“Our Queer Family” – Gum Saan Journal 2023

by Susie Ling. Posted February 1, 2023.

Introduction: Gum Saan Journal is the annual publication of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California. I asked editor Susie Ling to tell us more about its origin and the current issue.

“Gum Saan Journal has really evolved and how wonderful is that? It was started by Marjie Lew and continued by Emma Louie and others. They would just solicit stories from members of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, but it’s grown a lot. When I got started, one of the presidents Kenneth Chan, whose family runs Phoenix Bakery, sent me on a mission. He said, ‘Here are some grocers that I know. Chinese grocers are important to the community, go!’ That has been our modus operandi. As Dr. Ronald Takaki said in his book, Strangers from a Different Shore, we have a job to listen. If we don’t tell the stories, who will?”

The following article contains short introductions to the articles in the 2023 edition of Gum Saan Journal.

Creator: Ted Eytan, Creative Commons.

“Our Queer Family” is the title of 2023 Gum Saan Journal and features oral histories of LGBTQ+. Each life story is interesting; each path unique. Gum Saan Journal has been the semi-academic publication of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California (CHSSC) since 1977. “If we don’t tell our own Chinese American story, who will? Our mission is to share understanding of the Chinese American experience. We want to be part of this conversation,” says Editor Susie Ling. “For this issue of GSJ, we were so fortunate to enlist as co-editor, Eric Wat, author of The Making of a Gay Asian Community (2001) and Love Your Asian Body (2022).”

Doreena Wong has been a decades-long leader in the Asian American LGBTQ+ movement. In the mid-1970s, Doreena founded Asian Feminists and from 2005 to 2017, she was co-chair of API-Equality. Attorney Doreena says, “I watched my first gay parade in 1976. I thought there was something wrong to have feelings for another woman. I didn’t think it would be acceptable to my parents, but of course, they would never even talk about sexuality. In truth, I was out in the community a long time before I came out to my family… My father would consistently ask me if I was dating anyone. When I was in my 30s, I remember my mother asked my father to stop asking me about it. He stopped. I wondered if Mom suspected I was lesbian.”

Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), 2011 Los Angeles Pride Parade.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Young Buck Gee and Matt Yee are both sons of Chinese immigrants. Young was born in 1952, and Matt was born in 1992. Young had a familiar 1950s Chinese American experience, “Our family restaurant was known as Charlie’s Chop Suey as they used to call my grandfather Charlie as in ‘Charlie Chinaman.’ My father was called Charlie, too. When I started working at the restaurant, they called me Little Charlie. I hated that, and I couldn’t wait to get out of that restaurant and Oroville.” Young continues, “In April 1971, I went with a group of friends to the San Francisco peace rally. I remember that time distinctly because I saw a lot of gay men in San Francisco. I thought, ‘Wow, how cool…how liberating…how free!’” Matt grew up with iphones and boba in the majority-Asian San Gabriel Valley, “I didn’t know anything about being gay. I didn’t see anything in the media. I knew no one. I knew no gay role models nor see any gay culture. It was never mentioned at school.”

Young Gee, Oroville High School Yearbook. 1971

Author Karen Yin said she did not have the “typical struggle.” She explains, “I’ve always had crushes on both boys and girls growing up. Male and female teachers. I’ve assumed that this is common. I never thought, this is the beginning of my bisexuality.” Karen says that while she was in college, “I was studying feminism and became deeply uncomfortable with how my anti-sexism stopped when it came to attraction. I asked myself, why do I think I’m not attracted to women… It was philosophy- and equity-driven… I consider myself never having been closeted… Most queer people come from a place of shame, but I came from a desire for egalitarianism.”

Filmmaker Curtis Chin made Vincent Who? and Dear Corky. Curtis reflects, “The Chinese American gay community is growing. It is easier to come out these days. Just as there is a minority of people that are left-handed, there is a group that are gay. That’s how the science goes. I think the LGBT+ community is more politicized than the straight population. In fact, I wish the Asian American population would be as politicized as the gay community.”

Curtis Chin. Photo courtesy of Curtis Chin.

Professors Russell Leong and Jih-Fei Cheng emphasize the parallelisms in homophobic and racist ideologies. Russell reflects on how AIDS fed homophobia, and how COVID fed anti-Asian hate – and vice versa.  Russell writes, “As Asian Americans, we must view ourselves as part of the whole of human society – transcending our narrow anxieties as innocent victims of disease; our ethnocentric concerns around anti-Asian hate; or our conventional biases in relation to ethnic or gender prejudice.” Dr. Jih-Fei Cheng explores this theme further. He discusses the nationalist tendencies of Chinese in the diaspora that sometimes translates to the defense of Chinese “tradition” and “patriarchy.”

Editor of Gum Saan Journal, Susie Ling, adds, “Back in my schoolyard, we teased kids who were ‘gay’. We teased Victor because he was short(er) and Mario because he liked to sing. Obviously this kind of narrow-minded stupidity continued as the Asian Americans in my San Gabriel Valley community voted for Proposition 8 in 2008. Although Asian Americans were historically not allowed to marry someone of another race in California until 1948, Asian Americans voted against same sex marriages. What were we thinking!” Susie also says, “Although I’ve been plenty marginalized as an Asian American woman, I never hid who I am – especially from my family. Our LGBTQ+ kin have had this extra burden. I didn’t know my cousin was gay until we were in our 40’s.”


As Russell suggests, “We must become more mindful of the undercurrents and overtures of our intertwined destinies, dreams, and desires.”


See Volume 45, 2023 “Our Queer Family.”

Author’s bio: Susie Ling lives in Monrovia and teaches Asian American studies at Pasadena City College. She was born in Taiwan and raised in the Philippines.

Leave a Comment