My name is ‘Vo’. Only it’s not. I don’t mean that’s not really my
name. It’s certainly my legal name, on my passport, driving license,
IRD forms, etc. Sometimes when I introduce myself to someone new and I
do my characteristic finger-spell of the letters ‘V’ & then ‘O’, I’m
asked “is ‘vo’ short for something longer?” No, that’s all there is.
But really there’s quite a lot more.
In my head, my name is 鄭家武. The sounds that go with those characters
go something like zeng6 gaa1 mou5. Or perhaps they sound like zhèng
jiā wŭ. Or maybe they should be cheng gia vo. The full explanation of
“what’s my name” goes hand in hand with the answer to “where I’m
from.” It’s not exactly concise or simple. I wonder if that’s had a
profound effect then on who I am.
I am asian. But I’m not. I’m American. But I’m not. I’m gay. Yes, I’m
very definitely gay. I’m a man. Or am I? To a lot of people those
things can’t add up into one single person. Can asians really be
American (or kiwi)? Shall we ask what Paul Henry thinks? Can asians be
gay? Should we ask Lee Kuan Yew? Can gay asians be “men” or
“masculine”? How many times have your read the phrase “no fats,
femmes, or asians” on internet dating / hookup sites?
And yet here I am. Constantly & steadily explaining myself and my
story to every person I meet. Quite often it feels like I have to
justify my existence. Yes, I do exist! I’m sorry if the my family
history is a living monument to the 20th Century’s Cold War. I’m sorry
I’m not yet another boring one-place one-name person who’s never
gotten farther than 10km from the spot where my parents were born. No,
I’m not. Sorry, that is.
Of course those things are all just labels. As far as I’m concerned,
I’m none of those things. I’m a person, just me. Those things don’t
say anything to what I like; what I think; how I think; what I can and
can’t do; how I spend my time; how I choose my friends; or how I treat
my friends & family.
So who am I? Am I a child to Hakka Chinese parents born in Saigon,
South Viet Nam and raised in Los Angeles, California? Am I yet another
Tolkien nerd who’s read The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings dozens of times
(and seen Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy half a dozen times)? Am I yet
another Chinese-descent 華裔who went back to China to “find his roots”
in Beijing & Shanghai? Am I some foodie fag who’s a wiz in the kitchen
& can roll out a made-from-scratch pie in 20 minutes? Am I the partner
of yet another pakeha kiwi rice queen who did his good kiwi duty,
found a partner on his great OE and brought him back? Am I that
asian-american guy who really took to rugby and played off & on for
I am asian. I am gay. I am a whole person. I have the right to choose
& to marry whomever I wish. I’m just waiting for the rest of the world
to understand that fact.