8Books Review: “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong

Named one of the most anticipated books of 2019, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is Ocean Vuong’s novel debut. In 2016, Vuong’s poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, earned national recognition, winning the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and the Whiting Award. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous sings with Vuong’s poetic voice, snipping the narrative form into bites of elegant prose.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is written as a letter from a queer Vietnamese son to an illiterate Vietnamese immigrant mother; the novel is in English–a language out of the mother’s command. The premise itself is sentimental, and when compounded with the tender vignettes of Vietnamese matriarchy, poor immigrant lives, and deep war histories, the novel pushes emotional boundaries in a way that I found deeply Vietnamese. Vietnamese language and storytelling consistently play with words and imagery. Simple wording can give way to florid descriptions that toy with serious subjects like death, while also providing dissections of words (see Vuong’s surgery of the word nhớ). This novel exemplifies the importance of specificity.

As the neoliberal impulse of universalism continues to assert itself with the rising representation of minority voices, Vuong is able to capture the minutiae of a Việt American queer experience with subtlety. As a queer Việt American, I finished the book with dozens of dog-eared pages, sometimes frustrated that I wasn’t able to flag both sides of a page. Tiny details sparked memories from my childhood I hadn’t even stopped to consider: “…her breath a mix of Ricola cough drops and the meaty scent of sleep…”, a search for oxtail at the butcher, “bahgeddy” or spaghetti, Cool Ranch Doritos with jasmine tea. Amidst these were new threads: a gay hate crime in Vietnam to the recent Pulse shooting in Orlando, a death of a young lover to death of family, links of our collective Vietnamese history to contemporary Việt Nam burial customs

For those of us who read Vietnamese, Vuong inserts a gift in his spelling of Ma. The Vietnamese language has a variety of words for mom, but the Vietnamese Americans I know fall into two main camps, me or má. Vuong does not shy from using Vietnamese within his novel. He maintains the language of his mother and grandma throughout, adding the appropriate accents where necessary. His use of Ma for his mother then is a deliberate choice, hinting to the close assimilation of Việt Americans, but also Ma in Vietnamese means ghost, a choice that will overshoot many but those of us who understand this significance deeply.*

I highly recommend picking up a copy of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous as soon as you can. Enjoy the richness that Vuong brings, the specificity that he captures brilliantly, and the nuance that his minority voice adds to American histories. Vuong’s writing captures joy and grief in stark relief and I look forward to his burgeoning career. I leave you with a particularly beautiful image that the main character recalls early in the novel (no spoilers):

You once told me that the human eye is god’s loneliest creation. How so much of the world passes through the pupil and still it holds nothing. The eye, alone in its socket, doesn’t even know there’s another one, just like it, an inch away, just as hungry, as empty.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

*I later found out Vuong gave this away in his New York Times interview! Still claiming this (and the entire novel) as something for us Viet kids–which Vuong also openly declares in the same interview.


Timmy Pham lives in New York City and once said he would be happy with rice and ruốc as his last meal (read the book, you’ll get it).

8Questions with Barney Cheng, Director of “Baby Steps”

Back in September 2018, I did a review of a movie Baby Steps on 8Asians. The movie was written, directed and starred Barney Cheng. I was still so intrigued with the movie, that I got in contact with Barney and asked him to do this 8Questions segment for 8Asians.

Before we get to the questions, a little bit about Barney from his wikipedia page

Barney Cheng is a Taiwanese-American actor, director, writer and producer. Cheng was born in Taipei, Taiwan. His family emigrated to the United States when he was 12 years old and he grew up in Brea, California. He speaks Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Hokkien fluently.

and from his own official site:

Barney Cheng landed on the Hollywood map as an actor in 2002 with his acclaimed performance in Woody Allen’s Hollywood Ending.  The New York Times described Barney’s comedic timing as “surgically precise.” The Orange County Register raved that Barney “steals every scene he’s in.” Barney accompanied Woody Allen to promote the film and to open the 55th Cannes Film Festival. 

