Love Letter from a Gweilo to Richmond

Originally published on Love Intersections

Brexit. I’ve been finding it challenging to comprehend all the explicit hate, racism, and xenophobia. People voting Leave believing they were voting for immigrants to leave and then gleefully celebrating their “victory” has my stomach in knots.

Part of me wants to be in denial that this ideology could be present here, but the truth is that it has been voiced to me many times. It’s rarely explicit stated, but the implicit message is always clear.

What usually happens is that I’m talking with an older white person and they find out I grew up in Richmond. They’ll say something like:

“Oh… Richmond has really changed, hasn’t it?”

What they mean is “there’s too many Asian people now,” and they expect me to agree.

The assumption they make is that I’m on their side in the us-versus-them they’ve constructed. It’s one of the many ways in which they are incorrect.

There’s no question to me which side I’m on. I’m on the side with “those Asians” because they are my friends, my neighbours, my classmates, and my family. And I want to say I love you.

My family left Richmond in 2001, so to my neighbours both from then and those who’ve arrived since: I love you and I really love what you’ve done with the place. By your hands, Richmond has gone from a nondescript, homogenous suburb to a vibrant, multicultural, urban community. Richmond really has changed, and it’s entirely for the better.

To my classmates: I love you and I gained so much from all that you taught me. Like that there’s a difference between Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China (and Japan, and South Korea, and all the other places in Asia…). That CBC, FOB, and Banana all mean Canadian. How you really don’t need that much shared language to play together. And how more cultures means more opportunities for celebrations.

To my friends: I love you and have so much gratitude for everything we shared. Trading cookies for Pocky, playing Star Wars and Pokémon, watching Disney and Studio Ghibli. We were pirates, Power Rangers, dinosaurs, Sailor Scouts, Batman and Ultraman, and so much more. Anime taught us the extraordinary power of friendship and we brought it into reality.

Two people I am honoured to call my siblings are mixed Japanese and European. You are my family and I love you so much. My world is greater in both breadth and quality for having you in it.

When I say I love all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Richmond, I really mean it. Not just the sweet and sour and the yakisoba that my grandparent’s palate can understand, but the duck feet and the durian that allow my palate to grow beyond what theirs could even imagine.

The same is true for stories and histories. I love the stories of dragons, lanterns, and fireworks. For the histories of emigration, internment, and inequity my love is just as strong, though awash with sadness too.

Xenophobia tells us to fear difference but as a queer person I know my difference is my gift. I know that in an ecosystem the diversity is what makes it resilient. I know that celebrating and embracing difference makes us all so much more than we could ever be on our own.

We now live in an era of profound global interconnection. Technology, economies, migration, and climate disruption have woven our stories and fates more tightly than has ever been seen. Any movement forward must be grounded in an ethos of connection, acceptance, and a global sense of us. We are not “all one,” but instead an extraordinary multitude of difference, and that is how we will survive and thrive.

So thank you Richmond, for nurturing me and my peers into global citizens.

I love you,


leaves change, then fall

There are very few things that can get me to clean my room, but my boyfriend coming to visit for a few days is one of them. I had just finished vacuuming when he texted me.

“Hey Are you by your phone?”

For a self-identified millennial he has a strange yet endearing habit of using his phone for actual phone calls. I reply and in a moment I can hear his voice. I know immediately that something is up so I sit down on my floor and breathe. He’s struggling to say what he needs to say. I don’t remember many of his words, but one sentence stood out.

“I love you, but as a friend.”

My heart drops. I’m not shocked; this wasn’t out of nowhere like my last break-up was. But it still hurts. When I finally find my voice, I’m a bit surprised by what comes out.

“Can you still come over?”

“Of course,” he says. He’ll be on the five o’clock ferry.

The call ends and I find myself laying on my newly cleaned floor, not sure what to do, but also confident that laying on the floor is exactly what I need in this moment. After an indeterminate amount of time my phone vibrates with a text from a friend. It seems like the world outside my room has continued on. I tell him what happened. I text my roommate. I text my faerie lover in the midwest. I text my mom. In response to their “how are you doing?” they receive my #sadgayfloorselfie.

