Diversity and Inclusion: the Intersectionality of Me

Diversity and inclusion (D&I/DEI/EDI) have long been a part of my personal, student and working life. From helping to run LGBT and Chinese students societies at university, to constantly wanting to drive conversations about LGBT issues, race and representation in my writings, previous jobs and with other people outside of these settings, diversity and inclusion are naturally ingrained in my mindset, inspiring me in everyday life.

In my current, new role doing marketing for Culture Shift, for the first time I feel I am able to bring this drive to work and work with people who share the same passion for this change in the workplace and in the world. When delving into research and attending conferences, I have continued to learn so much about diversity and inclusion. And in doing so it has morphed my ambition in my future career. I’ve felt like I have wanted to be many different things “in the next 5 or 10 years time” in the past: author, journalist, retail manager, translator, social media manager and marketing manager… If you were to ask me now, being an author is still a “part-time” dream, one that could still happen – but ultimately as a full-time role, being a Diversity and Inclusion specialist is what I want to achieve.

And through my constant learning I have come to further understand terms like intersectionality. The intriguing thing about intersectionality and when you tie it in with diversity and inclusion, is that it affects everybody. Cis, White (and British, if focussing on the UK), heterosexual males aged 18-35 are – let’s be honest – more likely to be unreceptive to the concepts, ideas and conversations of diversity and inclusion. But intersectionality affects them too. And some people with those identifiers and more may have experienced discrimination just as they enjoy privilege for other identifiers.

Each of those descriptions which make up who they are is what intersectionality is about. It is the culmination of everybody’s inherent, genetic, social and political identities and the understanding of how they combine to create various modes and levels of both discrimination and privilege. It is also the acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique lived experiences of discrimination and privilege based on any one or more of those identities which make up who they are, whether or not they share one, more or all aspects of those identities with someone else.

Intersectionality ultimately celebrates everybody’s own personal, whole identity made up of different identities and parts of them so people in everyday life and at work can better understand each other and sympathise and empathise with each other. It also allows employers and colleagues to work better together and make accommodations at work that better suit everybody’s range of identities and needs if required.

To give you all a better understanding of intersectionality and how each of people’s identities come into play and intersect, here is a list of the different aspects of my intersectionality. It will detail how, individually, they define part of who I am and how some of them intersect with each other to create me as a person, the discrimination or oppression I have faced and the privilege I also have.

Gender

As a cis male, I understand how others who identify as female, gender fluid or non-binary but share other similar aspects to me, face more discrimination and are historically more oppressed than myself. My gender, however, has never been an overly defining aspect of myself I hold in the same regards to others. But as a male, I have been on the receiving end of sexist comments and questions in a place of work (“I think we need more girls on the team” – ok, but that does not mean you need to get rid of the all guys, and “how do you feel about working in a team full of women?” – a totally irrelevant thing to ask). I have spoken up and will continue to about this to show that, while rare, it does and can indeed happen. The same goes for male sexual harassment and assault. Though I have thankfully not experienced it, it happens (mainly towards those who are part of the LGBT community) and as much as I am a strong advocate against misogyny and female sexual harassment, unheard male victims’ voices and experiences are just as important.

As a gay male from a Chinese background, I have experienced the burden of toxic masculinity. I have been told by various people (predominantly extended relatives) that boys shouldn’t act a certain way, I can’t play with dolls, shouldn’t dance, shouldn’t cry or show emotions, that I should find a girlfriend and even that I shouldn’t cross my legs! Gender stereotypes and toxic masculinity are a sad reality of life for many that are unfortunately ingrained in them from birth. Most men of all different backgrounds and identities are victims of these, which is something females do not suffer from on the same level, and in turn is a major factor in why men’s mental health is so prevalent and often brushed under the carpet.

Age

I’m currently 33 years old. The old joking saying goes that “Asians don’t age”. At my current age, 9 times out 10 I’m still not asked for ID in shops, which surely everyone would love and think is complimentary. But 9 times out 10, people have been shocked when they know how old I am. I’m still unsure of what those reactions mean or how I should react to them.

In real life, my age is not a concern to me and has never really been something I’ve found has affected me, except for passing comments. One was made by a recruiter who believed because of my age, my previously salary didn’t match what he thought I should be earning. Well, if I hadn’t been in poorly paying industries and roles were I couldn’t progress, how was that possible?

