Good Asian Drivers Speak Out with Power

Words and music - spoken and sung – embraced the hearts of hundreds at Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge, MA on the unusually chilly, rainy night of August 6, 2008. The spoken-word/acoustic duo Good Asian Drivers opened and closed the event “Outspoken: A Queer People of Color Spoken-Word Artist Showcase”, co-produced by queer social and arts groups Queer Women of Color, Queer Asian Pacific Alliance, and Truth Serum Productions. The bill also featured queer activists/artists such as Ignacio Rivera, Judah Dorrington, Kay Barrett, and Letta Neely.

Good Asian Drivers’ pluralistic performance format brought out the best of transgenderd boi slam poet Kit Yan and lesbian singer/songwriter Melissa Li, individually and together. Li and Yan took turns performing solo first. Over rapid Ani-DiFranco-esque guitar strumming, Li sang unapologetically about her love, ideals, and personal stories, criticizing the media conglomeration and the under-representation of queer Asian America. She professed, “they say I ain’t loud enough to be a rock star / but hey ain’t you sitting there listening to this song / would you rather I grow up at the top of my class / running a business online myself and really liking math / working for microsoft and meeting my Chinese American boyfriend…and would you prefer that I go quietly and shed my friends / and shed my desires.” Li didn’t attempt to write the next queer or lesbian anthem. Her humble, earnest words trekked the rugged range enveloped by the oppressive American dream compounded Confucian values.

Kit Yan presented a new poem, reading and embodying it with charisma. Yan told a story about the female-to-male transitioning experience of an Asian American man. “I am not THE man / although I am an Asian man, demasculinized and desexualized by the society / I am an out trans man / sometimes marginalized by my own community / you don’t see the everyday / everyday I still tell them that my name is Laura / the bankers, airport security, police, bouncers, liquor store salesmen / I’m still afraid what would happen inside the graffiti-stained stalls / even when I whisper, ‘it’s alright. It’s alright, Kit. No one can tell.” Each line cut through the uncritical, celebratory sham of gender performativity and unraveled the pain, frustration, and inner triumph of Asian trans masculinity.

To me, a frequent stranger, sociality in Boston always seems repressed. A swarm of heat between bodies and minds struck the club that night. I never believe in art for art’s sake. I witnessed the efficacy of music as a vehicle for expressing social criticism. Clapping and laughing along the Obama-supporting crowd, consisting of queer individuals and allies of all different hues of the spectrum, I felt an air for change. I’m not sure, how is this moment a remnant transformed or recycled from the 1960s legacy of the Cambridge-bound, new-left-associated Joan Baez? Or is this a neon-purple Warholian screenprint of Bob Dylan whose perennial-ambivalence is again infused with social vibrancy?

Social consciousness - as an art or act - can be contagious. Good Asian Drivers meld conscious words with good tunes and grooves. The Drivers united only 8 months ago as a duo to tour the country with the mission to raise the visibility for queer Asian Americans. In September, the duo will relocate to New York City to continue their journey. They carry with them power and radiance. I wish them best.

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