Asian, Gay and Proud is proud to present Madeleine Lim, the mastermind behind the incredible Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP) in San Francisco, California.
At the age of 23, Madeleine Lim escaped persecution by the Singaporean government for her organizing work as a young lesbian artist-activist. As one of a small number of queer women of color filmmakers on the international film festival circuit, she saw that only queer women of color would tell their own authentic stories. She createdQWOCMAP with the belief that a community of artist-activist leaders could change the face of filmmaking and the social justice movement. As founding Executive/Artistic Director, Lim directs organizational vision and provides artistic direction for all QWOCMAP programs. She is an award-winning filmmaker with more than 20 years of experience as a producer, director, editor, and cinematographer. Her films have screened at sold-out theaters at international film festivals around the world*.
Madeleine has been interviewed a lot over the past twenty years (see links below), and yet the focus of those interviews is usually on her own work, or her work with QWOCMAP. Asian, Gay and Proud decided to get personal and ask Madeleine specifically about how she views her Asian identity, and to share a coming out story.
Miyuki: When you first arrived in the U.S. how easy was it to navigate the queer scene and how did you find other like-minded people?
Madeleine: Actually, before I came to the U.S. I had heard about a group in San Francisco, a group of Asian lesbians at that time, I think this was in 1986..so that was who I really wanted to meet–the folks from that organization–so I started writing letters to a couple of them. I had gotten names through a friend of a friend. So we started writing letters back and forth and they told me a little bit more about who they were and their organization. A bunch of them were attending University of California Santa Cruz at that time and so we just started to communicate. When I arrived in San Francisco, I met up with a bunch of them. At that time they were called Asian Pacific Sisters, and then over the years it’s gotten changed to Asian Pacific Lesbian Network, and then it became Asian Pacific Lesbian and Bisexual Network, and now it’s called APIQWTC which stands for Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women & Transgender Community. So it’s an organization that still exists today and it’s an umbrella organization.*
Miyuki: That’s amazing, it sounds like you had a supportive network of people you could connect with when you got here.
Madeleine: Yes, I mean there was definitely a community. Of course when I got here I was trying to make individual connections and starting to make friends and getting to know people, but they were definitely something I could plug into.
Miyuki: How do you think being Asian affects your queer identity?
Madeleine: Well I grew up in a mixed race/culture, racially I’m mixed and also with my stepfather who is German and Spanish, but I think that my ethnic and racial identity is obviously a part of me. I mean in terms of films that I make, someone said to me, “Are all of your films going to be about Asian lesbians?” and I said, “Well, why not? That’s who I am.” Woody Allen’s films are about Jewish men in Manhattan, so what’s wrong with that? It’s definitely a big part of who I am along with being queer and being a filmmaker, they’re all my different identities, along with being an immigrant to this country.
Miyuki: Yeah, I’m mixed race myself but the rest of America sees me as Asian and they expect me to act accordingly so I’m interested in how you see yourself in comparison to how other people see you. For example how do you perceive your own Asian-ness, or do you identify with being Multi more than being Asian?
Madeleine: I definitely identify with being Asian, but with a mixed race, mixed cultural perspective to it. In this country I very much identify also as an immigrant because I didn’t get to this country until I was 23 so I have no concept of attending pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school, high school here–it’s a foreign system to me. I mean I went to college a couple years here but that’s about it, so I would say that while I fully embrace and identify as Asian, that to me includes the diversity of the mixed identities as well. That Asians are a third of the world from a billion people in China to South East Asia to West Asia, the Middle East as well as South Asia. So, it’s this really broad spectrum and I definitely embrace my Asian identity.
Miyuki: Talking to other queer Asians, what comes up quite frequently is the difficulty of coming out to their parents. Do you think it’s harder for Asians to come out to their parents. Asian, Gay and Proud really focuses on coming out, not forcing people to come out but realizing that in order to increase visibility and acceptance we need to be out, so what are your opinions on that?