In gay life, if you’re on the dating scene, it can matter to others, even if it doesn’t to you – “nobody over 25” or “prefer younger only”, to even those who say “must be over 30” or “not into younger”. I have heard of many men from the LGBT community who (jokingly or not) despair at the idea of turning 30, or even 25, believing that to be old in “gay years”. For many, there is a constant idea in their heads that age is not just a number; that it definitively correlates to appearance, life experience, maturity and common interests, thus dictating how you should act and who you can date. It can sadly be a toxic concept that consumes people as age takes precedence over many other factors, especially when age is actually pretty much the only constantly changing aspect in every single person. Unfortunately, ageism is a prevalent issue for some, particularly older people but those of younger ages can also be discriminated against. It is an issue that is more often than not overlooked when it comes to discussing protected characteristics in diversity and inclusion conversations.

Ethnicity

华裔 = ethnic Chinese

If you didn’t already know, I’m Chinese. People of Chinese descent make up more than 20% of the world’s population. But in the UK, we don’t even make up nearly 1% of the population. I have, by many people in my life, from primary school through to my current years, been seen as “other” or “different”. In some extremes, still “foreign”. And in some work environments, I’ve felt isolated. Someone once asked me if I would be more offended by a racist remark than a homophobic remark and my answer would always be the racist remark. It is never – well, maybe it is to some – obvious I am gay, but it is obvious I’m a different race to others.

Racism against the Chinese (Sinophobia) has existed for centuries around the world. Nowadays, the two main “reasons” for racism stem from people believing the Chinese don’t care or are not as hard done by compared to other races therefore making it seem okay to target them or not as pressing. The other is what people think is “deserved” racism. “The Chinese spread COVID”, “the Chinese “hate other ethnicities and religions in their own country” and “the Chinese have appalling records of human and animal rights” are just three of the biggest and most ridiculous excuses I have heard for why people actually try and justify their Sinophobia. In the past two years alone, this part of me has never felt more fearful. I was on edge whenever walking through town, going through airports, facing customers at work and even when I would go on social media. It was a horrible time and potentially still is.

And in the gay community, the racism and prejudice against Asians (and other ethnics minorities) is a big problem. One that many won’t admit to existing. If I received £1 for every time I’ve seen bios on dating apps say “no Asians” or the slightly kinder line “sorry, not attracted to Asians” i would be a very rich man. In addition, the fetishisation and presumptions of Asians is both creepy and notorious, which opens itself up for another different debate.

Growing up, like many Chinese children living in the UK I can imagine, I was conflicted. I personally felt like an outsider from everyone else and sometimes was intentionally made to feel like one. I had no-one that was like me to look up to in books, TV shows or films that weren’t forgettable background characters or tired stereotypical tripes. But I also knew I didn’t quite fit in with other Chinese people who were not born here. Part of me wanted to be proud of my roots, while other parts of me despised it because it made me stand out too much. But as I grew up as a late teenager and into adulthood, I began to embrace my ethnicity and culture more as experiences thus far had made me rethink who I was and how that would shape me for the future. I now, as you may know, constantly talk about Chinese and (East) Asian representation, Sinophobia and being proud of my ethnic and cultural heritage that I enjoy sharing with others.

Nationality

Having been born in Britain, I am a British citizen. Of course, as I have stated, I have not always been made to feel like that and have been treated as if I wasn’t. “Where are you or your family originally/really from?” is a far too annoyingly common question I have been asked throughout my lifetime. I have been questioned at the airport whether I hold a European passport when standing in the queues specifically for those. I have been told to “go back to my own country”. British is not a definer on its own that I’d used to describe myself outside of filling out official documents asking this. And when Britain is often seen as a laughing stock due to its government policies and actions, with the rife racism we have here, and the many negative stereotypes surrounding its culture, it is never always “cool” to be proud of “being British”.

I am British but my lived experience as not being White British has made me distance myself from the description. Therefore, I will nearly always describe myself as British-born Chinese (BBC), a term many people like me use because we are a combination of both. Our mixed Chinese and British/Western upbringing and our ties with Chinese and British language and culture, and our experiences of racism and otherness from both sides define us more and better than one or the other.

