I play hooky one afternoon and drive across the bridge into Berkeley to hear Patrick Cheng speak at the Pacific School of Religion. I’m intrigued by this concept of ‘Queer theology’, ed which is the subject of Patrick’s book “Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology.”
Conservative religious folks like my parents would faint at the idea of a theological discussion from a gay perspective. I’m curious to find out what this is all about, but more so I am intrigued by the fact that this talk is being given by a Chinese guy, and a super smart one too. Holding a Ph.D., M.Phil., and M.A. from Union Theological Seminary, a J.D. from Harvard, and a B.A. from Yale, Patrick is a professor and ordained minister. He’s the kind of guy any Asian parent would love for their daughter to marry. Too bad for them, he is also gay.
Queer theology, as Patrick describes in his book, is about “erasing boundaries by challenging and deconstructing the ‘natural’ binary categories of sexual and gender identity.” Patrick continues saying that “Christian theology itself is a fundamentally queer enterprise because it also challenges and deconstructs—through radical love—all kinds of binary categories that on the surface seem fixed and unchangeable…but that ultimately are fluid and malleable.” My roommate, Carson, a Yale theology student himself, tells me that queer theology is a burgeoning field in religious scholarship. Really? I’m not sure I have the mind to truly grasp what this is all about, but I sure am glad some extremely intelligent people with a lot of letters after their names are thinking about religious studies from queer perspectives.
Patrick’s talk that evening is specifically about being a queer Asian person of faith. My heart jumps at the recognition that that is who I am and that there are people like Patrick who are leading the way for our unique community.
I realize that of these three attributes: Queer, Asian, Person of Faith – I currently identify only with the first one. Maybe it’s because being queer has required me to largely throw off the other two attributes, as there is very little room for queer people in Asian or faith communities. Maybe it’s because being queer is the ‘newest’ addition to my identity, as I only came out five years ago and am still trying to figure things out. Or, maybe it’s because I’m dating a white girl (although she keeps telling me she has a little yellow in her from her part-Filipino grandma) whose faith background is different from mine.
This is odd because for most of my life, being Asian and a Person of Faith were the most important parts of my identity. I spent my school breaks at church retreats with kids from the Chinese church that my family attended where we’d sing Christian songs around campfires and listen to speakers preach about giving up our young lives to God. Despite the fact that I was raised in a white bread Chicago suburb, I felt most comfortable with people of color and I surrounded myself almost exclusively with other Asians, Indians and the occasional Latino.
So, it’s a big change to look around and realize that my friends are now mostly white. Over the years, I’ve grown a lot more comfortable in my Asian-ness, and the result is that it matters less to me what color my friends are. But to be honest, I miss my Asian crew, who enjoy eating Chinese food in a way that Lisa never will and who can understand the idiosyncrasies of Asian-American family dynamics. And I miss my People of Faith crew too, who can sing all the same church songs that I sang growing up and who appreciate the sacredness of traditions like communion.
It saddens me that because I am queer, I’m largely shut out of the Asian-American faith communities. Thankfully, meeting people like Patrick gives me hope that there are other people like me. That gives me the affirmation I need to go out into the world and be with people who identify differently. But I still miss you, my queer yellow people of faith, so give me a shout out and we’ll go and get some dim sum together after church.