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  • Human Nature

    every time i am not quiet it does not come naturally to me like every time i have tried to retract as though i am an ever clenching fist i am pried open and studied like a common specimen unique only in that i give way too easily and emit a scream that sounds like a song my melody is indecipherable and the lyrics are as you like it so my prongs attune to the pulse of your want and i say the words that make you soft it is only when i am silent lips stuck like a leech to warm flesh that i do not accept the saw that threatens to cut me open like the log down the flume when my words do not ebb and flow like the river you often skip pebbles on that i am withering, tinged with a browned hue i am in need of your callused, leathered palms to sprout me where the soil rakes fertile far from where the ripples crash on i am really contracted to the ground where i can never confess a single violence or reckon with my debts to the gardener subject to a thousand portraits where i can hardly recognize myself in the frame and still i am aching to unfurl my leaves yearning to photosynthesize the scraps of sunlight i receive into fumes that i breathe hot and heavy like the cloak of a cloudy summer heat heaving into my throat and coaxing the words out of my lungs Editor(s): Chelsea D., Alisha B., Blenda Y. Photo Credits: Unsplash

  • Pieces on Food & Consumption

    Foreword: Sweet. Sour. Salt. Bitter. Umami. The five fundamental tastes. One of the most faceted and unique experiences an individual could have with other people’s cultures— as well as their own— is through food. Given that flavor is 80% aroma and 20% taste, the joys of new or familiar dishes are a multi-sensory journey from instant ramen noodles to slow-cooked curries. However, it can be even more salivating to tuck into the different tastes of conversations, ideas, and opinions that permeate modern consumption. How people make connections with others or alone, contemporary activism, corporate greed, tradition and revision – all of this can be found in five pieces written from and by the Asian perspective with each one corresponding with a specific taste. What will be your favorite flavor? – Hannah Govan [SWEET] Mukbang Culture By Josie Chou An opinion piece detailing the definition, audience, controversies, and appeal of mukbangs in a digital age of content creation and seeking out comfort in the least likely of places. “For some, mukbang videos elevate hunger and cravings. Others find that there is something incredibly satisfying about the crunch and the gooey textures that seem to melt in their own mouths. And for those eating a meal by themselves, watching mukbangers can make their dining experience livelier. “ [SOUR] Whole Foods Is a Hoax (And So Is White Activism) By Isabelle “Billy” Agustin An opinion piece intrigued by Whole Foods as a key study for the increasing phenomenon of businesses exploiting movements, such as environmental activism, for profit and treating it like a trend rather than a sincere strive for change. “There was a clean aesthetic to [Whole Foods], all Mason jars and vegan diets. Saving the earth has turned trendy, with nature-themed slogans plastered onto T-shirts you can buy at your local Target or Forever 21. The irony astounds me.” [SALT] food By Sarah Mathai A poem about the magic of cooking in Indian culture, especially for women, and how not being able to participate can be an isolating experience. “I am kicked out the trailer / everytime the kitchen is used. / because I have fire in / my fingers, my mother reasons, / and red hot flames / in brown man's skin / is called terrorism / in a country like / this.” [BITTER] Food Apartheid in the Pacific By Olivia Stark An opinion piece about the global history of oppression in the Pacific islands' contemporary foods, and why it’s important to learn the historic background of food in modern day. “We have extensively explored the ways in which cultural foods are an expression of love, a tool of communication, and a tie back to our roots. So, what do you think happens when these foods are actively erased by an oppressive power?” [UMAMI] I tried Hoisin Duck wraps from (almost) every UK supermarket By Hannah Govan An opinion piece exploring British supermarket’s fascination for the Meal Deal hoisin duck wrap, the components and history behind ‘hoisin duck’, and why these supermarkets cherry-pick Asian flavors despite the minimal shelving dedicated to Asian foods and businesses. “If I were to sample (almost) all hoisin duck varieties in supermarkets, which one is the top bird? What are supermarkets inspired by and possibly aiming for? In other words, I wanted to know how low the bar has been set. Based on historic tradition in contrast to modern practice, how far has the bar sunken - modestly or devastatingly?”

