I wrote the following piece which was published in New Zealand’s only LGBT-focused magazine, Gay Express, titled ‘Gay and Asian and a New Zealander‘.
Max Lin writes from his unique perspective as a gay Taiwanese migrant, on the issues the GLBT community must still address in order to become more inclusive.
Moving to New Zealand, at the age of six, was probably the single most life-changing moment in my life. People tend to underestimate the power that moving to a new country can transform someone. I cannot conceptualise who I would be. I probably wouldn’t be able to speak English, have the same opportunities, and I wonder if I would even be able to acknowledge that I am gay – to myself, my family, and to my friends. For this, I am grateful – one of the proudest moments is when I walked across the stage in the town hall and became a New Zealand citizen.
I love this country and I believe we can make it a better place.
Being ‘gay’ and ‘Asian’ while growing up in New Zealand has often required me to navigate the demands of multiple ‘identities’. However, I struggled as I tried to capture to complexity behind what it even means for someone just to be ‘gay’ or ‘Asian’ in New Zealand. I want to believe that my experience is not merely the product of reductive notions of each community. I wondered in what ways self-identification is an intrinsic part of who we are, or simply an insidious process of unconsciously trying to perform the expectations of those identities.
It might be easy to come to the conclusion then, that labels are meaningless – that somehow we are all individuals and equal. I wanted to believe that labels are just fictional constructs; that I am free to be who I am – but I know this is not true.
Below is an article which I wrote for my friend Asher Emanuel for his publication Ours. You should check it out. It contains different perspectives of young people leading up to the New Zealand General Election in 2014.
Max Lin and his family moved to New Zealand from Taiwan when he was very young in search of a fresh start. But being Asian in New Zealand has brought its own challenges. Now at uni, Max hopes that New Zealand can still live up to the qualities that brought him here in the first place.
When I was six-years-old my father told me that we would be moving to New Zealand. I didn’t actually question why at the time; neither did I think about what it would all mean. To me as a child, it merely felt like we were going on another holiday – I went through the motions of life and jumped on a plane with my mother, sister and brother. Except this time we would stay here.
My mother had to give up her job as a pharmacist in Taiwan to look after us. My dad had to stay and work in Taiwan despite being a haoemodialosist because his licence would not be recognised here. I know many families who gave up their jobs, left their friends and their culture so that their children would have a better life. I wasn’t allowed to tell any of my friends and extended family that we were leaving (not even my grandparents) because it would jeopardise my parents’ employment and my grandparents would not ‘allow’ it. My parents did not really explain why at the time. They just told me it was a secret and I treated it like a game.
I had never received formal education in Taiwan, so going to school was always going to be a new and frightening experience. This was all the more confusing with was so much going on in my head—I used to think in Mandarin Chinese, and it was impossible to articulate my mind in what would be my third language. I was extremely shy and for the first few years my report card at school was filled with “poor” and “average” ticks.
Below is a post from my Facebook on 1 October 2014. This post has also been edited by Ana Lenard and published as an article in Craccum Magazine, the official student magazine at the University of Auckland.
You must all pay attention to Hong Kong.
The first thing to say is that not everyone is born into a democracy. I was lucky enough that a few years after I was born, a technocratic and progressive elite in Taiwan held the first presidential election just before I moved to New Zealand (after lifting what had been “the longest imposition of martial law by a regime anywhere in the world” at the time and ending one party rule). While I have not experienced its oppression (although my parents and grandparents speak of it), I do remember the opposition winning for the first time when I was a child, and also casting a vote in what would have only been its fifth election when I was old enough to vote (20). Taiwan owes its democracy now partially to a student movement that pressured the government to liberalise.
Reflections on the Occupation of the Taiwanese Parliament (Sunflower Student Movement) over the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement
Below is a post from my Facebook on 19 March 2014.
I don’t usually write long posts on Facebook, but here is a bit of introspection.
I lived in Taiwan during the formative years of my childhood, and with my family still there, naturally I would care about what is happening in my country. I write this with mixed emotions. Even now I feel weird referring to Taiwan as a country. Because many people will no doubt correct me that ‘No, Taiwan is not a country’ – ‘because it is not part of the UN’, ‘did you not know that your government still claims jurisdiction over mainland China?’, ‘It is part of China’ or ‘It is China’. I am not here to debate technicalities; please spare me things which I already ‘know’, and have lived my life trying to understand and reconcile. I merely ask the question: how do I refer to the place I am from, if not a country? I have always ‘felt’ like it was a country, and it has the semblance of one. For the sake of political correctness, should I be calling it Taiwan, China, Republic of China – depending on who I am talking to? Even the above feels like a crude summary. I believe this crisis of identity has been something that has affected my Taiwanese friends as well.