Tuesday, March 30, 2010

No, I'm Not Impressed At All, Ricky Martin [screw you!]

Ricky Fucking (Homofaux) Martin came out to the world yesterday, and since then, the man has been bothering me in ways that only French (Caricature) President Sarkozy normally manages to. If it's been established that I am one of those politically-committed nerds who want to revive the movement of the Angry Young Men, right now, what I feel is beyond anger and dissatisfaction (with Mr Martin)... What I feel is rather headstrong rage, hatred and disgust towards the celebrity figure. Since I've been reading congratulatory notes to Mr Let's-Stay-In-The-Closet-Till-The-Age-Of-Forty all over the place, I decided to be systematic on this one and try to figure out why his coming out is causing me an hemorrhage.

Already, a couple of years ago, I wrote a very clumsy article on celebrities and their coming out and what such a coming out entails for the rest of the world. (It's quite interesting to read articles that I wrote two years ago and realize what a bad writer I then was-- whether I've improved along the way is another question altogether.) In short, here is the gist of what-was-then my argument:

-- If you are to be totally realistic, the lines between private and public are always already blurred when it comes to celebrities and consequently, beyond their performances, art etc. their icon itself has an impact in terms of representation in popular culture;
-- It's the duty of the celebrity to come out for the simple reason that his/her success is built upon the public sphere and the fact of being a public figure. This figure feeds the masses (so-to-speak) and this figure can have a humongous impact as change-maker. Therefore, I conclude that it is the duty of the celebrity to impact the world in the right way and in this case, by coming out. I say this because having George Michael and Stephen Gately coming out when I was a teenager made a huge difference to my own life and that of my parents too. (You may disagree with my deontic take here "it is the duty of the celebrity" but that's really my take on it; it's their ethical obligation and that's about it: when you get something from somebody-- in this case your fame from the public-- you need to give it back in certain ways);
-- Celebrities are potentially bigger agents of change than any common man/woman;
-- Celebrity figures have easier coming-outs because though they may lose their homophobic fans (who cares about those A-holes anyway?) they won't get kicked out of their parents' house at the age of 17 and end up selling their bodies and sleeping on the roads as many queer teenagers do. (As a reminder: Elton John sent Stephen Gately flowers when the latter came out, and just look around on blogs and Fakebooc right now to witness the profusion of congratulatory notes to Mr Oh-I'm-So-Courageous-Martin... He is clearly not being sent to camps and shrinks to turn him straight.)

So now that I roughly went through what I was trying to articulate in this article written two years ago, let's analyze my possibly very unreasonable violent irritation here. I'll put this in the form of an open-letter to Mr Ricky Ex-Closeted Martin:

Dear Mr Martin,

I feel an inhumane amount of anger for you since yesterday and I am trying to figure out why. I think I am angry that you came out so late. I think it's just very personal: Had you come out ten years ago, when I was just 15 years old and when I actually used to listen to your music and I used to spend the little money I earned as a part-time waiter on your CDs, maybe had you come out at the time, I wouldn't have swallowed those pills. I don't know about Terrence, 'coz he never liked popular music anyway, but Rishi liked your music. Had you come out at the time, would you have "influenced" their decision and their self-esteem? Would they be still be alive now?

But that's me being irresponsible, isn't it? That's me saying somebody else should have saved me while we all know that we ought to save our own beings? Except, at the time, in the space in which I was, did I really know where to turn to, except to the magazines available to me and the stories in them? 

And if I am to be totally reasonable, maybe you didn't know where and whom to turn to as well? Ultimately, I've never been in your shoes, I've never been in your skin, and I don't know what it feels to be you. Maybe things were indeed very hard for you. Maybe you've been right all the way to stay in the closet. Who am I to blame you?

But at the same time, I can't help but feel angry because I don't think your coming-out is as genuine as it seems to be. To start with, it took you fifteen fucking years of stardom to come out! Fifteen years, and why now, why at this point? Is it because Adam Lambert has been kicking your ass really hard in the charts? Is it because Lady Gaga is the one who gets to do the biggest concerts during the Pride all over the world? Personally, I felt happier that everybody had been talking about the "Telephone" clip over the past two weeks and if you wanted your Latino ass to be the centre of attention, suddenly, well-done! It worked. I just hope it doesn't last too long.

Indeed, "coming out as gay" seems to be the fashionable trend these days, so your marketing trick worked miracles. I would also like to remind you that you always dodged questions about your sexuality by saying these belonged to your private life, to your bedroom. Well, I'd like to know what happened overnight? Why did your private bedroom become so public? You suddenly stopped being a man who indulges in the act of fucking other men to claim a gay identity? Now that you've moved from the act to the identity, you'd better do something concrete for the community that also claims this identity.

