Sze-Yang Ade-Lam / Canada
“My name is Sze-Yang Ade-Lam I am a queer asian nonbinary storyteller, dancer, martial artist, and community developer.
I was born in Vancouver into a home of violence. My parents were monsters. To make sense of this as a kid, I became a warrior, living in a world full of monsters, where I fought to survive. My older brother and I fought for each other. He taught me to never let anyone beat me up. I learned how to love from the neighborhood dogs who raised me and showed me that the same sharp teeth and strong jaws that can be used to break bones can also be soft enough to carry a puppy. I left my family as soon as I could, and moved to Toronto for dance.
I came out in high school where there was a stark contrast between my white friend’s and my experience. While he had a ‘Queer As Folk’ experience, I felt like I was disappearing because I was so invisiblized.
Entering the dance world further amplified the racism, homophobia, transphobia, femmephobia, and body policing that I was already experiencing in the gay world. Who knew the dance world and Grindr would have so much in common?
I’m eternally grateful to kung fu, and the women of kung fu cinema/culture. I drew strength from them when people told me ‘your body is wrong’, ‘ you look weak’, ‘you need to man up’. Once a choreographer looked at me and said real men know how to take a hit, and proceeded to punch me, I blocked his punch, punched him in the shoulder and he never tried punching me again. I’ve had to fight back in dance a lot. In scenarios when I couldn’t fight and people in power insulted me, I knew internally I was strong, and that being associated with a women was not an insult, even if it is intended to be. I am proud to punch like a girl, especially one that can kick your ass!
As an escape from the toxic dance world, my friends, partner, and I started gender bending, and performing in clubs and at community events. There, I imagined myself as various empowered characters: sexual, intelligent, emotive, complex, genderfluid. As the years passed, they were no longer characters, but became parts of who I let/willed myself to become – full. These experiences prompted me to form ILL NANA/DiverseCity Dance Company – a QT, B,I,POC dance company that shares stories on stage, and provides affirming dance education and performance opportunities for QT, B,I,POC folks including folks with varying bodies, abilities, and class backgrounds, for the past decade.
I continue to dance independently and advocate for change in the arts. I am the main reason for the Dora Awards timely change to gender neutral categories. In 2016, I registered for both the male & female category of dance performance for the Dora Awards, because there was no check box for nonbinary people. I was told I had to choose 1 category or I would be disqualified from registration – or I could pull my registration. I said no, I would not choose one category or pull my registration, and if they disqualified me I would fight back. I was granted a one time exception to register in both categories. I continued to work with the Dora team after this even though it was hard because I thought of all the trans & nonbinary artists past and present that could not register. In 2019 the awards became gender neutral. I was not properly credited for my work in this shift & again had to fight to be recognized for my work/labour in these shifts as well as the many Q,T, B, I,POC folks involved.
There is an illusion of safety when people think of Canada in regards to LGBQT rights. But it is not safe up here, especially for trans, nonbinary, nonconforming, B,I, POC youth/people and even queer men of colour – they face disproportionate amounts of violence. As a reaction to the violence my partner and I have faced, I even began taking practical martial arts (Wing Chun) 5 years ago.
Standing your ground for human rights is not easy – I have been fired, had to quit work, been seen as scary and difficult, and have gone broke. But I believe in what I stand for. I will continue to fight and share stories, dance, love, and martial arts. I will continue to change the world and surthrive!”