On to the questions:

1. How did you get the idea for the movie Baby Steps?

I came across a story about a gay couple from Israel. They wanted to have a baby, but since it was illegal for gay couples to hire surrogates in Israel, they flew to the U.S. to work with an American egg donor. They flew to India to transfer the embryos to an Indian surrogate. Nine months later, they traveled across the globe to pick up their baby. I was intrigued by the couple’s emotional and physical journey, and I could see that as a movie. Then I thought, “What if it were my life? What if I had a partner, and we decided to have kids?” Baby Steps was conceived.

2. You wrote, directed and starred in Baby Steps, how similar are you to the main character Danny?

Very different. The movie is fictional. I’m single and don’t have kids. However, the film is inspired by the relationship between my mother and me. She definitely evolved throughout the years. The more than 20 years of her evolution — coming to terms with my coming out to full acceptance — was captured in the 90-minute film!

3. What advice would you give a gay Asian American who wants to be a parent?

To be visible, open and out. It’s important to be proud of who you are and be a role model for your child. Being in the closet conveys a message of shame, and that would be detrimental to the child’s development.

4. I read that you showed Baby Steps in mainland China. What was that like?

The State Department under the Obama Administration hosted U.S. embassy screenings of the film in six cities in China. At the screenings, the staff at the American consulates handed out study guides to highlight American culture and LGBT marriage equality. After the screenings, I was surprised to learn that many Chinese audiences didn’t think that the story was plausible. It seemed like a fairy tale to many Chinese audiences. Many of them just couldn’t imagine coming out to their parents and getting the kind of acceptance that Danny received. They also couldn’t imagine living openly as gay people and having children as gay parents.

5. Who are your role models and influences on your work?

I don’t have specific role models for my work, but as a storyteller, I always aim to be authentic, real and truthful.

6. Compared with Danny, how supportive have your parents been in your career, life, and movies?

I remember when we were filming Baby Steps in Taipei, my mother would make me breakfast each morning to make sure that I was well-prepared for the long, hectic day ahead. We would have early 5 o’clock calls, and my mom would get up at 3:00 a.m. to make me breakfast. She didn’t have to say anything, but I felt that she cared. Taiwanese parents rarely say explicitly “I love you” or “I care about you.” They show through actions.

The movie was released theatrically in Taiwan. When we were promoting for the release, it was very important to me to be an openly out filmmaker and actor. One of the important themes of Baby Steps is being open and authentic, and our promotion campaign had to be consistent with that vision. My mom joined me on a TV talk show to promote the film. My mother openly shared her struggles of coming to terms with having a gay son. She invited all of her friends to see the film in theater. And my mother enrolled friends and relatives to join her at marriage equality rallies in Taiwan. Through Baby Steps, she “came out.”

7. Do you have any new projects in the works you can tell us about?

I’m developing a TV series called “Curated Lies,” and it centers around an Asian-American family in a wine country. I’ve recently finished filming a transgender love and acceptance video for the Asian-American LGBTQ community. It’s called A Love LetterPlease check it out: https://youtu.be/irjUBWxgSPY

8. Where can someone watch “Baby Steps” now?

All digital platforms. We recommend Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yawje8ry

“Baby Steps” Review: A film about two gay dads, surrogacy and a tiger mom

Baby Steps” is a film released in 2015, written, directed and staring Barney Cheng.  He plays the lead character, Danny Lee, a Taiwanese-American living in Los Angeles with a Caucasian boyfriend, Tate.  They’ve decided to have a child, through surrogacy, although Tate is a little less invested in the idea than Danny.  Added to the mix is Danny’s mother, who’s convinced she’s never going to have a grandchild, while all her friends are celebrating the births of their “Sūnzi 孫子”(grandchildren).

I hadn’t heard of this movie prior to last week, when my sister sent me a link to it, thinking I’d be interested in watching it.  I have to admit that my first thought when reading the description was, “why did it take so long for a movie to come out about a gay mixed-race couple going on a surrogacy journey?”  You have to understand, my husband and I started our surrogacy journey back in late 2003, more than a decade earlier than the release of this film, and our daughter from surrogacy just turned 13.

