Re-introducing Phoenix Rising
Phoenix Rising was a newsletter that grew out of a community of Asian/Pacific lesbians based in San Francisco. It was founded in 1984 by Lori Lai, May Lee, Susan Lee, Pam Nishikawa, Gisele Pohan, Marie Shim, Doreena Wong, and Zee Wong. They wanted to help build a strong and supportive Asian lesbian community and promote solidarity within it by creating a forum that could explore their commonalities and differences, and the issues that pertained to them as Asian lesbians and feminists. 1
The newsletter spanned a decade and featured a range of queer Asian writers such as Kitty Tsui, Willy Wilkinson, Canyon Sam, Janice Mirikitani, and Chea Villanueva to name a few. Alongside the printed newsletter, they also brought Asian lesbians together through regular meet-ups, Asian lesbian retreats, celebratory meals, marches, and sports events (most of which is documented through the newsletter). They truly carved their own space to resist tokenism, racism, queerphobia, and the resulting feelings of isolation that many were experiencing in both mainstream society and in other feminist, queer spaces.
Originally type-written and photocopied in black and white on colored paper then later in color (the archives on this website are currently only in b/w), their newsletter was practically designed and accessible to understand. Over the years, their various editors maintained the newsletter’s light hearted and humorous quality, whilst also featuring feminist, radical and important topics and articles.
From Phoenix Rising is an online archival project that hopes to reflect on this newsletter and re-contextualize it 36 years since its first issue. It hopes to make these histories accessible and record queer Asian people of this community.
Lesbians of Color Movement
Phoenix Rising was the outcome of a time, predominantly in the 80s, that Willy Wilkinson describes in his interview as the ‘Lesbians of Color movement’, a time that is indebted to Black feminism. The grassroots organizing of Black activists was foundational in developing the Asian American identity as well as paving the way for most other liberation and civil rights movements, such as Women’s equality and LGBTQ+ rights. Phoenix Rising was one of the many publications, presses, periodicals, organizations and communities that was led, centered, or created by queer people of color (QPOC) and women of color (WOC) during this time.
This was definitely a historic time for women of color. This energy for collaboration and community is shown in Phoenix Rising in the way they organized it, how its community informed its content, and their alliances with other similar organizations and groups. However, Asian womxn, let alone women of color, were by no means one culture, as a contributor pointed out. This group was composed of people from distinctly different cultures, backgrounds, and identities. Reflecting on one of the Asian/Pacific lesbian retreats, one attendee highlighted that “because differences didn’t get discussed, sameness got assumed.” For example, South Asian lesbians were often marginalized and under-represented in groups or periodicals that described themselves as ‘Asian/Pacific’. Editors such as Willy Wilkinson and Kitty Tsui in 1988 strived to bring a broader range of perspectives of API identities and wanted to ask the community to confront its own prejudices.
But as you read their Archives, you will slowly uncover a myriad of other QPOC led groups beyond Phoenix Rising, many of which are still highly under-documented or difficult to acquire. On the Resources page of this website, I have begun to compile these groups that either collaborated with or was referenced in Phoenix Rising. In doing so, my intention is not to center Phoenix Rising in this movement but rather, a way to use my research as an entry point to the vast histories and narratives of queer people of color during this time and to show that it did not exist in isolation.
This website is a development of the research that I began exploring as part of the Liberation in Print (L.i.P.) Collective. This collective stemmed from a remote 5 week workshop during quarantine that examined histories of feminist periodicals of the mid-late 20th Century initiated by Le Signe - Centre National du Graphisme, and co-ran by Futuress: common-interest (Corinne Gisel and Nina Paim) and Madeleine Morley.
