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Kitty Tsui was born in Hong Kong in 1952 and spent her childhood there and in London before moving with her family to San Francisco in 1968. 

Kitty got her first writing byline as a young teen in the South China Morning Post. Her activism also began young. At 17 years old, she made the decision to attend San Francisco State instead of the more overtly prestigious UC Berkeley after watching students there go toe-to-toe with mounted cops in their battle for an ethnic studies department. While studying creative writing at SF State, Kitty established the Third World Poetry Series featuring poets like Roberto Vargas, Victor Hernandez Cruz, and Jessica Hagedorn, and studied with feminist and activist Sally Gearhart. It was around that time that Kitty came out as a lesbian.

In 1981, Kitty was a founding member of Unbound Feet, a female performance group challenging stereotypes about Asian women. It was widely recognized as a catalyst for the Asian-Pacific Islander feminist and lesbian movements in San Francisco.

In 1983, Kitty published her first book of poetry and prose, The Words of a Woman Who Breathes Fire. It was the first book ever published by a Chinese-American lesbian. Kitty’s second book, Breathless: Erotica came out in 1996 and won a Firecracker Alternative Book Award. Her third book, Sparks Fly, was written by her alter ego Eric Norton, a gay leatherman living in pre-AIDS San Francisco. 

Kitty has also been a bodybuilder. In 1986, she won a bronze medal for women’s physique at the second Gay Games, held in San Francisco. Four years later, at the Gay Games in Vancouver, she brought home the gold medal at the age of 38. Bringing together her physical and literary prowess, Kitty became the first Asian-American woman to appear on the cover of the lesbian erotica magazine On Our Backs. 

Through the years, Kitty’s poetry and prose has been collected in dozens of anthologies. In 2016, she received the Phoenix Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women and Transgender Community.

Today, Kitty lives in Long Beach, California with her German shorthaired pointer Beaux. We had to schedule her OUTWORDS interview in April 2017 around the Long Beach Grand Prix, which roars past her windows every spring. Fortunately, the rest of the time, the neighborhood is quiet, a good place for an introspective poet who has relentlessly redefined what Chinese women do and don’t do.
Kitty Tsui: [00:00:00] Part of.
Mason Funk: Yes [inaudible]. Do you happen to know a woman in Los Angeles named, June Lagmay, L-A-G-M-A-Y?
Kitty Tsui: No.
Mason Funk: She was the LA City Clerk under four different LA Mayors and she's now retired, she's probably in her mid 60s and we interviewed her a week or two ago. She was very involved with the formation of, I think they call it API Equality, in Los Angeles.
Kitty Tsui: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yep-
Mason Funk: And a Marshall Wong, you know Marshall?
Kitty Tsui: [00:00:30] Yep.
Mason Funk: He's been my kind of contact for that community. Russell Leong at UCLA?
Kitty Tsui: I know Russell from when we were-
Mason Funk: Really?
Kitty Tsui: In college.
Mason Funk: Really?
Kitty Tsui: Yes.
Mason Funk: He and I have been in touch, when I was shooting interviews a few weeks ago he wasn't available, but we're in touch so he'll be joining-
Kitty Tsui: You'll have to say, hi-
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] I will, I will, great.
Kitty Tsui: It's been a long time.
Mason Funk: There's another guy who moved to Florida, Dean, what is Deans last name? I'm blanking on it, he was formally very involved in that community in Los Angeles, but then moved to Florida.
Kitty Tsui: See, I'm basically affiliated with the San Francisco-
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Kitty Tsui: San Francisco Bay area.
Mason Funk: Yeah, right. So you know Russell because you guys were both in high school or college together?
Kitty Tsui: Yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] Up there?
Kitty Tsui: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Wow, yeah.
Kitty Tsui: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Cool, so we're going-
Kitty Tsui: Actually, I think that ... He doesn't remember this, but I think his parents and mine tried to set us up.
Mason Funk: Oh, how funny. (laugh)
Kitty Tsui: (laugh)
Mason Funk: Sorry mom and dad. Well do me a favor, this is for the record, just tell me your first and last names as you'd like to be identified and spell them out please.
Kitty Tsui: [00:02:00] Kitty Tsui, T-S-U-I.
Mason Funk: Okay, and Kitty ... Oh, my goodness ... Could you, for just to be sure we have it right, just spell Kitty as well.
Kitty Tsui: Yeah, Kitty, K-I-T-T-Y.
Mason Funk: Okay, and tell me on what date and where you were born, please?
Kitty Tsui: I was born in Hong Kong on September 4th, 1952.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Kitty Tsui: At 11 past 11, I believe.
Mason Funk: [00:02:30] Okay. So who were your parents and what was going on in your family when you were born, like where were they on their way to, where were they on their way from?
Kitty Tsui: Well, I was born in Hong Kong and my father was a merchant seaman, he worked for the British Blue Funnel Line.
Kitty Tsui: [00:03:00] I believe that my parents went to England to make a life and so they left me with my grandmother, I was brought up by my maternal grandmother and that is a very wonderful relationship in my life.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh. How so, what was she like?
Kitty Tsui: [00:03:30] She spoiled me. I lived with her until I was five years old and then I went to England to join my parents. I remember being on the plane, it had propellers, my grandmother stood on the tarmac and she was waving at me,
Kitty Tsui: [00:04:00] she had set me up with beef jerky so I was busy eating beef jerky. Then I remember, when I arrived in England I saw this strange woman with a baby and that was my mother and my sister.
Kitty Tsui: [00:04:30] So I always felt that my grandmother was my mother and my father. My siblings were all born in England and they were all younger than me, they were all born a year apart and so I felt very apart from my family from the beginning.
Mason Funk: [00:05:00] What qualities did your grandmother embody and represent for you? And say, "my grandmother" so we know who you're talking about.
Kitty Tsui: Well I mean, I think at that age I was ... She spoiled me,
Kitty Tsui: [00:05:30] she loved me. I didn't find out until after she died that ... I knew she was a very famous Chinese opera singer and she had a career in the China towns in America ...
Kitty Tsui: [00:06:00] But I didn't know until after she died that she left my grandfather and had a ten year relationship with another woman. This other woman played the male parts onstage, my grandmother played the female parts onstage. But I didn't know this about her until after she died and I found photographs. But I guess to me ...
Kitty Tsui: [00:06:30] Well, she was my mother and my father.
Mason Funk: What were the photographs that you found, how did they tell you about the nature of the relationship she had with this-
Kitty Tsui: Oh, they didn't tell me, I found out for myself. I don't know if you remember, but they used to have photographs that were like yay small ...
Kitty Tsui: [00:07:00] There were three photographs and it was my grandmother with another woman and I could tell that they were more than friends just from the ... How they were in the photographs. So that was a big revelation.
Mason Funk: [00:07:30] I'm just so curious, how were they in the photographs, was it just something you could just sense?
Kitty Tsui: Yes.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh.
Kitty Tsui: It was the way they were close together. I knew.
Mason Funk: How old were you at this time, roughly?
Kitty Tsui: [00:08:00] She died when I was 28, I think. So I was 28, 27, 28.
Mason Funk: What did that mean to you, that she had this relationship with another woman for ten years and left her husband, what did that signify for you?
Kitty Tsui: It signified to me that she was a woman way ahead of her time
Kitty Tsui: [00:08:30] because in 1920, 1930, as a Chinese woman, you do not leave your husband, but she did.
Kitty Tsui: [00:09:00] She broke ground ... I mean, it doesn't matter what it was called or what they called it, but there was definitely a ...
Kitty Tsui: [00:09:30] It was groundbreaking. I mean for women of her generation, Chinese women had their feet bound or had their marriages arranged and my grandmother was ...