And you say what? You couldn't come out for fear of losing your fame? For fear of losing your fans? For fear of losing all those things you've worked so hard to get "because many people in the world are not ready to accept your truth, your nature, your reality?" And what about all the people out there who've worked so hard to be where they are, and still, they have the guts to come out and take a risk because they know the stakes are high and it is an important act? What about people who actually lose everything? 

Mr Martin, you said that you were in the process of writing your memoirs and that "writing this account of [your] life got [you] very close to [your] truth." I am happy for you and I am even happier that your "truth" will now be a best-seller because your "truth" is now the world's "truth" and everyone will be flocking to bookstores to buy the crispy details.

Therefore, I congratulate your for your very "post-mature" coming out. May you have a great life of "fortunate homosexual man" ahead of you.


The Queer Behind the Mirror

Bodies of Dissent: TransForm [9th-10th april, the trans conference, peterborough, on]

For those who are in and around Peterborough, or even further away in Ontario, or not even in Ontario for that matter, please do note that the second Trans-Conference, "Bodies of Dissent" will be held at the Peterborough Public Library and a couple of other venues in the downtown core of Peterborough on the 9th-10th April 2010. 

Peterborough, though an imperfect small town in so many ways, is probably one of the most trans-friendly places where I have seen so far. Well, maybe not "friendly" but definitely open enough to the possibility including a visibility for trans subjects within the town (and the Trent U campus as well.) As many of you may know, trans-issues are where a major chunk of my politically queer/queerly political leanings lie. So if you get the chance to come and show your support,  workshop/network/learn new things, meet interesting people and on the whole, just have a whole lot of fun, this is the link to the Fakebooc page, and this is the link to the website.

As well, I'd like to mention that I had a jolly good time at the conference last year. It was the first one organized, by a group of friends and their supporters and I must say it was one of the best conferences I attended. This year, since I cannot volunteer or help in anyway (thesis! thesis!) I am opening my doors and laying out all the couches and mattresses in the house for whomever is coming to the conference and needs a place to crash. So, you even have a place where to sleep now, so come on over!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Olé: On Hitting the Wall, Faith and Nurturing Creativity [a thesis-update, some questions and a talk by Elizabeth Gilbert]

In Buddhist thought, we learn from the "Four Noble Truths" that everything is transient and transitory, like an ensemble of infinite elements that come together and then break apart to mould themselves into something else. In fact learning about and accepting transience as the very nature of things represents the first (and only?) major step to finding Enlightenment.

So there I was, on thesis mode for the past week or so, where everything seemed to flow in and out of me: the pouring over texts for hours altogether; the underlining and highlighting; the thinking through and the links to be drawn; the symptoms, causes and the effects to be located; the figures to be sketched and fleshed out; the gaps to be identified and filled not too clumsily; and the tensions and contradictions to be touched and subtly unfolded... All the processes have had the feel of a silk sash on thick velvet. And the writing? Well let's not even get there! Writing as a process had never been as delightful, elegant and bracing as it has been over the past week or so.

And then, somewhere between yesterday and today (probably in that lost daylight-saving hour where we switched from winter-time to summer-time: an instant there, but not quite there; an hour that existed without existing; a clocked that ticked both forwards and backwards), I hit the wall. A foggy silence draped itself around my mind and as it entered my body, all things seemingly interesting became inarticulable. It was indeed naive of me to think I would write an entire chapter without encountering one of these typical moments where everything comes to a standstill, and where one stands at a crossroad, filled with anxiety and demons, not knowing how to transcend the moment. So here I am, stuck in an empty frame for the past 24 hours.

I have been productive, mind you: doing other readings, cleaning the house, sorting out my bookshelves etc. till I find my way back to a calm state of mind that will allow me to sit still and get back to it. In the midst of all this, I found this interesting talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity. It's barely 20 minutes long, and particularly if you are a creative artist of any sorts you may want to watch/listen to it. Elizabeth Gilbert is a contemporary American writer (by this, see novelist, essayist, biographer etc.) who is more prominently known for being the author of Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia (Viking, 2006), but who also published two novels in the late 90s-early 00s.

