gay

Does Ang Lee’s “The Wedding Banquet” Break Backs?

image

Once I was old enough, I spent my summer breaks at home instead of having to go to a day care. My parents both worked, so I wound up spending many of those days home alone. While I did have chores that needed doing and friends that I could see, most of my day was spent doing whatever I liked, and it was my first taste of independence.  

One summer day while flipping through channels, I came across this movie that showed a Chinese wedding. While they were dressed in western clothes, they were engaging in various wedding games that seemed foreign to me based on the Southern weddings I had attended up to that point.

I must have continued searching channels, but upon returning I was transfixed by what I saw. Two men entered an apartment and began to kiss, tear at each other’s clothes, and they were practically undressed by the time they got up stairs, where they unexpectedly found one of the men’s father. They proceeded to discreetly dress and tend to the older man’s health, hoping he hadn’t heard their discourse that would have led to intercourse.

image

While I had had my own experiences of this nature despite my youth (which is a long story on its own…), this was my first time seeing this in a film or in any way depicted on TV. I immediately identified with their need for secrecy, their fear of discovery, their worry of disappointing family. Basically, that was all reality for me and my young mind was both exhilarated at the chance to see other people, albeit fictional, with whom I could identify, and deathly afraid that this would also be the tragic path my life would follow because of being gay.

The movie was 1993’s “The Wedding Banquet,” by Ang Lee who is also known for “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” and that other famous gay flick “Brokeback Mountain.”

The film is about a Taiwanese man who is living his life as a gay American openly and happily with his partner in New York City. Half a world away in his homeland, his family is constantly harping on him about getting married, going so far as to send potential brides to visit him. Eventually, this pressure builds to the point where Wai’s partner Simon suggests that he marry a Taiwanese tenant Wei Wei, who fears her time in America will soon end with deportation if she can’t find a job or a man.

The marriage of convenience turns out to be anything but when Wai’s parents insist on coming to visit America for the wedding. One thing leads to another in a comical way until finally the deception begins to break down everyone involved. While the truth of the matter is not easy to accept or divulge, it turns out to be for the best.

The obvious themes of being gay and coming out are apparent here, and they’re explored thoughtfully. They are also paired with the cultural ramifications. While it is Taiwanese customs that are challenged by Wai’s homosexuality, it’s easy to switch out any culture, even an American one, and the story’s applicability stands.

Wai’s scene coming out  to his mother is genuine, even considering the early 90’s setting. The difficulties he describes gay people have finding relationships when even straight people have a hard time are headed breaking, and his explanation that he was “born this way” rings true even decades before Lady Gaga made it a tagline. When Wai’s father comes out in his own way, telling Simon that he knows about them and that he just wants to make sure his son is taken care of, I cried. It was beautiful and simple.

And that is probably the film’s greatest strength, aside from its clever writing: the endearing characters. Every single one gets into your soul in some way. In fact, none of them are antagonists in a major way as much as they are all struggling against the situation. In that sense, you get a chance to understand each one, and that’s where they get to you, and you can feel what they are all going through.

While Ang Lee is more well known for “Brokeback Mountain” and its challenge to American culture in particular made it more controversial and famous, I feel like I prefer the tone of “The Wedding Banquet”.  While the inherent warning of the former suggests that America’s steadfast adherence to traditional masculinity and heterosexuality can indeed be back-breaking and life-shattering, the latter shows the benefits benefits of cultural progress, even if the price is accepting an emerging culture that has very little precedent.

image

Even more outstanding is that all is this was done in a time when marriage equality was unthinkable, even though gay marriage itself is not addressed. It’s just a shame that the themes explored in this film may not have appealed to a 90’s crowd that was still reeling from the AIDS crisis.

When I was explaining to my own partner last week about this film and how it still resonated with me, I was surprised that he knew what I was talking about (he doesn’t watch as many movies as I do) and produced a copy of it for us to watch. Finally watching it in its entirety bright back a flood of old feelings that I could more easily handle now that I can deal with that aspect if my life.

I am glad to say that my own life has turned out similarity to this film. While I had my own phase of being closeted, hiding from my parents who I really am, the truth has finally come out for us all. Like Wai, I have my own partner and my parents know him and see that I’m happy. It could have turned it much worse, and for many others the characters of “Brokeback Mountain” are an unfortunate reality. Perhaps “The Wedding Banquet” may be more of what we will see in the world.

While it may have been a naive fantasy back in the 90’s, the film is now truer to life. That is as much a testament to how our society has developed as it is to Ang Lee’s ability to capture this particular slice of life, what it’s like to be gay, and to find acceptance.

Katya Hammered and Sickled My Heart to Pieces

image

Since first viewing Rupaul’s Drag Race, I have become voraciously engaged with the show. It’s a sad truth that a reality television show has done this to me, but I have no qualms about this. Unlike other shows of this nature, Drag Race doesn’t exploit its subjects, and in fact it does a lot to elevate drag queens, who have long been the mascots and sometimes scapegoats of the gay community, to a more accepted status.