Parental heritage

My parents are from Malaysia, where the majority of my family still live, though their parents are from Chaozhou (Teochew), in southeastern China. Malaysian-Chinese people make up about a quarter of the Malaysian population, the second largest ethnic group after the Malays. Malaysian-Chinese culture obviously shares some similarities to Mainland Chinese culture but it is ultimately quite different in many regards, from cuisine to language and from history to political mindset. There are some Malaysian-Chinese people who dislike those from Mainland China and some Mainland Chinese people who look down on those who aren’t. During my time living in China, despite looking and speaking Chinese, it was nearly always noted that I was not from China; another case of not fitting in and feeling like an outsider. They could tell by my appearance and the way I dressed, to my accent and the fluidity of my Chinese, often mistaking me for being from Hong Kong and sometimes Singapore or Malaysia. They were usually shocked when I would tell them I was from the UK.

But when I am among relatives in Malaysia, I am once again considered different. I am seen as too British and Western-educated and influenced and again my accent speaking Chinese is different. Where do I belong? Where feels more like home? These are tough thoughts that have long circulated around my mind. I would never describe myself as Malaysian-Chinese as it is not part of me personally, except when delving deeper into my heritage if I want to or if people ask where I would say my parents are from (a touchy subject as previously mentioned). Some are oblivious to the fact large pockets of Chinese people do live in other parts of the country outside of China and Taiwan.

Language

I tell people English is not my first language. It is always interesting to see what their reaction and perception of that is. Is it a shock that despite my fluent English, I speak another language as well or just as well? Is it not a surprise because they immediately assume I’m foreign and therefore of course English wouldn’t be? When I say it isn’t my first language I mean it is not the language I grew up speaking first. I first started learning to speak it properly at around 4 or 5 years old, before entering primary school. Before that, Chinese (or more specifically, a mixture of Mandarin, Teochew and Hokkien dialects) were used to speak to me in. Nowadays, my use of English far outpaces any of those Chinese dialects. Even my fluency and fluidity in speaking English has overtaken them. I sadly just don’t get – or take – chances to practise as much anymore.

As a Chinese person in the UK, I have always had people ask me what other languages I can speak. Sometimes they ask as if they don’t want to assume I do speak Chinese, while others outright ask me if I can. It’s almost expected because of what I am yet those who are tentative seem to do it out of caution to not offend. I have often been met with awe and envy, but to me, it is not a life-changing skill because I have grown up with it. I know of other BBCs who don’t speak or understand any Chinese whatsoever, in what many might then be seen as way to blame their upbringing, though that is a different debate altogether. But as a bilingual person (or multilingual if you separate the different Chinese dialects), language is something to definitely be proud of, especially living in a country where so few people do speak a second language.

As I have said already, my Chinese speaking skills have often been critiqued and criticised by other Chinese speakers for being different, while my English has sometimes been praised. Both are unacceptable things to say to me and I will now challenge those who do, but alas it will forever be an issue that pops up every now and then.

Geographical location

I mention this aspect, just not to the same extent as others, but it is something that can affect everyone. How often has someone, from say Stoke, had “ew, Stoke!” said to them? Or someone from Oxford, for example, been called a “posh totty”? Even areas within towns and cities are known and judged for being “posh” or “rough”, such as Richmond (posh) and Hackney (rough) in London, Spinningfields (posh) and Moss Side (rough) in Manchester, and Caversham (posh) and Whitley (rough) in Reading, the town I am from. When I tell people I am from Reading they believe it to be posh (little do they know!), though this is normally based on the simple assumption that because it is down south in the “Royal County of Berkshire” it must be. Unfortunately, there is a big north-south divide in the UK that people throughout are extremely proud and almost territorial of depending on where they are from.

Accents also play a huge part in this. Like my Chinese accent, even my English accent (a standard southern accent) has sometimes been commented on. Living in Manchester, people “know” I am not a local and sometimes it’s imitated and teased, while old friends back home have on occasion heard slight changes in my accent when saying certain things. For some people, particularly in the UK, accents and where they are from within the UK are a big identifier that make up their intersectionality. In workplaces, research has shown that people with non-native English accents and even non-standard southern accents living in the south have experienced barriers to employment and career progression as well as conflict with colleagues.