I decide that I can’t just tragically lay on the floor until he gets here, so I put on some self-esteem (glitter in my stubble, and some eyeliner) and drag myself out the door. First stop is Waterfront Station to get myself a Compass Card. This is what self-care looks like for a transit nerd. It is hard to not smile a little when I tap it for the first time. Next stop is comfort food: tempura donburi. Finally I return home and add tea, pillows, and blankets to my floor kingdom.

He texts me to say he’s nearby. I put on pants. I light a candle, praying for ease in whatever comes next. Then he’s at my door.

We embrace, holding each other tightly, as if to never let go, knowing that’s exactly what we’re doing. We collapse onto my bed, taking turns holding each other as we cry. The magnitude of the situation only fully hits once my face is buried in his chest, his arms around me. This relationship is ending and I am full of sadness and grief. This relationship is ending and I am full of love for him. I marvel at my ability to simultaneously feel deep sadness and deep love. I know he is feeling the same way too.

I look up at him, tears in his eyes. He’s wearing a ball cap with pistols on it from a country bar on the island. The image is so indicative what I love about him. Unabashed masculinity and unabashed emotional vulnerability.

He says comforting things to me. They are platitudes and yet they come from a place of complete honesty. I know he means them. He affirms that he doesn’t want to loose me from his life completely. Again, I know he means this, and I let him know that it’s important to me too. I love this man. We’ve grown together. He knows me deeply and I him. That’s an invaluable investment.

We shift to talking about our adventures since we’d last seen each other. He had been to a music festival. I had been to a retreat. We share our experiences and the emotions that carried us through them. We laugh. We stare into each other’s eyes.

A new feeling arises in us. A sense of pride is bubbling up amidst the deep sadness and the deep love. How amazing is this, that we can literally hold each other through something as challenging as the ending of a relationship? How amazing is it that our hearts can hold our love and our hurt, our caring and our grieving, all at once? We feel mature, and deeply grateful for our growth leading up to this point.

And then it’s time for him to leave. I walk him to the door. Our last kiss lingers. He looks back at me across the threshold, his hands in the shape of a heart on his chest. I can see some of my glitter shimmer on his face.

I return to my room. I give thanks for how beautifully it went. I put out the candle and I say goodbye.

leaves change, then fall
the wheel turns

My Dark Green Hanky

I wear a dark green hanky, usually in my back right pocket. My favourite description of what this means in the gay hanky code, a method of subtly communicating desire, is “orphan boy looking for a daddy.” I usually say this with a mischievous grin on my face and a twinkle in my eyes.

I don’t really remember when I started to wear hankies. I’m not sure if I even remember what prompted it. I know that now it is an important part of visually expressing my identity: a way to be visibly queer that is largely invisible to dominant culture and symbolism that connects me to a lineage of queer men. Visible queerness, visible expression of my desires, visible connection to history, and often a teachable moment for the young gay men that I work with.

Flagging dark green meant I was interested in older men, and at first these relationships were purely sexual. Discovering the culture of cruising in Victoria, I met men in the trails of Beacon Hill park (and then later online.) They were all at least twenty years my senior, which was fine by me. While it was usually spit and semen we were sharing, occasionally I was privy to their stories as well. I heard stories of what life was like back in the days prior to modern gay rights, and what life was like today for men whose experiences were radically different from my own: bisexual working class men, closeted men in heterosexual marriages.

These encounters were anonymous and ephemeral, with no lasting connections. This satisfied me for a while, but eventually I began to realize that there was something more I desired.

And then I finally found the Radical Faeries. Going to Shine (an intergenerational gay men’s retreat) on Salt Spring Island, was an amazing experience. I felt for the first time like I was part of an extended family. I felt like I could lean back into these people and they would support me. My relationship with my boyfriend was supported by people who had been in similar relationships, who understood the tensions and challenges I was grappling with.

