“Coming out as bisex was a blast until I told my mom.” Thus opens the comic book journey of the Chinese author Yao Xiao, writer and illustrator who in her “Everything is beautiful, and I’m not afraid”, speaks firsthand about his life as a queer person and immigrant to the US.
Born in Tianjin, China, Yao Xiao moved to New York where she lives and works today. From there it tells of itself, outlining the boundaries of what is our geographical and cultural belonging, and introducing another: the belonging of the heart.
Why this book?
“I was 24 and I started looking online for comics about being queer and a first generation American Chinese immigrant. I did not find anything. Everything was different as a queer person than traditional white American canons: coming out was different, dating someone was different, even expressing my hopes and dreams was different. Instead of growing in isolation, I started working on my comic, to show my point of view ».
How did your story get into comics?
“I recreated some real moments from my personal life, like very long Skype discussions with my mother about my identity, or walking in New York with friends who soon returned to China. There are many details that I have decided to hide or change, to protect the people closest to me. As I work I imagine a scenario and think about how I felt. Feelings are what I underline with images ».
What does it mean to be a young queer immigrant in the US?
“For me, it means always being unsure of my belonging. Sometimes, I feel very lonely, I doubt myself, I am confused. In other cases, I feel that if I wasn’t living in this country or if I wasn’t a queer person, or if I was born in America, I would have a greater awareness of myself and the community to which I belong. I’d be satisfied. But since this doesn’t happen, it also means being independent, creative and daring ».
What is the most difficult moment you remember of these years?
“The most difficult times are when as a community we are going through a prolonged period of pain and loss, as currently with the pandemic, or the long march of dismantling police brutality, I find myself wanting to contribute more than I can offer and not. I feel up to what I want from myself. I want mine to be a stimulus for my readers, not to hold them back with my emotional baggage. I am happy when my readers write to me that my work has helped them in life transitions and difficult times, that they are looking forward to reading my comics. Makes me happy”.
What scares you?
“A lot of things! Sometimes I am afraid that I will give up trying and I will no longer be an artist. I fear invisibility as a bisexual woman. I’m afraid of alienating myself from my community. There are many challenges that I am aware of as a female artist and I am afraid of not being able to overcome them ».
«Everything is beautiful»: what is your «everything»?
“When I look at what surrounds me, when I walk, I see the landscape around me, buildings, cars and people, thinking about all the stories they were living, all the memories they had and everything that is about to happen. When I look at the sky and the clouds, I look at a river or the ocean, I listen to my thoughts, I recognize my inner world, I think this is all around me and beyond ».
When do you feel safe?
“I feel safe when I have reliable friends who support me. I feel safe even when I have my privacy and independence. A dedicated safe space. I like to work alone and in that dimension I can feel safe to express myself fully ».
How did your family react to the book?
“My family hasn’t read my book! So I can’t say what their reaction would have been. I wanted to show them the book in person, but my trip was blocked by Covid and I haven’t seen them since last year ».
What do you feel like saying to the Chinese LGBTQ + community?
“I’d say I’m just one of you. I’m not the bravest. I was just a normal child who wanted to be as honest as possible. It is difficult to be completely ourselves, but I believe there is a lot to feel and remember in this transient state. It doesn’t mean I’m not enough. It doesn’t mean I don’t deserve love. Someday we will look back and embrace our past selves. We are all very courageous ».