Sally Mo's Project

Being Gaysian in New York

My research project addresses the intersection of racial and queer identities among Asian and Pacific Islanders Americans who live in NYC. I mainly address the ways they navigate urban spatial boundaries. Many folx* are still trying to figure out what their identities mean for themselves, to members of their communities and to the larger world. For many, they did not grow up around other queer API Americans, so trying to figure out what it meant to be was a personal and individual journey. This was especially furthered since the limited Asian representation in the media portrayed cisgender heterosexual folx, and the queer representation portrayed white folx. Similarly, in New York City, there are vibrant communities and long histories for API Americans and the queer community, separately, but there was no visible queer API community or space, feeling isolated from both communities. Even at school, queer API men reported that their identity has negatively affected their academic experience and use part of their identity in order to avoid being bullied in school (Ocampo and Soodjinda 2016). This research provides some context into the stories of queer API Americans in how they navigate New York city and create their own community and spaces, as I analyze the intersections between racial and queer identities.

*folx is an inclusive, gender-neutral term that refers to a group or multiple people.


I drew from 16 in-depth interviews with Asian American queer folx who live in New York City, ranging from ages 18 to 29. Interviews were approximately 60 minutes and took place in local coffee shops or in respondents’ homes, and were conducted between June 2019 to July 2019. The interview covered topics such as experiences of growing up in an Asian American home and juggling differing values, coming out to immediate family and close friends, familial and friend dynamics, navigating space and finding queer community in New York City, and searching for romantic relationships.

New York City was the site chosen for conducting this study because the city has a longstanding history for queer history. Secondly, New York City has a large population of Asian Americans, which make up 11.8% of the city’s population. Third, there is diversity within the queer Asian American spaces, including organizations and events that cater for queer Asian American community.

Respondents were recruited through various means. I attended Asian-American and queer events and visited known Asian queer spaces in New York City and recruited subjects through in person interactions, via email, and through snowballing sampling methods. I also attended meetings and events that were for queer Asian Americans, including those organized by queer Asian American groups. I sent emails and recruitment flyers to the members of the groups.

Although I tried to get a diverse sample pool as possible, this research is limited since most of the respondents are Chinese, and Chinese Americans are not representative of all API Americans. First, the experiences of the respondents is not representative of the experience of all queer API Americans, as the research was limited to millennial aged folx.


Respondent Age Gender Identity Sexual Orientation Living Status Come out to family Come out to friends Ethnicity
1 21 F Bisexual College No Yes Filipino
2 21 F Pansexual College Yes Yes Korean
3 19 M Gay College Yes Yes Chinese
4 19 F Queer College No Yes Chinese
5 19 F Queer College No Yes Chinese
6 23 F Bisexual Parents home No Yes Chinese
7 21 M Bisexual Parents home No Yes Chinese/Black
8 23 F Pansexual Parents home No Yes Chinese
9 25 F Queer Outside Yes Yes Chinese
10 22 TM* Straight Parents home No Some Chinese
11 23 F Gay Parents home No Yes Chinese
12 22 F Queer Parents home No Yes Chinese
13 23 Nonbinary Gay Parents home No Yes Chinese
14 28 Nonbinary Queer Outside Yes Yes Filipino
15 23 F Gay Parents home No Yes Bangladeshi
16 25 F Queer Outside No Yes Filipino

*TM means trans man

All respondents self-identify within the queer spectrum, ranging from sexual orientation to gender identity. Folx are of different Asian descendent, most identifying as Chinese, two identifying as Filipino and one Bangladeshi. Respondents were second generation or from a further generation, and grew up and were educated in the United States. Respondents currently live in New York City and have lived in the city for at least three years. The majority of the respondents grew up in New York City and still reside in their family homes, while others live away from their family.


Navigating identity and presentation of identities in different communities was a common struggle that queer API Americans deal with, since there could possibly be consequences for how they are perceived in their personal circles. Being API American was a toggle between two different cultures, the one that their parents grew up in, and their American side, where it would be a fine line between finding which values, they as an API American fit in with.

A large emphasis on the value of community and family has been a priority for many Asian Americans, but sometimes it clashes with US values, which seem to promote more individualism. In describing what it means to be Asian-American, many discussed the community at large, and the duty to fulfill the role as not just a child, but also expectation from society to represent the community at all times. The prioritization of family and community also affected an important concept to the queer community has been coming out, telling those around them that they are not heterosexual or do not identify with the gender that they were assigned to. The importance of the family and larger personal community was more important to them than the potential freedom that people claim to have after coming out. Some folx reflected on how they considered it selfish to come out, because saving face and the reputation of their family and themselves could change if they did come out.

Some folx thought they would never come out to their parents but have come out to their friends and siblings. While first questioning their sexuality, some have found a supportive and educational community online, connecting with other questioning queer teens. The internet became a safe space for them to find others that were in similar places to them or were once in the same situation, and found a virtual community when they may not have one in person, helping them through tough times and encouraging them through processes. Still, there was a strong correlation between not coming out to family and living in their family home, again, showing the prioritization of community over individual needs.

Some have found other queer API Americans and a community that has allowed them to express and embrace their identity, but the conversations with queer API Americans suggest that there is more work that needs to be done in order to more comprehensively understand the nuances of experiences and struggles that API Americans face, individually and as a community. Many of the respondents said that they did not know of many other queer API Americans, or queer API American organizations, but would love to connect with others more, and share their experiences.

Although conducting this ethnography with interviews allowed the research to have more depth, it is limited with generalizing experiences that do not accurately represent the whole community.