It was fascinating to watch the various events around surrogacy unfold for Danny, as I had some similar experiences with surrogacy and with my own parents.  There was a large difference though, I was lucky by comparison in that I was older when I reached the point in my life when I was able to, and ready to, have a child.  In “Baby Steps,” when Danny’s mother finally finds out her son is planning to have a child via surrogacy, she inserts herself into the process in unexpected ways, producing funny and memorable scenes, ones that are crazy, yet believable if you have an Asian mom.

Given my experience with the surrogacy progress, some scenes did seem completely unbelievable (usually the egg donor is anonymous, so I was surprised to see them meeting various egg donors), and I was left wondering how they negotiated all the legal issues of having the birth in Taiwan.  But leaving the practical issues aside, the movie had funny, serious, and sad scenes, and many brought out plenty of empathy for Danny’s (and Tate’s) situation.  Perhaps even more believable was Danny’s Ma’s stance on her gay son, keeping his sexuality hidden from her friends, and eventually her determination to do everything possible to find the right surrogate to carry her grandchild.

One other side note, the movie did remind me a bit of “The Wedding Banquet“, the 1993 movie directed by Ang Lee.  It was the first movie I ever saw to feature a Asian-Caucasian mixed race gay couple.  While the films were created a generation apart, there’s definitely a similarity to them in style and content.  Both should be on your viewing list if you’re a gay Asian American and should probably make your list even if you’re not.

LGBT Media Convening 2017: Journalists Revisit Their Coverage of the Pulse Shooting in Orlando

June 12 will mark the one year anniversary of the devastating shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. This year’s LGBT Media Convening, which appropriately took place in Orlando.

Jeff Truesdell of People moderated a panel featuring Billy Manes with Watermark, Erik Sandoval with CBS Orlando, Emilie Arnold from the Orange County Regional History Center, and Meredith Talusan.

Talusan, who was covering the shooting for BuzzFeed, points out that there were many articles written by white gay men covered the news in a way that framed Pulse as a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community.

The coverage of the events was immediate for many news outlets, but Talusan was wanted to look at the story from a different angle. She points out how there was a lack of featured coverage of the tragedy by minority voices.

“For me, there was a gap between people directly experiencing an event and those experiencing it metaphorically,” says Talusan.

Her gripping piece, “This Is How Queer People In Orlando Are Mourning After The Pulse Shooting” provided a different point of view of what the public was seeing from major news outlets. The piece gave a candid and intimate look at the memorial for Edward Sotomayor Jr., one of the victims of the shooting.

The article not only takes a deeper dive into the tragedy, but unpacks the news with a perspective that was underrepresented in the mainstream media.

Discrimination Against LGBT People Could Cost Indonesia Almost $12B USD a Year

Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Indonesians in workplaces, schools, and social opportunities is pervasive and will limit their ability to fully contribute to the Indonesian economy. A new study shows that the cost of discrimination to the Indonesian economy could range from nearly 900 million to 12 billion US dollars.

In LGBT Exclusion in Indonesia and Its Economic Effects, researchers M.V. Lee Badgett, Amira Hasenbush, and Winston Ekaprasetia Luhur examine the evidence that discrimination occurs against LGBT people, and the study shows how that treatment can hold back economic growth in Indonesia.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Waria (an Indonesian term for transgender women and effeminate men) face many barriers because they violate cultural rules about gender. Waria are often unable to get work, stay in school, or open a bank account because the gender listed on their identification cards does not match their gender presentation.
  • LGBT people and those perceived as LGBT report high levels of harassment in school, which may reduce educational attainment and reduce economic productivity later in life.
  • In some regions, LGBT people rely heavily on work in the informal employment sector, particularly sex work and jobs in salons.
  • Studies of LGBT Indonesians show that most have experienced violence, resulting in increased economic burdens.
  • Stress associated with prejudice produces higher rates of depression and suicide, impairing economic productivity.

