Those of you who have been reading TSM for the least two years now are clearly aware that this blog is dedicated to issues of social justice and civil rights; since you are reading this, I presume you share similar passions. Today I was able to visit with my friend Michael Anderson-Nathe, and I have to say I love his voice of social justice, although he will not easily tolerate any accolades, for he is exceedingly humble and somewhat introverted.
Michael grew up in Minnesota: “I come from a Vietnamese mother and mid-west father. They met in Vietnam—my father was in the military. I am a Vietnamese-American, and it was not easy growing up post Vietnam war being Asian-American; I’m a product of the war. My siblings were born in Vietnam. I was born here.” Michael is one of 10 children—the youngest. Four of them passed away. He discusses his coming out to his family of origin, saying, “I came out when I was 17 and had a rocky period with my parents for two years. We did not talk. Since then, there have been huge strides – they were at my wedding and love the family I have (my partner and daughter). My parents have come from one end of the spectrum to the other end.”
Do you consider you and your partner political?
We are always political, and now that we have a child everything we do is political whether we want it to be or not. I also became Jewish, so we are a multiracial, queer, Jewish household. There are times when it is easy to be political, but at times I just want to be a family—raising my daughter. We had an open adoption, which means we have an ongoing relationship with our child’s birthmother. Doing an adoption meant we had the opportunity to have a ton of very intentional conversations prior to adopting about how to raise a child and what will it mean to raise a child. One of the most frustrating aspects of being a queer family is that people will often look around for someone that presents as female-bodied, and then look to them as though they must be Sophie’s mother regardless of context (despite obvious social cues as to who is parenting Sophie). One thing I love about our parenting is how we talk about gender, sexuality, and body parts without shame. We make deliberate efforts to raise her in ways that don’t limit her own expression of who she is and that don’t oppress other people (reinforce socially constructed dichotomies)—we raise her with great intentionality—which is a continuously active, intentional process and we are better at it some days than others.
What made you become an activist for people living with HIV?
I stumbled into this accidentally. When I was 17, I participated in a peer HIV education program and fell in love with working with the community and contributing to making sure people had information so they could make decisions that were right for them. What I love about working in the field of HIV is that it truly is social justice work—working with the intersections of oppression that continue to fuel HIV. You can’t do this work without addressing issues of social justice. It feeds a part of who I am.
What should marginalized communities do to have a stronger voice?
The biggest thing is that we need to come together; we need to stop playing into the game of who is more oppressed, which does not serve us. To realize we are stronger together than divided. We have a lot we can learn from each other. I grew up with multiple identities. I grew up not white enough, or not a person of color enough. My identities were not integrated, so I went to hang out with the gay community when I wanted to celebrate my sexuality, but then I lost my Vietnamese ties. If I wanted to hang out with the Asian community, then I lost my gay ties. All of the various intersections of oppression fuel HIV—all of the inequalities, homophobia, racism, transphobia—we have to address all of these if we are going to be successful in stopping HIV.
I don’t like the idea of “look at us! We are just like heterosexual families, so accept us”—we should be accepted regardless. I don’t want to be considered the model queer family—I don’t think there is a model queer family, just as I don’t believe there is a model heterosexual family—those concepts just further ostracize other people in our community and I don’t want to be a part of that. I don’t want my personal experience to be deemed acceptable at the expense of others in our community. Who am I to say what a model family or what a queer person should look like? Doing so only further divides our community—who is the good gay who is the bad gay—and I think that is fucked up. Ultimately, it is not their acceptance to grant and by doing so we subscribe to a heteronormative power differential.
Is it the issue for the Queer Community? Personally, it is not my top issue, but just because I don’t think it is the top priority does not mean I’m against it. I think the whole “you’re either with us or against us mentality” of this movement oversimplifies a highly complex social issue and further divides us. My main question for the movement is: At what cost does marriage equality come and who within our community is being left behind in our pursuit for marriage equality?
I want to thank Michael for taking the time to visit with me. I am most certain his words will inspire many, as does the way he lives his life.