Mission: Here to uplift LGBTQ+, BIPOC, & allies.
Exploring the challenges we face, creating our space, and maintaining our grace.
Who is Ren?
- Ren is one of the virtues of Confucian philosophy; it means benevolence, altruism, or love for others.
- Ren is also me (he/they/all pronouns), writer and artist. An important part of my creative process involves what I call dissolving the ego: I strive to peel away my negative and selfish emotions to get back to a place of practicing and expressing a pure love towards others. It's not always easy, and whenever I see the word Ren, it brings me back to the core of why I create -- because life isn't just about me; it's about all of us, together.
I'm proud of my mixed indigenous heritage -- I'm indigenous Pacific Islander, Asian, Iberian, and Mediterranean; because my family is so mixed, we come in a wide variety of skin tones and hair textures; English is my fourth language. When I was a baby, my family's idea of "a family outing" was to go deep into the jungle, pick a giant leaf for several people to sit in, and then ride it down a river. My great-grandfather was one of the shaman elders of the village.
In our culture, non-binary people like me are called māhū -- we exist in between the binary genders. White invaders taught the indigenous people that māhū were against their god, and so the word māhū became a slur for many years. My fellow māhū and I are taking it back, as the māhū were revered and held prominent roles in island societies before the invasions.
During his time in the Pacific islands, the French artist Paul Gauguin featured LOTS of māhū in his works, like this painting from 1902. Obsessed with our fabulousness, right? Sexually repressed white people lapped it up while calling us savages and primitives.
When my family moved to mainland America, we were frequently met with hostility, as there weren't many of us islanders here at the time. White kids would chase my brothers and me down the street after school, shouting at us because we looked and spoke differently. Adults would show concern as I, a lighter-skinned child, held my dark-skinned indigenous grandfather's hand in public. And people would often ask if I was a boy or a girl. Neither, both, I'm māhū.
Where we came from, everyone was mixed like us. But on the Mainland, I experienced rejection from almost all the cultures of which I am a part -- I was too light to be a "real" indigenous person; too Asian to be a "real" Hispanic; too Iberian and Mediterranean to be a "real" Asian. When I lived in Europe, I wasn't even considered a "real" American.
My response to this kind of upbringing was a journey full of self-hatred, shame, depression, and more, until it all became too much to bear. And then, slowly, my journey led to questioning, exploration, and reconciliation, until I discovered and nurtured a fierce love for my mixed heritage that I had long forgotten. Now, I savor a never-ending, unapologetic celebration of all my cultures. My husband is Native American, and I celebrate his culture, too.
Together, we own and run this store and aim to make it a safe space for LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and allies to experience the heart-lifting joys of browsing through your neighbourhood queer gift shop.
As a fine artist, my paintings and sculptural pieces have been exhibited around Atlanta, GA, where my husband and I used to live. While there, I was fully immersed in the arts scene of the late '90s and early 2000s, and I had the good fortune of networking with thousands of fellow creatives, thanks to my time at art university and the galleries and art-based charities I was involved with.
As for my commercial art, I worked as an art director, and then later creative director, at a global ad agency, where I worked on dozens of brands like Microsoft, Macy's, Boeing, Universal Studios Japan, Wachovia Bank (now Wells Fargo), Nissan, the U.S. Departments of State, Justice, and Defense; I worked in a bunch of different sectors and won some awards.
In Southern California, one of the entertainment capitals of the world, my work evolved to key art design and marketing for live theatre, most notably for a Tony Award-winning theatre. You wouldn't believe how often I leverage my strengths as a typographer -- type is everywhere, big and small, and few people are aware of its history and importance. I also art direct publicity photo shoots with actors and do all kinds of digital photo art for ads and things.
I'm humbled and grateful that my work has appeared in so many places, and for so long.
Even with all the hard work I've done in my life, and all the companies I've helped earn millions of dollars with my creativity, I'm still a brown face in a white country. I still experience racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, any-phobia.
I'm still an indigenous person from an island jungle.
So I'm here to uplift my fellow LGBTQ+ and BIPOC, and I want you to know that I see you. If you feel othered, feel held back or held down, are tired of the system, tired of generational trauma -- I see, appreciate, and celebrate you. We're changing the world, slowly, but we are changing it. Thank you for being present.
With love from Orange County, CA,