This article discusses anti-Asian and anti-transgender violence. The trans Lifeline for Peer Support may be called at 877-330-6366, and the Asian Mental Health Collective can be visited for support. The Canadian Mental Health Association Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-875-6213.
For poet Kai Cheng Thom, understanding her identity as a transgender Chinese woman requires learning to love the aspects she hated about these identities.
Thom’s anthology Falling Back in Love with Being Human: Letters to Lost Souls depicts the life of a Chinese-Canadian transgender girl through poetry. Released in August 2023, the collection starts by addressing the reader, questioning how humans can be so contradictory. The discrepancy hinges on people’s cruelty towards others being just as strong as their kindness.
In “dear reader,” Thom explains the anthology is a compilation of love letters to exes, prostitutes, weirdos, and transphobes, because loving them means loving a part of herself.
The rhetorical questions in her writing which make readers confront ambiguity, making Thom’s message all the more profound. Thom explains embracing and loving the aspects
of yourself or others that are believed to be unworthy of
love is a powerful journey towards full acceptance of oneself.
One of the most emotional poems in the collection is titled “to a lost sister,” which describes the weight of Thom’s sister passing away. Though Thom states she isn’t affiliated with a religious organization in “dear reader,” faith is important in “to a lost sister,” particularly in the context of understanding oneself.
When speaking about her sister, Thom uses the lowercase ‘i.’ Her voice is placed second to her sister’s as she begs God to turn back time and undo her sister’s death. The lowercase ‘i’ illustrates the smallness of her pleas next to the scope of God’s power—the power to take her sister away.
Thom uses her personal experience to explore the eputence of Asian women as they endure fetishization and violence against their bodies.
The trauma from the 2021 Atlanta shooting is front and centre in “to the ones who didn’t cry.” The 2021 shooting resulted in the deaths of six Asian women during the peak of COVID-19, and the poem explores the shooting as extending past sorrow, causing anger and degradation of herself as an Asian woman.
In “to the ones who didn’t cry,” Thom writes, “i did not cry,” and instead conveys rage. She was enraged when media outlets said it was degrading to say the Asian women were sex workers. The poem questions why the media shames women sex workers but not the systems that put them there.
By concealing their professions, Thom explores how the media stigmatizes sex workers’ stories.
Thom continuously writes about living on the fringe as seen in the titles “to the ones who disappeared,” “to the ones this world was never made for,” and “to the ones who watched.” Each title gives the impression of being othered.
Based on Thoms’ analysis, the other is someone who doesn’t fit into the binaries of heterosexuality and whiteness. Thom’s work represents the exclusion and displacement transgender, and Asian people face from the world in moments of violence.
The most penetrating message Thom showcases in the collection is that those who view themselves as monsters will always be one, until they learn to accept the pieces of themselves they hate.
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