M.V. Lee Badgett, an economist who has conducted similar studies in other parts of the world, notes, “To reach their full economic potential, LGBT people need to develop their human capital, or their abilities, skills, and knowledge. This report shows that LGBT Indonesians are often held back from reaching that point, which prevents them from contributing fully to the economy.”

Badgett compares the Indonesian economy to that of India where similar research has been completed. “The data in Indonesia is somewhat limited,” Badgett said. “If we draw on research from India, we would estimate that the loss resulting from LGBT exclusion in Indonesia would be from 0.1 percent to 1.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), or $862 million to $12 billion.” The report shows that public attitudes in Indonesia are far less accepting of homosexuality than attitudes in India, so this estimate of Indonesia’s estimated financial loss is considered conservative.

The findings of LGBT Exclusion in Indonesia and Its Economic Effects rely on an extensive review of peer-reviewed literature as well as documentation from governments, intergovernmental organizations, and non-government organizations.

The Williams Institute, a think tank on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, is dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research with real-world relevance.

8Books Review: “Not Your Sidekick” by C.B. Lee


It has been a good summer for fun-loving, ass-kicking Asian American superheroines, and if you’re not already, get on board for C.B. Lee’s Not Your Sidekick. Its biggest flaw? Being the first in the series, leaving us on the edge waiting to find out what happens to Jessica Tran (I did not realize I was getting myself into a cliffhanger until I was off the cliff and there were no pages left).

Jessica is the daughter of mid-class local heroes, but she doesn’t seem to have inherited any powers. Living in the 22nd century after World War III and the emergence of a hero gene, Jess is just your average teenager. You know, who ends up getting caught in the middle of some high-level secrets involving the Heroes League and the Villain Guild, all while falling in love and dealing with some intense family drama. Not Your Sidekick is a compelling teenage superhero love story and is a joy to read.

Anxious about college and resigned to not having superpowers, Jess applies for and lands a great internship, where she works beside her long-time crush Abby. But then there’s also her mysterious co-worker “M” who walks around in a robotic suit. As Jess starts to unearth the secrets of her job, she also gets caught up in a larger conspiracy, learning new information about her parents, her sister who is also superhero, and naturally, her own capabilities. Naturally weaved in to the larger epic-type narrative are bits about immigrant life, authenticity and being Vietnamese, and young love. If the epic narrative begins to show itself early on (no jarring surprises), these moments of heart and growth keep the novel interesting and fresh.

I look forward to seeing what the next two books in the series bring for Jess, her girlfriend, parents, and sister.

Letting Go in the Wake of My 30th High School Reunion


I’m writing this on the day of my 30th High School Reunion. No, I’m not traveling the 3000 miles it would take to go there and be at the party tonight. So let me start by saying this isn’t going to be some happy ending story where the main character (loser, gay, nerd) goes to his high school reunion and finds out he’s the successful, happy, and well-liked person he never was in high school. Hollywood happy endings like that don’t happen in real life. Well, there is a happy ending, but you’ll have to get to the end of the story to hear what it is.

First let’s go back 30 years and see who I was in high school and what being at my high school in the early 80s was like. My high school was similar to the ones in Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink, (all 80s high school films) but only even more so if you can imagine it. Stereotypes on steroids. I say that because I attended at the time, the largest suburban high school in the United States (at least according to U.S. News and World Report). When you have almost 1500 students in your graduating class all under one roof, there’s going to be hyper-segregation. The jocks really only hung out with the jocks, the populars with the populars, etc.
Continue reading “Letting Go in the Wake of My 30th High School Reunion”

Caitlyn Jenner and the Power of Privilege

8A-2015-06-02-caitlyn-jenner-bruce-jenner-july-2015-vfObserve the coming out of Caitlyn Jenner and you get a good study of the power of privilege. I don’t want to minimize the courage and bravery Jenner exhibits to tell her story and to live her life the way she wants. However, Caitlyn’s experience of coming out is tremendously influenced by the privilege of her wealth and her race. Caitlyn lives in one of the most progressive communities in the world. She has money that enables her to access the best doctors, therapists, and surgeons in the world. In general, she will never have to fear for her physical life merely because of her gender identity. It is very clear that she has put in a lot of effort to conform to a very stereotypical cisgender female physical presence and that investment is paying off for her.