Kitty Tsui: [00:10:00] She became a star very young, when she was a teenager and she ended up supporting her husband. He was older, he was also an opera singer, they actually met in Vancouver
Kitty Tsui: [00:10:30] and they got married in Oakland at the home of her godmother who had bound feet, and I have pictures of these. I have a lot of archival photographs. So she was able to leave her husband,
Kitty Tsui: [00:11:00] but she still supported him and his family, he had two other wives before her and also a concubine after my grandmother. So my grandmother was the sole support of this clan and this is in 1920, 1930,
Kitty Tsui: [00:11:30] she was a remarkable woman.
Mason Funk: Do you remember if-
Kate Kunath: Okay.
Mason Funk: So I guess I was curious about the moment you saw these photographs and maybe just a sense of dawning occurred to you or revelation. Do you remember what you felt in your body?
Kitty Tsui: [00:12:00] I think it was one of those ah-ha moments because I remember when I came out to her, the only thing she said to me was, "What's gonna happen when you get old?" You know meaning, you're gonna be alone. I said to her, I said, "Grandma look at you, you're old, you're alone, and you're fine."
Kitty Tsui: [00:12:30] So it was just one of those ah-ha moments.
Mason Funk: Did you wonder why she ... You came out to her, did you wonder if she might ever have come out to you?
Kitty Tsui: No. Not of her generation, no. In fact,
Kitty Tsui: [00:13:00] when I was doing ... I did a lot of oral histories with my family, with people in her theater world, her director, ushers ... I'm sorry I totally forgot where I'm at. Where was I?
Mason Funk: [00:13:30] You said-
Kitty Tsui: I'm lost.
Mason Funk: Oh, that's okay, you said you did a lot of oral histories in your family and you talked to people that she worked with-
Kitty Tsui: Right.
Mason Funk: Directors, ushers-
Kitty Tsui: Right. Her goddaughter and my aunt both told me
Kitty Tsui: [00:14:00] that she and this other woman were like peas in a pod, like peach blossoms, they were always together.
Mason Funk: Did that make you feel closer to your grandmother?
Kitty Tsui: No, I didn't know this until after she died.
Mason Funk: [00:14:30] Uh-huh. Well that's what I mean, after she did ... Even after she had died, did knowledge ... I guess my question might be, did it alter your relationship with her, even with her being dead at that point?
Kitty Tsui: Did it alter?
Mason Funk: Did it change how you felt about her? Or, I don't know ... You know, for better or for worse?
Kitty Tsui: [00:15:00] I've always felt very close to her. I mean, I dedicated my first book to her and I think it says, "To my grandmother, my first and closest connection, the first woman I loved," was my grandmother.
Mason Funk: So how did you then get from London to-
Kate Kunath: [00:15:30] Okay.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Kitty Tsui: Well I was born in Hong Kong, I went to England when I was five to join my parents. We lived in a town opposite Liverpool and we always used to say
Kitty Tsui: [00:16:00] that the Beatles saw my brother because that's how his hair was. He wore his hair like that and we lived opposite Liverpool, so we always said that the Beatles saw my brother. We lived in England until I was 11 and then we went back to Hong Kong, I went to high school in Hong Kong, and then we immigrated to San Francisco in 1968.
Mason Funk: [00:16:30] Okay. So you land in San Francisco in 1968 and presumably all hell is about to break loose or is already in a good way, but is already breaking loose.
Kitty Tsui: Well, I think I got to San Francisco and I was very curious about Chinese-Americans.
Kitty Tsui: [00:17:00] I went to the library and I wanted to find books about Chinese in America and I would be directed to Chinese cooking, origami, kite making,
Kitty Tsui: [00:17:30] there was just a ... There was nothing about ... There was stories about Chinese in China, but there was nothing about Chinese-Americans. So I kind of made it my mission to read and to find anything about the lives of the Chinese
Kitty Tsui: [00:18:00] who came here to this country. I found Maxine Hong Kingston, I think that was it, I read Maxine Hong Kingston and-
Mason Funk: Tell us a little bit about Maxine Hong Kingston and who she was, and what she was writing about that you were reading. Just so we know-
Kitty Tsui: [00:18:30] Well Maxine Hong Kingston wrote ... I believe it's called, "Memoirs of a Childhood Among Ghosts." No, that's the subtitle. Maxine Hong Kingston is a very prolific Chinese-American writer,
Kitty Tsui: [00:19:00] but ... This is gonna bug me now. What's the name of her book? Well her book after that was, "China Men." But it was mythology, oral history,
Kitty Tsui: [00:19:30] it was a pretty incredible book about being Chinese-American.
Mason Funk: So, just to be clear, did you consider yourself Chinese-American at this time? Because if I'm not mistaken, you hadn't lived in America prior to this time, is that correct?
Kitty Tsui: [00:20:00] Correct.
Mason Funk: But did it matter, I guess my question is, did you see yourself as Chinese-American or did it not matter whether you saw yourself as Chinese-American, you were in America now?
Kitty Tsui: I saw myself as Chinese-American because I'm Chinese and I'm now living in America. So yeah, I saw myself as Chinese-American.
Mason Funk: [00:20:30] So you came over in '68 and you were probably around like 16, if I'm not mistaken at that time?
Kitty Tsui: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mason Funk: Where did your family set themselves up ... Like culturally within San Francisco where did you all begin to sort of-
Kitty Tsui: We went right to the Sunset, the Sunset District. My grandmother lived in China Town. But yeah, we lived in the Sunset.
Mason Funk: [00:21:00] By now, were your siblings ... Were they gone because they were much older than you, so-
Kitty Tsui: No.
Mason Funk: Oh, they were younger than you-
Kitty Tsui: No, no, I was the oldest.
Mason Funk: You were the oldest, okay.
Kitty Tsui: Yeah. No, they were-
Mason Funk: They were all there too.
Kitty Tsui: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Yeah. So what are some of your first memories of San Francisco as a place and culturally?
Kitty Tsui: [00:21:30] Well, I visited my grandmother a lot, she lived in San Francisco, China Town. I remember
Kitty Tsui: [00:22:00] eating and going to Chinese movies. Kung Fu movies were ... Oftentimes the hero was a woman, doing swordplay and yeah, I escaped into the movies.
Kate Kunath: I'm gonna close the laundry room door.
Mason Funk: [00:22:30] Okay. I can get it actually.
Kitty Tsui: Here I'll get it because I need to get up anyway.
Kate Kunath: Here.
Mason Funk: Here, you got that back behind you.
Kitty Tsui: Oh, actually I can't get up.
Kate Kunath: You could.
Mason Funk: There you go, now you can get up if you want.
Kitty Tsui: Oh well actually, you're already up.
Mason Funk: Is this feeling difficult, are you feeling ... How are you feeling about all this, talking about all this?
Kate Kunath: I'm just gonna close this door.
Kitty Tsui: It's a little difficult, you know?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Kitty Tsui: [00:23:00] I mean I'm nervous, I'm trying to figure out you know?
Mason Funk: Yeah. Huh, well let me know if there's anything I can do to make it easier, okay? Apart from leaving, apart from taking our lights and going home.
Kate Kunath: Okay, it didn't turn off.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Kate Kunath: Sorry.
Mason Funk: [00:23:30] When did you kind of start writing, was it in this period that you started?
Kitty Tsui: No, actually I started writing in Hong Kong. I always wanted to be a writer and in Hong Kong the major English speaking newspaper was called, "The South China Morning Post," and on the weekends they had a special edition in the centerfold for teenagers,
Kitty Tsui: [00:24:00] for people that wanted to write. So actually, I got my byline when I was I think, 14, 13. I wrote poems, I wrote all kinds of things. I think it's now called, "Juvenalia". My archivist taught me that.
Mason Funk: [00:24:30] What kinds of things were you writing about, do you remember?
Kitty Tsui: I don't off hand. I mean, I have all of my stuff, but I don't remember-
Mason Funk: All right.
Kitty Tsui: Off the top of my head.