Madeleine: Personally I think that Asian cultures deal with being queer diff–I mean every culture deals with being queer slightly different. Like for Native Americans–because of the positions and roles that two-spirit people play in their past makes [their perception of queerness] different. Also in African cultures there’s a place historically for folks who are either transgendered or queer. In Asian cultures, at least what I know of South East Asian cultures, there’s also a place for people who identify as queer-gendered or different sexual orientations. I think that it’s not like “let’s march the streets about it”, but there’s a very different level of family acceptance and social acceptance. So I personally don’t think that it’s any less or more difficult than white folks to come out to their parents. I think what this difference is is that as people of color who live in this country, we hold on to our families differently. I think that unless we’re disowned by our parents we don’t generally separate or disassociate ourselves from our families and our cultures in the same way that maybe white folks do. I think that as people of color, we really want our families to be a part of who we are because they represent our culture and that cultural identity is really important.
Miyuki: Yeah, I think you mention a really important point there. So then are you out to your parents in the way you mentioned just now?
Madeleine: Oh yeah, I’m very out to them. I mean I came out to my parents when I was 19.
Miyuki: Oh wow, do you think you could share the story with us, or another coming out story?
Madeleine: I mean my girlfriend at the time had been staying over, I was living at home, and my girlfriend had been coming over and spending nights there and it was clear to my mom that we slept in the same bed and that we were intimate with each other, and so I just told her, “Yes, I’m a lesbian.” And her response at the time was like, “Don’t say it so loud, why do you have to tell the neighbors?” And this was in Singapore so it was more that she felt the shame around it, it was more about what did she do wrong in raising me that I became a lesbian.
So this isn’t a part of the interview, but since the Out and Successful interviews usually end in a piece of advice, here’s some advice Madeleine gave in an AfterEllen interview to aspiring filmmakers:
Lim advises filmmakers to seek out their own voices: “I would say, make something that is personal to you, something that has importance to you. If you can do that, it makes your story unique and interesting.” She also recommends submitting to the festivals in order to get that voice heard. “Once it’s completed, the key to getting it out there is to get it entered into a fairly large and well-known film festival, for example, Frameline.”
Why start with a large festival as opposed to something smaller or more local? “The reason is that programmers from smaller festivals and international festivals go through Frameline’s catalogue,” Lim explains. “Once it’s in a big festival, you’ll get programmers coming to you, asking you for your film to be entered into their festival, as opposed to going around knocking on doors, trying to get someone to look at your film.”
Thank you so much for your time Madeleine, and keep up the great work!
In the meantime, I’m going to figure out how I can move to San Francisco to take part in the QWOCMAP training program (see below for more info). According to Madeleine, I’m not the only one who’s thought of that–there have been many people who move over there from the East Coast just for those 16 weeks!
If you’re interested in learning more about film making, please check out QWOCMAP’s free 16-week intensive training program: http://www.qwocmap.org/training.html and watch short films made by former students of Madeleine here: http://www.snbc.org/video-categories/queer-women-color-media-arts-program-films
See all of Madeleine’s interviews on QWOCMAP’s press kit:http://www.qwocmap.org/presskit.html
*These include the Vancouver International Film Festival, Mill Valley Film Festival, and Amsterdam Amnesty International Film Festival. Her work has also been featured at museums and universities, and broadcast on PBS to over 2.5 million viewers. She holds a B.A. in Cinema from San Francisco State University. Lim’s films have received awards from the prestigious and highly competitive Paul Robeson Independent Media Fund, as well as the Frameline Film Completion Fund. She received the 1997 Award of Excellence from the San Jose Film & Video Commission’s Joey Awards and won the 1998 National Educational Media Network Bronze Apple Award. From 2000 to 2003, she was a California Arts Council Artist-in-Residence. Under Lim’s leadership, QWOCMAP’s Filmmaker Training Program was awarded 2003 Best Video Program by San Francisco Community Media. In 2005, Lim received the LGBT Local Hero Award from KQED-TV in recognition of her leadership of QWOCMAP and her dedicated service to the queer women of color community. The Featured Filmmaker at the 2006 APAture Asian American Arts Festival, Lim has twice been awarded the San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artist Commission for her new film about her mother and other girls adopted from China. She has won the 2007 DreamSpeaker Award from Purple Moon Dance Project, and the 2010 Phoenix Award from Asian Pacific Islander Women & Transgender Community (APIQWTC).
** Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women and Transgender Community can be found herehttp://www.apiqwtc.org/