  • Pieces on Coming of Age

    Foreword: College essays, permit tests, senior prom, moving out– these are all changes that I, a rising senior in high school, am preparing to enter. But there are also smaller, less distinct ones– a last night time drive with a group of friends, a broken pinkie promise– the perpetually shifting tectonic plates of the transition from high school to whatever lies beyond. With all these changes comes a plethora of emotions. I am scared to get older, yet exhilarated at the promise of novelty. I am already preparing for homesickness despite the time stretching from now to graduation. The pieces in this collection perfectly encapsulate this theme of Coming of Age, ranging from advice about college applications to poetry about high school relationships. -Lilirose Luo The Pressure Cooker: College Applications - Ella Ip An open letter on the toxic culture of college applications, and advising younger students on how to best navigate it. “This year is my last year in high school. It’s scary. SAT, extracurriculars, essays, and my GPA are always coursing through my mind. “ bearing summer, bare - Yunseo Chung A doomsday poem about the in-between transition of summers. “in the end it’s just / the heartbreak of another summer / come only to pass / bearing the bodies of the burning, / bare.” Morning in the Life of a 21st Century Student by LiLi Xiong Snapshots of a day in an average high-schooler’s life– and the larger social issues that play into it. “You meander through the hallways, teenage angst kicking in. What do you do before class starts? Lean against the lockers? Scroll through your phone, reading whatever depressing news just broke? Or do you go find your friends?” Humidity - Mithila Rohit Tambe A poignant poem chronicling the delicacy and beauty of teenage bonds. “Our strides are parallel. The clouds / are as white as hanboks, / and we are shocked / by the insanity of breathing."

  • A Strong Woman

    Scroll down to the bottom to listen to the author read this piece. Whenever I meet with my Vietnamese, humanities professor, he always brings up the idea that "my prince charming" is coming– a rich prince who will sweep me off my feet and love and support me forever. Over the past two semesters, I’ve met with him at least once a month with another (male) student. Meetings typically consist of listening to my professor’s extended philosophical lectures and providing updates on how our classes are going. And at some point in the meeting, he talks about marriage and eventually his expectations for my nonexistent love life. At first, I saw his concerns for my marital status as a joke and at times heartfelt. He’d tell both of us that we need to find people who we respect and who respect us. People who we can talk to and constantly learn from and who support us. But the conversation would always end with me and my need to find a husband. With the constant push for marriage at each meeting with my professor, I considered finding a guy to pretend to be my boyfriend in order to temporarily satisfy my professor’s concerns. This idea made me think of the viral boyfriend rental services that have popped up all over East Asia, digging into the true purpose behind them rather than the silly tourist attraction that the media has painted them as. In the US, modern relationship standards have led to the normalization of hookup culture and the preference for "partnership" rather than the legal act of marriage. In Asian countries, specifically Japan and China where boyfriend rentals are popular, marriage is still seen as an exchange between two families in which the family of the groom secures the continuation of their family line, and the family of the bride is assured that their daughter will have a supported, happy life. This pressure is especially prevalent in China due to the effects of the One-Child policy that has produced more men than women, resulting in a smaller pool of “opportunities” for the men to continue their family line. An additional outcome of the One-Child policy is that since boys are favored over girls, the girls of China who were kept were encouraged to be as strong as boys and to get an education. “A girl with a degree equals a boy,” says Leftover Women’s Qiu Huamei. But this encouragement has backfired on the parents of these Chinese girls since they have learned and gained independence through their education. In China and Japan the derogatory term “sheng nu” or leftover woman, has been created to label educated, professional women in their mid-’20s and ’30s who are still single. This label is what initially prompted the boyfriend rental business which has allowed “leftover women” to temporarily satisfy their parents’ concerns for a husband. It is a paradox of a situation with young girls being told to be equivalent to a son only to grow up and be told to marry as soon as possible. This same paradox was reflected in my discussions with my professor. He’d tell me that as a young girl, I needed to be assertive and independent, but he’d also tell me about the benefits of a husband and how he’d be the one to support me. Our last meeting for the year was for dinner where he promised we’d meet his wife. In attendance was my professor, my male peer, a girl from his other class, myself, and, as promised, his wife. As we slurped down our bowls of pho, my professor did his usual routine, giving notes on philosophy, asking about our finals, and providing marriage advice for us girls. For most of the dinner, his wife was very quiet and the only exchange of words we students had engaged in was our initial greeting. But as my professor got to the point in his conversation when he specifically addresses the girls about finding an intelligent man to rely on, his wife interjected and defended that we “are independent women.” In China, “strong woman” is another derogatory label pushed onto ‘older’ women who remain unmarried. These women are strong women. The women who tried to make up for their gender by earning a degree, obtaining a well-paying job, and becoming self-reliant. But neither a masters degree nor a doctorates is equivalent to a parent’s dream for a MRS. degree. While this contradictory push for girls to become ‘strong women’ but also marry young is heightened in China and other Asian countries, the issue is still relevant in America. This contradiction became prevalent in the US after World War II. During the war period, women followed Rosie the Riveter into the workforce, proving they could do "men's" work, and do it well– performing as ‘strong women.’ But when the war ended, gender roles were reinstated and women were expected to go back to the kitchen and be stay-at-home moms, painting the 1950s American Dream household we know today. A similar reversal occurred with the popularity and later condemnation of China’s “Iron Girls.” While men also carry this burden of securing marital status in order to confirm the continuation of their family line, they are allowed more freedom for when this task needs to be completed. Additionally, boys are encouraged to become strong, independent men. But for girls, the dream to become a strong, independent woman is often not advertised– if it is, know that it is temporary and contradictions live in our path. To be a truly strong, independent woman means to be strong and independent, whether it is encouraged or not. To become deaf to the labels thrown into our ears. To be married or not to. To be a woman who pursues what she wants. Ariel became a human, Cinderella made it to the ball, Bell saved her father, Tiana got her restaurant, and Mulan won the war– but they also happened to fall in love. A prince charming may be part of the journey, but he is only a part, not my whole. Editors: Lang D., Claudia S., Leila W.