Would we all be so accepting of her if she wasn’t so obviously beautiful and conforming to our expectations of what a female should look like? It is well established in the trans community that the more you conform to binary heteronormative expressions of gender the easier your transition will be.

I love that Jenner is telling her story so openly. I love that she is allowing her transition to be used as a gateway to start conversations, to educate people, and to address the ignorance of this world (and feed some of our social addiction to Kardashian-esque gossip.) She is an amazing woman. I just hope that people realize that her experience is so atypical of the myriad other transpeople who barely have the resources to pay for hormones.

Transgender individuals experience one of the highest rates of workplace discrimination. One study by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26% of trans people report losing a job due to bias, 50% were harassed on the job, 20% were evicted or denied housing, and 78% of trans students describe being harassed or assaulted. Only 19 states include gender identity or perceived gender identity in their state’s civil rights laws. Transgender people who come out report nearly double the rate of unemployment than the general population. Without work, you don’t have medical insurance and without medical insurance you can’t pay for the care that you so desperately need.

Trans Women of Color have an even higher rate of discrimination and risk of physical violence than the trans community at large. Seven trans women of color were violently assaulted and killed during the first three months of 2015. If Caitlyn Jenner’s story inspires you to learn more about the transgender community I hope you take the time to learn about the socioeconomic challenges within the community.

Watch This Now: ‘Spiritless,’ A Short Film on a British Born Chinese Teen’s Sexuality

8A-2014-11-SpiritlessTake 15 minutes to check out this short film dealing with a British-born Chinese teenager struggling with his sexuality.

Says Kenneth Gawne of Dragonreel Films:

We feel Asians are grossly under represented in main stream media, especially in the UK but also in the US.

Sexuality is a very personal and significant issue for many teenagers and something we feel might not be as talked about in the Asian community.

For that reason we hope this film might give some people struggling with these issues something to relate to.

8 Questions for Ken Fong of “The Ken Fong Project”

photo (1)I was fortunate enough to meet Ken Fong of the Ken Fong Project this year during the V3con digital media conference in Los Angeles on June 20-21, 2014. Ken was part of the panel titled “Secrets Online: Topics that are Taboo in Real Life”, where the panelists tackled the issue of writing about things one would not normally talk about in general conversation. Ken passed along an interesting piece of advice, to beware, that if you’re willing to talk about a taboo topic online, you may become the go to person and spokesperson for that issue.

Ken Fong is a moderate Baptist pastor and subject of the documentary “The Ken Fong Project”. The documentary covers his journey as he reconciles his beliefs with the way gays and lesbians are being treated by his community. He has compared the way gays and lesbians are treated with the way Jesus was treated by the hyper-religious Jews in biblical times.

Additional information about the documentary is relayed in the video below:

The initial round of funding for the documentary was completed through Indiegogo, but the documentary team will be looking for additional funding in the near future to help with costs of completing the film.

Ken was gracious enough to agree to an 8Questions interview on 8Asians, and the result is after the jump.

Continue reading “8 Questions for Ken Fong of “The Ken Fong Project””

Father’s Day Video: “Thanks, Dads”

8A-2014-06-15-ThanksDadsDirector Hieu Tran put together this video just in time for Father’s Day.

Although the family here is portrayed by actors, the sentiment reflected is real nonetheless for plenty of kids with gay parents.

Happy Dad’s Day!

From the Director’s Statement:

There is a saying I learned in my college parenting class: Biology makes babies, but it doesn’t make parents.

Thanks, Dads was a spontaneous idea that was inspired by my father and some gay couples I know. It is a video to thank all dads – gay or straight – all over the world for doing their best to raise their children.

