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Canadian author and playwright Chris Gatchalian is reading from his memoir Double Melancholy: Art, Beauty, and the Making of a Brown Queer Man—11.21.19

By Bill Staubi on November 13, 2019

Double Melancholy is an honest self-analysis of the events and influences Chris Gatchalian experiences as he comes to recognize his otherness as both a person of colour and as a gay male. Using the major books and theatre that marked the milestones, he maps out his development while playing both debating teams to his own thesis. Chris challenges the things he thought and believed at each stage of his growth; often with brutal frankness as hard on himself as the tough world he finds around him. His hopes, fears, triumphs, and mistakes are on display throughout the pages but always with an eye to doing better, being better, and finding better in the world around him.

I had the opportunity to hear Chris read earlier this year in Toronto and to chat with him then and since then via email. Photo: Bill Staubi/Apt613.

I had the opportunity to hear Chris read earlier this year in Toronto and to chat with him then and since then via email. In asking Chris what he hoped people would get from his book and experiences, he reminds us of the importance of face-to-face interactions, in this digital age, especially when dealing with getting to understand someone that might be different for our self.

Chris notes, “seeing a brown queer Filipinx body talking openly about his specific experiences navigating this world—it’s still an uncommon experience. Ostensibly minor gestures like my talk are part of the consciousness-raising we need in order to understand each other a little better.”

Given BC’s reputation for laid-back tolerance, I asked Chris whether the rest of Canada has BC wrong or were his experiences of racism unique? He pointed out that BC has long been a tolerant home to radical thinkers. He observes, “this tradition of West Coast progressivism is still visible today: right now, BC has the only NDP provincial government in the country, resisting the tide of right-wing populism that has invaded other provinces like Alberta and Ontario.

“Another telling fact: almost half of the new federal NDP caucus is from BC, so progressive politics in this new Parliament will have a decidedly BC-bent.”

For him personally he says “Vancouver is heavily pan-Asian, so, as a Filipinx man, I move around with a level of privilege here not afforded me in most other North American cities.” Yet he reminds us that “the west coast was also the site of some of the most shameful acts of racism in Canadian history: the anti-Asian riots of 1907, the Komagata Maru incident, the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II. Not to mention the continuing oppression of Indigenous people. Much of BC is stolen land in the most basic sense: unceded, unsurrendered, treaty-less land.”

Add to this the expense of living in Metro Vancouver and we can understand the area can produce a lot of micro-aggressions for those in the margins.

When asked how this impacted reception of the book and his story, Gatchalian was quick to point out that the book has been well received overall, in the Asian community, and especially by Asian and Flipinx queers who connect to experiences “such as not trusting or respecting or loving myself, embracing perfectionism as over-compensation, never questioning authority, putting white men’s needs ahead of my own, being content with crumbs… Some have told me they had to put the book down a number of times while reading it, because it was too intimate and painful.”

And what of the straight community? Chris says he finds that people get a great deal from the material. Some relate to the ethnic aspect of the book, others find it a chance to understand queer experience, while others connect to the role books and theatre played in his development and find the way he challenges his own thinking inspires them to challenge themselves.

Hmm… and what thinking would that be? “There is the ‘sweet spot’ between ‘colour-blindness’ and ‘othering.’ Colour-blindness has been, and I think continues to be, the default position for most white people. Some white people have told me they were taught never to talk or think about race, because doing so is itself racist. But when people do that, they are treating race and skin colour like it’s some kind of unmentionable disease. Why be blind to my brown skin? So much of it has to do with just listening… parking one’s assumptions and listening to what people of colour and queer people of colour actually have to say. And not just one person of colour or queer person of colour, but many.”

Don’t assume that all of us are willing to perform the emotional labour of educating you, especially since many of us can scarcely understand it ourselves.

Gatchalian also encourages that we “do the work” or self-educate. “Read up on the effects of colonization and white supremacy and how deeply it infiltrates the lives of people of colour on every level… Don’t assume that all of us are willing to perform the emotional labour of educating you, especially since many of us can scarcely understand it ourselves.”

Gatchalian cautions though not to become defensive and instead “Be mindful that our frustration and anger have less to do with individuals than with a system.”

With books having played a big role in his life does he worry that books are falling out of fashion to social media, I wondered? ”What I like about social media is that it ruptures dominant narratives and gives space for alternative ones that don’t erase and minimize marginalized communities.

“Books afford a different kind of empowerment. They offer you time and space to be with yourself and with your own thoughts as you rub up against and relate to the specific narratives of other people’s experiences. It’s an internal and intensely personal kind of empowerment that complements the more social and community-based empowerment that social media, at its best, can offer…

“The good thing is that young queer people of colour who love to read now have more literary narratives available to them of other queer people of colour than I certainly had growing up. This cultural confirmation and affirmation of their existence can only be a good thing in terms of developing their confidence and self-worth.”

Come out and hear Chris share the stages of his life through his book, learn about the experiences of others, and have the opportunity to explore his ideas about how we can live together better through making the effort to understand what we share with one another and make space for our differences.

Chris Gatchalian’s book launch event is at the Ottawa Dance Directive Studio inside Arts Court (2 Daly Ave) from 6–7pm on Thursday November 21, 2019. Admission is free.