Class Blog

Mountain

Clare gives a great metaphor for the mountain which is the societal patriarchy that crushes those who are marginalised and who only want to see the view from the top. The book raises great questions about how many of us have struggled up the mountain, lived in its shadow or measured ourselves against it. Life is hard no matter who you are people need to find work, do well in school and make friends, but not everyone needs to find their identities and actually feel comfortable in themselves to show people who they really are. The queer community struggles daily in just trying to figure out who they are but also figuring out where they fit when society often casts them aside. Clare does a great job of showing his own struggles and describing that people of minorities aren’t given respect and are often seen as weak, lazy or different and even when attempting to climb that mountain nothing on the way up is familiar. The people who are pushed down the mountain or even who aren’t given help to reach the peak find similarities with the other people who have been pushed away by society. It almost feels like why someone should who is pushed away so much even try to fit in should be with the people that truly do see them as a person and not an outlier. But this isn’t fair no one should be forced to find peace at the bottom and not be allowed to see the world like everyone else does.

Hidden Life

The Netflix show Grace and Frankie represents the idea of the hidden life of people’s queer identification, two men who spent most of their entire life being gay and never being able to show it and living the “normal” hetero lifestyle. This reminds me of Fun Home by Alison Bechdel whose story follows her father’s secret life that destroys his life and his home until he reaches a point of complete emptiness when he takes his own life. The two men Sol and Robert who are both married with children has a happier take on what if people choose to actually live the life which allows them to love the person they love and not whom society forces them to.

 

Although they hid their affair for years and were always afraid of what would happen if people found out they decided that they had spent all of their life hiding who they were and enough was enough. Bechdel alludes to the fact that her father often had affairs with men, but it was in secret and his wife was often miserable because of it. Well, Grace and Frankie have a similar approach with the two men deciding to both tell their wives who it was they were truly in love with but even though it breaks their wives’ hearts it allows them to be free and for both parties to stop living in a life that was all a façade. Both parties get to move on and find a new way to spend the remainder of their days. Perhaps if Bechdel’s mother and father had this conversation then her father would still be here today or perhaps it was never an option for him but this is something we will never know.

Girl Power

 

The legend of Auntie Po makes me directly think about this Japanese painting named “Girl power” that I saw in the National Museum of Asian Art, and I am surprised to find how many similarities they share.

This painting is created in 1856, around the same period as the story of Mei and Auntie Po, and it is demonstrating three female sumo wrestlers preparing for the match. The greatest similarity between this painting and the legend of Auntie Po is that they both try to show the power of women by letting them do something that men are supposed to do. Just like how logging is supposed to be male-dominated work and the legend of Paul Bunyan is a legend of a man, sumo wrestling is also considered a men’s sport in Japan. Moreover, in great contrast with the low social status of female in Japanese culture in history, sumo wrestler has high social status and is always respected by society as the symbol of power. By letting female be the myth of logging and doing men’s sport, both of these two works rebels against the traditional label of being weak women and shows that women can also be powerful.

Another similarity is that they all have an Asian background. Although discrimination against women is everywhere around the world, it is more severe in Asian culture, in which women are always supposed to be passive, be the ones waiting to be saved, and sacrifice themselves for men’s success. However, in these two works, we see that Asian women, dressing in traditional clothes, can be the hero! We can see Auntie Po saving people from the river, and the three strong girls ready to fight, and these are all opposite to what they are supposed to do in their culture. Indeed, they even surpass most men, as Auntie Po is the one who can log the greatest number of trees, and sumo wrestlers are considered to be the strongest group of people in Japan.

The last similarity they share is that although they are trying to show that females can be strong and powerful, they both show it through the male’s frame. They do it by drawing females with muscular bodies. Especially in this Japanese painting, all these girls are giants. In other words, they show women are powerful by making them like men, which might imply that only the figure of men is powerful.