  • Mahjong [Má Jiàng]

    They look good enough to eat. Rich, cream tiles with a thin strip of green lining their bottoms—the fine layer of matcha dusted on a mochi cake. They weigh heavy in my palm for such small tiles, and they feel cold to the touch. When shuffled around, they click against one another, a symphony of ivory movement. The tiles have different inscriptions for the three suits of the game: tóng, wàn, tiáo. Tóng curves like rounded cuts of jade that hang from thin, red thread around necks. Wàn drips like the neon letters that light up Shanghai nights from the inside-out. Tiáo grows like the bamboo that shoots up from behind apartment complexes, too eager for air. These symbols are engraved and inked into each surface; I remember how it feels to trace the subtle dips in stone with my fingertips. I am nine years old, and my grandparents and I arrive at a park in Szechuan. The acrid smell of cigarettes drenches the sticky, May air. There’s nearly no escape for this scent or humidity in China during this time of year, but I find solace in the flowers that dot the surrounding structures and the gentle waves of floral perfume that occasionally waft by. My grandpa, my yéyé, leads me to the shade under a large pavilion, where several of his friends and a few strangers are sitting at a square table, shuffling unfamiliar tiles. Yéyé introduces me, and they smile down at my timid, nine-year-old frame—genial, toothy smiles that seem to be solely reserved for people past the age of seventy five. “Xiǎo gū niáng,” they call me. Little princess. I dislike this nickname, though I know it’s a common way to refer to young girls in Chinese culture. Something about it feels condescending to my defensive, elementary mind. I watch their hands with fascination. You can tell a lot about a person from their hands. I wonder what stories hide in the ripples that meet at their knuckles, the sunspots scattered across their skin, the callouses that settle on their fingertips. They begin arranging the tiles into neat stacks: seventeen long, two high. Their hands are deft, their movements precise—clicking the tiles together as though ivory were magnetic, like this was merely second nature. Magic. Yéyé taught me how to play mahjong. The rules to the game are simple enough—the first to attain four sets and one pair win—but its strategy bears the fruits of generational wisdom, sentiments that my yéyé explained to me in his steady tone as we sat around the square table. Jia Jia, you must look for patterns. Be attentive. Notice which tiles are being discarded. Watch carefully. Notice the bowls of peeled apple slices on the kitchen counter. The new blankets wrapped around you when you wake up. The dictionaries and pages of translations that lay on his desk. You must have patience. Haste will not serve you. Do not rush your movements. Be patient with the game. Wait for others. Be patient with your family. They were not born under purple mountain majesties. Be patient with the sand that coats your own Mandarin tongue. You must have a plan. Each move should be intentional. Never pick up a tile for the sake of it. Focus on your hand, on the details. Focus on supermarket bags that balloon from bins, white tissue inked with red. On the static silence that hangs between phone calls. Focus on the midnight crescents below his eyes—we carry the weight of two worlds. "Mahjong [má jiàng]" explores my relationship with my grandfather and my culture as a whole. My story speaks for those of us who fall in between--between cultures, between tongues, between worlds. Biography: Sabrina Mei is a junior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, MD. Her work has previously been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, John Hopkins University, Montpelier Arts Center, the Yellow Barn Studio, the Gaithersburg Book Festival, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival. In her spare time, she enjoys rereading Sherlock Holmes and watching an objectively excessive amount of cooking videos.

