In 2007, after five years of service in the U.S. military, Christopher Villanueva left his base in Los Angeles and returned to his adopted hometown of Savannah, Ga. As the son of a military father, he was used to moving from one place to another, but he spent most of his youth in the conservative South, where there were hardly any openly gay individuals, he said.
His parents are both immigrants from the Philippines, and like most Filipinos, he grew up in a conservative and devout Catholic family. All these factors kept him in the closet. It was his hope that joining the Marines would make him a man like his father and help him overcome his homosexuality.
Yet "don't ask, don't tell" only made Villanueva's internal struggles much worse and drove him further into the closet in fear that he would get discharged. But when he left the military, unfulfilled, and moved back in Georgia, he met Daniel, an openly gay Asian man who inspired him and helped him come out of the closet last year.
Meeting somebody who was just like him -- gay and Asian -- was exactly what Villanueva needed, because he could not fully relate to the openly gay, white American narrative that was often told. He was frustrated with LGBT media and its lack of coverage of the queer Asian community. He felt that if LGBT outlets covered the community at all, the stories painted a picture of a stereotypically effeminate, passive Asian male.
And that's what drove Villanueva to start working on Daniel Magazine, which will be the U.S.'s only gay Asian male-targeted lifestyle publication, launching its inaugural issue on Nov. 14, with George Takei as the focus of the cover story.
"We definitely want to be a beacon for hope for the gay Asian community," Villanueva said. "We want to be present in the conversation and have something that's there to represent [the queer Asian] voice."
I spoke with Villanueva about the queer Asian experience, his hopes for the magazine and George Takei, a champion of the publication.
JR Tungol: Tell me about the gay Asian experience. What makes the coming-out experience different from that of others who are not Asian?
Christopher Villanueva: There's definitely an extra layer that's often ignored in the LGBT community. When we have parents who come here and we live here in the States, we can't as easily come out, because of the cultural layer, and that's the difference that may not be present in white families or black families. Even when we come out to our family, we also think, "How do we come out to our relatives, our cousins who are overseas? Do we not speak about it when we're with our extended families?" There's that extra layer that doesn't get addressed.
Tungol: But how exactly is the narrative ignored in LGBT media?
Villanueva: Well, to ask somebody to come out who is gay and Asian and say, "Don't worry about it; just come out," they're not thinking about that extra layer that's been a part of our lives form the moment when we're born. They don't take that into consideration. Sure, I can get my parents to accept me, but what about my culture to accept me? And it's not addressed, and that's what we want to bring to the forefront and let individuals know that you don't have to choose between your race or sexuality.
Tungol: And that's what Daniel Magazine is all about?
Villanueva: Yes. Daniel is a lifestyle magazine for the strong, driven, gay Asian male who's inspiring and encouraging in the life that he lives and the work that he does. That's how we define a "Daniel." And the magazine is named after someone I met who is very comfortable in his skin. It was just the way he carried himself and his words that spoke to me: "Chris, you really need to just embrace who you are and stop trying to conform to belong." With his encouragement he really helped me be the man that I am today.
Tungol: What are your hopes for the magazine?
Villanueva: We want to be able to bridge the conversation with other communities who don't know about us, not just the LGBT community but also within the straight community that doesn't necessarily understand us. And we really just need an outlet to share the diversity of the queer Asian narrative, and I hope Daniel Magazine is here to stay for years to come. That's my hope for it.
Tungol: What's the response been from the community since you've announced this project?
Villanueva: It's been absolutely amazing. So many individuals are embracing it, and they have very many high hopes for it.
Tungol: Does that include some famous gay Asians? Who can we expect to see featured in the magazine?
Villanueva: I'm excited to say that George Takei will be our cover and feature story in our inaugural issue. He definitely was the number-one person I wanted to feature. He really is that strong individual who embraces himself as gay and embraces himself as Asian and is also able to bridge the divide between the gay community and the straight community, especially with his social media presence. I'm sure there are millions and millions who follow George who are not gay. And that's a goal of ours too. We want to make sure that our content is palatable for not just the target audience but for others outside of it. And we feel that George is a perfect example of that.
Tungol: Any words to the skeptics out there who may say that Daniel Magazine is too niche and that there's no place for it?
Villanueva: We have to start our work at some point. If that kid in the Midwest can see this and be inspired by our magazine and say, "I love who I am, and I'm going to keep moving forward," that's what makes this project worth it, despite the critics. I used to be that guy who was looking for inspiration, saying, "There's got to be something more to life, and I need someone to be a voice for me, because I'm not strong enough right now." And that's what Daniel Magazine is going to be here for.
To learn more about Daniel Magazine and how you can support this project, visit its Facebook page and Kickstarter campaign. Daniel Magazine is a semiannual print magazine with a fall/winter and spring/summer issue. Danielmagazine.com will launch on Dec. 1.
Follow JR Tungol on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jratungol