Sexuality

Until I went to university, being gay had been a secretive part of me. Like many, my school years were not kind to me and there was a fear of further repercussions should I be outed or openly gay back then. Having quite conservative Chinese parents did not help either, but the freedom to be more of who I really was and to be able to start expressing that at university and beyond over the years has helped me be more confident in my sexuality both in my personal and working life.

As with being Chinese, I did not have gay role models to really look up to, nor did I see any being represented in the books I read or the films and TV shows I saw, bar again the passing characters and negative stereotypes. However, as a teen, this started to change and allowed me to start trying to reaffirm my sexuality even though I felt restrained from doing much more about it until I left my parents’ house. Coming out to my parents in my early to mid-20s was a major obstacle that was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. Thankfully, it soon blew over but I know others have had it easier and others who have had it much, much worse. And I also know, that while relatives in Malaysia – where being gay is considered a taboo – may somehow already know, the next step is to see how they take it. But, while 10+ years ago this would have terrified me again for them to know, I am now confident enough in myself to care less about their potentially negative thoughts.

But as a cis gay man in his early 30s I have learnt that my lived experience has been fairly trouble-free compared to bisexual men and women, lesbians, older gay men and all those under the trans umbrella. I have seen and heard of the discrimination and even violence they have faced for being any of those, and this has also come from within the LGBT community. Internalised racism, sexism, homophobia (which can also stem from toxic masculinity), biphobia, and transphobia sometimes make me feel as sad as the discrimination that comes from heterosexual people. If we don’t understand, accept and support each other, how can we fight off the wider threats?

Physical and mental health

via Mind

Most of my life, my physical health has been fine. Only one incident in China where I dislocated left knee and injured my left foot as well, left me feeling overly cautious and sometimes even overly conscious of the way I walk ever since, despite a full recovery. My mental health, however, is something that even though I have rarely discussed much until very recently, has affected me to varying levels. Bullied at school, the victim of racism and sometimes homophobia, crushed by toxic masculinity, struggles throughout university, former toxic friends and relationships, having too many jobs that weren’t right for me as well as the organisations themselves and sometimes the colleagues being terrible, the pandemic, and familial loss – have all left their mark on me and my mental health over the years.

Thankfully, although I have not always been naturally open about the struggles I have been through, I am now in a place I feel I can be. I am now aware of the loving and appreciative support around me that I can turn to talk to or seek further help if ever – and I do hope I don’t – need it. Men’s mental health is something I have come to champion and speak up about more. As I said earlier, too many men bottle it up but only because that is what they are conditioned to think they should do. Male suicide rates are much higher than female suicide rates, yet it is still very much unspoken about by many. Men need support and to know that it is okay to be open if they wish and that they are not alone.

But one thing about my physical health that has affected me recently, is my eyesight. I have always had poor eyesight and was diagnosed with both short-sightedness and astigmatism from a young age. This has not always been a problem for me, until recent tests showed I had appeared to have developed glaucoma – an eye condition that predominantly affects people over the age of 60. At the age of 33. While this has been diagnosed early and can hopefully be controlled and prevented from worsening with regular check-ups and long-term treatments, it has instilled more fear in me that it could get worse. How has someone my age got this condition that already rarely affects people over the age 40? What happens if the treatments don’t work and it does get worse and I lose my vision completely? I hope these aren’t fears that will be realised but I do vow that I will keep my mental health in check at the same time.

Religion

For many years I have felt like an atheist. I went to a Roman Catholic primary school (it was apparently a good school, that’s why) but never converted despite gentle, subtle pushes from the school to do so. Even the other very few Chinese pupils at the school were more likely to be a Christian of some sort since many Chinese people from Hong Kong who are living in the UK are. Throughout those school years I never found an affinity with the Christian faith and as I didn’t attend a religious secondary school, my atheist beliefs remained and were perhaps even more cemented, especially as I began discovering my sexuality knowing many religions are against homosexuality.

