Together, we’re stronger

Why your community needs you

This article is also available in Simplified Chinese.

When growing up in China, I was often considered to be weird by people around me.

I was called names in primary and middle schools that loosely translated to ladyboy, sissy, and pervert.

Once, I was even pulled from my dorm in the middle of the night by a group of classmates after a rumour spread that I liked a boy. They made it very clear to me, as only bullies can, that boys are not allowed to like boys.

Perhaps worse was the fact there was no one I could talk with. I had to simply hide and cry quietly on my own, digesting and trying to make sense of my everyday reality.

Confiding in family wasn’t really an option either. Many from my generation in China don’t have siblings: a result of the country’s one-child policy. (The policy only officially ended in 2016.) And many Chinese parents don’t really want to deal with issues like homosexuality. For some, the shame is just too much. (That is slowly changing. Very slowly.) So, I was left to deal with confusion, panic, and the resulting uncertainty on my own.

But throughout it all, I never considered myself weird. I always felt it was the bullies who had the problem, not me. Time has proved me right.

I have a large circle of friends now, also gay, and also from China. Many had similar experiences to me. Bullied at school with similar feelings of loneliness and isolation. For some, it’s the reason they were keen to leave China.

Behind their brave faces is the longing desire to be seen, understood and accepted.

Thanks to them, I have discovered a sense of community. Because of them, in this place far away from home, I feel like I can be myself without worrying about the judgement of others. I can relax my defences and reveal my vulnerabilities. I finally have a sense of belonging. A new home.

Despite that, there are still some things that even we don’t talk openly about. Many of my non-Chinese gay friends seem to have no issue talking freely about sex-related issues. In our culture, sex is considered a private matter, even taboo.

That can sometimes be a problem given we didn’t have access to proper sex education in school or at home. Many rely on the internet to learn simple things, such as how to use a condom. But informal online sources don’t give us everything we need.

And that can have more serious consequences.

The stigma attached to sex and sexuality means health clinics are not seeing the same increased levels of HIV and STI testing for Asian-born men, as with other groups. That also minimises early uptake of treatment.

According to the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, newly confirmed HIV infections in Australia are decreasing year-on-year overall, but that trend is not reflected for overseas-born men who have sex with men.

In particular, the rate of confirmed HIV infections among Asian-born men who have sex with men has increased significantly over the past decade, from 29% in 2009 to 47% in 2018. In fact, around one in three gay guys who acquire HIV in NSW are born in Asia.

It’s clear that our community continues to face challenges from HIV. Overcoming them requires your help.

The Gay Asian Men’s Survey 2021 (GAMS) aims to assess the HIV prevention needs of Asian men who have sex with men living in New South Wales. The data will help academics, governments, and non-profit organisations such as ACON better help Asian LGBTQ people.

The survey is available in simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese and English. It can be easily completed on a mobile phone. All information is kept confidential with the option of not even providing any personal contact details.

It will only take about 15 or 20 minutes to complete, so if you’re reading this on a train or bus, why not take the time now? If you need added incentive, you even have the chance to win a $100 Visa gift card.

Looking out for each other is an obligation and benefit of belonging to a community. It’s the thing I craved while growing up. Together, we can be stronger. GAMS is one small thing we can all do. But always remember, it’s the small things that can make a big difference.

Garrison Cheng came from mainland China and now calls Sydney home. He works in media as a journalist and producer with a focus on Chinese communities in Australia. He also helps manage ANTRA, an NGO for Chinese LGBTIQ+ communities. He has a passion for food and is a strong advocate of the Chinese saying: ‘Most problems can be solved over a good meal. For things that can’t, make it two meals.’