Self-Determination & Queer Power: Reflections from the Summer Organizer Program (part 1!)
To me, APIENC is love — love that the world desperately needs.
As a chronically ill, Việt, queer, nonbinary person, I felt unheard, othered, and silenced for far too long, by nearly everyone in my life in some way. I don’t blame them for that, but it hurt compartmentalizing myself. In that process, it began to be hard to see myself. The self became selves. I was often confused, constantly wondering why my relationship to love and vulnerability was missing something. I felt broken. I struggled to build support systems that held me.
When I started APIENC’s Summer Organizer Program, I was struggling with my physical and mental health. Everyday felt like internal war. But during the first week of the Summer Organizer Program, I regained my sense of purpose. For the first time, I belonged to a genuine community of soft and loving QTAPI people. It was because of this community, and because of our group of 5 Summer Organizers and 3 staff, that I was dedicated to showing up fully as myself. I was ready to grow. But it definitely did not come easy.
Before the program, I was not showing up for myself in all of my communities. I believed that I was an afterthought because of my disability. I was embarrassed to want strong relationships that fostered intimacy and I stayed quiet about what I needed: someone to make intentional space for me. But during my time as a Summer Organizer, I remembered that I was human and that I deserved so much more.
In the first few weeks, I was very scared of showing appreciation for our group members because I was unsure of what to say and how to be authentically warm. As a team of 8, we were all so unique and amazing, and I wanted to show them how much I loved them. Previously, I had no models that showed me what authentic appreciation looked like, so I observed.
During the program’s frequent check-ins, I was able to not only observe, but to also exercise my relationship building muscles. At first, I felt awkward giving affirmations. I questioned myself if I was being truthful about my care for people. As time went on, I honed on this skill, and it was transformative. I started to praise our team members on specific things that I loved about them, personalizing my words for them. I showed that I saw them for who they were—that I paid attention and I cared.
The ways in which we engaged with each other everyday were healing to me. We showed our curiosity of knowing more about one another. We invited vulnerability into our space, trusting that we had emotional support ready. We treated each other with patience and warmth, affirming our fears. We cheered each other on for acts of courage. I was finally being held. And it felt like home.
Placed as an APIENC Summer Organizer at Asian Prisoner Support Committee, it was not easy for me to learn the complexities and strategies of anti-deportation work. I attended meetings held by a coalition of organizations planning a direct action, and I helped design an annual report without having much experience beforehand. Even though I often felt anxious throughout the summer, I was grounded knowing that our team and the larger APIENC community was there to support me. I even felt like I was outside during this pandemic being with APIENC, almost as if I was hanging out with everyone and building relationships, despite communicating through a computer screen.
After thinking I was broken for most of my life, I had self-determination again. Part of that self-determination means that I can abundantly show my care for others, and accept love when it’s given to me. I now believe in my own queer power. I now know how to open up to welcome abundance into my life. I now know what I want.
I want to be a healer and caretaker in my communities. I want to love boldly, unafraid of showing how I feel. I want to strengthen my communities with the same practices I learned at APIENC, practices that I perceive as acts of liberatory access, this kind of access that is not just material access for disabled folks. It moves beyond that and demands that everyone actualizes access as an act of love. Through genuine and intentional engagement, I want to give folks what I didn’t have for most of my life. Now, it is my mission to make space for those that never had enough support to share their pains, while also celebrating their resilience and their passions.
I never thought of myself as having a big heart, despite my birth name, Tim, meaning heart in my home language. But now, I know for sure that my heart is big. And my heart is ready to transform life around me.
Trời is a disabled, nonbinary, Việt graphic designer and musician who loves to dance in the mirror and look up at the sky. They were born and raised in the South Bay on Ohlone land, and they currently attend the University of San Francisco. Trời seeks to learn lessons from multiple ways of living, including radical leftist ideologies, modern-day spiritual practices, disability justice, Southeast Asian histories, and language learning.