As a gay person, I was – like many I’m sure – naturally wary of and even disdainful about religion. But as a Chinese person, I found myself growing more akin to Buddhist traditions despite not identifying as or wanting to be a Buddhist (I couldn’t give up meat, sorry!). Many Chinese traditions, particularly related to praying, general faith and bereavement, stems from Buddhism and Taoism. In the last couple of years I have partaken in these more as our family mourn for and pray to my mum, but we still would not identify as Buddhists. My dad would take advice from his sister and other relatives who are practising Buddhists, following “rules” and traditions when it comes to praying.

And in these last few years I have begun to think whether I would identify as agnostic. Has my reconnection with Buddhism helped me to wonder about a spiritual being or deities, an afterlife or to have faith in anything? I’m still not sure (especially when all these bad things have happened to me and others) and I’m still not sure whether this is something in my mind that will continue to change or revert back to my initial staunch atheism.

Political views

Like my absence of faith, my political views have been quite constant and I am free of any political allegiance. Living in the UK where we have been continuously shocked by, revolted by, let down by and lied to by Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems, and the more extreme ones like the BNP and UKIP, it has been hard to feel affinity with or support any of them. Political allegiance in the UK can lead to clashes between many people, so much so that some have admitted to being asked to not discuss politics (or religion) at work by employers.

Being gay makes me wonder how any other gay person can support the Conservatives considering their track record on LGBT rights, but we all know Labour and other parties are no angels either. While some of Labour’s views and policies are perhaps more agreeable and in line with my own views and opinions, I lack trust in them just as I already lack trust in our current Conservative government. We haven’t forgotten Tony Blair! I prefer to step away from political conversations, simply because of my lack of allegiance and my dislike of most political parties, but I am also open to healthy conversations that allow me to learn more should I ever need to make informed choices in the future.

Socio-economic background

The socio-economic divide in the UK is extremely varied. There are problematic preconceptions that those from certain backgrounds (which include class, occupation, money and earnings, and geographical location) are better or more deserving than others, which has often trickled down from political influence and wider society. I have found that quite a lot of people don’t like “classing” themselves, which is understandable given the stereotypes that surround each class that no-one wants to be prematurely judged on. However, if I asked, I would say I and my family are of lower middle to middle class status.

The Chinese are statistically higher achievers in education and higher earners in work in the UK than many other ethnic groups. A fact that is a double-edged sword. As I said before, we are seen as a minority that isn’t as disadvantaged as others and therefore prone to what some people think is less prejudice, or we are prone to more prejudice because people think it is justified. But sadly, we are either judged if we are not high achievers or high earners (by both other Chinese and non-Chinese) and judged by non-Chinese if we are. We are pigeonholed into constricting stereotypes relating to high achieving and high earning people in education and work and to some we are called a “model minority”. This term is damaging and offensive to many. Non-Chinese minorities feel they are being negatively compared to the Chinese and told to “be more like them”. In addition, the Chinese are made to feel their disadvantage as an extremely small ethnic minority group is being overlooked and that they are being lumped together and held to a regard that society tells and expects them to live up to.

I have always been asked things such as “why didn’t you do as well in this?” and “why are you still only doing this job?” to which my response should have always been: “Why are you asking things that don’t concern or affect you in the slightest?”

With regards to my socio-economic background, as someone who has mainly worked in retail and marketing, I have long been made to feel that I have under-achieved and not fulfilled my potential. Like I mentioned before, poor job choices or jobs that didn’t work out left me with few options at the time to turn to. I never wanted to follow in the footsteps of my brother and study Law, and other “serious” professions that a vast majority of young Chinese people are steered into, such as those relating to health and medicine, teaching, finance, and business, did not interest me. I wanted to be creative. I wanted to do something different. Marketing allowed me to combine my creative juices and my writing skills which opens up an ocean full of opportunities in any sector or industry I could go into if I wished.

And recently, I have come to shut out naysayers who believe what I do or want to do, my level of seniority and my earnings are not where they “should be” or where they want it to be. I have my path that I’m following, which may have taken me a while to discover for myself but at least I – and with the help of my many identifiers and lived experiences to change and guide me – have done it on my own terms.

Thank you for reading. I hope you found this insightful in regards to who I am as well as what intersectionality is all about. I would love to know more about my readers and followers, so feel free to let me know in the comments what identifies you and how they have shaped who you are!

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