Mason Funk: What were you feeling internally because of your sexuality, where were you in the process of becoming aware of that?
Kitty Tsui: [00:25:00] I grew up straight, you know? My parents were my role models. I had good relationships with men and I think when I was 21,
Kitty Tsui: [00:25:30] I started feeling something for women. It was not a woman, just it was strange, it was totally alien to me. Actually, I had an experience a few years ago, my best friend was Chinese and she would come and spend the night and I remember one day I saw her nipples
Kitty Tsui: [00:26:00] through her nightgown and that freaked me out so much that I think I just tabled it, I just tabled it. But a few years later I ... It was like I woke up one morning and things were different
Kitty Tsui: [00:26:30] and I didn't know what it was. I had another good friend who went to the Art Institute and she was bisexual, and she was actually married to a bisexual man. So they would take me to gay clubs, Bojangles on Polk Street,
Kitty Tsui: [00:27:00] I remember Bojangles. So I was about 21 and I was going to bars and picking woman up and I remember the first few times it was like-
Mason Funk: [00:27:30] Hold on just one second.
Speaker 4: It took me like three hours to just get back on track [inaudible].
Kitty Tsui: [00:28:00] It was like nothing happened, it was like, I didn't know what to do. Maybe obviously, the other person didn't really know what to do and I was like, "Oh, let me go back to men." Then my friend Diana called me one night, it was Halloween, was a Tuesday night, and she said, "Let's go to Peg's Place,
Kitty Tsui: [00:28:30] it's Halloween come on." I said, "No, it's Tuesday night, I have to study." She said, "Come on." So we went to Peg's Place and there was a lot of people there, a lot of people were dressed up. We saw this Asian couple come in and we thought,
Kitty Tsui: [00:29:00] "Boy are they in the wrong place," because it looked like a man and a woman. So we were kind of chuckling and laughing at them and then this person comes over to ask me to dance, well it wasn't a man, it was an androgynous woman and she became my first lover.
Kitty Tsui: [00:29:30] When we made love, the earth moved, so I knew I had found the right woman.
Mason Funk: You were like, "Ah ha-
Kitty Tsui: Yes.
Mason Funk: This is what this fuss is all about."
Kitty Tsui: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Huh. Who was she?
Kitty Tsui: [00:30:00] She was a student at UC Berkeley, she was from Hong Kong and she introduced me to a very different life. Chinese from Hong Kong, they were very much at that time in their roles,
Kitty Tsui: [00:30:30] as either you're butch or your fem. They could not figure out what I was because I was neither butch or fem, I was in my androgynous phase. So that was interesting, I was with her for two years.
Mason Funk: [00:31:00] So by now we're in the 70s, right?
Kitty Tsui: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mason Funk: You mentioned some kind of key political moments, let's kind of switch over into the world at large ... You mentioned something that I've never heard of, which is the International Hotel, I don't know if that's an incident ... I mean-
Kitty Tsui: [00:31:30] Well, when I started ... Actually, I want to talk about I think, my entre into activism. It's an image that's seared into my memory and I will probably remember it until the day I die. But, I was too young to go to college when I came here, even though I had already graduated. So my parents put me in an academically elite high school, college prep and it was right next to San Francisco State.
Kitty Tsui: [00:32:00] It was 1969 and the students were rioting for the establishment of ethnic studies and the President of the University called the police and there was a riot, and police. Well, I remember sitting in class and I was looking out the window and I saw this line of mounted police
Kitty Tsui: [00:32:30] and we knew where they were going, they were going to San Francisco State to squash the rioters. It was at that moment that I decided I was going to go to San Francisco State and not UC Berkeley, where I had already been accepted. I believe that was the beginning of my activism. I went to San Francisco State,
Kitty Tsui: [00:33:00] I established the first Third World Poetry Series and we had people like Roberto Vargas, Victor Hernandez Cruz, [Avacha], Jessica Hagedorn, [inaudible],
Kitty Tsui: [00:33:30] so I created that, I started that. That was when I was in the Creative Studies Department, I studied with Kate Boyle. That's also where I met Sally Gearhart, who I believe is the first out lesbian to be tenured.
Kitty Tsui: [00:34:00] She taught Communications and I believe she was a big force in my life at that time. I think I probably came out in that period.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh. I want to go back to that image of the mounted police that you're seeing through a window,
Mason Funk: [00:34:30] and I know what I think it looked like in my mind based on what you've told me, but I wonder if you could just fill in more details of the horses, the men, the numbers, the direction they were going?
Kitty Tsui: It was very ominous, it was very ominous. I mean, I don't remember how many, but there was a line,
Kitty Tsui: [00:35:00] and it was, policeman in riot gear on horseback and we knew where they were going, they were going to San Francisco State.
Mason Funk: The students for their part, they were rioting because they wanted a Ethnic Studies Department?
Kitty Tsui: [00:35:30] Yes.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh. So things had kinda been building up to a boil and then boiled over?
Kitty Tsui: Yes.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Do you happen to know what the outcome of that day was with the police? I can only assume that they kicked some ass, but do you know any more details or know what happened?
Kitty Tsui: I don't, but I can imagine what happened.
Mason Funk: [00:36:00] Yeah, huh. So how did that affect you? I mean, you say that was the beginning of your activism.
Kitty Tsui: It made me think about
Kitty Tsui: [00:36:30] the importance of speaking out, the importance of taking a stand, the importance of standing up for what you believe in.
Mason Funk: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So then, is it appropriate to ask at this point, what was the International Hotel?
Kitty Tsui: [00:37:00] The International Hotel, it was on the outskirts of China Town and because of the whole Chinese Exclusion Act,
Kitty Tsui: [00:37:30] the way that the laws were slanted so that the Chinese could come and function as cheap labor, but were not allowed to bring families, children, because God forbid, we don't want the yellow people to have children and take over this land of ours.
Kitty Tsui: [00:38:00] So there were a lot of residential hotels that catered to bachelors, men. The International Hotel was a ... I'm trying to think, it was a huge building ...
Kitty Tsui: [00:38:30] I wanna say maybe, it took up a quarter of a block right in China Town. They wanted to tear it down and build a more commercially viable structure,
Kitty Tsui: [00:39:00] so it became a point of resistance for many years and in fact, when they actually did tear it down, I don't remember how many years, but it stood as an empty hole for years.
Kitty Tsui: [00:39:30] But, it was a point of resistance, so that was the International Hotel.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh. So really, really symbolic, in terms of this attempt to essentially like you say, bring in Chinese people for very specific reasons, but control the overall influx, so to speak.
Kitty Tsui: [00:40:00] Right.
Mason Funk: Huh, huh. So, in these years, when did you begin to be aware of a kind of a moment around gay rights, when did that begin to ... Like with your own awareness of your own sexuality and then the exploding by this point or the beginnings of the Gay Rights Movement, when did that all kind of enter your consciousness as a thing that you might become part of or maybe not?
Kitty Tsui: [00:40:30] Well, I think it began at San Francisco State, it began with me forming the Poetry Series, and by that time I was ...
Kitty Tsui: [00:41:00] My friends were poets, actors, people who did street theater, muralists, it was a whole culture of arts, expression
Kitty Tsui: [00:41:30] and within that, I began to see myself as a girlfriend, a girlfriend of someone. Well I mean,
Kitty Tsui: [00:42:00] I guess it's at a certain point ... Actually (silence)
Kitty Tsui: [00:42:30] it was kind of difficult because it just brought up ... There was this very well known Japanese-American poet
Kitty Tsui: [00:43:00] who was part of my circle and he tried to rape me. I think it was ...
Kitty Tsui: [00:43:30] And I resisted. But I think coming out of that and then
Kitty Tsui: [00:44:00] having that awakening of having feelings for or thinking about women ... I'm not sure
Kitty Tsui: [00:44:30] where I'm gonna go with this. I don't know where I'm going with this Mason.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Kitty Tsui: Can we?
Mason Funk: [00:45:00] Yeah. One thing you said was, you began to see yourself as the girlfriend of, and I wasn't quite sure what you meant by that. Was it that you were losing your own sense of being like a subject and you began to see yourself as more like an appendage, or did I completely misunderstand?
Kitty Tsui: Yeah, and I saw other women who were very strong powerful poets
Kitty Tsui: [00:45:30] and artists who were kind of relegated to being someones girlfriend and that didn't sit well with me because I'm not someone's girlfriend. But then I came out, I was 21 and I had these little flings in bars
Kitty Tsui: [00:46:00] that turned out to be nothing, and then I met Jenny and that was really my entre into my life. I need to take a break.
Mason Funk: Okay. Careful you got that package-
Kitty Tsui: Yeah, I know.
Mason Funk: Grab it take it with you-
Kitty Tsui: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Wherever you want to go.
Kitty Tsui: [00:46:30] You guys were okay?
Kate Kunath: Just put it in your pocket.
Kitty Tsui: You guys were okay?
Mason Funk: Yeah, I'm good. Actually, I could use some water. Do you want some water, Kate?
Kate Kunath: Sure.
Mason Funk: So, let's talk about ... You mentioned in your questionnaire, Harvey Milk, what do you remember about him, in terms of the political scene in San Francisco at the time?
Kitty Tsui: [00:47:00] What I remember most about him, is he was very present. He was always very present and he was one of us, and this was what, 1976?
Kitty Tsui: [00:47:30] He was one of us and he came out and said, "I'm a gay man and I love men, and deal with it." He was totally unapologetic.
Mason Funk: Did you feel like a really strong identification ... I'm just curious as a lesbian woman ... Was he just as powerful to you even though he was a gay man?
Kitty Tsui: Yes.
Mason Funk: [00:48:00] Uh-huh. There was no sense of like, "Well he's a gay man, but-
Kitty Tsui: No.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh. Lani talked to me a lot about the separatists of that era, as women began to feel their own strength, that there were many women who, in various ways, including Sally Gearhart who ... She became super controversial for saying that we outta basically reduce men to 10% of the population
Mason Funk: [00:48:30] and there was a lot of ... Lonnie talks about the separatists and the separatism as well, what do you remember about that period from that perspective?
Kitty Tsui: I remember that there was a lot of strident separatism. But, I'm a woman of color and my father's a man,
Kitty Tsui: [00:49:00] my brother's a man, I think as I was ... San Francisco State, the International Hotel, the street theater,
Kitty Tsui: [00:49:30] my brothers ... I mean, my comrades were brothers so I myself was not ... I did not identify as a separatist, but I knew a lot of women who were.
Mason Funk: When you say there were these ... You called them strident separatists, and you said, "But I was a woman or I'm a woman of color."
Mason Funk: [00:50:00] So what does that mean, what is the relationship between being or not being separatist and being a woman of color?
Kitty Tsui: I did not see men as the enemy, I saw patriarchy as the enemy, but not men or a man.
Kitty Tsui: [00:50:30] I didn't lump men as they're all rapists or they're all bad.
Mason Funk: Did they, for the most part ... You used the adjective, strident ... Is that kind of how they felt to you?
Kitty Tsui: Yes.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh. Did you ever feel like, oh, I should be more like them?
Kitty Tsui: No.
Mason Funk: No, uh-huh, you were very clear on who you were?
Kitty Tsui: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mason Funk: [00:51:00] Uh-huh. Lani had a ... She tells the story of course of first coming out as a lesbian and then falling in love with a man in 1980 and feeling ... She tells the story about how the only way she could say the word, "bisexual" was lesbian identified bisexual. She says she would say that so fast, "lesbian identified bisexual," just to try to kind of hold her worlds together.
Mason Funk: [00:51:30] Do you remember at that time, did you know women who were bisexual, do you regard them in any negative way, do you remember, was that anything that affected you personally?
Kitty Tsui: No. I knew bisexual women, but that's who they were. I can accept that.
Mason Funk: [00:52:00] It seems so easy and so natural for you, but of course for some women, including many that we hope to interview, that was just not where they were at. Do you feel like you can ... I don't know, did it just feel completely other to you, or did you sort of understand where they were coming from, but it just wasn't your thing or ... I'm just trying to get a sense of what it was like to be a woman,
Mason Funk: [00:52:30] a strong feminist at this time, but not identify with this other group of women who had a different point of view.
Kitty Tsui: Well, but isn't that kind of like saying, straight people have a certain bias against gay people?
Kitty Tsui: [00:53:00] I mean, I don't really ... Well it just wasn't something that I was against, you know?
Mason Funk: [00:53:30] By this point, you mentioned your brothers, were you close with your brothers?
Kitty Tsui: No.
Mason Funk: No. Uh-huh. So they were more just like an example?
Kitty Tsui: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh.
Kitty Tsui: I wasn't close to any of my siblings.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh. Did you ever get close to your parents or were they always these people-
Kitty Tsui: No.
Mason Funk: That sort of- Uh-huh. So your grandmother was it, as far as a strong familial tie?
Kitty Tsui: [00:54:00] I ran away from home when I was 17-
Mason Funk: Uh-huh.
Kitty Tsui: And I never went back. Sorry to cough into your mic.
Mason Funk: That's okay. Do you need to get up again and get something to blow your nose with or anything like that? Take your time please.
Kitty Tsui: [00:54:30] It's just a little scratchy.
Mason Funk: Okay. So, switching back for a minute to the bigger political scene ... Of course, this huge political scene which was the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone ... And you mentioned in your questionnaire, coming on the heels of Jonestown ... What do you remember about those events?
Kitty Tsui: [00:55:00] I mean first Jonestown, I mean just incomprehensible. I mean, I can't remember the number of people who died ...
Kitty Tsui: [00:55:30] I don't know how to describe it, except that it was just crazy, it was just chaos, it was just totally incomprehensible, because I think ... I'm pretty sure Jonestown happened like a couple weeks before and
Kitty Tsui: [00:56:00] I remember exactly where I was, I remember exactly what I was doing. I was working with a friend, she was restoring a house and we were working on the wood work, and we were listening to the radio
Kitty Tsui: [00:56:30] and all of a sudden they cut into it. It was the voice of Dianne Feinstein and she said, "The Mayor and Harvey Milk have been shot and killed."
Kitty Tsui: [00:57:00] It was kind of like the floor opened and we just fell. We were working Berkeley, and I remember we stopped and we drove to the Castro.
Kitty Tsui: [00:57:30] Everybody was ... People were just walking around with their eyes like this. I don't remember too much more until the march,
Kitty Tsui: [00:58:00] I'm pretty sure it happened that same night, we marched to City Hall. I remember Joan Bias sang and it was horrible, I mean it was just ... I can't even find the words.
Mason Funk: [00:58:30] I can only imagine. I know that people marched down to City Hall that evening. I've seen the footage of the candles,
Mason Funk: [00:59:00] and then of course there was this whole second chapter or next chapter of the trial of Dan White. Then of course, when he was acquitted or given whatever he was given, second degree manslaughter, whatever the so called Twinkie Defense. Do you remember-
Kitty Tsui: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mason Funk: That event as well?
Kitty Tsui: Yeah.
Mason Funk: What do you remember about that?
Kitty Tsui: Outrage, outrage, total outrage.
Kitty Tsui: [00:59:30] The injustice, the travesty, it was incomprehensible, it really was. It was just unbelievable, it was like,
Kitty Tsui: [01:00:00] kind of like waking up to the election, it was just unbelievable.
Mason Funk: I'm gonna go for one second. I'm just gonna go see ... My questions and make sure I'm-
Kate Kunath: Spinning.
Kitty Tsui: Am I okay still?
Kate Kunath: Yep, you're great.
Mason Funk: Well tell me about ...
