Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Strip away the Tuxedo

I am enjoying History of Sexuality course and it is pretty laidback so far. The readings, while short, are pretty thought-provoking. Last week, we read a paper by Halperin that said that by treating "sexuality" as a part of our identities that have always existed, we are being historically inaccurate. As justification, he cited the sexual hierarchy of the Greeks. In ancient Athens, there were two classes of people: citizens (men) and non-citizens (women, children/youths, slaves). Sexual practices in Athens occured between a citizen and non-citizen, whether the non-citizen was a woman or a boy, and the citizen was always the penetrative one. There was no usage of the terms gay/straight/homosexual/heterosexual, nor did the Greeks find anything inherently different if a citizen preferred to have sex with boys instead of women - it was an accepted practice. Their sexual practices were simply a manifestation of the way Athenian politics were set up and were in no part constitutive of their identity. In our current society, it's the opposite: our sexual practices are seen to affect our politics and our identity.

Reading Halperin's paper did make me think. Why do we view sexuality as a core part of our identities? When I meet someone, I almost immediately tell them "I'm gay". Why is it so important that it is one of the first things I tell them?

For instance, I frequently feel very out of touch with the with the gay community. Maybe it's my introverted and ruminative nature, but I feel distant from others I've met who are very active in uniting the queer community and countering homophobia and prejudice. (That is not to say that I feel like their work is unimportant—of course not!)

Moreover, I don't think "I am gay" even fully describes my sexual desires and practices, nor does it fully define my idea of love or romance. In fact when I first discovered that I was gay, I didn't even use that word. I told my friend "I think I don't like girls". But maybe over time, I have chosen to take on the gay identity when it is necessary. After all, it would be very frustrating to have had to tell my parents "I partially identify as gay, though I think of myself as gay basically I want to make a political statement". Besides, saying "I'm gay" is basically the most energy-efficient way of telling people and that 1) I'm looking for a male partner and that 2) I like to subvert the norm.

But is being gay really an important part of my identity? In the past I've sometimes thought that coming out to myself was the defining moment in my life—that it made me see things that I was unable to see before, that I was finally "becoming my true self" somehow. But maybe it's not the gay identity that helped me to do this; maybe at that moment I simply realized the cultural constraints that were embedded inside me, and subsequently I resolved to subvert these society norms and that helped form my identity. After all, as an aspiring writer, I really want to create something new and challenge people's perceptions of different forms and ideas. So I think having my own way of thinking and doing things is more important to me than being gay and that in a way, I identify as gay because it helps identity of being contrary to the norm.

Recently there have been a few things going on that just makes me feel not exactly depressed, but... a bit blue. It's the same feeling as the one I was feeling before; so many things are going on that I cannot change and have no control of. For instance, at the end of my sexuality classes, I start thinking about how there are so many other ways of viewing ourselves, but many of us are stuck in thinking with just one way. I really do wish that more people could view gender and sexuality as being more fluid, and perhaps as something that might not even be a fundamental part of us.

I sometimes think about all the guys on craigslist claiming that they're straight, yet seek a guy to fool around with... (there are MANY. If you don't believe me, go to the "men for men" section on Craigslist.) Somehow it hurts, to see them vehemently declaring that they are straight, to imagine them locking up their truest feelings in favour of living a "normal life". If only we could just totally strip away this notion of being "straight" or "gay".

I've been listening to LeAnn Rimes' CD, Family, lately. In one of the songs, she sings
"I will learn to let go of what I cannot change.
I will learn to forgive what I cannot change.
I will learn to love what I cannot change,
but I will change, I will change
whatever I, whatever I can."

And so I will learn to let go of what I can't change. I tell myself that when they—those guys—grow older, they will discover that they don't need to label themselves and don't need to conform to what they perceive the norm to be.

After all, when they stand at the altar in a tuxedo with hundreds of people looking up to them, maybe they'll feel that there's some discrepancy between what they're expected to live up to and what they can do. Maybe they will discover that they cannot keep hurting themselves and the people around them, and that something is missing from their lives. I can only hope.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Went to the Queer Orientation Meet and Greet yesterday.

I felt a bit awkward. Maybe it was because I was too tired, or maybe it's just the nature of these kinds of events. Then again, awkwardness is my middle name, so no surprises there. In any case, I was talking to a group of four guys in the room. One of them was a CompSci major and the other was an engineering major, and the CompSci major said something to the extent of, "Oh, when I first saw you, you looked really lost, and I was wondering what you were doing in the room since you looked like a very heterosexual male. Not to say that you're not welcome here since we're very open and welcoming." The hell?

The other guy replied, "Well, it's complicated." We then somehow veered to the topic of religion; the engineer said he was Catholic and then the CompSci major started challenging his religion and asking him about his stance and abortion. The CompSci major was like, "Well I can't respect people who don't speak up."

I just turned around and went to talk to other people because there'd already had a big debate on Sunday, for SEC training, and I was tired of feeling tension in the room. Honestly, I am all for speaking out and sticking up for your beliefs, but the engineer wasn't even pushing his beliefs onto others; he had the courage to come to an LGBTQ event and was clearly searching for his identity and his place in the sexual spectrum, but instead got interrogated about his religion and his perceived "ungayness".

I did meet a lot of cool people though, so I'm happy about that. Saw Bryan again and met some of his friends as well :).

I'm also happy about my poetry class, which is really shaping up. We read two poems in class today. When my Prof reached the last word of the poem, the hairs on the back of my neck started standing up.
This is Just to Say
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

--William Carlos Williams
Looks like poetry and I are going to have a good relationship this term.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I found out yesterday that a childhood friend of mine died. She lived really close to me.

I... don't know what to say... especially because I know that her family must be going through so much pain and grief at the moment. But my lack of power eats at me. When I hear something as unexpected as this, what can I actually do? I'm powerless...

Dear Amy,
I'm sorry if I was ever mean to you... I know I probably was when I was younger.
Remember how when we were younger we'd always joke around? You'd always call me "somebody" and I'd nickname you "nobody"? Well, I was wrong, you weren't a nobody and I'm the biggest jerk in the world for having called you that. You were always so kind to me and I am sure your kindness touched many people.
I remember the week my mom went back to Hong Kong, my sis and I were at your house and we'd watching VeggieTales and have pillow fights by the staircases, and play Mario on your GameBoy. We watched VeggieTales so many times that we memorized the lyrics to their songs. I'll miss those times.
I remember seeing you periodically in the library at ACCI, reading. You'd say hi and we'd talk a bit and then get back to studying or reading. I'm sorry I didn't get to know you better.
I'll miss your sincerity and your smile...
Godspeed and rest in peace, Amy.

In my poetry class on Thursday, my Professor told me that she still remembered the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She walked into her class and told them "I'm sorry... I'm really not ready to give a lecture, and I really don't know why I'm here at the moment."

Some students raised their hands and said, "Professor, we know why we're here. We want you to read us some poetry." Her students' words were what brought her back to her senses, and together they began to read some poetry.

They wanted their worlds to be reconstructed after they had been shattered so abruptly. And my Prof argued that poetry does not necessarily represent or reflect the real world ("Universe"), but instead recreates it and sheds to us light and energy.

And although I know I am not as affected by Amy's death as people who were closer to her, I feel somehow shattered. Powerless, in the face of what I know others have to face. Today, I went to SEC training and there was a speaker on oppression, and I started feeling so powerless as well -- there are so many factors and complexities surrounding oppression, how can it ever stop? And I started thinking about how I am probably pretty well off financially; I feel so powerless when I think of how my best friend is always struggling with money.

Like my Prof, I don't know why I'm here, either. I don't know why I continue on with school and I don't what I am to do afterwards. I just hope that I will have enough power to change things, to change lives. But at the same time I can't help thinking that I would ever have the power to change something like this. Right now, I feel hopeless.

So, dear world, read me some poetry,
And, dear poetry, rebuild my world,
recolor my light.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

History of Sex Class

I just attended my last class, History of Sexuality. It was so awesome.

Here's a survey of the words that came up in the class at least once: fucking, sucking, shooting his load, ejaculating, cum, porn, vagina, arousal, breasts, kink, fetish, foot fetish, masochism (mm, hot), fantasy, masturbation, gonads (lol), libido, perversion, power exchange, incest, monogamy, autoeroticism, voyeurism, stripping, barebacking, etc.

In other words, this is my type of course. Besides, we're reading Lesbian smut in class as a text. LESBIAN SMUT! I'm gay, but still. SMUT!

The prof is hilarious, young, cute, and an engaging speaker. Here are rough quotes:
"The McGuinty government canceled their newly proposed sex ed curriculum because people were afraid that two-year olds were going to turn into kinderwhores."

"Cultural norms often dictate what legitimate sex is. A couple can talk to their grandparents or any random person and say 'We're trying to have a baby', which explicitly means that they are having unprotected sex, and the man is putting his penis inside her vagina, entering her, ejaculating in her, whatever, and their act will be seen as a wonderful and beautiful thing. If a man tells the same someone that his boyfriend slept over last night, that person might already say 'Too much information'. Not to mention that if they had unprotected anal sex, people would frown down on it and call it 'barebacking'."
The Prof then started a bit of the course material, which was about Freud. Freud argued that when children are potty-trained, they are TAUGHT shame and humiliation, and learn how to repress their desires. They learn that civilization is based on repressing and without holding pleasure. Or, in my Prof's words, "Children are not born with shame. Children shit when they're in a room with 10 other people and then they laugh about it."

This is interesting, because I feel like our society is so governed by shame at the moment. My friends always tell me to be fearless, but I'd go one step further than that. Be shameless. Don't be ashamed of anything you are, feel, do, or think. Don't be ashamed of your body, voice, movements. Don't be ashamed of your desires, no matter what they are. (Of course, I wouldn't go as far as shitting in the lecture hall or something, but you know what I mean.) Shame is taught. We can sever most of our ties with it, everyone.

Honestly, the most refreshing lecture I have sat in in a while.

I forgot to mention though, today I had many "facepalm moments".

First of all, the guy I sat beside in poetry started telling me about poetic terms. Oh, please. I do not care that you were from an IB program. Don't tell me about how much you studied over the summer. Do you have hobbies and a life?

Also, in Quantum Mech I had the biggest facepalm moment ever. The course has one tutorial and you either sign up for the 2 pm or 3 pm session, but some people had conflicts. The Prof said, "Who has conflicts with a tutorial session at both 2 pm and 3 pm? Would you still have a conflict if I added a tutorial session at 4 pm?" A guy raised his hand and said "Sir, I would have a conflict but I can still make the 3 pm session."

...Whoever thought physics majors were smarter than English majors in general obviously didn't know very many physics majors.

Afterwards, went to the TBA audition, which was horrible. Let's not talk about it. However, around the audition area there was this cute guy from UTM, first-year commerce; his name was Charles, he was wearing a red cap, T-shirt and shorts, think he was from Hong Kong. He was cute and he had these beautiful shoulders. No, I'm serious. He was skinny but his shoulders were angular and they just looked really nice. Wish I asked for his number, or Facebook. Hope he never reads this though.

EDIT: Apparently, this post led to my blog being blocked from access at the Physics computer labs...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

First Day of School

I know I shouldn't judge my classes/profs based on first impressions, but I will anyway. It's way too fun.

Partial Differential Equations - The prof had a small accent, but she still talked quite well and seems to be an engaging prof. Not much to say about this course, went through a bit of review ("What is a PDE?" etc.)

Classical Electrodynamics - The prof speaks fast but is actually... quite cute (though he is a young guy in physics, and for some reason I find a lot of young physicists quite cute). He spoke pretty quickly and ended the class thirty minutes early; I somehow feel that it might have been because he didn't really prepare for the first lecture. I mean, he could've easily started reviewing material from second year, or even just vector calculus. Still, looking forward to this class.

Biography and Autobiography - I actually enjoyed the first lecture quite a lot. The prof asked "Who are biographies written about?" and "Who are not written about?" which I found interesting. After some discussion in class we concluded that biographies are written about people who are somehow "different" and stand out (celebrities, political figures, artists), and/or valuable to society (or the opposite, e.g. murderers). Biographies are NOT written about the average working person. Why? Because 1) there is no market for it, since people aren't interested in reading the life of an average person, and 2) the average person's life is not really well-documented. She said that when approaching biographies, people unconsciously consider current cultural norms and social values. For some reason both these points kind of nagged at me. The class seems laid-back/easy, and the grading scheme kind of sketchy (got the easiest assignment ever; it's worth 5%), but it will be interesting to see what else she has to say during the year. I was thinking of replacing this course with Complex Analysis, but I'm leaning towards not replacing it now. But I'll wait until Wednesday, when I attend Complex Analysis, to decide.

