A Vancouver LGBTQ2+Trailblazer: Believe in Magick and Wizardry with Tien Neo Eamas

Image courtesy of GayVan.com

By Angus Praught

Tien Neo Eamas is a self-described artist, coach, gold/silversmith, alchemist, performer inspirational speaker and modern day wizard. Originally from Singapore, Tien is also the first Asian trans man he knows of to transition in Vancouver in a decidedly public way, a journey he began in 2001.

In 2018 as we continue to see public, personal, and political attacks on the transgender community around the world, it is hard to imagine, unless it’s a part of your own journey, what it must have been like back in 2001, when there was very little public awareness overall.

In this interview Tien will graciously take us on this journey to share some of the challenges, but also some of the joy and successes along the way.

Angus Praught: Hello Tien, how are you, and thank you for speaking with me today.

Tien Neo Eamas: I’m awesome, thank you Angus, very happy to be here.

AP: Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

TNE: I am a wizard, and that’s who I am; which means I transform the “yuck” into the “yeah”. And then, what I do is a bunch of different things; so I’m a goldsmith and silversmith, I’m an alchemist, I’m a coach, a teacher, a guide, a speaker, and also now I’m creating courses in my teaching genre. There’s a lot of other things too; I pole dance, ya know, could be a movie star, I’m all about all sorts of things happening; a never ending list of things.

AP: Can you tell us about your early life in Singapore?

TNE: I was in Singapore from my birth, until about eighteen years old. Singapore was not the super crazy city that we see now in the Crazy Rich Asians movie. It was still third world-ish, and my life was awesomely horrible (Tien laughs and smiles).

AP: You lived as a female at that time, correct?

TNE: I was born, whoever I was born, and I was given the gender mark of female. And I was born into a fundamentalist Brethren Christian family, mixed race, mixed class, and they were also very abusive. So that was the context that I lived in for a good fifteen years, and then as I got older, in my teens, the abuse kind of whittled out, after I figured out I could defend myself, but the whole constraints around Christianity was still there, and there was a lot of gender kind of stuff that was really restraining for me. …I was not happy, and I always had big dreams of coming to America, or Canada. I thought at that point that Canada was the same as America, and I wanted to go to a fine arts school, be a dancer, be a performer, or be an artist; that was my dream.

AP: How did you decide on Vancouver?

TNE: Uh, my parents did (laughs). Divine intervention, that’s what I like to call it. So I like to believe that it was my power, my power of manifestation, years of wanting to get out, years of wanting to be somewhere else, where I was free, finally happened. It happened by fluke, I basically failed first year at university, and my mom said that either I was going to repeat, or they were going to send me somewhere else, so I said, OK, send me somewhere else. They had Christian friends in Vancouver, and three weeks later I was here (laughs).

AP: Fast forwarding a few years, can you tell us when you began your transition?

TNE: I did not start my transition until about fifteen years after I came to Canada. It was nowhere on my horizon, and I did not understand any of that. When I came here, I immediately fell into the lesbian community, thinking that I was female, and that was fine. I was with a bunch of women, and they were kind of like guys, so I thought maybe I was one of them, so I just made some friends, and stayed in that community for ten years.

Image courtesy of GayVan.com

AP: You also experienced challenges in Vancouver. Can you tell us about that?

TNE: Yes, there were lots of challenges, but also lots of amazing things of course. Immediately, when I first came, in 1988 and ’89, there were a lot of cultural challenges, and a lot of racism, prior to the large influx from Hong Kong and Taiwan. For example, I was one of three Asians in dance school, and now, there would be mainly Asians and perhaps one white person, so there was a big difference then. At the same time, there were lots of challenges about my sexuality, I was learning about my sexuality, and there was also the biggest challenge of managing my immigration; and to figure out how to get myself landed in this country, over about seven years.

AP: You have spoken publicly about reaching a low point where you attempted suicide. Was this a turning point for you?

TNE: Absolutely, I call it my “phoenix rising”. I love that moment, it was horrible and the most amazing thing for me. To give you quick context, that was 2009, in the spring, April 15th; you know you always remember your birth and your death.

I had already transitioned as male, I transitioned in 2002, and I was the first Asian man to publicly transition in Vancouver. At that point, the LGBT community did not include the T yet, it was just the L & G, and if they were lucky, they might put a B in there (laughs). You remember that right? So, L & G did not know what to do with trans; it was a general whitish sort of community, there was a lot of contention and they didn’t like us. They don’t talk about it much, but in our history, the L &G’s did not like the “trannies” very much for a long time; they thought of us as traitors, to their gender identity. So get that that was the context in which I transitioned in, there was no support, no nothing, and then, I was Asian. I had built strong connections with Asian lesbian, Asian queer, and Asian gay friends over ten years, and these people were my family. When I chose to transition, it was very isolating; the larger L & G community not know what to do with me, my Asian L & G friends just didn’t know what to do with me either, so I lost everyone in my life in the span of a year. Only one or two stuck around, but I knew if the rest stuck around they just wouldn’t know what the hell to do with Tien. Suddenly Tien, this edgy, activist Asian dyke was becoming a guy, and they had no idea of what to do with it. So that was how I transitioned.