Creating Your Own Spot

Fanfiction is the name given to works of literature that are derivatives of other works or concepts that are not a part of the canonical universe of the original. It can range from very short stories to works that have lengths much longer than the original work itself. A tool that is employed in most fanfictions is “shipping” where the author places two characters that are not in a canonical relationship into a relationship in the fanfiction. One way that fanfiction has been used is as a tool to create queer narratives in a universe where there may have not been an explicit queer narrative to begin with. Many works include characters that are queer coded, and are described in ways that are almost explicitly queer, but the author of the source material never confirms, and leaves the reader hanging. This act of carving out a storyline that was not initially there just to be able to see the storylines of people who are similar to you shows a deep aspect of why it is so necessary to include queer representation. If this representation was not necessary, it would be hard to believe that people would produce these works, some of which are longer than the source material itself, just to be able to see stories of people like them.

We can see a connection to The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor, particularly in the Authors Note and the final pages of the book. When Mei talks about going to form her own story (Khor, 282), implying that there are many more adventures to be had beyond the confines of her book, it is the exact concept that these fanfiction authors latch onto, that just because you have hit the final pages doesn’t mean that the characters cease to exist, that their stories must end. Where one story ends is just an opportunity for another story to begin, and when the initial author isn’t there to represent marginalized communities, in some cases fans of the work create representation that was not originally there. This connects to the Authors Note at the end of the book, particularly when Khor discusses making the story of a young Chinese American girl (Khor, 285). This is not unlike the how fanfiction creators will sometimes use their works as a tool to create more representation in the universes they love so dearly, so they can see a character just like them, and finding how in creating that little corner of the universes of their favorite works. 

Timelessness and Chinese-American Lesbian Representation

The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor and Last night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo are both historical fiction novels about Chinese-American Lesbian adolescents. Set nearly a century apart, these two stories share the same sentiments of juvenile self discovery, confusion, shame, and fear. Both Lily and Mei are forced to cope with racism all the while dealing with their own internal crises and familial obligations. Both girls are intelligent and ambitious, and feel trapped within a society that does not allow them to be their full authentic selves.
Last night at the Telegraph Club follows Lily, a high school senior who loves math and science. She is devoted to her family and her friends, and has yet to step off the path she is on as a self-proclaimed “good Chinese daughter.” Lily meets Kathleen in her advanced math class, and the two sneak out to go together to the Telegraph Club, a lesbian club Kathleen had been to once before. While Lily quickly realizes that she has feelings for Kathleen, she is burdened by shame and fear. When Lily’s father’s naturalization papers are confiscated during questioning about communist activity in Chinatown, the danger strikes home, and Lily is confronted by the potential consequences her own actions could have on her family.
Just like Mei, Lily is afraid of being sent away from her home because of anti-Chinese discrimination. She is grappling with her sexuality, trying to fit into the box of the girl she knows she is supposed to be. Lily dreams of working at the Jet Propulsion lab, like Mei dreams of going to college. Both are forced to push down such aspirations and see their futures through the limits of society and reality. Both, too, realize that such limitations are not binding. That there can be a future outside of the life they are living as teenagers.
The similarities between these two stories demonstrate the cycles of oppression that plague humankind. A novel set in 2022 could tackle racism and queer shame through the perspective of a teenage girl and still ring just as true as these stories set in 1855 and 1954.

Prelude to Moonlight

I am interested in how Saeed Jones would understand and respond to the film Moonlight, based on his writing about being a Black, gay man in the south. Jones writes about the violence he sees every day inflicted on bodies that look like his, and identities that he has. While reading Jones’ collection of poetry Prelude to Bruise I was reminded of scenes and themes from Moonlight. The film is based on a semi-autobiographical play that follows Chiron growing up the projects of Miami from a young boy to an adult. One scene in particular reminded me of Jones’ poem “History, According to Boy”. The opening line of the poem is “Boy is not one of the boys, but Boy is observant” (85). In Moonlight, Chiron’s name is a central issue to the plot; the film is divided into three distinct sections, the first called ‘Little’, because that is the nickname given to him by his peers. The film works like a play: we are shown, not told, that Chiron is excluded from the boys at his school and singled out for being different. His mother cites this difference as “the way he walks”, which is strikingly similar to Jones’ father monitoring his actions: “Boy was so excited he did a little hop. Boy noted that his father’s smile dimmed then, but only for a second” (88). Both characters learn through their interactions with the world, first from their parents, that they are different and wrong in some way. Also, in both of these works intimacy is received often through violence, which is a result of toxic masculinity. One crucial scene in Moonlight involves Chiron getting beat up by his friend and crush Kevin, who the night before they had a sexual encounter. Kevin must prove to the other boys he isn’t allied with Chiron, who has a ‘spoiled identity’ according to stigma theory. Jones makes the same observation about the boys in his class, that when “The teacher talks about male friendship. . . “Fags,” hiss the rest of the Boys in agreement.” (90). It is implied here that boys are teaching each other not to show any intimacy, for fear of being perceived as gay.