In this workshop, I was initially searching for periodicals by lesbians and women of color to research and came across Phoenix Rising in ‘A Bibliography of Periodicals By and About Women of Color’ by Kimberlie A. Kranich published in Feminist Teacher, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring 1990). As I began to research about this newsletter, there was little information about it online and most of the references I could find were secondary sources where they were only mentioned briefly. With difficulty, I was eventually able to find copies of Phoenix Rising but they were inaccessible to most, either because they only existed in physical archives or were gatekept by elite universities or paywalls. Many traditional repositories and mainstream histories often exclude people of color, queer and trans people, and marginalized communities. This is palpable in even ‘feminist’ archives where there are gaps of unexplored QPOC narratives, lack of digitization, and the content of educational curricula.
Precisely because these histories of QPOC are erased, devalued, and at best, relegated to alternative, hidden and marginalized histories, QPOC often feel cut off from having no history and thus no place in the present because they don’t have a place in our collective societal memory. Phoenix Rising was acutely aware of this. They took on the role of self-representation and created something solely for their own community, subverting the notion of Asian women and lesbians as a sight for the white, patriarchal gaze.
In the Editor’s note in ’88, Kitty Tsui and Willy Wilkinson wrote about the importance of self-publishing for visibility of Asian lesbians “in the past and the present.” Tsui discussed the transformative nature of documentation and how it can challenge the stereotype and culture of Asian women being silent and submissive; “If nobody writes anything down our history will be lost. Who will know of our work, our struggles, our victories, our joys, our loves, our lives? Who will remember? Who will care? / If we are silent we will not be heard. If we are silent we will remain invisible. But when we speak out, communicate, reach out, we challenge the stereotypes. We breathe, we speak, we live. We must be acknowledged for who we are [...] Women with a history. Women with a culture. Women with voices. Women who breathe, sing and live. Women who can turn the heritage of silence and oppression into strength, solidarity and sunshine.”
Prior to this project, I wasn’t really aware of the vast archives that exist and are able to re-tell the histories of people like me or those I know / love. Seeing these narratives and images of people who shared my experiences and existed authentically as everyday queer people, affirmed that our realities, our ideas and our knowledges are valid and real, that we have always been here and discredits the notion that queerness is a modern or Western concept.
In turn, learning that these archives were stored at Lesbian Herstory Archives and also finding many community-centered, reparative ways of archiving online that exist outside of institutions, such as Black Photo Booth, Queering the Map, Independent Voices, Takachizu, South Asian Artists, and POC Zine Project, helped me to develop this project in a digital, online form so that these histories could be freely shared, read and accessed.
I am currently working with Lori Lai, a co-founder and central figure of Phoenix Rising, to create a digitized archive of all past issues on this website in a way that is able to make these histories visible but can still protect individuals’ safety and privacy. You can stay updated with our project, new features, interviews and archival uploads via our instagram @fromphoenixrising.
Research by Sophia Yuet See + developed as part of the ‘Liberation in Print Collective’, a workshop initiated by Le Signe - Centre National du Graphisme, and co-ran by Futuress: common-interest (Corinne Gisel and Nina Paim) and Madeleine Morley.
Archives from Lesbian Herstory Archives.
Website designed by Sophia Yuet See. Website programmed and developed by Beatriz Lacerda.
Sophia Yuet See (she/they) is a queer, Chinese multidisciplinary visual artist, writer and designer from London, currently residing in Vienna. In their practice, they explore the complexities of memory, nostalgia, trauma, and identity. They are currently studying at Slade School of Art (2022), flipping vegan burgers at Lazy Life, and project coordinating at Mai Ling.
Beatriz Lacerda (she) is a multidisciplinary designer and visual artist based in Vienna, whose practice sits in the intersection of art, design, and technology. Her work varies from critical and speculative design to pure experimentations, which translates to different types of projects including light installations, interactive installations, projection mapping, digital branding and web development.
Thanks to those who helped make this website happen — Esther Edusi, Willy Wilkinson, Lesbian Herstory Archives, Corine Gisel, Nina Paim, Madeleine Morley and obviously everyone who was part of Phoenix Rising!
Coming soon :)
As stated in their first editors note, issue 1.