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TOUCH ME Interview Series - June Lam

June Lam (he/him)

June Lam is a community organiser, producer, actor, model and multidisciplinary artist of Chinese and Vietnamese ancestry. Living in London, June works across performance, dance, sculpture and collage.


He is a director of the grassroots organisation and trans healthcare fund We Exist and the founder of the queer ESEA platform GGI 끼.

What does Pride mean to you?

I think my personal definition of Pride is having self-knowledge and that being something that fuels me. It’s both a knowledge of self and then an acceptance of self, using that as a sort of engine. Something you always have with you. It is something that is inherent and kind of quiet, rather than an externalised idea of having to emblazon yourself with.


In the past I have thought of my queerness as a shield but now it’s a sort of quiet energy, an engine that is related to really knowing myself.


What is your first recollection of a queer person?

I don’t have a warm and fuzzy story to offer. It feels quite hard to talk about it because I grew up in quite a fundamentalist, religious context – within an evangelical family and church. Therefore, I didn’t have many encounters with queerness that were inspiring. I think my first interaction with queerness was hearing about it being condemned. Instead of meeting a queer person I heard stories and cautionary tales. I think it took me a long time to get to a place where I could unlearn all of that. I had to unlearn it before I could embrace myself.


What are the biggest challenges that the LGBTQ+ community still faces?

I think it is the wave of transphobia. This uprising of fascist and far-right thinking about trans people and the policing of trans identities and every aspect of life really feels the most threatening. Not only to trans people but to everyone. I think there’s a false idea that queer people – gay and lesbian people – are not affected by the taking away of trans rights but inherently transphobia and homophobia are two sides of the same coin.


It's really important for people to recognise that this is not just a threat to the other, it’s a threat to all our identities. Because inherently queerness is gender non-confirmative and once we start policing the ability of people to be trans and express their gender we will be rolling back on hard-won rights and restricting the freedoms of everyone. It’s important for people to realise that this violence is against everyone, not just against this very small percentage people.


We need to stop making a distinction between trans rights and other rights. It’s about protecting the people that are most affected by the far-right. Especially seeing what happened in the US recently with Roe vs Wade, it comes to show that anything can be overturned, things we thought as secured are not.


How useful is it for brands, businesses and organisations to engage with LGBTQ+ creators and activists, as Begg x Co and QUEERCIRCLE are doing?

I have actually turned down quite a few Pride related opportunities because I feel like a lot of brands have an agenda and we do live in a capitalist society so I’m very cautious about being used as a prop. What I think brands can do is find out what communities need, what creatives are wanting to express and then discover the points of alignment in what you’re both doing. Things need to come from a place of transparency.


You start by respecting people’s life and paying them properly and allowing them to speak their truth. Which actually is not a given starting point for a lot of this work – commercial opportunities that come to queer people to be used in pride campaigns – we don’t always get given the opportunity to say what is true – mostly you’re given a concept and then you have to try and squeeze yourself into that concept. Not limiting people and allowing them to actually be real is probably what’s most important.


The intersection between a queer identity and a migrant identity comes with its own challenges. Could you tell us more about your experience?

I think the point in which my migrancy correlates with my queerness is the fact that I will never feel a sense of being held by this country, I will never feel secure in my ability to make my work and stay. There’s always these conditions. And I think it is quite similar with queerness how in order to be accepted as queer artists or faces of a community there are always conditions: how you defer to the status quo, how you are able to bend yourself into a palatable version and an idea of queerness that appeals to people and to the mainstream.


I’m on a global talent visa as an artist and I very much feel that I’ll be able to stay in this country as long as I am making what is considered art and there are a lot of things I make that are not considered art. Not everything I do is considered respectable, so I know what of my work will fit into that and will allow me to continue staying and what else I do, that I very much care about, but doesn’t fit into that. It’s very much about negotiating and navigating those two sides of my practice.


I think both migrancy and queerness carry this reality of having to meet certain criteria and slot yourself into checkboxes to be considered a valid contributor. I am always self-critiquing, always thinking in the back of my mind, am I meeting the criteria? Will this work be considered valuable in the framework of the global talent visa? It’s about navigating expectation and limitation skilfully.

We’d like to hear you about the WeExist healthcare fund and your work with it.

We started WeExist in 2020; Jo Alloway, my friend Sophie Gwen Williams, who has now passed away and myself. We distribute funds – we have a Crowdfunder page going for the community and we take healthcare requests from trans people and redistribute those funds. Not just transition-related but anything that we consider healthcare which can also be survival, mental health, or even someone’s moving expenses, everything considered as holistic healthcare. It’s a response to the gender identity clinic model of companies that profit from the restrictions. We just want to essentially be putting money back into the hands of the people that really need it desperately. With us all being trans, we have all been in the situation of needing money.


We have recently wanted to work more with migrant communities and Black and Brown grassroots groups as well to make sure we are redistributing that wealth in a way that’s truly equitable and targeting multiple communities.


Your art practice has recently focused on your acting practice. Are those spaces open to a queer existence and what would is important to achieve there?

I don’t think my art practice is restricted to one type of work. It is important to redefine and not have a strict definition of what art is. I think for me, having been through formal education, having done an MA, there were a lot of ways in which the institution and the particular context of that made me feel like some ways of being and making were not as valid.


I still have a visual art practice but I’m interested in what I can learn from collaborating with people and using my body as a tool for other people’s projects. It can be really inspiring and often activates new directions for creative thinking. When I facilitate workshops or lead meditation groups, I also think of that as an art practice. One of my goals is to integrate all parts of myself and not prioritise only what’s considered valid based on the art sector

Any closing thoughts?

Going back to the first question, part of me is very resistant to the idea of Pride and Pride month. Just because it allows for some people to be off the hook for the majority of time. Maybe it’s the idea that you can do lip service to a community and that’s enough. You are allowed to start and stop with activism and engagements. That idea is really capitalistic. Allocating our focus on a different community at a time seems tokenising.  Even outside of that context, I don’t associate much with Pride.

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