Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Pride Month is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where during the month of June, queer authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being queer, queer books, and their experiences of being a queer reader. Find the introduction post for Pride Month at The Quiet Pond here.
As Pride Month at the Pond draws to a close, I’ve been feeling so much gratitude for the wonderful guests that I’ve had the pleasure of hosting in the last month – and it’s been such a joy to have such amazing people visit us at the Pond. In this Pride Month series, we’ve done our best to showcase the intersectional voices and authors within the book community, and highlight why intersectionality is not only important, but also absolutely necessary.
It’s a huge honour and delight, then, to have Shenwei, the book blogger behind Reading (As)(I)an (Am)erican visit us at the Pond today for a second time. Shenwei first visited us a little under a year ago when we hosted all the authors of Keep Faith, an anthology that explores the intersections of queer identity and faith.
On a more personal level though, I’ve been following Shenwei on Twitter since 2016 now and I have learned so much from them. Shenwei has been a tireless advocate for diversity and intersectionality for as long as I’ve known them. I admire Shenwei immensely, and I feel fairly confident in saying that following them, listening to them, and reading the amazing books that they recommend was one of my biggest motivators of becoming an advocate for diverse books – and I’ll always be grateful to Shenwei for that!
Like their previous visit at the Pond, Shenwei visits us as an bespectacled eagle owl – except this time, they are holding a nonbinary and intersectional Pride flag! But, before I share with you all the exciting author interview that I did with them, I am more than delighted to share with you all Shenwei’s wonderful book blog and the amazing work that they do!
Shenwei’s Book Blog, Reading (As)(I)an (Am)erican
Visiting Shenwei’s book blog always feels like coming home for me – I read their book blog avidly whenever they have a new post, and it was – and always will be – my go-to place if I’m ever looking for more books to read! On Shenwei’s book blog, Reading (As)(I)an (Am)erican, you’ll find book reviews and reading challenge TBRs (which, to be honest, is one of my favourite ways to find new books to read – to see what other people are planning to read!).
During the month of May, Shenwei organised a Taiwanese Heritage Month series where they interviewed five Taiwanese authors/illustrators and wrote two book reviews of books by Taiwanese authors! I especially love this author interview with Grace Lin, who is an icon in the Asian middle-grade and picture books world, and also this author interview with Gloria Chao, author of YA books American Panda, Our Wayward Fate, and Rent a Boyfriend!
Blogger Interview: Shenwei
Xiaolong:Hi Shenwei! A huge warm welcome to the Pond. We are so happy for you to visit us again – we loved having you last time to talk about Keep Faith! For our friends out there who might be only meeting you for the first time though, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Shenwei: I’m a fiction writer, book blogger, and sensitivity reader. I love reading MG and YA books of all genres, plus adult SFF. Starting this fall, I’ll be pursuing a dual degree master’s program in children’s literature and library information science, which I am super excited about. I’m nonbinary/genderqueer/genderfluid, bi/pan, and aroace-spec. That’s a mouthful, so often I just go with “queer” to be concise.
Xiaolong: Queer identity in itself is such a diverse thing – there are so many ways in which people can live, experience, and embody queerness. In your perspective, how has your Asian identity shaped your experience with queerness and being trans?
Shenwei: Being Asian in the U.S. and growing up with East Asian media have created a distinct experience of queerness for me. I was categorically excluded from white femininity, and I dealt with the expectation of hyperfemininity that is constantly projected onto me by the white gaze. I think this created a dissociation from girlhood/womanhood that informs my nonbinary gender. Furthermore, East Asian cultures tend to celebrate androgyny to an extent, and I found myself drawn to androgynous aesthetics. It’s in this liminal space that I find myself exploring alternative gender expressions.
Possibly one of the most fascinating things about my experience with gender and transition is that after I cut my hair short, I started being read as a guy in passing/at first glance about 40 to 50 percent of the time, despite not changing anything else about my presentation (e.g. I don’t bind, I don’t really make an effort to dress masculinely, and I carry a purse). I’m pretty sure being Asian factors into how I’m gendered. I feel somewhat conflicted about this because although it works in my favor (insofar as I’m not being read as a woman), I can’t escape the racialized dynamic inherent to that gendering.
Xiaolong: Something that I have spoken about several times is how the queer space is still a predominantly white space, largely occupied by cis white queer voices. The intersection between being Asian and queer, in my experience, has been a fraught space. What has your own personal experience of inhabiting the intersection of being queer and Asian been like?
