LIA INCOGNITA: The 1.5 Generation
In 2015 we asked for equality, we asked for respect and we asked for change. As the year tapered off we asked ourselves, where to from here?
With the renewal of the calendar year, many people mark this time as one for renewal and change. But has anything really changed?
Lia Incognita, is a young journalist and radio presenter who interested in the politics that surround the queer and migrant communities. Incognita is also a part of the ‘1.5 generation’ and is about to embark on a journey back to Shanghai to live. The 1.5 generation don’t completely match the identity of a migrant, a first generation Australian, or even a second. They have grown up as a part of our society despite not being born to it.
THE PIN. What lead to you family’s migration to Australia?
LIA INCOGNITA. People were just trying to get out of China for better opportunities but the reason we were able to was because my dad had come to Australia before the Tiananmen Square Massacre as a student, the Australian government actually allowed all Chinese students to stay in Australia and then their families were able to come join them. It's very different from how they treat refugees today.
In some of your writing you talk about the 1.5 generation, what does it mean to identify as 1.5 generation?
L. The 1.5 generation are people who were born overseas but who migrated before they became adults. There's a range of experiences within that. I arrived as a preschooler, that’s quite a different experience to arriving as a teenager. For me, there was a point in my life where I thought I would spend my whole life in China and that changed. That changed my life really dramatically.
What was your experience of being a child in Australia?
L. For the most part I had a really good childhood. I can’t really complain. I have a pretty loving, generous, stable family. But I've come to realise, as an adult, that a big part of my childhood was a subtle imperative to assimilate, this sort of shame about your culture and background that you get from school and the media and your friends and their families.
Do you personally identify with one culture over another?
L. I think that it’s really hard when you’re growing up in a mix of cultures to actually identify what is one and the other. There are some things that are really clear, you know - food, language, whatever. Then there are a lot of things you never realise are different until you talk to a whole bunch of people. I also think many diaspora people make up their own versions of things.
In your radio series, ‘We Weren’t Born Yesterday’, you explore queer and migrant culture. What does it mean to you to identify as both queer and as a migrant in Australia?
L. In the show I talked about how diasporic queers are doubly marginalised, on the basis of gender and sexuality but also on the basis of race and culture. But if you look at mainstream queer stuff, it sort of makes this claim, we're just like you but queer! And mainstream migrant politics is the same, we're just like you except migrants! It can often reinforce heteronormativity.
Trying to argue for equality on the basis of being the same, I think, has informed both the queer politics and the anti-racist politics. For me, not only being a bisexual Chinese person but a person who identifies as a queer person of colour, I have to argue that it’s not the only way to argue for rights, power or representation.
What was your experience of growing up queer in Australia and as a part of a migrant community?
L. I think migrant communities are often a bit more insular. Some of them are more traditional in a lot of ways, a lot more conservative than countries back home because people are trying to hold on to something. I think what has been good about doing the 'We Weren’t Born Yesterday' project was working with groups that involved older queer migrant people and feeling a bit reassured that you’re not alone.
Have you had experiences that have surrounded the issues of race in the queer community?
L. Definitely. I think Asian men get a lot more of that - rejection basically. Whereas Asian women tend to get exoticised. For me, being gender fluid, lately I feel more comfortable presenting in a masculine way. That's been interesting, because it actually helps to counter some of the assumptions made about me as someone who's small and Asian.
There is a pressure in the general community for women to look beautiful, yet natural, with makeup. This mostly comes from the idea that women wear makeup for men. How is this different in queer communities?
L. When I talk about queer community, I talk about it more from a cultural perspective instead of my own sexuality. I think in queer community beauty norms aren’t supposed to look natural at all. There is not this expectation that you’re trying to look natural, because there is no such thing as a “natural” body. Also, when you think about it, there isn’t a way to not make aesthetic choices about your appearance. Everyone is doing it all the time. It’s always worth being conscious of that fact.
Where do you call home?
L. I do see Melbourne as home more than anywhere else. I hope Shanghai will become that. I think what makes a place home is not how long you've been there or how many people you know but how much commitment you make to it. I'd like to have that somewhere else.
THE PIN. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about being in the skin you’re in, what would it be?
LIA INCOGNITA. You can get away with more than you think you can.
- This interview has been edited and condensed
Photo credit: Corey Green