Mason Funk: [01:00:30] I know this is a broad, a very broad question, but in your notes you mentioned sort of the burgeoning Women's Movement of that era with the music, the literature ... What did I jot down here? The presses, festivals ... I wonder if you can kind of, sort of paint me an impressionistic picture of the feeling of all this life force.
Kitty Tsui: [01:01:00] It was a great time, it was a great time to be a lesbian. There were bookstores, there were coffee houses, there was women's music, lesbians love their writers, there was readings, it was a really great time,
Kitty Tsui: [01:01:30] it was a really great time. I was in San Francisco ... I did feel colored, it was very white, it was a very white movement at that time.
Kitty Tsui: [01:02:00] So I felt that I was exoticized and eroticized because of my ethnicity, but other than that, it was a great time.
Mason Funk: What did you do in response to those feelings that you were at times exoticized, eroticized,
Mason Funk: [01:02:30] or under the hand, perhaps shunned or looked at with suspicion, how did you counteract that?
Kitty Tsui: I wrote about it, I wrote about, that's how I dealt with it.
Mason Funk: Did you have any other people that you could share these feelings with who understood what you were experiencing, for the most part?
Kitty Tsui: [01:03:00] No, not at that time because there were very few Asian women, very few Asian women, I thought I was the only one. I thought I was the only one for a long time so I felt quite alone.
Kitty Tsui: [01:03:30] It wasn't until the beginning of the 80s that a lot more Asian women, Asian Pacific American women came out
Kitty Tsui: [01:04:00] and formed a community. Actually, I want to talk a little about unbound feet. Unbound feet was a group of six Chinese-American and one Korean-American, women writers who formed to perform our own work.
Kitty Tsui: [01:04:30] Three of us, Canyon Sam, myself, and Miral Wu, were out lesbians. So out of the six, three were out lesbians and we ... I believe we became the nucleus of the movement
Kitty Tsui: [01:05:00] because a lot of Asian women came to our performances ... Because three of us were out and we talked about our lesbianism, our love for women in our work that that began that movement. I believe that
Kitty Tsui: [01:05:30] became the seeds of the movement of the Asian Pacific Lesbian and Gay Movement in San Francisco. I mean San Francisco was the largest concentration of Asian-Americans outside of Asia.
Mason Funk: What were the particular ... Like culturally as Asian-American,
Mason Funk: [01:06:00] mostly Chinese-American women lesbians, what were the particular issues you guys needed to cope with and kind of grapple with, in terms of ... Like what were the particular cultural stereotypes you confronted, maybe certain types of erotization that other women of color might not ... I'm just wondering like, what was it specifically to be Chinese-American or Asian-American?
Kitty Tsui: [01:06:30] Well it was very difficult, in terms of the family construct. So we had a lot of issues around coming out to family, bringing your partner
Kitty Tsui: [01:07:00] to family gatherings. But you know what united us? Food. We were very famous for our potlucks. Because if you think of, you have Japanese-Americans,
Kitty Tsui: [01:07:30] Korean-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Thai, and we would have these gatherings, meetings,
Kitty Tsui: [01:08:00] they would all be centered around food. We would kind of laugh at white women whose potlucks consisted of like, cheese and crackers and carrot sticks, and we would have all these amazing dishes, ethnic dishes. So that's certainly something that united us, is our love of food
Kitty Tsui: [01:08:30] and being able to talk with like-minded women, whether it be around family or work and our partners.
Mason Funk: [01:09:00] I was curious when you mentioned bringing someone home, potentially bringing someone home to the family, did it make a difference if the person you brought home was Asian or not?
Kitty Tsui: [01:09:30] I can only speak for myself, the Chinese women I brought home, my parents loved because I used to go out with black men. I mean, black men, no. So to bring home a Chinese woman, it was way more acceptable.
Kitty Tsui: [01:10:00] No matter what they thought we did ... Or well, I'm sure they didn't think about it, but it was much more acceptable to be with a Chinese woman than to be with a black man.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh. Speaking of that, of different people of color, did you feel a sense of identification with say, African-American women or Latina women as lesbians
Mason Funk: [01:10:30] or was it really like, "Ah, they have their own things to deal with, but they don't really know what my experience is really like," or were you all people of color and that helped?
Kitty Tsui: I think at that time that were all basically in our cliques. There were these African-American lesbians,
Kitty Tsui: [01:11:00] and there were Pilipino lesbians, and then there was Chinese lesbians, so it was white lesbians, and I mean they may intermingle, but it was ... I think it was pretty much a separatist mindset.
Mason Funk: [01:11:30] Let's see what my next ... I have- So let's talk about these two women, you've already referred to them, Kate Boyle and Sally Gearhart, Sally Miller Gearhart. So first of all, who was Kate Boyle? You mentioned her, but-
Kitty Tsui: Well Kate Boyle was a very famous novelist.
Kitty Tsui: [01:12:00] Jean-Paul Satre, Simone-
Mason Funk: De Beauvoir?
Kitty Tsui: De Beauvoir, she was with that whole group. So I studied creative writing with Kate Boyle, she was a literary legend.
Kitty Tsui: [01:12:30] I also studied with Stan Rice, who of course is Mr. Anne Rice. The poet Stan Rice and Sally Gearhart. I mean I can still see her, I can hear her voice,
Kitty Tsui: [01:13:00] I'm so sorry to hear that she has Alzheimer's, but she was a big force in my life. In fact, I still remember an essay I wrote for her, one of Sally's classes, it's called, "Dragons Cannot be Contained in Closets", and I think it was my prelude to coming out. See I'm a dragon, I was born in the year of the dragon,
Kitty Tsui: [01:13:30] so it was titled, "Dragons Cannot be contained in Closets". But she was very instrumental in my development.
Mason Funk: Do you remember specific things either ... Like for example with going back to Kate Boyle for a minute ... You studied under her, what did you gain from her do you remember?
Kitty Tsui: [01:14:00] Discipline. She told me to write my truth, I'm not sure if that was her exact words, but that was the gist of what I got from her, is that I need to be disciplined because I was a very undisciplined writer at the time. She told me that I needed to be disciplined
Kitty Tsui: [01:14:30] and that I need to write my truth, that's what I got from Kate Boyle. I got a lot of things from Sally, I can't even pin down, she was just a force, she was just a force in the classroom.
Kitty Tsui: [01:15:00] I mean, I can still see her, I can still hear her voice. Many years later I can remember going to my chiropractor and there was Sally also waiting to see the chiropractor and we greeted each other, and said that we were a Mutual Admiration Society, that's what she said to me at that time.
Mason Funk: [01:15:30] How did you feel about the fact that she admired you?
Kitty Tsui: Humbled, but then when I was young, I was kinda full of myself. I'm this, I'm that, I'm Kitty the body builder, I'm Kitty the blah, blah, blah, blah, I was kind of full of myself.
Mason Funk: [01:16:00] You were once a upon a time a little more full of yourself-
Kitty Tsui: Full of myself, yes.
Mason Funk: Than you are now?
Kitty Tsui: Very.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh. Well let's talk about the body building, that seems like a very natural segway, when did that come into your life?
Kitty Tsui: Gay Games, wow.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Kitty Tsui: Gay Games, 1982.
Kitty Tsui: [01:16:30] The first Gay Games was in San Francisco, Dr Tom Waddell. The opening ceremonies, Rita Mae Brown, I forget who else. The closing ceremonies, Tina Turner. I went to the Castro Theater
Kitty Tsui: [01:17:00] to watch this body building competition, which I'm not sure I'd ever been to a body building competition, but hey, I'm a gay woman, I'll go look at women on stage. Well, there were all these men ... The Castro Theater, packed, lots of gorgeous men and there were I think,
Kitty Tsui: [01:17:30] two women in a particular weight class ... You know, their weight classes ... So my weight class would've been the light weight. There were two women, they brought the house down, the women. I mean, I'm sure it was mainly men in the audience, but they brought the house down. I said to myself, "I'm gonna do that". I had four years, right?