Finally, I had gotten landed status, so I tried really hard to live as a male, from 2002 to 2009. Given my genes, I’m Asian, so we don’t tend to be as hairy, so I never really masculinized the way some other people do. I tried really hard, but there was a lot of discrimination, I had left the L & G community, and was now in a cis-gendered, hetero normative world, where it was horrible. I was mocked, humiliated, I was laughed at, embarrassed. There was no access, I didn’t have a citizenship card because the government of Canada actually said “because we don’t know what to do with people like you”. Stuff like that, so that was my world. And so I had had just such a horrible time, my family had disowned me, my girlfriends would break up with me saying “there’s something wrong with you, what kind of guy are you” and I was massively in debt by that point

So yes, in the spring in April, I had just had enough and I attempted suicide. And for me, why I say that it was the most valuable experience, because the next morning when I woke up, it was like my soul said, OK Tien, you’re still alive, so what are you going to do? And I said, I just want to be happy. And my soul said OK, you promise me this; you can go home anytime you want to, I give you my blessing, go be free if you want to, go, but if you’re going to stick around on planet Earth, make sure you have a frickin’ good time. Otherwise, that’s fine, go home to your maker.

AP: Thank you for sharing this. Switching gears, I’ve heard you talk about Wizardry and magick with a “k”. Can you expand on this?

TNE: I’ve gotten now, and after living the life that I have, and after choosing consciously to live, something I choose every day, and now it’s automatic; I know I’m only here for joy. I’m not interested in struggling; I’m not interested in focusing on things that are oppressive. That’s why there are a lot of communities I don’t hang out in, because a lot of the conversations are past-based; there’s no magick there, right? Magick for me is the world of creation, Gandolf is a great example; he’s mystical, he’s fun, he’s playful, and he’s powerful. He makes sh-t happen, right, and that’s what magick is. The world of magick is steeped in some paganism, and up until 2,000 years ago, we were all “pagan”. It might include herbs, it might include the acknowledgement of the sun, the winds of the universe, all of that good stuff that people have lost touch with. But magick is all around, and it’s got to start with the willingness to know that something outside of your ordinary can exist.

Image courtesy of GayVan.com

AP: When I spoke with you last year at the Union Wedding Show, we talked about your jewellery making business. Can you tell us a little more about it?

TNE: Yes, I am a goldsmith and silver smith, and have been for twenty-two years. My business has really transitioned in the last few years, and I now specialize in a lot of custom work. So I specialize in wedding rings, men’s rings, heirloom resetting, and power pieces, such as sacred icons that people can wear to recharge them, with some kind of magick and all that good stuff. So those are the four categories that I created. I love it, I love my business as a smith, and there’s just so much love; when I build something for somebody. The heirloom settings are just magical, because here is grandma’s old pieces; they love grandma so much, but every time they look at that ring they’re like “ew”, but the love is not there and they feel bad. Then when I transform their pieces, they just burst out crying, because they had no idea how much that love was blocked by this ugly thing, and now it’s like, beautiful, boom, it’s gorgeous. Working with wedding rings is also about the same thing, it’s all about who you are for each other. So I just love the work, and on a very mystical, alchemical level, that’s what I do. Silver and gold are such pure, pure elemental metals, so there’s a lot of great alchemy in this work.

AP: Do you have anything new you would like to add?

TNE: Yes, I’m very excited, I am fifty this year, and feel that I am finally at a place where I get to teach, and I get to finally live the life that I had said that I would come down to earth to live. And so, I am launching my courses this year, and I have a whole curriculum of courses titled “Transcending Gender”. I launch my first course next week, and it’s called “How Not to Be Stupid Around Trans People”. It’s an ongoing, online course, and my work around gender is not about political correctness, it’s not about social consciousness. I’m interested in having people see beyond gender, like [the] whole pronoun thing. It’s to have people be present with the soul in front of you.

AP: Where can people go to find out more?

TNE: tienneoeamas.com is my web site, I’m the only Tien Neo Eamas in the world, so I’m very easy to find.

Angus Praught is president of Gayvan.com Travel Marketing, a Vancouver-based company featuring LGBTQ2+ welcoming destinations, in the Vancouver region, Canada, and beyond.

Sign up for the Out In Vancouver newsletter if you are interested in hearing about more non-heteronormative news, events, and culture that are part of Vancouver’s cultural mosaic, and to get notified on the latest contests.

Tagged: , , ,

Comments are closed for this post

One Response to A Vancouver LGBTQ2+Trailblazer: Believe in Magick and Wizardry with Tien Neo Eamas