  • An Open Letter to My Younger Self

    Dear younger self, You were one of the biggest bookworms in your class, and yet in 2020 you will sit at home feeling more uneducated and ashamed than ever. You will watch as the world swirls in unrest around you, on the precipice of a social revolution. You’ve read every book on your bookshelf at home, but oh dear, are you still ignorant about so many issues. Because your bookshelf does not hold enough books about the history of African Americans and their never-ending fight for the same privileges you are unknowingly indulging in every second of your seventeen years of life. You love watching movies, but oh dear, are you still ignorant, because you have not seen all the documentaries about the injustice they face. You did so well in that spelling bee when you were a child but you still don’t know the true definition of privilege. You don’t know that privilege is not drowning in panic and dread when you see lights flashing in the rearview mirror, not fearing for your life every time you walk out the front door, not fearing your parents may not come home from work one day, not fearing a needless bullet to the head or knee in the neck. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Tamir Rice. George Floyd. They felt all those things, while you do not. You don’t know that privilege is never feeling like you couldn’t breathe through the invisible smog of racism and injustice. You will be forced to reckon with your own pride as you are faced with the years of your unknown complicity. You’ve heard over and over again that history is written by the winners, but never questioned once that maybe the words in your textbook didn’t reveal it all. And you will realize that for every second you told yourself it wasn’t your business, or you didn’t want conflict, or it’s not your place to say anything--you allowed history to be written by the oppressors, again. For every second you remained silent, you were the empty space that allowed a finger to pull a trigger; for every second you remained silent, you were the the click of the handcuff locks on the wrong person; for every second you remained silent you were the gravity that helped pull Derek Chauvin’s knee into George Floyd’s neck. But you will learn. And you will realize that privilege means you never once worried about those things before because your skin is not black--that being another minority individual does not ever excuse you from staying silent. And you will start educating yourself. You’ll sign petitions and email representatives and take every resource shared on Instagram to heart. You’ll tell yourself that your privilege can be used for good--for fighting alongside your Black brothers and sisters, because they were never meant to do it alone. You’ll realize that you’ll never fully understand what it’s like to be Black, but know it is your duty to start washing away the deeply internalized racism and start walking alongside them. You’ll sit down at dinner with your parents and have the uncomfortable conversations about why people are saying “Black Lives Matter,” not “All Lives Matter.” And you’ll sit there and explain that when someone is locked in a burning room for too long, and their quiet requests were met with silence, they have no choice but to start getting loud. You’ll sit there and tell your family, and yourself, that the knee Colin Kaepernick took was in hopes that the knee in George Floyd’s neck needn’t have happened. But it did. And you’ll realize that the Great Wall constructed between Asians and Black people and other minorities has blinded us from truly seeing and loving one another; that it will take every yellow, black, brown, white hand on Earth to take down all those bricks. And that until then, the “with liberty and justice for all” you pledge every day means nothing. That the “equal protection of the laws” scrawled in our Constitution is nothing but empty promises. You could have been the biggest bookworm in the world, read every book on every bookshelf, won every spelling bee--but until you swallow your pride and take your yellow hands and join them with the black and brown and white and every color of the human race, the book of humanity on Earth will be washed with blood. Sincerely, your future self. Humbled, ashamed, and still learning Yi-Ann Li