I believe it is important to consume these art forms because they depict the harms done by continuing to stigmatize male friendship and queerness. Both these artists challenge stereotypes that depict Black men as violent, hyper sexualized beings and speak from an autobiographical place. The delicacy with which both Jones and Barry Jenkins, the director of Moonlight, show the pain of struggling to be accepted as gay Black men in America incites empathy from every audience member.

Fiction: an effective tool against indifference

In “The Legend of Auntie Po” we learn about a part of US history that has been often forgotten: the difficult lives of Chinese immigrants in logging camps in Sierra Nevada, California. “Orange is the New Black”, Jenji Kohan’s series, narrates the lives of female prisoners in Upstate New York, whose stories are usually ignored too. Khor and Kohan’s works have made it possible for these often-forgotten minorities to be visible. They also portrayed the stories of queer individuals with dreams, desires and flaws. They have brought humanity to neglected groups, making them relatable and worthy of respect, support and love.

The ceremony for Pauly’s death is traditionally Chinese. This moment is very emblematic, because it’s a Chinese ritual for a white man. During the ceremony, there are three boxes. The first one says: “I guess we have to keep on telling our stories, even if they are not the same as the ones our parents told us” (page 238). On page 239, the other two boxes say, “I like it when our stories change when we share them with new people” and “I like that their stories will be different”. The boxes symbolize a collective voice brought together in Mei. A voice that recognizes that telling stories of compassion between differences is important and must continue.  A ritual that would be exotic for white loggers in the 19th century is, as a matter of a fact, a demonstration of love and respect for those who have passed away. This generates relatability from the reader.

Kohan’s series tells the stories of convicts who had their own dreams and desires and when we watch it, we can actually relate to their problems and understand what they go through. The story of a Black lesbian convict, who struggles with mental issues (Suzanne “Crazy Eyes”), is portrayed. She loves books and expresses vulnerability and love in many moments. She has violent bursts as well. She is human and relatable.

The boxes in the pages aforementioned (238 and 239) encourages the ongoing telling of the stories, making other people aware of other narratives and consequently changing their own stories by being more empathic towards Queer people and other minorities. The book and the series ultimately say that individuals who are forgotten by the course of history or the mainstream deserve love and understanding. Their own idiosyncrasies need to be respected and be given space, but in the end, they are also individuals with flaws and desires, just pursuing their own happiness. Fiction is a tool to empower forgotten voices and generate relatability.

Preserving Queer History

There is a museum in New York City, located in SoHo, called the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art. The collection was formed in 1969 by a gay couple in their SoHo loft, Charles Leslie and Frederic “Fritz” Lohman. They explicitly chose to display art by queer artists as it was a barely touched portion of the art world, and remains so to this day. When the AIDS crisis struck New York, the couple began to frantically collect art from dead and dying artists, trying to preserve their shared history from families who did not care. The collection was accredited as a museum in 2016, becoming the first and only museum dedicated to displaying and preserving queer art. In 2019, the museum announced plans to transform the museum into more of a cultural center, with a learning center and research library in addition to the preexisting galleries.