I believe parenting is arguably the toughest job in the world, a lifelong commitment with no vacations and constant on-call duty. I saw the struggles of my parents as they raised four children, especially my dad’s countless night shifts and overtime hours just to make ends meet. Yet, he still managed to have the energy and time to teach me math, how to ride a bike, read, and reviewed my homework. I owe him – and my mother too – a huge debt of gratitude.

This video makes me think about my own future. I am turning 25 years old soon and when I scroll on Facebook, many of my friends from college are getting married and welcoming their newborn sons and daughters. When my partner and I have kids, I hope we will work together to be good and proud parents, just like my own parents. I want to guide our future children to reach their potential and love them unconditionally. I want them to be better versions of us.

In a run-and-gun mode, we shot this video in less than four hours. Post production took three days with color correction, editing, recording music and doing the voice over. Funding for this project was covered in full by revenue generated from Squared (2013) sales, which paid for actors, props, and a super fast memory card.

Made In the USA: American Surrogates for Chinese


When I was in college, I stumbled across the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, by Bill Watterson. In particular I was quite taken with the strip where Calvin and his toy tiger Hobbes discuss where babies come from. By the end of the strip Hobbes looks at Calvin’s shirt tag and says “You came from Taiwan”. I guess I really liked it since I really did come from Taiwan, and I came into the world in the usual way, born to my biological parents. The usual way changed around 1989, when infertility treatments took off, and prospective parents started having options for having children that involved using donor sperm, donor eggs, traditional and gestational surrogates.

The phenomenal increase in the use of IVF and surrogacy was also a big boon to same-sex couples who wanted to start families and have children of their own. Many same-sex couples have limited options in terms of starting families today, as many countries and adoption agencies limit adoption to heterosexual couples, and some same-sex couples want a child that is at least partly biologically theirs. With the difficulty in finding surrogates in the U.S., many families, heterosexual and same-sex turned to Asia to find surrogates to carry their babies, something I wrote about back in 2009. Many of those in America looking for surrogates found them, for example, in India.

In another part of Asia, China specifically, surrogacy is banned. This has caused problems for Chinese families that have fertility issues and are trying to create families of their own. A recent news report from NPR, documents how infertile Chinese couples are increasingly turning to America for surrogacy options to bypass China’s ban, and in the process having babies that are made in the USA.

Of course it’s only the wealthy Chinese who have this option as surrogacy remains a very expensive way to have children of your own (estimates are around $150,000 US dollars and more in the U.S.). One of the side benefits for Chinese couples coming to the U.S. for surrogacy is that their child also gets that elusive U.S. citizenship and passport, and surrogacy may be the easier route to get the baby a U.S. passport given that maternity tourism is coming under increasing scrutiny in the U.S.

The other benefit of surrogacy in the U.S. for Chinese couples is that it also bypasses the birth limits set by the Chinese government. According to the NPR article Chinese citizens taking advantage of surrogacy in the U.S. has taken off recently, and as much as 47 percent of the waiting list at one U.S. surrogacy firm is Chinese clients.

Gay Chinese men are also using surrogacy in the U.S. to have children, as being gay in China is still a taboo issue for many, and having children is as tough for gay Chinese men as it is for gay men anywhere.

Coming to the U.S. to have a baby through surrogacy isn’t problem free, as many Chinese have found out. Initially many Chinese may want to ask their surrogates to practice the same behaviors that traditional Chinese moms-to-be adhere to. And many Americans find these same practices to be just superstition or just ridiculous. For example, there’s a belief in Chinese culture that if you’re pregnant you should not have any cold food or drinks as that might cause miscarriage. One prospective Chinese couple was shocked to see their American surrogate drinking ice water, something very common in American society.

Surrogacy can be a bumpy ride to creating a family, and with the addition of Chinese parents looking for surrogates in the U.S., it may get more difficult to find a willing surrogate to carry your child. When I went through the process back in 2004, we had to wait six months to be matched to a surrogate and we were warned it could have been much longer. But when you have your child in your arms, there’s truly nothing else like it. As Mark, the gay man in the NPR article says “When I hold her, look at her, my heart was expanding.”