  • Pieces on Nostalgia

    Foreword: We all have those complex memories that we look back on and feel a slight pull on our heart strings. Is that pull because we miss how life used to be? Who we used to be? Or is it because we’re proud of how we’ve improved? Of how far we’ve come? Reflecting on how much we’ve grown and changed, it’s quite natural to feel different emotions, ranging from regret to a quiet joy. Nostalgia is the sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with personal associations. This word perfectly encapsulates that combination of warmth and sadness you may feel while holding up a worn-out teddy bear or returning to your childhood home. At Dear Asian Youth, nostalgia can also include self-growth and social commentary. The triumph you gain at learning how to take action and assert yourself, the comfort you gather from learning to accept your culture. Now, let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we? — Angel Liang An Open Letter to My Younger Self - Yi-Ann Li A narrative reflecting on former selves, and the continual learning process required to achieve social justice. “And you’ll realize that the Great Wall constructed between Asians and Black people and other minorities has blinded us from truly seeing and loving one another; that it will take every yellow, black, brown, white hand on Earth to take down all those bricks. And that until then, the “with liberty and justice for all” you pledge every day means nothing.” Mahjong [Má Jiàng] - Sabrina Mei A prose narrative tracing the path of Má Jiàng down the narrator’s relationship with falling in-between— between cultures, between tongues, between worlds. “Rich, cream tiles with a thin strip of green lining their bottoms—the fine layer of matcha dusted on a mochi cake. They weigh heavy in my palm for such small tiles, and they feel cold to the touch.” play dough : a sequel - Julianne Tenorio A poem challenging the reader’s perspective on a carefree child toy, and with it, the depth of our personal involvement in justice. “and in this story, we simply wait. / rather than realizing what we have been doing wrong this whole time, / we wait. / we wait until our mothers bring us to the store / to find another container of play dough, / only for us to waste it again.”

  • Endless Possibilities

    Scroll down to the bottom to listen to the author read this piece! You often hear the saying, “the world is your oyster,” at celebrations. Graduations, ceremonies, you name it. I’ve always liked that saying because it signified that with the right amount of hard work and determination, even the roughest grain of sand can become a luminous pearl with time. Perhaps they are a stellar student whose hard work was returned as an acceptance to a prestigious school. Maybe they’re a hard working athlete with D1 offers. Regardless, “the world is your oyster” symbolizes a world full of opportunity. I recognize that this saying has its nuances. “The world is your oyster” fundamentally depends on the grain of sand. No grain of sand is the same, and therefore no pearl will ever be the same. And what about the oyster? What if the oyster couldn’t create pearls like its kin? “The world is your oyster” ultimately encapsulates what life is like. There are aspects that we cannot control: we are all born a small grain of sand on the beach of humanity and cannot change how we are born or what oyster we are born into. As a senior in high school, this saying has circled around in my head a couple of times. I often think about the endless possibilities that lie ahead of us and what kind of pearl I will become. I think about how my future successes are not dictated by my college acceptance letter. I think about all the brilliant and ambitious people I am fated to meet in my freshman year of college. I think about turning 18 years old in the beautiful city of Washington D.C. and what living by myself away from home will be like. Of course, I am nervous. I am nervous and excited looking at endless possibility. Possibility inherently implies impossibility, and I am always dreading what comes and what doesn’t. Life is never stable or constant. Like the oyster, the world is constantly changing and it takes time to become that pretty pearl. This means that I am bound to experience hardship and uncertainty. But the end product, the idea that I will improve and become a better person and experience new things, is exhilarating enough to push me forward. Good luck, class of 2027. The world is our oyster! Editors: Amelia P., Chris F. Picture credit:

  • self-portrait as dialogue

    alter (v.): change or cause to change in character or composition, typically in a comparatively small but significant way. & your hair’s growing out again. junkyard body crying for grace. you’ve gained weight but stayed clean of the scale. every poem is a summer love poem. the nose piercing you walked a mile in the rain with r to get is a stubborn red bruise; the piercers told you that saline heals, so you force long gulps of it down your throat. no, i know that isn’t how it works. this time last year, you were nightwalking after your restaurant shift, little ghost wandering the fluorescent grocery store aisles, touching the produce to remind yourself you were real: humid & heartsick all the time. carrots, napa cabbage, cut fruit, sweet dead childhood lying like a gutted fish in the butcher’s aisle. maybe you miss the girl you were in high school, all that skinniness and stupidity. the way she mourned before knowing what mourning was. transformation, after all, is in the tender things. sixteen was a terror, seventeen flammable. now, twenty: you remember everything in liquid dreams, think that you should have died every summer since ninth grade when you first tried to scrape the pith from your organs & then skinned your knees as if to water the parched concrete. when you change, where does the other version of you go? by all rights, you should be a ghost by now. & yet your skin burns gold in the california sun—you’re not the daughter you once were. good girl, small face, pale as white jade, starving animal daughter eaten up by pretty boys. whining like a broken violin or a dog left behind a screen door. you will not be your mother. & yet love is in this story, i swear. b helps you bleach your eyebrows in the dingy bathroom between your shared rooms: the strange dorm-room floor red as a murder behind you & your forehead stinging when you pull away the cling wrap, makeshift bandage for some wound you can’t reach yet. your face drips tap water, baptismal. the first time you did this, your mother’s inherited brows disappeared right into your face & you felt the umbilical wound open again. you will never understand your mother enough to judge her. altar (n.): a table or flat-topped block used as the focus for a religious ritual, especially for making sacrifices or offerings to a deity. when you were a child, you thought god lived in the mountains behind your house. you made up prayers on your way home from school, back when you hadn’t ever been on your knees with a mouthful of bared teeth, before you learned that god was not a man but instead a noose hanging from the family tree demanding you jump. rope-burn on each palm: your blood pours dark red, venous. this body has never been much interested in the business of living. you’re raw-skinned, opened up all the way / like a switchblade, the worn-out sum of all your family’s desires & fears / desperate to feel dangerous again / scuffing sneakers on the curb for an hour waiting for a girl to pick you up / identity politics calls you a cyborg / google translate talks to your mother in your voice / god made you unformed so that you could form yourself / divine, human, neither & both / sleeping facedown with all the windows open, your spine is a tabletop offering / every notch another wish / gut-deep into july now, plunging your wrists into the viscera of the season / teethmarks on fallen plums / stonefruit summer, nectarine dusk. your grief is white noise; it’s never ending but so is the love— alter, altar: places where divine & human meet. altar as verb is hardly different from godhood. or even girlhood if you’re desperate enough. in eighth grade at parent-teacher conferences, your humanities teacher told you that you were the spitting image of your mother. maybe more now that you’ve stopped holding such blue-black resentment in your liver. july is a river of light going through you. a pair of shears cutting open the stitches. you search for god but the sun is a rusted coin. blood-tinge in the back of your throat. but we don’t have to talk about it. Editors: Alisha B., Uzayer Masud.

  • four senses

    the first time i heard the sun was when you looked at me, and your eyes of color donated and donated, until they ran out. you are gone and i am here, but i still hear you in my windchimes, tell me, is there a medicine for seeing the night sky on the palms of your hands? the leaves on my plants wilt in the summer, in the winter, in the autumn, in the monsoon, and the bugs who were your friends now destroy my perfect garden the tattoo of you that i have inked within my eyelids infuriates me beyond imagination because it is but a caricature, an imitation of you the dirt in between my fingernails is evidence of my drudgery, but if i cannot remember the lines on your face at the end of the day, what use is my hard work? every day at five my itch awakens me, and i think, “the morning is cloudless, full of citrus, and the smell of you”, and i am lucid and delusional i hate you, and myself, because i am here, and you are gone. Editors: Luna Y., Uzayer M., Alisha B., Blenda Y. Image Source: Unsplash

  • Pieces on Love

    Foreword: Love flows through our world in so many ways and forms. Here is a collection of pieces expressing love in different ways. - Chris Fong Chew Love Letter to Boston - Chris Fong Chew A letter dedicated to moving to Boston at 18 and, eventually, finding home in unexpected places. "To the strange and funny places I end up calling home. Your brick and mortar homes, your towering glass and metal skyscrapers..." To Achichi - Emily Dissanayake Written to her Achichi, paternal grandmother, Emily explores the complexity of love and personhood in this piece. "I am writing you a letter because I know you will never read it. I know you will never read anything I have written. Because poetry is nonsense. Poetry is for the romantic, the dreamer. Poetry is for those who, as you say, have no goddamn common sense." "the universe is so much bigger than you realize" - Lilirose Luo A poem exploring the multitudes of love present within every nook & cranny of the universe, ultimately whittling down to intimate relationships. "Every spring, I wonder how the worms survive the frost. Surely, the red-breasted robins need to feed in order to sing the way they do. a lullaby for the hunger"

  • Understanding language (and language barriers) in relation to the LGBTQ+ Community