In this talk, she speaks about the various anxieties that artists generally have to face when it comes to their creativity. It is true that people are often scared of speaking of this creative process. I would even say that it's almost a taboo outside of artistic circles. With this said, the common common vision is that artists have a talent that lie deep inside, and when they feel inspired, they create something. Let me dissipate this myth by saying the truth: It's all bullshit! All artists, across the board, be they writers, painters, sculptors, dancers etc. all of them across the board, simply discipline themselves and diligently work, re-work and re-re-work their craft for innumerable hours till they have something that is good enough to be put in public. There's no secret here: that's how it works. And it works just as well when you are attempting to craft a thesis too.

Now, I may not agree with everything that Gilbert mentions in her talk. Though the metaphor of the lil'spirit probably comfortably lying on the couch that's in my room makes me smile, I don't believe I could catch it with the left hand and type with the right hand. However, my half-African and half-Indian ancestry, along with my Buddhist beliefs do allow me to strongly have faith (yes, I always bet on faith because faith is the only thing that can never be undermined-- however many counter-arguments of alternative ways of thinking you may want to put against) in a universe that conspires to bring me what I need in a particular space and time. Cringe if you want: all these years spent studying Enlightenment philosophy and swearing by the name of Kant, and here I am having esoteric beliefs that I had when I was 17 years old! I do ask myself: if there is any form of Enlightenment to be obtained in human life, why does this "light" need to come from that same supposedly-universal human reason: a rationality that is not so rational de par its contradictions, and let's not forget that this "universal reason" has constantly failed and still entails blood being poured into our oceans and lands on a daily basis.

If the universe conspires, I conspire with it. With almost two years of research, the writing ought to have been as sublime as it has been over the past week. It is part of the pact between my subjectivity, faith, the way I act upon this faith, what I believe in and what I love, and the rest of the universe that allows things to fall into place when they least look like they will. But I've hit the wall? Yes, I've hit the wall and if we remember Buddhist philosophy, everything is transient and there is not point craving a presence or desiring an absence. As Gilbert puts it, all I can do is sit, be at the rendez-vous, and do my work.

One last note: having been (trained as) a dancer for a number of years, I know so well what Gilbert means when she says that the dancer transcends space and time, and becomes the dance. (I even wrote a sonnet on it almost three years ago: here.) It suddenly struck me when I heard Gilbert: Can the writer ever transcend the moment of writing and become the words, become the text itself?

Link to the video here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

L'Impasse [fiction fragment]

[I haven't been blogging much, and maybe that's a good sign: I've been writing my thesis and I should be done with one chapter in the next couple of days. Though rather slow, things are looking up. Writing has never felt as smooth and pleasant as it is nowadays. It's almost flowing out of me, though I think it ought to, after almost two years of research! And since I haven't been blogging much, I thought I would post a fiction fragment-- something I haven't done in months now! I didn't take the time to rework this piece, so please feel free to tell me what you think.]

It was in one of those narrow alleys, une impasse, as we call it back home that I met him. Une impasse, a dead-end road with houses flanked on the two sides, like think paint fallen from the drunken brush of Jackson Pollock: some big, some small, some rich, some poor, some painted in blue while others barely stood erect with the grey of the unpainted bricks showing the scar of their misery: of what went on in there, of the untold stories whom everybody knew about, the arrack, the creaking of wooden beds in the peak of the night, the unwanted pregnancies, the broken bottles... And then there were the barriers between those houses: the weak bushes of bamboo stick, the grey bricks, yet again, misery hiding behind misery, and some of the walls were built out of wealthy rocks, boulder over boulder, maroon over brown over grey over red... Sometimes, there were lawns or garages or flowers in small earthen pots. The narrow alleys, with their dead-ends, where neighbours spoke across the walls, where the kids played on the road in the crisp summer heat, where dogs roamed around and barked at strangers at night, where two cars could not pass each other without one giving in, parking its metal structure to the side to let the other pass by...

... It was in one of those narrow alleys that I met him. "Une impasse with its dead-end," I thought and out of all the possible places, out of all the open spaces of an island, this is where I had to come face to face with him. Ibrahim, my first lover. He had changed now: he was taller, his shoulders square and broader and he walked with the confident swing of men who've proved they could use their penis, and use it well. He also wore a thick beard and the playfulness in his eyes had given way to something serious, something adult, something that betrayed responsibility. I thought of our first embraces, him nineteen years old, and I, just a few months younger. I thought about his clumsiness, of his tongue like a wet towel on my neck, of the ways he would kick me and twist my arms and crush me-- unintentionally so-- of how it pained when he pushed himself in me. It'd be painful just the first time, he said, and yet, it was as painful the next time and the next time and the next... I wondered whether his experienced beard now made him a better lover.