Shenwei: Being queer and Asian, specifically East Asian, definitely comes with its own struggles. Like all Asians, we’re often hypersexualized or desexualized, but with an added layer of violence that targets us on the basis of our queerness. With the growing popularity of East Asian pop culture outside of Asia has come the uncomfortable realization that I am little more than a fetish to a lot of white/non-Asian people, and under the condition that I conform to oppressive beauty standards that value thinness and paleness. Unfortunately, one of the first queer terms I learned of when coming into myself was “rice queen,” which is a label assigned to and sometimes embraced by non-Asian, usually white, queer men who are predominantly attracted to East Asian (and to an extent, Southeast Asian) men.
Even setting aside that aspect, I struggle to find media that I can fully relate to because it is either white-centric or made for Asians in Asia and therefore doesn’t speak to my particular experience as an Asian in diaspora in a predominantly white country. I’ve felt the most seen and validated by other queer Asians and queer POC, in real life and in fiction.
Xiaolong: Let’s talk about books! To start us off, what are some of your favourite queer YA books by authors of colour?
Shenwei: There are so many good ones! Here are 10.
- Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan (I’m dying for book 3 over here)
- Seven Tears at High Tide by C.B. Lee
- Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (my review)
- The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
- They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
- Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
- The Resolutions by Mia Garcia
- A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo
- Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett
- Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender (my review)
Xiaolong: Representation of queer and/or trans characters of colour are far and few between – though we have started to see more of these in young adult literature. When was the first time you felt representation in a book resonated with you, and what representation would you like to see more of in the future?
Shenwei: The first time I saw myself in a book in general was in 2006 when my parents went to the North America Taiwanese Women’s Association annual conference and bought two books by Taiwanese American authors for me, Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen and The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin. Both featured Taiwanese American protagonists, and I think that was the first time I realized I could write and publish contemporary fiction books with main characters who were like me.
As far as being a queer POC goes, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender is the first book to represent me. I elaborate on that in my review, which I highly recommend reading, but suffice to say that my QTPOC heart fell in love with the book.
I’m still waiting for a book that resonates with my particular experience as a queer Asian person, especially as someone who’s trans and nonbinary. I think there is currently only one YA book with a trans Asian character by a trans Asian author, which is What Makes You Beautiful by Bridget Liang, featuring a biracial transfeminine nonbinary protagonist (I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my TBR). That makes me sad, but it also serves as motivation to keep writing my #OwnVoices trans Asian characters.
In the future, I hope to see more diverse representations for queer and trans POC of different genders/pronouns, ethnicities, disabilities, etc. Personally, I’d like to see more stories that explore the intersections of being trans, mentally ill/neurodivergent, and a POC. I also want to see stories about being specifically aro/ace-spec and Asian, which I think is a fraught experience. Asian people are frequently desexualized by the white gaze, and allo Asian people typically fight back against that in a way that throws aro/ace-spec folks under the bus. I want to see that framing of desexualized=asexual[/aromantic] and asexual[/aromantic]=bad challenged. Aro/ace-spec Asians deserve to assert and reclaim our humanity on our own terms.
Xiaolong: I think an opinion we both share is that we’d love to see more queer rep in fantasy, like Girls of Paper and Fire and The Tensorate series. Though we’ve started to see more queer fantasy in recent years, what sort of queer fantasies would you like to see more of?
Shenwei: I want to see queer historical fantasy that interrogates the prevailing assumption that societies were more queer antagonistic in the past. I want to see queer fantasy set in worlds where queerness is normalized rather than stigmatized. I want to see queer epic fantasy that draws on and centers nonwhite cultures. As a part of Sino diaspora, I especially want to see more queer fantasy inspired by wuxia and xianxia aesthetics and tropes.
Xiaolong:Lastly, this is a question I love asking all my guests! What is a food that reminds you of home – whoever or wherever that may be?
Shenwei: I’m gonna cheat and pick two! Braised pork over rice (lu rou fan) and beef noodle soup are simple but delicious classics in Taiwanese cuisine. Eating them always makes me feel like I’m home.
About the Book Blogger
Shenwei Chang is a proud disabled and queer Taiwanese American. Their hobbies include reading manga in two languages, marathoning anime series, and researching niche topics that catch their interest. They can typically be found haunting their nearest bookstore.
I am thankful for Shenwei, for being such a great advocate for diversity, being such a wonderful person, and also taking the time to visit us at the Pond for Pride Month! I’ll also never forget the time they sent me a care package of amazing Asian books – I treasure these books so much because Shenwei sent them to me. Thank you so much, Shenwei – and I hope you all enjoyed this interview!