Queer and here in Montreal: My perception of living as an Asian gay man in a bilingual city (by Daniel Mo)

Daniel Mo is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Second Language Education program at McGill University. His research mainly focuses on second language assessment. He is now working on his thesis investigating the effectiveness of formative assessment at the tertiary level.


 

 

I got my first tattoo on August 16th, 2016 to celebrate my one-year anniversary living in Montreal. I chose the pattern twenty-four in Roman numerals since it was also my twenty-fourth birthday just a couple of weeks ago. It has been such an amazingly delightful year that I felt I needed something personal and permanent to remember the good time. The graduate courses at McGill are absolutely enlightening; the friends I have met, mostly teacher-turned scholars, are both intelligent and inspiring; the multicultural social events happening every day are fascinating; the friendly neighbourhood makes it so easy to settle down and build a new nest for myself. This year, I live as an international student pursuing a master degree, which has been the core of my life; however, equally significantly, I live as an Asian gay man in a bilingual city.

I came from China where homosexuality has been avoided at the institutional level for decades (Sim, 2014) and it is my first time to find a rainbow connection (Cheng, 2011) to the city I live in. This connection convinces me to apply for permanent residency in Canada. I feel that the presence of my queer identity is stronger than ever and that it profoundly influences my perception of the bilingual environment in Montreal.

As the sole official language in Quebec (Charter of the French Language, 1977), French casts a significant impact on all the allophone international students like me. We have had extended discussions about the way allophones feel excluded and marginalized in Montreal and how difficult it is to adapt to the social norms. The majority of this feeling comes from the French language used everywhere. It is intimidating for allophones to notice that all the signs and broadcast notifications in the metro stations are only in French. It is a common struggle to open any local government web pages and anxiously look for the language switch button. It is embarrassing to ask people to repeat what they just said in English a hundred times per day in the grocery stores, restaurants, and cafés.

Admittedly, the challenges are real, but my perception of it is rather positive. I have encountered the situation where people ask me, “Do you speak French?” as often as people just start talking to me in French. This is especially noticeable in bars and nightclubs in the gay village. Be it conversations with strangers on the staircase or the bartenders behind the counter, it is usually me who first switches the language choice back to English. This may not be the most prevalent case, but in my experience, I do not sense the marginalization or exclusion based on language choice itself. In my perception, it is more of an incentive to acquire the French language. I believe the disconnection with my homeland and the strong rainbow connection with this city plays a significant part in my differed perception.

Another interesting thing I noticed is that both visible minorities and majorities are asked the question “Do you speak French?” One day I was waiting in line to renew my OPUS card (for the local public transport system) with my boyfriend who is a white francophone. He left the queue for a while and came back, and then a lady in the back thought he jumped the queue so she tapped him on the shoulder and asked: “Do you speak French?” This little misunderstanding ended with apologies on both sides but it made me consider how he would perceive this deemed offensive question. He said he did not think it was rude or impolite at all; in fact, this was such a trivial part of the conversation, he hardly noticed it. Does this mean we, as the visible minorities, are being overly sensitive to the question? Does this mean our perception of the question has been exaggerated or distorted by our ethnicity? Does this mean the intention behind this question is not all discriminative but also considerate? It triggers so many questions in my head and I still think about them until this day.

It has been an incredible adventure for me. I have been blessed with the opportunity to develop my queer identity and experience life with a fresh new attitude. Even more amazing is the multicultural bilingual environment offered by Montreal, which keeps me being utterly amazed each and every day.

References

Charter of the French Language (1977), CQLR c C-11, retrieved from The Canadian Legal Information Institute website: http://canlii.ca/t/52lls.

Cheng, P. S. (2011). The Rainbow Connection: Bridging Asian         American and Queer Theologies. Theology & Sexuality,      17(3), 235-264.

Sim, M. (2014). A Review of Homosexuality in China: Urban Attitudes toward Homosexuality In Light Of Changes in the    One-Child Policy.

 

 

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