Author Interview with C.E. Gatchalian
C.E. "Chris" Gatchalian is a Canadian author and playwright based in Vancouver, BC. He has written plays such as Motifs & Repetitions, Claire, Crossing, Broken and People Like Vince, and Falling in Time. His memoir Double Melancholy: Art, Beauty, and the Making of a Brown Queer Man covers a wide range of issues such as white supremacy, art and inspiration through a queer lens. Chopsticks Alley Pinoy sat down and talked with C.E. Gatchalian about his writing and projects.
For clarity and length, this transcript has been lightly edited.
First off, congratulations on being awarded a BC Arts Council grant to work on your first novel. Can you tell us a bit about what you are writing or what to expect?
Thank you so much! I feel very privileged to be able to work on a new book and get paid to do it. Without a doubt, these grants are extraordinarily helpful to artists. So thank you, BC Arts Council!
As for what the novel is about, I don’t typically talk much about works in progress. However, what I’ll say is that the novel has a queer Filipinx protagonist. (No big surprise, I’m sure!)
Your memoir Double Melancholy is celebrating its two-year anniversary in June. Where did you start when you wrote this book?
Well, if you count back to when I wrote the essay about the opera singer, Maria Callas–– which constitutes Chapter 7 of the book–– I guess I started writing it way back in 2010. And from 2010 to 2019, many things happened–– geopolitically, socially, personally–– that affected my thinking and made me painfully aware of how colonized I’ve been my entire life–– to wit, how deeply I had internalized both homophobia and especially white supremacy.
A part of Double Melancholy I really found myself connecting to was hearing your present voice redefine your memories throughout, notably when you were calling yourself out. What do you feel is the larger context that your personal story points to?
The larger context, I think, is the self-hatred that I would venture to say a lot of racialized folks struggle with because of white supremacy. It took me a long, long time to come to terms with my self-hatred. It was something I always sensed was there, but I was in denial of it, or just thought it would eventually go away. My way of dealing with it, as I write about in the book, was by making myself “acceptable” to the white world, and finding solace in (by and large) white, Eurocentric art and literature. But you can’t wish away colonization - especially as Filipinx folks, because of the centuries of trauma we have collectively experienced. So to decolonize is something we must mindfully, purposefully, systematically keep doing, every day of our lives, as a gift to ourselves. As Filipinx folks, I don’t think we have a choice, if we want to fully come back to ourselves.
What was challenging in revealing the depth of yourself in Double Melancholy?
The decision to be completely and unsparingly honest about who I am meant not doing that halfway. So I had to reveal parts of myself–– old, problematic, prejudicial, colonized ways of thinking–– that, looking back, makes me cringe, to say the least. Emotionally difficult as it was, though, including these parts in the book was, for me, a no-brainer. I had to show these parts of myself in order to properly and fully show how I had internalized white supremacy, and how I am liberating myself from it. More generally, if I’m not revealing the depth of myself, I’m not doing my job as a writer.
You’re very active in building community spaces. Can you tell us what motivated you to create and help facilitate the writing space QueerAsian with the Historic Joy Kogawa House and the ArQuives? Tell us about a moment of inspiration you felt running these workshops.
The motivation was to carve out a safe space for queer-identifying Asians to come together to talk about our experiences with racism during the pandemic. It’s hard to identify just one inspiring moment—the whole six weeks we met was special! But one moment that sticks out for me is when one of the workshop participants talked about how they finally got through to their mother about why it’s important to support Indigenous peoples in Canada. Their mother didn’t quite “get” it, until they used language that made sense to her–– namely, language that related the struggle of Indigenous peoples here to the experience of colonization in their mother’s homeland. I believe this is an example we should follow if we want to eradicate lateral violence amongst BIPOC folks. As well, it proved to me how important language is, and how being rigorous and mindful about the words we use can facilitate necessary social change.
By the way, Historic Joy Kogawa House and I are planning more QueerAsian workshops in the very near future––please stay tuned for details.
I find COVID-19 to be an interesting time where people have been brought together online. What was one new aspect of building spaces during the pandemic–– whether positive or negative–– that you experienced?
One good thing about how we live now is the dissolution of geographical boundaries. I absolutely love it. QueerAsian, for instance, was open to folks across Canada. I truly hope this remains part of the “new normal,” post-pandemic. I think it would be a step back on all fronts if it weren’t.
What does a day in your life look like when you’re on a writers retreat?
I usually retreat to this beautiful place in Bowen Island, which is just a quick ferry ride from Vancouver. Apart from the quietness and solitude which are invaluable for writing, the place has an in-suite sauna, which I have access to 24-7. So, if you can forgive the anthropocentric/anti-ornithological metaphor for a second, whenever I’m in Bowen Island, I kill two birds with one stone: I get lots of writing done, and I seriously detoxify. Needless to say, whenever I’m there, you’ll find me in that sauna a lot.
If you like stories like this, subscribe to Chopsticks Alley.
Nathalie De Los Santos
Chopsticks Alley Pinoy Contributor
Nathalie De Los Santos is digital designer and videographer based in Vancouver BC. She is the founder of PilipinxPages, a bookstagram of Filipino book recommendations. Her work appears in Marias at Sampaguitas, Ricepaper Magazine, Gastrofork, and The Vancouver Observer. She has read as an author at the LiterAsian Festival, BIPOC Writing Community Reading Party, Freedom (W)rites: 8 Filipino Authors, and Sampaguita Perspectives: A Celebration of Filipino-Canadian Writers. She writes SFF and has completed three novels.