Kitty Tsui: [01:18:00] I think six months before the next Gay Games was four years, 1986. I decided, oh I better get cracking, right? So I got a coach and I went on stage and I did not even know
Kitty Tsui: [01:18:30] what a ham was, and I won the bronze medal, it was something, it was something
Kate Kunath: Hold on one second. Okay.
Mason Funk: So go back just a little bit and tell us the story about in 1986 ...
Mason Funk: [01:19:00] Are you talking about the training? Then just tell us about going up on stage at the '86 Gay Games and winning the bronze.
Kitty Tsui: Well I can tell a funny story I guess.
Mason Funk: A funny story would be good.
Kitty Tsui: So it was at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, packed, my friends were all in the front row.
Kitty Tsui: [01:19:30] Okay, the funny part of the story is that I was in a long-term relationship with Willis Kim, it was a Korean-American writer ... I would have my little flings,
Kitty Tsui: [01:20:00] well this one woman who I was seeing, unbeknownst to Willis, was also competing. My best friend says ... Obviously I don't know this, I heard it, she says, "Well is the person Kitty's seeing?" And Willis is sitting there, anyway.
Kitty Tsui: [01:20:30] It was an incredible experience just to be on stage for 90 seconds doing a posing routine to music and I didn't know what a ham I was, I loved it. So that was my first Gay Games experience,
Kitty Tsui: [01:21:00] so I got the gold medal in 1986 in San Francisco and then-
Mason Funk: Excuse me, I want to make sure you said that right because initially you said you got the bronze medal.
Kitty Tsui: What did I just say?
Mason Funk: You said gold.
Kitty Tsui: I got the bronze medal in San Francisco in 1986 at Gay Games II. I went to Gay Games III, which was in Vancouver and I got the gold medal,
Kitty Tsui: [01:21:30] and it was the first ever same sex couples posing. I posed with my training partner and my partner at that time and we won the gold. So that was ... The whole city was gay. I mean it was just incredible, everywhere you went, everywhere you looked, restaurants, buses, the transit, I mean it was ...
Kitty Tsui: [01:22:00] I mean the Gay Games experience is incredible and mine was in '82, '86, and 1990. I was supposed to be in New York in '94 and I was injured. But I mean, the whole gay games movement is just incredible I mean, it's been to Sydney, it's been to Amsterdam, it's been to Paris.
Kitty Tsui: [01:22:30] Competing in venues that are Olympic venues and there are some sports that are sanctioned at Gay Games, so if you break a record in Gay Games, it could be the world record. That's the legacy of Tom Waddell and Gay Games, it's an incredible legacy. And there's that darn fly.
Mason Funk: [01:23:00] Yeah, is it?
Kate Kunath: Okay.
Mason Funk: My question was, it's kind of obvious to say, well athletic competition has never been associated with gay and lesbian people and that's why the Gay Games were so important. But I wonder what your take is on what the Gay Games meant for evolution
Mason Funk: [01:23:30] as a full blown community, LGBTQ community, what's the importance of the Gay Games?
Kitty Tsui: I think it's of great importance.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, say, "I think the Gay Games are".
Kitty Tsui: I think Gay Games, the whole Gay Games Movement is a really important movement for us as LGBTQ people.
Kitty Tsui: [01:24:00] Dr. Tom Waddell stressed inclusion, the inclusion of all people. Gay Games is about health, it's about community, it's about coming together, playing together, competing together,
Kitty Tsui: [01:24:30] so I think it's a huge importance to the movement.
Mason Funk: Mm-hmm (affirmative). When you say it was about competing together, was it in a way, an opportunity ... For a movement that has lots of different factions and a lot of internal competition ... Was it a way to sort of compete in a so called healthy way or-
Kitty Tsui: [01:25:00] Yes.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh. Could you say more about that?
Kitty Tsui: I think one of the biggest things that I took away from that is, the spectators cheered until the last person crossed the finish line, the last person. They cheered as hard for the last person as for the first person, that is huge, huge.
Mason Funk: [01:25:30] Great, great, that's interesting. Almost competed once and then I never got that close to going back, maybe I still will someday. I was gonna go to Amsterdam-
Kitty Tsui: There's always time-
Mason Funk: Pardon me.
Kitty Tsui: There's always time.
Mason Funk: The Senior Gay Games.
Kitty Tsui: Hey.
Mason Funk: So okay, let me see where we are. When AIDS ... Ironically right around the same time as that first Gay Games ...
Mason Funk: [01:26:00] When AIDS came on the scene in force ... What was your involvement if any, with the epidemic or fighting the epidemic or working with people individually ... Kind of, how did you relate to the epidemic as it unfolded and how did it affect you?
Kitty Tsui: Well I can't say that I ...
Kitty Tsui: [01:26:30] I can only say that, on an individual level that I cared for a couple of men, but I can't say that I participated on a movement level-
Mason Funk: [01:27:00] Right.
Kitty Tsui: Just as an individual.
Mason Funk: Great, great. Let's see, gosh we're almost getting to the end of my questions, that's great. But you also mentioned you wanted to talk about Jennifer Abod or Abod, I don't know how you say her last name and Angela Bowen.
Kitty Tsui: You might want to interview them.
Mason Funk: [01:27:30] Well, I've talked to Jennifer.
Kitty Tsui: Oh good.
Mason Funk: Yeah, Lani connected me to Jennifer-
Kitty Tsui: Oh good.
Mason Funk: Angela apparently has Alzheimer's-
Kitty Tsui: Angela has Alzheimer's.
Mason Funk: Yeah. But Jennifer and I agreed to kind of revisit ... Not to interview Angela, but then in some later on-
Kitty Tsui: Oh good-
Mason Funk: We'll try to-
Kitty Tsui: Good.
Mason Funk: But tell about them from your perspective.
Kitty Tsui: I met them-
Mason Funk: Tell me their names, who you're talking about, "I met-
Kitty Tsui: Jennifer, I met Jennifer Abod and Angela Bowen in Oakland California,
Kitty Tsui: [01:28:00] they lived three and a half blocks away from me in Long Beach. I went to an OLOC Gathering, Old Lesbians Organizing For Change, they had an authors night and I was one of the authors. It was in Oakland California and there must have been 500-600 women.
Kitty Tsui: [01:28:30] I'm a Brit, I grew up with fountain pens, I collect fountain pens, 600 women ... I'm I don't know, eating a meal and I'm hearing conversation, right? And somebody's talking about a montblanc, you know what a montblanc is, right? It's the Rolex of fountain pens,
Kitty Tsui: [01:29:00] so of course I turn around and she said she was selling a montblanc. I said, "Really, you're selling a montblanc?" So we had a small conversation and then I said, "Oh, where are you guys from?" Because women from all over the country, all over the world, they said, "Long Beach," and I said, "Long Beach, California?" And they said, "Yes."
Kitty Tsui: [01:29:30] I said, "I live in Long Beach," I said, "Where do you live?" And they told me. I said, "I live three blocks from you." So that's how we met. But Jennifer's a documentary filmmaker, she won an award for her film about Audre Lorde, which is called, "On the Edge of Each Others Battles,"
Kitty Tsui: [01:30:00] I believe. But she made a film about her partner of 38 years, Angela Bowen, who was a classically trained ballerina. This is in the Jim Crow Era. She was a ballerina, she founded a dance school and the rest is history.
Kitty Tsui: [01:30:30] But Jennifer made a film about Angela it's called, "The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen". It's an incredible documentary, I've seen it several times, but it's an incredible documentary.
Mason Funk: [inaudible].
Kitty Tsui: [01:31:00] Hey, sorry about that.
Speaker 5: No, it's fine.
Kitty Tsui: Okay, so that's-
Mason Funk: Okay. Do you-
Kitty Tsui: I have to fix myself for Katie.