Reading Poetry - The prof spoke quite slowly. She also said "the only kind of person who should be taking this course are English majors and specialists" which I felt was really biased. With people caring less about literature these days, she should be happy if people in other fields want to broaden their education. I'm sure the physics department would let anyone take their courses if they were interested. She also kept trying to tell the class how to learn, which was annoying. We're in University now; we either know how to study or ought to figure out ourselves how to study. The grading scheme seems kind of sketchy (20% for an in-class essay? Really? Is sketchiness a criterion for the grading schemes of English courses?), but getting to know more poetry is one of my goals, so I'm going to try to stick this course out and hopefully she won't drive me crazy. Hopefully the increased exposure to poetic forms and poems will be enlightening enough.

Quantum Mechanics - The Prof was like, scarily thin. He also rambled quite a bit and went off on random tangents. He taught quite slowly, yet by the end of the class Cassie and I were both confused. I hope this will turn out to be a good class, but so far all the other ones seem more engaging...

One more class to go; I'll edit it in here when I've attended it. So far, so good, considering my lost faith in education in general (what I have I actually learned in the last two years? Like, nothing...). All my classes seem pretty laid-back this year. I feel like I might even have a little too much free time. Maybe I could get a job again... but then I'd be so stressed.

Oh yeah, I also went to the Onoscatopeia (Hart House Jazz Choir) open rehearsal. We sang Billy Joel's "The Longest Time" and this song with weird harmonies called "Smile". It was really fun. For some reason when I sing in a choir I feel validated; I just feel like I'm part of a group and that I'm part of something greater. But I'd have to make the club to continue with the meetings. I don't know if I am good enough. I recorded myself singing and I didn't sound that good; plus, there are only 18-20 spaces so it's really competitive. I want to get in but realistically (I'm not being pessimistic, I'm usually optimistic!) I know I probably won't.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

yes is a pleasant country

yes is a pleasant country:
if's wintry
(my lovely)
let's open the year

both is the very weather
(not either)
my treasure,
when violets appear

love is a deeper season
than reason;
my sweet one
(and april's where we're)

-e. e. cummings

Reading List

My goal is to read or reread at least 25 books by the end of summer. I might write reviews or reflections on some of these books. Wish me luck!

1) The Year of the Flood - Margaret Atwood (Jun. 28 - 30)
2) Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic - Alison Bechdel (Jul. 1 - 4)
3) A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin (Jul. 5 - 9)
4) Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood (Jul. 9 - 12)
5) Watchmen - Alan Moore (Jul. 12 - 15)
6) Who Do You Think You Are? - Alice Munro (Jul. 16 - 21)
7) Intuition - Allegra Goodman (Jul. 22 - 28)
8) The Robber Bride - Margaret Atwood (Jul. 28 - Aug. 2)
9) The Color Purple - Alice Walker (Aug. 7 - 9) 
10) Cathedral - Raymond Carver (Aug 17 - 20)
11) Morning in the Burned House - Margaret Atwood poetry (Finished Aug. 21)
12) Troll: A Love Story - Johanna Sinisalo (Aug. 29 - 30)

My Family and Other Animals - Gerry Durrell
Selected Poems - e. e. cummings, edited by Richard S. Kennedy
Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing - Margaret Atwood
Ariel - Sylvia Plath

Want to Read
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Moral Disorder - Margaret Atwood
Such a Long Journey - Rohinton Mistry
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
His Dark Materials trilogy - Philip Pullman
The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin
Lord of the Rings trilogy - J. R. R. Tolkien
The Call of the Wild - Jack London
Hamlet/Macbeth - Shakespeare
The Solitude of Prime Numbers - Paolo Giordano
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
What We All Long For - Dionne Brand
Downtown Canada: Writing Canadian Cities - Justin D. Edwards, Douglas Ivison (editors)

Books that I have started, but am taking an indefinite break on
Atonement - Ian McEwan
Close Range - Annie Proulx

Short Stories/Pieces that I want to read
"The Dead" - James Joyce
"A Field of Wheat" - Sinclair Ross
"The Second Strongest Man" - David Bezmozgis
"Wedding Gift" - Thomas Randall
"Bread" - Michael Crummey
Descarte's Discourse