Every season brings an assortment of entertainers with various quirks, looks, and wit. While some are not easy to like, most grow on me one way or another, kind of like cancer. This season I am replete with Katya tumors and, oh my god, it’s stage four and it’s so, so, so sickening.

While her time on the show has, tragically, ended there is plenty in the future to look forward to from my favorite bisexual Russian hooker. While I longed to see Katya take the crown, or at least make the top three, a queen like her doesn’t need to win this show to make it out in the real world. Several queens from past seasons have become wildly popular without winning, and some winning queens have faded to relative obscurity (erm… Hello, Tyra?).

My main reason for wanting Katya to have made it farther is that she was my favorite part of every episode. Her personality, humor, and gloriously strange presentation gave me life the house down. Now that she has sashayed away, maybe I can start to recover, but I’d really rather not.

Cheers to Katya and her future. I’ll try to get by for the rest of the season without her. I really don’t care who wins anymore. At least I don’t have to watch her make the top three and *not* get crowned.

Here are some moments, of an infinite many, that trace the route my heart followed when it fell head over heels in love with this special queen. 

image

When she walked into the workroom the first time, I was singing “Love at First Sight” like Kylie Minogue.

image

This slow split was just everything. I. Was. Gagging.

image

Katya was so full of quips, quibbles, and quotes that she put Bianca Del Rio’s rolodex of hate to shame.

image

When she broke down and confided with Miss Fame about her addiction struggles, I broke down too.

image

Now serving: rebellious illegitimate daughter of Ayn Rand realness.

image

Really though… He’s an impishly cute little man.

New City

image

My boyfriend booted up Sim City the other day and started building a new city from scratch. As he did so, he saw that I was watching and sheepishly said, “I never come up with names for my cities. I always leave them named ‘New City’.  I’m not that creative.”

He frowned at his perceived awkwardness and started laying roads and power plants and zones and pipes.

So I said, “There was an ancient culture called the Phoenicians. They lived in city states on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea near modern Syria and Lebanon. They were renowned mariners and even invented the alphabet that is the basis for the one we now use.

image

“They had a rivalry with the ancient Greeks and established colonies all around the Mediterranean coast. Their most prosperous one was called Carthage. When the Phoenician cities were conquered and subjugated into other empires, Carthage was left on its own.

“Carthage eventually became a great power and, similar to the Phoenician rivalry with the Greeks, the Carthaginians had a rivalry with the Romans. After a series of fierce wars, and despite its maritime prowess and economic superiority, Carthage was eventually subdued by the Romans.

image

“Despite being conquered, the city of Carthage has a rich legacy. Many modern cities, like Cadiz and Cartagena in Spain, can trace their roots to Carthage.

“By the way, the name Carthage comes from the Phoenician name Qart-hadast.

“That translates to New City.”

By this time, his town had begun to develop nicely. He smiled and said, “I like that story.”

Crush or Squish?

We all have little crushes every now and then. Occasionally there are those big ones that seem to consume us with desperate longing and poetically appropriate heartache. Growing up and struggling with being gay, I had more than my fair share of these episodes ranging from brief flavor of the week types to years long infatuations.

I kept these feelings to myself and the process became a deeply personal way of reconciling my sexuality. Eventually, when I started my arduous process of coming out, I began to share these feelings with close friends which allowed me to open up to act more confidently on them rather than shy away. 

Flashforward to now, and I am in a relationship that is mature, long term, and absolutely real. No fantasies.  No unrequited love. No pining away for someone distant.

Having been with my significant other for almost three years now, that other part of my mind has been dormant. It’s not really a necessary component anymore, is it?  My boyfriend and I still share pictures with each other of celebrities we think are hot (Hello, Dan Osbourne!). We even mention coworkers and acquaintances whom we find attractive or otherwise endearing, but in a completely honest and non-competitive way that stands as an example of the trust and respect we have for each other.

image

We are both men who like men, and finding beauty or quality in men is something we have in common, but our committed relationship is the foremost thing we have in common.

Having said all of that, very recently I have found that old mechanism in my mind waking up and operating in a way I have never experienced before.

It started at a Halloween party for work. This particular party was hosted and organized by my department, but had company wide attendance.  I happened to chat up a younger guy who had the cleverest costume. It was simple, but geeky and humorous.  Honestly, I had written off that experience as something to share with the boyfriend and that was that. 

image

Cute guy. Cute costume. Introductions and chatting with not even a whisper of flirtation. That was enough for me.

A few months later this guy joined my department. He learned quickly, advanced appropriately, and even now is ready to take a leadership role. In my time working with him during our meetings throughout the week, I found him to be friendly, professional, and courteous. He was confident, but still humble, and he proved to be a popular and pivotal member of the team.

Were I ten years younger, I thought, he would totally be the type I would crush on. Then I realized, almost horrifyingly, I had actually developed a crush on him.

image

Having not had a crush in so long, I was out of touch with how this worked.  I had a few panicked moments when I wondered if this signified a problem with my own relationship. It didn’t. I thought that maybe my feelings would go away as I got more familiar with him. They didn’t. Maybe I would learn something about him that I didn’t like. I didn’t.

