Kim Chee Lee
Identifies as: Gay. Chapbook writer; tap-dancer; volunteer; gardener; former time-study analyst.
Identifies as Queer. Twin; badass poet; storyteller; lip-syncer; chocolate-covered almond aficionado.
Aisha: There’s not a lot of queer Muslim visibility, and if there’s one less person hating themselves for being queer and Muslim because of seeing someone else out there, then that’d be really great. It’s not that I necessarily want to be that role model, I just want to be, like, “Hey, don’t hate yourself! There is a community! You’ll reach it eventually.”
Kim Chee: I have some friends who are Muslim, but they’re in the closet, and they don’t go to any gay things or activities.
A: Not many of us can be out. There’s a risk of homelessness, a risk of rejection, a risk of bullying. It’s a safety thing. You risk so much more if you come out. With a lot of queer youth, [I’ve heard], “I came out when I wasn’t ready,” or “I was really pressured to come out.” [People say] you should be out, because that’s one less thing you have to hide or lie about, but being out is much more complex.
K: I came out when I was seven or eight. My adoptive father had four wives, and one of them couldn’t have children, so they gave me to her as a gift, and she took care of me from the ages of four to 12. One day, [I told her], “When I look at boys, at men, I have kind of a fuzzy feeling, and I don’t know what that means.” She said, “You just like men, that’s all. You’re gay!” She was very supportive. That’s why I say I’m one of the luckiest old guys in the world. I was schooled in China, lived in Winnipeg, and came to Toronto when I was 24. To make a long story short, the first day I arrived at my job, I got picked up by this guy who’d just arrived from England. I lived at the YMCA, because in those days the YMCA had rooms. “Oh,” he said, “maybe we should get a place together.” And that was my first husband, at 24.
A: When you first arrived here in Toronto, what was the queer scene like?
K: Well, everything was underground, all the dance places, the St. Charles [Tavern], the bars. My friends would go to the gay dances on Friday nights and Saturdays, and they’d always look to their left and their right before they went in. I asked why they were doing that, and they said, “Just in case someone sees us.” They were hiding. They didn’t want people to know they were going to these places.
The whole piece is a fantastic example of contrast-and-compare.