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One poet’s take on what is still missing from Pride

When June arrives, rainbows beam through the streets as Pride celebrations and parades light up cities around the world.

And yet even with the aim of increasing visibility for communities that have faced discrimination, Pride has not escaped scrutiny for what many say is an overwhelmingly white, cisgender celebration.

Courtesy of Hieu Minh Nguyen

Poet Hieu Minh Nguyen, who identifies as queer and Asian-American, explores the intersection of sexuality and race in his his newest collection, “Not Here.” He said stories like his are often left out of the “visible” Pride experience.

“Queer people of color, and all the marginalized identities inside the queer community — besides just the cis, white gay man — we’re starting to push back,” Nguyen said. “There are people who are…open to the change, but then there are the folks who are actively pushing back or complaining.” (The debate over the inclusivity of social movements has also notably raised questions about the role of women of color in mainstream feminism.)

Nguyen remembers his first gay pride parade at 19, just out as a gay man, and excited to be part of a space he thought he belonged in. But he said his relationship to Pride has changed over the years as he’s become more observant of narrow-mindedness within such spaces.

According to Nguyen, certain bodies are just not as desirable as others in mainstream gay life. “[I realized] after some time that my body is not welcome in this space, even though I am queer,” he said. “The intersections of my identity also become a border between me and the ‘acceptable’ queer community.”

Finding “your people,” though, has become easier the more we question the inclusivity of social movements like Pride, Nguyen said. For him, the true colors of those in gay and queer circles are more visible than ever — for better, and also for worse.

Read Nguyen’s poem below.

White Boy Time Machine: Software

why did you bring me here? / i ask / the machine / has a machine family / who assumes i’ve rigged their boy / to do what i want / by feeding him / a coin / fashioned with a string / a yo-yo organ / is what the doctors called it / when my grandmother’s heart fell out of place / & did not / return to its country whole / but who ever does / after leaving / the dinner where his parents tick-ticked boring questions at me / b u t w h e r e a r e y o u r e a l l y f r o m ? / yesterday is the wrong answer, tomorrow too / despite memory, i believe / in hunger / as a way to pass the time / i count the hornets that escape their mouths / for years i laid there & pressed / an ear against the humming / the humming i once mistook for just static / until the stingers / rose from metal water i hear my skin sing / in a frequency made only from laughter / when told, you speak so well / an aubade that calls to me like a grandfather / clock / the machine reassures me that i have nothing / to prove / i am who they think i am / i lace the corset, tight / blend a decimated village into the hollows / of my cheeks / a dirt burlesque / a virus that breached a fire / wall of family portraits / darkening before the embers / tear through / my future / a year composed of bleached wires / where the rain clouds travel back & forth / on a clothesline / i hang his skin / to dry / i lay / his organs on a bed of rice

“White Boy Time Machine: Software” is reprinted by permission from Not Here (Coffee House Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Hieu Minh Nguyen.

HIEU MINH NGUYEN is a queer Vietnamese American poet and performer based out of Minneapolis. Recipient of 2017 NEA fellowship for poetry, Hieu is a Kundiman fellow, a poetry editor for Muzzle Magazine, and an MFA candidate at Warren Wilson College. His work has appeared in PBS Newshour, POETRY Magazine, Gulf Coast, BuzzFeed, Poetry London, Nashville Review, Indiana Review, and more. His debut collection of poetry, This Way to the Sugar (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014) was named a finalist for both the Lambda Literary Award and the MN Book Award. His second collection of poetry, Not Here, is forthcoming with Coffee House Press in 2018.