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5 Mental Health Takeaways From a Panel of Queer Asian Voices

On July 22, 2020 there was an amazing panel on Mental Health on The Mighty featuring queer Asian voices. Matt Rivera (he/him) hosted the panel while we got to listen to Alice Tsui (she/her), Sean Chong-Umeda (he/him) and Kevin Wong (he/him) talk about their lives and experiences as queer Asian Americans. Tsui is a first-generation Asian American actress, Chong-Umeda is a jokester who introduced himself by stating that he doesn’t know how to ride a bike, and Wong is the vice president of communications for the Trevor Project. There were many amazing points made but here are five that stuck out the most to me.

1. How mental health is handled throughout the generations in Asian culture.

Across the board, they all talked about and agreed that mental health essentially doesn’t exist in Asian communities. 

Whenever it is talked about, you are typically met with some type of toxic positivity such as “you’ll get over it,” “sleep it off,” etc. There are also a lot of misconceptions throughout the Asian community about seeking help for mental health issues. Tsui talked about the time she expressed to her mom that she was pursuing going to therapy and her mom called her in tears. She thought that the only time people pursued therapy was when they were on the edge and actively suicidal. Tsui then explained to her mother that she is not suicidal or in any type of danger, it’s just something that she’s doing in order to help her live the best life that she can.

2. Introducing your partner to your parents.

Chong-Umeda expressed his gratitude toward how loving and accepting his family is. He talked about how his main concern was possibly putting the burden on his younger brother — who was 7 at the time he came out — of trying to understand why he has a male partner instead of a female one. All of those nervous feelings ended up being alleviated when his brother expressed that as long as there’s fast food at the wedding — Chong-Umeda’s partner at the time worked for a fast-food chain — then he didn’t care. Wong had a different experience; at first, his family wasn’t completely on-board with his queer identity. At first, they threw around the idea of having him go to a “special kind of doctor,” but now they’ve come around and invite him and his partner to come to dinner frequently.

Tsui has had a different experience altogether due to the fact that she has never brought a romantic partner home to meet her parents; it’s a potential situation that causes her to experience high anxiety. She worries about the backlash that her partner could face if they were transgender or nonbinary. The language barrier also came up due to the fact her mom speaks Mandarin as a first language and she speaks English. A thought that crossed her mind is, “what if I bring a female Asian partner home? Someone who speaks my mom’s language — I’ve never had that before,” which ties into how difficult it can be to communicate among the Asian community.

3. Communication.

As stated earlier, communication is difficult in Asian families. Love is not very often expressed through words or affection but more so through acts of service. Regarding the language barrier that Tsui and her mom have, it makes it so that they aren’t really able to have deep and productive conversation. The language barrier makes it even harder to break any misconceptions or misunderstandings that her mother may have about sexuality and mental health.

Rivera has noticed that mental illness definitely runs in his family, although it is never discussed. It’s a very stigmatized topic among the community. Rivera has noticed that there are a lot of secrets in families that never get brought up because there is a severe lack of ability to communicate openly and honestly. However, even just taking little steps to be able to start to open those doors to deeper conversations can begin to change that among families which, in turn, could cause a shift in the stigma around mental illness in the Asian American community as a whole.

4. Experiences on dating apps and internalized racism.

As many of us know, when you’re swiping on a dating app the first thing you tend to see and judge the person on is the photos they have. Wong has used both Bumble and Jack’d, and noticed that there are a lot more barriers on Bumble. The folks who are on Jack’d tend to judge less based on pictures alone. Neither Wong nor Tsui are big fans of judgment off of pictures alone. Rivera made note that he has noticed a trend of hit-or-miss experiences when it comes to dating apps and credits it toward the fact that people in LA still have a strong commitment to Western beauty standards. Because of that he “definitely felt growing up for a long time where [he] didn’t feel proud of being Asian or accepting Asian beauty in myself or in others.”

One thing that Asian Americans tend to have to look out for when dating is “yellow fever,” when people are fetishizing them and/or their Asian culture. One good question that was said to reflect on is, “where is the line between fetishizing a person’s race and accepting and appreciating it?”

5. Anti-Asian sentiment during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

While our host and his guests have not faced any type of anti-Asian sentiment directly, both Tsui and Chong-Umeda received concerned calls from their parents. Cong-Umeda’s parents called him at the beginning of the pandemic because they were seeing reports of other Asian Americans being attacked on the news. Thankfully, Chong-Umeda is able to feel at least a slight sense of security due to the fact that he lives in a neighborhood that is predominantly Asian. Tsui’s mom, on the other hand, didn’t just see reports of attacks on the TV — she saw them in her own predominantly Asian neighborhood. Tsui received a phone call at the beginning of the pandemic that consisted of her mom telling her to be careful because the cars and homes of other Asian families in their neighborhood had been “vandalized and smashed.”

Wong says that he has two homes: his actual home and the internet. He has noticed there are a lot of online “trolls” who hide behind their profiles while making anti-Asian remarks. Referring to COVID-19 as the “China virus” is a very commonly expressed way of showing microaggression. When you’re an Asian person online, people can find you and decide to say whatever they want to you such as shoving the “China virus” down your throat like you had some kind of part in it. After a while, seeing all of those types of comments begin to wear down on your mental health, whether or not they are directed at you.

There was so much important information shared and topics discussed on this panel, and so much to take away from it that there’s no way to fit it all into one summary. I would like to thank Matt, Alice, Sean and Kevin for taking time out of their day to talk to us about what it’s like to be an Asian American who is a part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Watch the full panel here: