I Don’t Know What Else You’re Doing with Your Time
I was born in Seoul, South Korea and was adopted when I was an infant and grew up in California. My parents taught me a lot about ecological preservation and the importance of the natural world and biodiversity and so I think that’s where [my environmentalism] stems from but it certainly didn’t stop there. Through a long, lifelong journey of trying to understand my own identity I moved up here, to go to school at San Francisco State University to study political science and that’s where I began to understand social justice better and through that my love and passion for environmental work came through too.
My hometown was predominately white growing up. It still is pretty white. It was moderately liberal, I think it has become more liberal. I didn’t have a lot of people who looked like myself growing up and I think that it made me curious about what the rest of the world looked like and what other people did outside of this bubble that I was in. I remember coming to San Francisco when I was young and understanding that I could fit in somewhere else.
I did a fair amount of walkouts and protests on campus [in college]. It was during the Bush years, so there was a lot of anti-war activism happening. I feel like it was, to me, it felt inescapable. Either you had to be out there contributing or I don’t know what else you’re doing with your time. And so that was… there was always a lot of activity around there. At the same time, this isn’t really activism, but more about exploration of identity, I had joined the Korean club on campus to understand and connect with… not just Korean Americans but also Korean immigrants or study abroad students to begin to have a fuller understanding of Korean identity.
"The Time for 'Far Apart, Far and Away Work' is Now"
What is the Purpose?
The thing that connects it all is capitalism.
So the things I was angry about, that I had access to and [given] my understanding of environmental activism, was like so that we could make money; that we could benefit from something we’re taking, whether it was extraction, or whether it was logging. It was like oh, what is the purpose? It’s for a corporations or somebody to profit off this. And the same for war. And so I think maybe that was the way, one of the ways in which I looked at environmentalism.
Even though the environmental movement is very white and very heteronormative, [I’ve stayed in these spaces]… I think in some part it’s this notion that we only have this place now, and at the same time that I’ve been developing as an environmentalist, as a queer person, I’ve also been coming to terms with atheism. This is a tangent, but it’s like I truly feel like this is all we got and this is the time now. I don’t want kids but I know there are tons of people who do want to give something to the future generation and even though I’m not contributing to the future generation, I feel like we have the right to a healthy environment and we’re part of that and have a responsibility. Over time that’s become more and more of who I am.
From Layers and Layers, Emerges Environmentalism
“I think now, looking at the landscape of queerness, a lot has changed and there is a better understanding and it takes less work on the individual to be safe and understood. That’s another layer that was peeled back.”
It was more layers [different aspects of my identity] rather than them running side by side. I think that as the parts of me that are visible, being Asian, being a woman, and in some spaces, being queer, as those things settled and became… as I became more confident in those spaces that I don’t typically feel safe in, then that environmentalism was able to come through.
In the early 2000s, mid-2000s, everything was about gay rights, marriage equality specifically and there was so much energy and political development around that. And I lived in the Castro in SF and there was a lot of momentum and I think that’s where I put a lot of energy. And over time I’ve realized that’s not enough and marriage equality is not something that will sustain a person. I think at the same time there was a lot of personal work around my relationship. My husband and I have been together almost 12 years, since college. He transitioned shortly after we met. We met as women; he transitioned. I think it was during a time when there was some understanding in our queer community around what it means to be trans, but it was definitely a struggle so there was a lot of inward, I guess work and struggle to maintain identity in the queer community while also my identity through my relationship was changing a lot. I think now, looking at the landscape of queerness, a lot has changed and there is a better understanding and it takes less work on the individual to be safe and understood. That’s another layer that was peeled back. My other interests were able to be developed more.
Coalition to Coalition
“I was curious about how that same coalition or platform could work with people with a queer identity, somewhere along the rainbow spectrum.”
I joined the affinity group for people of color here [at my environmental nonprofit] and it was, and continues to be, a really good experience and helps me to connect with people across the organization and helps us build our work internally. I was curious about how that same coalition or platform could work with people with a queer identity, somewhere along the rainbow spectrum. There was a lot of behind the scenes planning making sure we don’t out anyone. How do we ensure that we’re inclusive of all identities because if we create a list serv that’s LGBTQ+, what does the + mean? Does that mean we’re negating someone’s identity by not calling it out? Etc., etc. From that we were able to build a system that allowed people to come in and start talking about their identity as a queer person, or their work as a queer person.
We meet once a month. It’s a flat structure. It’s hard to get any sort of decision making together because we are all so… we defer to somebody else. The intention was to have rotating roles of meeting facilitators, someone who creates an agenda, someone who brings in speakers, someone who takes notes and sends them out the group and everything. But also with the new administration everybody’s workload doubled and so it’s been trying at times to keep that consistency over the year.
Are You Ready to Go There?
“How would we show up in those spaces as an environmentally aligned queer group when our environmental work doesn’t show up in that state already?”
I don’t know that we necessarily have had explicit conversations about that intersection [between environment and queer]. It’s hard to get people to dig down into it sometimes. I think we have talked a lot about different issues in this group and have done a lot of sharing in that way but not necessarily about this… like what we are in this particular crossroad. So it’s been interesting trying to draw that out of people.
We were reached out to by this group in Alabama where we historically don’t do environmental work as an organization and that brought up a lot of questions about how do we engage with communities that want to engage with us but the organization is not ready to go there as an environmental organization and how do we balance the delicate relationships that we have in Alabama in a state that is not LGBTQ, queer friendly? So how would we show up in those spaces as an environmentally aligned queer group when our environmental work doesn’t show up in that state already?
Queer Dimensionality; Queer Imaginings
I am tired. I get exhausted trying to be one-dimensional and that one dimension to be the voice of the organization. And so if I can push that boundary to say, this is how I show up at work and this is how I show up as myself, it will benefit the environmental movement just in the way pairing racial justice has benefitted the movement
because the frontline community knows firsthand what is happening and what solutions could be most beneficial and I think that could happen with the queer identity and environmental movement too. We just haven’t seen so much of what that could look like and I think it’s really… I think it’s important for people to be able to show up in a variety of ways and bring multiple perspectives. I’m not always going to throw down on racial justice issues in this space, and I’m not always going to show my queer card—I don’t want to explain my backstory to every, mostly white, cis-, straight people. But my experience has shown that there’s a lot of value to bring a different perspective because that can bring different solutions.
I’m thinking about how it’s important to still break down homophobia and transphobia and biphobia within these other marginalized groups too and bring that awareness. But I think it takes multiple strategies in order to make something happen.
The Time for “Far Apart, Far and Away Work” is Now
“For anyone who is trying to build identity around two seemingly far apart, far and away work [and who thinks] that there isn’t a place for it… The time is now.”
There will have to be a lot of different levels [to queering the environmental movement]. Not everyone… my observation is that not everyone is as comfortable with being out in the professional workplace. It’s being really sensitive and understanding that we come to this work with different understandings of ourselves and levels of comfortability. And while I’m here yelling about this stuff and wanting to be more involved outside the organization, I have to be respectful of the different places we’re all coming from. I think being able to encourage people to speak out and tell their story will attract more like minded folks and we can keep building off of that. I know this work doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s the long game for sure.
Going back to the long game—I don’t know what kind of outcomes I’m looking for in doing this but for anyone who is trying to build identity around two seemingly far apart, far and away work [and who thinks] that there isn’t a place for it, if you don’t think the time is now, I would say you’re wrong. The time is now, it just may not feel like now.