Double Melancholy: Art, Beauty, and the Making of a Queer Brown Man author Chris C.E. Gatchalian delves into an exploration not only of being queer, but also being brown in Canada. (Facebook)

Vancouver, B.C.

Musings on C.E. Gatchalian and the 2019 LiterASIAN festival

“Much like the rain of the previous night, the flow of tears from Gatchalian’s workshop were also entirely unexpected.”

By Carlo Javier

Of course it rained.

Of course the skies dropped down a torrential downpour as I made my way to the opening evening panel of LiterASIAN 2019.

I wondered if the sudden blast of rain was Mother Nature’s way of reaffirming the climate strike from earlier in the day, but as in the literary world, things aren’t always meant to be whimsical. The sudden blast of rain may simply just be a reinforcement of a character trait. After all, this is Vancouver at the start of fall.

For the uninitiated, LiterASIAN is an annual writers festival put together by the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop, Ricepaper Magazine, and the many folks who continue the work of its late founder, Jim Wong-Chu.

As its name suggests, LiterASIAN stands apart from many other Canadian writing festivals because of its focus on Asian-Canadian writers and the Asian-Canadian experience.

Since its inception, LiterASIAN has provided an important platform for Canadian writers of Pacific Rim Asian heritage. The Jim Wong-Chu Emerging Writers Award presented at the festival has recognized notable writers like Rita Wong and Madeleine Thien.

This year’s festival, built around the theme of “writing life into art” brought in a bevy of well-established speakers including, Wong, Sally Ito, Phillip Huynh, May Q. Wong, and Fred Wah. However, the primary reason I attended, was to see and meet C.E. Gatchalian – a Filipinx playwright and author who has long been among the premiere figures in the writing of the Filipinx Diaspora.

Like many of the event’s attendees, Gatchalian arrived at the brightly lit open hall of Chinatown House on East Georgia drenched by the unexpected torrent. In a way, the rain almost provided a physical manifestation analogous to the evening – the wide open doors juxtaposed with how the bright lights emanated all the way to the streets was a fitting representation of LiterASIAN as a necessary bastion of openness.

Gatchalian’s plays, such as Motifs & Repetitions, Crossing, and Broken have been produced on stage both on the national and international scale. He has twice been named a finalist for the prestigious Lambda Literary Award – a recognition awarded to writers who celebrate and explore the LGBTQ experience. In 2013, Gatchalian was honoured with the Dayne Ogilvie Prize, a merit awarded by The Writers’ Trust of Canada to an emerging writer from the LGBTQ community.

It would be a tremendous understatement to define Gatchalian’s work as “deeply personal”, and that much was immediately clear just seconds into his reading of excerpts from his book Double Melancholy: Art, Beauty, and the Making of a Queer Brown Man.

Gatchalian read about deeply harrowing moments of his youth like his outing, or when his father struck him, believing that you could “punch the gay away.” He also read through moments that induced feelings of fondness, such as how Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of the Green Gables became an early source of inspiration. As a whole, Double Melancholy is an exploration not only of being queer, but also being brown in Canada – an experience that too often can be challenging on its own.

It “rained” again in Gatchalian’s workshop on the second day of LiterASIAN. This time, however, the rain was entirely metaphorical. Entitled “Feeling the First Vague Stirrings”,  Gatchalian opened his late morning workshop to audience discussion. There were talks about establishing boundaries when writing deeply personal stories, dialogue regarding White Fragility, but memorably, Gatchalian’s workshop allowed for a space where attendees were able to shed a layer or two and open up.

An attendee spoke about feeling alienated and censored in her predominantly white writing collectives of Nelson, BC. Another spoke about finding her passion for writing late in life and feeling as if life has passed her by. Much like the rain of the previous night, the flow of tears from Gatchalian’s workshop were also entirely unexpected.

There is a very clear openness for vulnerability in Gatchalian’s work. He admits that sometimes, this openness can be uncomfortable for some, but at the same time, it is this openness that creates the spaces for the stories that otherwise would never have been told.