The mission of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art dovetails nicely with Adrienne Rich’s poem Study of History from her collection The Fact of a Doorframe. Both focus on queer history that has been buried for years, intending to bring light to those hidden histories. The final stanza of the poem includes the lines “we have never entirely/known what was done to you upstream”, describing the uncertainty that surrounds queer history (Rich 72). The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art attempts to bring that history to light through exhibitions and accepting donated artworks into its permanent collection. Both the poem and the museum explore queer history, through the consequences of burying and the benefits of preservation respectively. Through preservation of queer art from the late 1960s onwards, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art avoids the the silence described in Rich’s poem, creating a space for queer history to be told.

Coming to Self Acceptance

Heartstopper is a British television show on Netflix that centers around two British boys and their love story as well as the experiences of growing up Queer. Nick and Charlie, along with their friends, represent many different aspects of growing up in general along with growing up as LGBTQ+. The show specifically emphasizes self-love and acceptance along with taking the time to discover yourself. One of our main characters, Nick comes to acceptance of his sexuality throughout the show as we see his and Charlie’s relationship progress. Part of why Nick’s story is so impactful is the space that he’s fortunately been given to discover himself. Charlie, despite finding it difficult to hide their relationship at school, respects Nick and allows him to take his time, and does not pressure him. Nick’s mom allows him to comfortably come out to her by not rushing him or jumping assumptions. She treats him with love and support and accepts him like he is. Nick’s story is one of many storylines in the show that revolve around self-acceptance during the stages of growing up. Overall, this show places much emphasis on the importance of self-acceptance along with finding confidence in expressing yourself.

In this way, Heartstopper is similar to all the works we have read in class. They all grapple with self-acceptance regarding sexuality and creating space for themselves. It should be noted that while it holds similar themes, Heartstopper does contain more hopeful content than the other media we have read in class, but regardless it does still cover the theme of self love and acceptance like the readings of this class. For example, Saedee Jones covers his journey of coming to acceptance of his gender expression and his identity as a Gay Black man despite biases and discrimination. The specific issues each author grapples with both differ and intersect due to different intersectional identities and histories, but general themes stay the same. The authors and the show aim to reclaim their stories and experiences and to show their journeys to self-love to help others like them not to feel alone. They also give voice to many experiences and bring representation into the media space. By doing so, they validate the experiences of the unheard and motivate others like them to accept their identity and feel comfortable speaking on them in media spaces.

The US in need of a sex education reform

The Netflix show Sex Education is a great example of how queer and diverse sex education can be implanted in an education system in order to avoid the stigma around sex as a topic itself but also expanding the focus of a very heterosexual sex education system in the United States.

The show Sex Education takes places at a high school in the UK, which places a group of high school  students and their families at the center of the show. In the show the students deal with their self-development, discovering their identity as well as their sexuality. Queerness plays a key role in the show since many characters identity as queer and they spend a great amount of time learning about themselves and who they are. Another key aspect of the show is sex education, and how the sex education needs to be reformed in order to make all students feel included and their questions answered in class. I believe that the show does a really good job of presenting the struggle many teenagers and high school students face as they try to understand their identity and sexuality and how hard and nerve racking that can be, especially when you take into account how society is still not fully inclusive. Even though the show talks about the social struggles of queerness, it portrays queerness as so natural and normal that it is easy to imagine that it helps a lot of people in the queer community to find comfort and confidence from the show. Especially when focusing on the aspects of the show portraying sex education as something really important and natural, we learn how diverse sex is and how our society needs to expand its focus from a heterosexual sex education. The show creates awareness for queerness especially in regard to sex.

In Jones’ poem “History, According to Boy” it can be observed how the lack of diverse sex education and societal acceptance of queer individuals has caused Boy to internalize his feelings that deviate from the norm. Boy is seen among his peers, especially the other boys, as a social outcast but he is unable to live as his true self (Jones 89). He notes the way his parents hold each other in their sleep and craves the touch of a loved one, but notes the way his expression of joy hurts his approval of his father, and later, his reaction to a gay porn magazine (Jones 92). These reactions are great example why queer people do not feel included in society and feel like something is wrong with them and their sexuality. As their sexuality is not being acknowledged and obviously not included in America’s sex education, they feel left out and misplaced. The US needs a nationwide inclusive sex education system to ensure diversity and a save learning space for queer people.