    I don’t know if dissecting your identity for microscopic examination is a universal queer kid experience, but I doubt I’m the only one who lived it. COVID-19 shut the world down around two years after I came out (somewhat) as bi, and I used my spare time and excessive internet access to delve deep into the murky waters of Instagram LGBTQIA+ activism —or at least, a segment of it. What I learned from it, mostly in retrospect, is the power language holds: in understanding, constructing, policing, and restricting identity. Queerness, of course, exists outside letters and labels. But language plays a role in how it is understood and communicated. The word ‘queer’ itself is a derogatory term reclaimed by many parts of the community, though not all. The fundamentals of LGBTQ+ activism deal with recognition, awareness, visibility, and acceptance —these require understanding, which necessitates definition. Language, therefore, most visibly through identity labels, is often the basis for the formation of LGBTQ+ identity. Processing that I had feelings for someone of the same gender was easier under the label of bisexuality. Naturally, as the LGBTQ+ community expanded, the language had to adapt. Some labels would not adequately encompass a particular identity, and so, had to be redefined, subdivided, or supplemented. This has led to the birth of microlabels: names for identities that are not widely recognised in mainstream media, that define (hyper)specific identities within the broader community. Discovering microlabels is how I came to understand myself as well as I do now, even if I no longer identify with them: the identities greysexual (somewhere in between asexual and allosexual) and demigirl (nonbinary with an alignment to girlhood) particularly come to mind . Having language for particular aspects of queerness that might not be reflected by the general term ‘bi’ was something I needed at that point, and something that helps many people to recognize and affirm their queerness. These are the labels as I personally used them because even within an identity, there are different experiences of it. That brings us to a pitfall of the entanglement of language and LGBTQ+ identity — gatekeeping. Defined by Oxford Languages to mean controlling (limiting) general access to something, gatekeeping is the policing of who really gets to adopt a particular identity that runs rampant in the virtual queer underground. Relatively overt gatekeeping is how newcomers, so to speak, are often expected to qualify their degree of queerness according to some set of arbitrary standards (what music do you listen to, what do you wear, can you really be nonbinary if you use she/her pronouns?). But a more insidious form is something I’ve only recently been able to articulate: the fact that these labels, their definitions, and their ‘qualifications’ are entirely in English. Incredibly niche knowledge of the English language along with access to a similarly niche region of media is a prerequisite for engaging in queer microcultures; otherwise, you’re unlikely to be let into them. So a Bengali teen with only a shared device and limited English proficiency might never understand their gender fluidity, or if they get the chance to, probably won’t be accepted into the community, in large part because they won’t have the language to navigate the space. And it is a frequently evolving, confusing language that LGBTQ+ spaces use, especially in the sphere of unforgiving social media activism. This is especially so because the way Western cultures and the English language process gender and sexuality is generally different from how other cultures do: many languages, including Bangla, do not even have gendered pronouns. Providing and asking for pronouns is now a staple of trans allyship, as it should be. And yet, because of language and access barriers, there will be people who don’t have that information, including queer and trans people. How do we balance keeping LGBTQ+ spaces safe for all the communities within them and making them welcoming for new members that aren’t already well-versed in these languages? That’s the question I had to ask myself when I found myself nitpicking a Bangladeshi organization’s LGBTQ+ awareness post for not using language that I felt was exact or ideal, with a definition of bisexuality that is both biphobic and transphobic in the binary language it uses. As a genderqueer bi person, of course, I rejected that definition and felt driven to reject the entire attempt made by the post. But I realized that was not a fair judgment when I checked myself. I was privileged in having an English education and circumstances that allowed me access to a wide range of LGBTQ+ cultures. What I expected from an organization in North America with unlimited media resources and exposure to LGBTQ+ activism, was unfair to demand from a Bangladeshi youth organization which wasn’t as privileged . The post was an honest attempt made in a place where societal prejudices didn’t just make it hard —it made it illegal. The solution isn’t to abandon language that has improved LGBTQ+ experiences, and made them safer, more affirming, and more expansive. I will continue to have my pronouns (she/they) in introductions —when it is safe— and hope others, as they learn to, do the same. But I think it’s important to recognize the privilege that exists even within marginalized communities, and whether it is being exercised for exclusion. Instead of being prepared to bar the door of identity (and even allyship), we should approach activism (in internet spaces and beyond) from a place of care. We should give people the chance (while holding them accountable when they cause harm) to learn, grow and change along with our ever-changing understanding of LGBTQ+ identity itself. Editors: Saeeda K., Batool M., Leila W.

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