to put it another way, they fought for the right to marry whomever they wanted, including white women. It is perhaps not a coincidence that Chinese Americans are now also intimately involved in the struggle for same sex marriage equality (5) in California. By positioning both the panel and this essay as a space in which to specifically address the intersections of mixed heritage Chinese American and queer identities, I argue that negotiations over the transgressions of race and gender in the realm of marriage rights are a critical juncture for investigating the ontological hermeneutics (6) of Chineseness and also provide a useful space for renegotiating the boundaries of Chinese America.


For the purposes of this essay, I use "queer people" as a reclaimed, nonderogatory term to include bisexual, lesbian, gay, and transgender people. I use the term "same sex marriage equality" rather than the commonly used term "gay marriage" because "gay" is not inclusive.

"Antimiscegenation" is used without a hyphen, to emphasize that there is no such thing as "miscegenation"--a racist term that denotes the degradation of whiteness through intermixing with people of color. On similar grounds, I use the term "mixed heritage" rather than "mixed race" to avoid reinscribing the notion that there are separate "races" (that by the same definition should not be mixed).

"Chinese American" is a complex category that has shifted meaning over time and is now inclusive of first-generation immigrants, like my mother, who were not born in America but expect to live and die here; of mixed heritage people like myself and fellow panelists; and of people adopted from China and raised by United States citizens of any heritage. Chinese American refers not only to a personal identity but also to an affiliation with a community. My use of the term "Chinese American" thus acknowledges that we have community members who have not one drop of Chinese "blood." (7)


I was asked to organize this panel; and another panel on mixed heritage Chinese American media artists, by the conference co-chair, Lorraine Dong. Lorraine asked me to organize as many mixed heritage panels as I could--she stressed that these were important because the focus of the conference was "Branching Out" Chinese America--and specifically looking at "A Changing Chinese America," and she wanted to recognize the significance of mixed heritage people in that reconceptualized community. Even more significantly, she was the one who stressed the need for a panel recognizing the relationship between the historical struggle against antimiscegenation laws and the current fight for same sex marriage equality.

Our presence at the conference means that there is recognition that Chinese America is indeed changing, but how? Is Chinese America branching out the banyan tree to embrace those previously left outside its protection? Or should we be thinking about the shifts in Chinese America in some other way? Insofar as Chinese America is at least partially a self-defined state--and we are now being recognized as part of that "self"--we Queer Mixed Heritage Chinese Americans have in a Derridean sense "always already" been in a process of redefining Chineseness and by extension Chinese America. Queer Mixed Heritage Chinese Americans make us question: What does Chineseness mean when it is not bound by appearance or phenotype? When it is not bound by so-called "traditional" gender roles? When it is not bound by a mandate to reproduce itself in a recognizable fashion? In The Location of Culture, Homi Bhabha writes of the "ambivalence of the 'nation' as a narrative strategy" (8) and we can understand from this that the story of ethnic identity, of culture, is always moving between two points (ambi-valent)--the constructed center and its other--leaving the margins between self and other ragged, both torn and unformed.

What is the relationship between Chineseness and Americanness? Are they inverse constructions of identity, where the term...

To continue reading