Out of all the streets of our small town, I had to meet him in that impasse. Our affair had lasted a few months, beginning with intensity, with the assertion of lust, desire and promises we both knew we couldn't keep; it was in many ways like the robust grasp that he had on my body: audacious and confident like a square brick that wouldn't smash itself on a tar road, even when thrown from the seventh floor. Soon, however, it waded into tediousness and shallow confusions giving both of us the dreamlike sense characteristic of afternoon naps in tropical islands-- somewhere between the real and the unreal, a bit like a ghost too weak to do its haunting.

I looked at him, he looked at me. Our eyes crossed, he looked down. He looked up again and smiled: "Hey!" and that was it. He walked away with a swing that didn't seem so confident anymore. I stood there, looking at that impasse, looking as the world it summoned. I thought of my own feelings, six years later, and here I was, with a heart that still felt like a dead-end road, claustrophobic, caught in the same impasse that my body was in.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Husbands and Husbands [and that's why we love kids!]

This video has been traveling fast on various blogs from the Better Blogging Bureau of Queer Canada (I like calling it this, but simply call it Queer Canada Blogs if you want!) So I thought I would share this video here too, though I am doing it for different reasons.

Lil'Gemmy, my nine year old gem of a house-mate (whom his brothers and I have been co-parenting four days a week, by the way, but this will come in another post later on) told me the other day that he felt very sad that I wouldn't be able to have children of my own in the future if I decided to get married to another man. He said he found it sad that two men couldn't have babies and he thought there should be some medico-techonological invention to allow them to carry babies. (I took it as a compliment and as a sign that I have been doing well in my co-parenting duties and with helping him with his math homework and with putting him in bed and reading him a story on and off etc.)

This child surprises me, for last December, when Mr Sculptor came to visit me, he actually asked his mum whether he was boyfriend. To this, his mum replied that he'd better ask me himself, and the next day, he came in the kitchen and happily asked me: "So, did your friend sleep over last night?!!" Ah, kids!

Here's the video:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Danger of a Single Story [your saturday night video]

For those of you who, like me, on a Saturday night, may be sticking to themselves and the privacy of their bedrooms and/or may be stuck to a study table doing work and/or may be living in the spectral company of the virtual web instead of a more real one, here is a video that you may want to spend 20 minutes on during your coffee break. [Dare I say that it's the equivalent of an intellec(tex)tual quickie?]

It's the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaking about "The Danger of a Single Story." Her talk is very serious, yet playful, but above all it's nuanced and subtle and she provides a whole range of ways of engaging with 'a single story' in different contexts and settings without taking a preach-like tone, which is something that I admire. I've been thinking about it more and more these days: How does a brown me who does post-colonial work, being from an island midway between (post-)colonial Africa and (post-)colonial South-Asia speak of colonialism in its various forms-- old and new, small and big-- without falling into a blanketing binary? Without sounding self-righteous? Without sounding preachy? Or maybe without even sounding angry? [To that, add my idiosyncracies and quirks which include being an opinionated, almost arrogant kid with strong opinions that I like spitting out etc.]

What I like about Chinmamanda Adichie's talk, amongst others, is that she does not speak to a (white) audience in order to trigger some form of white-guilt in her listeners (call it colonial guilt, call it gender guilt, call it whatever you want.) Her tone and anecdotes are much more shaded and elegant. I think she really inspired me. So you can also watch the video by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jason Kenney Strikes Back: Canadian Citizenship & Immigration Minister Removes LGBT Rights from 'Citizenship Guide'

  "I plead guilty, I'm a racist." -- Jason Kenney, Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

Back in October 2009, during a visit at McGill University, Jason Kenney brushed off questions from a group of activists by replying with a tinge of sarcasm: "I plead guilty, I'm racist." He clearly walked away with it: Isn't humor often the best way to brush off issues one does not want to face?

Kenney hit the headlines again today as it was revealed that he blocked any reference to LGBT rights in a new study guide for immigrants applying for Canadian citizenship. Canada decriminalized homosexuality in 1969, was the forth country to legalize same-sex marriage (in 2005), has been a haven for numerous same-sex couples from the USA and other parts of the world over the past few years, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Jason Kenney who strongly fought against same-sex marriage back in 2005 removed references to LGBT rights in the new version of the citizenship study guide, 500 000 copies of which will be printed and made available for applicants as from the 15th of March 2010. Kenney explained that he could not possibly include every moment of Canadian history and legal reforms in the guide.

Gay rights groups are outraged by Kenney's decision, particularly because Kenney said in December 2009 that the omission was an "oversight" and that it would be fixed. (Read more here.)

To read the full report on the issue, please click here.
To read about Kenney's visit at McGill university, please click here.