Mason Funk: I want to go back before I kind of [inaudible] and then I'm gonna ask Kate also if she has questions ... But I think one of the things that I just really loved hearing about was that as you
Mason Funk: [01:31:30] and other Asian-American lesbians in that era, you would always get together around food and I just, I guess I want you to just tell me any more specifics you can remember, maybe paint a picture of what a typical gathering would be, in terms of the food. Like, who would bring what, do you remember to that level of detail?
Kitty Tsui: I kind of do, it's sick, but I'm a foodie, so what can I say?
Kitty Tsui: [01:32:00] Alison Chop ... I remember one day we were at her house and we made Wontons, hundreds. Another of our members Giselle [Powhon], whose family actually had a Tai restaurant in the Castro, but she would try recipes
Kitty Tsui: [01:32:30] for weeks before she would dare to bring them to the potluck. We had all kinds of food. Okay, I can tell you one I remember vividly, one of our bisexual members Kaye [Soto], she brought dates, butter, and hash.
Kitty Tsui: [01:33:00] We pitted the dates, we melted the butter, we melted the hash in the butter, put it inside the dates. It was a large gathering of Asian women, right? We played spin the bottle, the straight women left. That's all I remember.
Mason Funk: [01:33:30] That's awesome. I'm gonna have to file that one away, dates, butter, and hash. They make like perfect little boats, right?
Kitty Tsui: Oh, yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative), it was good to.
Mason Funk: That's amazing. Do you think that the freedoms that we ... We've gained some freedoms, the LGBTQ community, we've gained some protections, do you think that we are already taking them for granted, the gains that we have [acquired]?
Kitty Tsui: Yes.
Mason Funk: Can you talk about that?
Kitty Tsui: [01:34:00] I remember when it was not safe to be out at our jobs, it was not safe to be out to our families,
Kitty Tsui: [01:34:30] I mean I can think of all kinds of restrictions like having to wear gender appropriate clothing. We were illegal, we were criminals, I
Kitty Tsui: [01:35:00] don't think a lot of the younger people remember these kinds of-
Kate Kunath: I can really hear ... Sorry, that conversation is really in the background.
Mason Funk: Your neighbors have a-
Kitty Tsui: We'll wait, we'll wait.
Mason Funk: [inaudible] have to tell them what's going on.
Kitty Tsui: [01:35:30] Shut up, get off of your phone. We'll have to wait.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Kitty Tsui: Ellen DeGeneres for Christ sakes.
Kate Kunath: Can you say that again?
Kitty Tsui: I'm sorry?
Kate Kunath: Just say that one more time, I wasn't recording it.
Mason Funk: We weren't recording yet.
Kitty Tsui: [01:36:00] A lot of us came out before Ellen DeGeneres. I don't know where I'm going, sorry.
Mason Funk: Okay, that's all right. Kate, do you have questions that have bubbled up for you?
Kitty Tsui: We haven't talked about my work and my books.
Mason Funk: [01:36:30] Okay, all right-y.
Kitty Tsui: But that might be a biggie, I don't know.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Well-
Kitty Tsui: Well, in a nutshell, my book, "The Words of a Woman Who Breathes Fire", was published in 1983 and it was the first book by a Chinese-American lesbian.
Kitty Tsui: [01:37:00] Willis Kim, who was my partner for eight and a half years, she is the first Asian-American lesbian with a book in print. Her book, "Eating Artichokes" came out in I want to say, 1979, and it's a lesbian classic. "Eating Artichokes".
Kitty Tsui: [01:37:30] So my book came out in '83 and then my second book is called, "Breathless: Erotica" and it came out in 1996. My third book which is called, "Sparks Fly", it's written by my alter ego who is a gay leather man
Kitty Tsui: [01:38:00] living in San Francisco, pre AIDS and it's called, "Sparks Fly". Then I've been in 80-90 anthologies world wide, of which you see those shelves? The first three shelves are books that I'm in, including the book you pulled out, "Olivia-
Mason Funk: "Chloe Plus-
Kitty Tsui: "Chloe Plus Olivia". So I have a body of work
Kitty Tsui: [01:38:30] and my new book is coming out next year it's called, "Nice Chinese Girls Don't". It's going to be a reprint of my first book, which is out of print, it's been out of print. So it's gonna be a reprint of the first book, plus selected poems from 1974 to 2016. "Nice Chinese Girls Don't".
Mason Funk: [01:39:00] Does that mean that on some level through your writing ... You mentioned in your questionnaire that writing has been a form of activism, can you talk about that?
Kitty Tsui: I want to say that all my work revolves around ...
Kitty Tsui: [01:39:30] A lot of my work is ... I don't want to call them resistance poems ... I don't know, it's kind of hard for me to talk about it.
Mason Funk: [01:40:00] That idea of, yeah. Is it hard because it's just too big of a topic to ... It needs to be broken down into smaller pieces or?
Kitty Tsui: Well for example, "Nice Chinese Don't", it's about my life as a nice Chinese girl
Kitty Tsui: [01:40:30] who defies stereotypes and redefines myself as who I am as a Chinese woman. I mean for example, I have a poem called, "Don't Call Me Sir" because I get called sir all the time.
Kitty Tsui: [01:41:00] It's about not so much making fun of it, but redefining it, "Don't Call Me Sir", call me strong. Or my titled poem, "Nice Chinese Girls Don't", it talks about all the things that nice Chinese girls don't do.
Kitty Tsui: [01:41:30] I should read it.
Mason Funk: There you go. You want me to get it for you?
Kitty Tsui: No, I'll get it, I know where it is. I knew where it is, yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:42:00] Last year we had a Native American [inaudible 01:42:05] poet read us a couple of his poems. So this will be the second time we've been fortunate enough to have poems read on camera.
Kitty Tsui: Yeah.
Mason Funk: That's pretty cool.
Kitty Tsui: So this is my first book.
Mason Funk: Why don't we get you ... I'd rather have you just show it to the camera, like hold it up and show it to the camera once you have settled again.
Kitty Tsui: Okay, let me get the others.
Mason Funk: [01:42:30] Okay.
Kitty Tsui: Let me just come behind you.
Mason Funk: Oh I see a poem here from Willis Kim.
Kitty Tsui: [01:43:00] This is my [inaudible] book. Every chapter is a different mans name because it's his ... They're all short stories-
Mason Funk: Uh-huh.
Kitty Tsui: But every chapter is a different mans name.
Mason Funk: Sorry we're just changing the batteries.
Kitty Tsui: [01:43:30] Yeah, I'm just talking. In fact, I have one about the assassination-
Mason Funk: Uh-huh.
Kitty Tsui: [01:44:00] It's called, "Lady of the Lights" and it begins, I remember exactly-
Mason Funk: Can you hold on one second?
Kate Kunath: We're fine.
Mason Funk: You're fine? Your speeding?
Kate Kunath: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay, go ahead.
Kitty Tsui: I'm just gonna read one line because I told you, I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news bulletin. I was on a construction job, refinishing an old Victorian.
Kitty Tsui: [01:44:30] I was listening to the Rolling Stones belting out, "Brown Sugar", it brought back memories of last weekend. I had spent it with a brown skinned beauty at his house in Sausalito, it had been spectacular, and just thinking about it was making me hard. Just then, the radio, suddenly riddled with static emitted the news,
Kitty Tsui: [01:45:00] the Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed. "Sparks Fly", writing as Eric Norton. People look at this and say, "That's you." It's like, that is not me,
Kitty Tsui: [01:45:30] that is a pretty gay boy, how can this be a lesbian? Okay, what was I doing? Oh, "Nice Chinese Girls Don't", oh I don't know.
Mason Funk: First of all show us, show us those two books there first. Tell us about those.
Kitty Tsui: Okay, this is my first book, "Words of a Woman Who Breathes Fire: Poetry and Prose", 1983, published by Spinsters Inc.