Friendship and community with older guys was a new and different experience. Sure, there were one or two I flirted with a bit, but for the most part these were non-sexual relationships. Lots of stories, lots of support, and lots of learning. I found mentorship for my newly chosen vocation of facilitation and community building; I found guidance in dealing with depression; I found praise and support for my relationship; I found my history.

I continued to have anonymous sex with older guys, build community with different older guys, and wear my dark green hanky.

At the 2013 BC Radical Faerie Gathering, these two seemingly separate forms of desire converged. There were these two older guys who I thought were both extremely attractive, and they thought I was attractive, and they also thought the other was very attractive. Ideal three-way triangle, right? Tragically, no. Neither of them were having sex that weekend because of their relationship agreements. That didn’t mean we couldn’t tease each other, though, and tease we did. We had lots of fun building some delicious sexual tension. We also had space to be intimate in other ways, and one morning, as I was snuggled between the two of them in Heart Circle (a Radical Faerie interpretation of the talking circle tradition), I realized that my hanky wasn’t just about sex; it was also about support, friendship, and love. I wasn’t just flagging daddies for sex; I was flagging daddies and uncles for community, for intimacy, and for family.

I started calling it my intergenerational mentorship hanky.

Intergenerational community building had been one of the core themes of my community involvement up to this point, but I had never drawn a connection between my desire for community and my desire for sex. Suddenly I saw nothing but connections, and I realized it was the same desire being expressed in different ways. The gay men’s community is built around sexuality, so sexual mentorship intertwines cultural mentorship.

In the spring of 2014, I started to realize that my casual non-intimate sexual relationships were not feeding me in the way that they once had. In the past they had been invigorating and exciting, but that had waned and I found myself instead often feeling unsatiated and left craving intimacy. A couple of the casual sexual relationships I had developed unexpectedly had strong intimate components to them, which helped me to realize how important to me that was in all my relationships. Like an art gallery, I started to curate my sexual partners, removing the pieces that no longer fit in the exhibit, and looking for the pieces missing from my gallery of lovers. I eventually realized that missing piece was an older dominant top with whom I had an intimate connection: a daddy. So I set an intention to find one.

I had just chosen my bunk for the 2014 BC Radical Faerie gathering and I wandered outside to find somewhere to paint my nails. There among the faeries I knew were two I didn’t. One of them, with his ball cap, salt and pepper beard, and a softness to his eyes, caught my interest immediately. I sat down on the step below him and introduced myself. As we chatted, I felt a connection, and I decided I wanted to play with him this weekend, thinking that would be all that would come of it.

The next morning after Heart Circle he found me and initiated a conversation that went from zero to deep in about sixty seconds. Building on some of what I had talked about in Heart Circle around finding it challenging allowing myself to be vulnerable in relationships, he shared some of his own experiences, as well as some useful insight. I was even more enthralled: this guy was so much more than just a handsome face. The rest of the day was spent in flirtation. A wink across the dining hall, a wandering hand sunbathing on the dock as we shared stories, a kiss amongst the trees. Playfully introducing each other to our bodies, minds, and hearts; finally climaxing with a deeply intimate and satisfying sexual encounter.

It was a memorable weekend to say the least.

We started texting the day after camp and didn’t stop. I visited him two weeks later. And then the week after that. And then the week after that. Suddenly it was a thing. It was a relationship. This guy wasn’t just a friend from camp. I wasn’t quite sure what he was, what we were, but I really liked it.

Barely a month after meeting we were at a point where we were sharing the vulnerable and sometimes painful stories of our past, and talking around, about, maybe even using “love.”

There were elements of this relationship that I was familiar with. I had had sex with older guys, and I had deep friendships with older guys, and I had fallen in love with guys close in age to me, but the combination of all these things was new and unexpected. It felt really good.

I still wear my dark green hanky. I may not be an orphaned boy anymore, but my desire for intergenerational community and love has certainly not diminished. And I still have that twinkle in my eyes.