It’s easy to picture a poet, marginalized by race, sexuality or another marker of difference, battling against the dominant culture, fighting their way in from the margins to the mainstream, and perhaps shouting to be heard.
My experience was somewhat the opposite. I found a welcome mat and was rather hard to shut up. I chalk this up to luck — to have written poetry and sought publication at a time and place that welcomed my differences: Canada in the late 20th century and into the new millennium.
Lest anyone get too jealous, I don’t think that most people would actively seek to be placed in the path of prejudice, hatred and stereotyping as a leg-up to getting published. But take what good comes your way, I’ve always said.
Canada was a multicultural paradise. Having travelled and lived in many places since leaving in 1994, I find the rest of the world far less integrated with respect to different cultures, and far less able to celebrate diversity. With gay marriage legal since 2005, and lesbians and gays relatively mainstream in terms of visibility and culture, it seems like Canada today is a remarkably accepting society.
But without overdramatizing, at the time, my self-esteem was affected by both my markers of difference, my race and sexuality. I feared violence and discrimination. Prejudice or the threat of it was a theme in my life.
In fact, it guided my writing. I felt the urge to speak and be heard. I wanted to assert my identity, first my cultural background, as an Asian-Canadian of Cantonese origin, and then my sexual identity as a gay man. It even went a step further. In perceiving the literature of my adopted tribe, the gay community, as written by mostly the same old white guys, I wanted to create space for the different voice of a gay Asian man.