Kitty Tsui: [01:46:00] This is my second book, "Breathless: Erotica", 1996, it won the Fire Cracker Alternative Book Award. The first thing I thought when I got that award ... Fire Brand is a very prestigious press,
Kitty Tsui: [01:46:30] it published Dorothy Allison, Leslie Feinberg, many of Bruce Brandt ... The first thing I thought of, "Thank God I got an award," because all of her authors have awards, right? That was my first thought, "Thank God I got this award for Fire Brand." Anyway. I don't know what I was gonna read.
Mason Funk: You were gonna read the title poem, "The Chinese Girl-
Kitty Tsui: [01:47:00] "Nice Chinese Girls Don't".
Mason Funk: "Nice Chinese Girls Don't".
Kitty Tsui: Of course, if I was more organized. "Nice Chinese Girls Don't".
Kitty Tsui: [01:47:30] Nice Chinese girls don't swear, sing, or shout out loud. Nice Chinese girls sit with their ... Do over.
Mason Funk: Do it entirely with the camera over here.
Kitty Tsui: I am. "Nice Chinese Girls Don't". Nice Chinese girls don't swear, sing, or shout out loud.
Kitty Tsui: [01:48:00] Nice Chinese girls talk with their eyes averted, sit with their legs crossed, and laugh with hand in front of mouth. Nice Chinese girls don't drink, smoke, or talk too loud. Nice Chinese girls sip their tea slow, use umbrellas in the sun, wear skirts, and perm their hair. Nice Chinese girls don't get divorced or become dykes.
Kitty Tsui: [01:48:30] Nice Chinese girls marry nice Chinese boys, have sons, stay home, and keep dinner warm on the stove. Nice Chinese girls don't question, argue, or complain. Nice Chinese girls suffer in silence, endure with a smile, use chopsticks, and speak fluent Chinese. Nice Chinese girls don't make waves or talk back. Nice Chinese girls smile without showing their teeth,
Kitty Tsui: [01:49:00] speak only when spoken to, and learn young to turn the other cheek. Nice Chinese girls don't stay out late or take the subway alone at night. Nice Chinese girls get straight A's, never tell lies or say what they mean. I was born a nice Chinese girl, good thing it was a phase I soon outgrew.
Kitty Tsui: [01:49:30] My heritage as a nice Chinese girl forced me to rebel. I grew into a different breed of Chinese girl, visible, vocal, and proud to be a different breed of Chinese girl.
Mason Funk: That's awesome, that's awesome. Thank you for that.
Kitty Tsui: Of course.
Mason Funk: [01:50:00] Kate, do you have a couple questions?
Kitty Tsui: No.
Mason Funk: Sometimes she has lots.
Kate Kunath: I don't have any right now-
Kitty Tsui: See.
Kate Kunath: [inaudible].
Kitty Tsui: What have I not talked about? So many things.
Mason Funk: Yeah. I had to get used to the idea that some things will not get talked about otherwise just like you, I would go crazy.
Mason Funk: [01:50:30] I have a few final questions and then you might still remember anything else you might want to talk about. One is ... These are questions I ask every single person at the end ... Around coming, whatever that might mean ... If someone came to you and said, I'm thinking about coming out, what piece of wisdom or guidance would you offer them, if any?
Kitty Tsui: [01:51:00] The same thing Kate Boyle told me, to speak your truth. Stand in your truth, be in your truth, if that is your true self, own it and be it. I was never in the closet,
Kitty Tsui: [01:51:30] I mean I was fortunate, I was ... In terms of jobs, family ... Well, I left home when I was 17 so ... Yeah, I don't think I've ever been in the closet.
Mason Funk: In other words, whoever you felt like you were on the inside was always-
Kitty Tsui: Yes.
Mason Funk: On the outside.
Kitty Tsui: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Talking about people, do you know Jill Posner?
Mason Funk: [01:52:00] Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kitty Tsui: She is an English photographer, but she's lived here for many years and you're familiar with, "On Our Backs", lesbian sex magazine? She was a photo editor. If fact, she took-
Mason Funk: Careful of your back.
Kitty Tsui: Oh right, thank you. I was about to walk away.
Mason Funk: [01:52:30] Okay.
Kitty Tsui: She took these. This was 1988, this was 1990, this is the "Village Voice". I'd like to know how much money she got for that. This was the "Village Voice", I think it was 1990.
Mason Funk: [01:53:00] So those you and the two pictures on the right, are those you?
Kitty Tsui: All three of mine.
Mason Funk: All three ... Oh, the one over there is you as well.
Kitty Tsui: This has had a woman topless on the cover-
Mason Funk: Wow.
Kitty Tsui: In fact, it was banned in some boroughs-
Mason Funk: Amazing.
Kitty Tsui: Which of course made it sell-
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Kitty Tsui: More.
Mason Funk: Wow.
Kitty Tsui: Yeah, she's actually, she's in the Bay area and she actually is doing ...
Kitty Tsui: [01:53:30] She has a big rescue operation-
Mason Funk: Wow.
Kitty Tsui: I think it's called the Paw Fund, P-A-W Fund and she's in the Bay area.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Kitty Tsui: So she would be someone to talk to-
Mason Funk: I'll look her up because I'm going up there in a week or two and have some open places. Is that pack showing?
Kate Kunath: No because her knee is up, but-
Mason Funk: Oh, okay. There you go, okay. Jill Posner?
Kitty Tsui: Posner.
Mason Funk: Okay. How about I make-
Kitty Tsui: Jill Posner.
Mason Funk: A memo right now, but I'll follow up with you around then.
Kitty Tsui: [01:54:00] And Susie Bright, you know Susie Bright?
Mason Funk: Uh-huh.
Kitty Tsui: Susie Bright was the Editor of "On Our Backs" for a long time.
Mason Funk: And she's up there as well?
Kitty Tsui: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Kitty Tsui: Well actually, I don't remember, but Jill would know.
Mason Funk: Okay. Two more questions. One is, when you look to the future, what is your hope, what do you hope for the future?
Kitty Tsui: [01:54:30] Ona personal level, I hope I don't die before I finish my manuscripts. Hope for the future. That we all live in peace and harmony, I don't know.
Mason Funk: [01:55:00] Okay, I know it's a tough one.
Kitty Tsui: You know the way-
Mason Funk: It got a lot tougher believe me, that question changed after the election, I might even strike it. Last question, what do you see as the importance of a project like, OUTWORDS? And mention OUTWORDS if you could.
Kitty Tsui: Well I think the importance of a project like OUTWORDS,
Kitty Tsui: [01:55:30] is that we are out with our words. That we are everyday people who can be ourselves and who can do extraordinary things. I believe that we can, we can all do extraordinary things with very little.
Kitty Tsui: [01:56:00] Just in terms of seeing how our community has struggled and grown, it's heartening. I want to be an optimist
Kitty Tsui: [01:56:30] because there is so many dark places that we could go. So I believe that out of dark times that we can come together and overcome, prevail,
Kitty Tsui: [01:57:00] live, love, celebrate, rejoice, in who we are. That's my hope for the future.
Mason Funk: Great. Yeah, we all need those words of encouragement and fortifying each other.
Kitty Tsui: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Last chance Kate, any questions?
Kate Kunath: No.
Mason Funk: [01:57:30] Okay, I think we covered the [Waterfront]. Do you feel like there's anything? I mean, I know that you probably want to-
Kitty Tsui: Probably, I mean, I'll wake up in the middle of the night and say-
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Kitty Tsui: "Why didn't I tell Mason this?"
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Kitty Tsui: No, I'm-
Mason Funk: Okay.
Kitty Tsui: I'm good.
Mason Funk: Okay. Excellent. Well, that was two hours.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Kate Kunath
Date: April 24, 2017
Location: Home of Kitty Tsui, Long Beach, CA