What did happen, however, was a change of my feelings over time. I never truly had any deeply romantic feelings, such as  us running off into the sunset together. Nor was there anything sexual sparking, even if I noticed occasionally that his hair was coiffed in a particularly handsome way, or that certain pairs of pants fit quite well in certain areas.

Furthermore, I’ve never been into younger guys, and it was obvious that the world was his oyster. With everything in his exciting future ripe for him to pick, surely there were better things available to him besides some (slightly) older guy pawing after him. Besides, I had that happen to me when I was younger, and it was exhausting despite being a bit flattering. I am no chickenhawk (look it up), after all.

Then again, maybe it’s because I’m older that I feel I could be able to provide him insight or any other kind of assistance as he navigates his early twenties in a way I wish I could have had.

I did feel something, however, I just didn’t know how to classify it. Thanks to Urban Dictionary, an increasingly useful resource for a late twenty-something like me who spends time with some younger people, I was able to find this term:

image

I instantly identified with this. The desire to get to know him, perhaps become friends, is something that racks my mind. While building a friendship is not something that may be prudent or professional at this time, at least I have deciphered my feelings enough on the matter not to feel so alarmed.

Perhaps our paths will run parallel to each other for some time yet, but when they diverge, I hope that it’s for the best for both of us. We may not be the next Xena and Gabrielle with something romantic implicitly growing between us, but whatever is between us will have to suffice at a platonic level.

image

The lack of a romantic component doesn’t make having a squish any easier, but I can’t help but wonder if knowing about the difference between a squish and a crush while I was growing up would have saved me from much drama and torment.

Who am I kidding? The torment is still there.

To Be Takei. Or Not To Be? That Is the Question.

image

Some of us are afraid to be defined by some of our own features. It’s easy to imagine ourselves in caricature, like my childhood self who was ashamed of the freckles and big front teeth that surely would have dominated a comic sketch of my face.

George Takei is someone who could easily have let his life define him. He could have been a gay Asian man too ashamed of his orientation to pursue acting, and too burdened by the memory of being imprisoned by his own country for being Japanese-American to strive for anything more than to avoid further instances of racism.

Instead, he is a well known actor, activist for marriage equality and gay rights, and a devoted husband to his partner of over two decades. That certainly doesn’t seem like a man avoiding who he is.

In my family, George Takei is a household name. Unlike other children born in the 80’s my first major Star Trek experience was the original series instead of The Next Generation. That’s what happens when you live in a foreign country and have a VCR and the entire show on VHS, you binge watch episodes like candy. This normal for me and my parents.

So when George Takei came out in 2005, it was definitely interesting news for us, especially me, since Sulu was a childhood hero of mine alongside Spock and the gang.  Over the years, I watched as George stood up time and again, leveraging his reputation to advance important causes for gay people.

The documentary does a good job relating all of these things, not so much in chronological order as much as it tries to connect all of George’s pursuits to the reasons behind his passions. His family’s internment in concentration camps during World War 2 is a major inspiration for his current endeavor, the musical Allegiance. There is also his sexual orientation, which he had to hide during his early acting career, like so many others in that time.

While the documentary doesn’t showcase very much that was new, that can be attributed to the fact that George Takei is already quite open about himself. One point that did come through quite well was his sense of optimism he said he has maintained throughout his life. While it doesn’t hurt to be successful, there is something to be said for how much he attributes his own success to this optimism.

The fact that he is an activist for the gay community also shows that he understands that his success is something he can leverage to aid others who share his struggles. I still remember when he called out my home state of Tennessee, which attempted to outlaw the usage of the word “gay” in public schools. While my state still lags behind in the rights it extends to LGBT people, his campaign of “It’s okay to be Takei” still gives hope that even the most conservative states will be unable to conserve the bigotry that they hold as sacred.

image

Overall, it was enjoyable to watch. George Takei has overcome racism and bigotry, has found success, love, and still makes time to pave the way for others to share in the opportunities he has had. This single documentary doesn’t make everything better for everyone, but perhaps it still serves as a beacon of hope for those languishing in the dark places where mysticism and hatred oppressively flourish.

Remembering that George Takei is a household name for me and my parents, as is everything Star Trek, it reminds me of when I noticed my father had liked George’s page on Facebook. This was before I had come out to my parents, and saw that my father, who had also grown up with Star Trek, had been able to look past race and sexuality  to have a good laugh every now and then from the hilarious content posted there. This gave me a inkling of the acceptance I would eventually get.

On the other hand, at a wedding several months later, after I had come out to my parents, I had an uncle of the backwards and conservative type come up and try to be chummy with me. The way he mentioned that my father and I followed “that George Takahashi-or-whatever-his-name-is” on Facebook was dripping with such racism and disdain that I realized some people will never wake up from their ignorance.

image

It is people like that who can make us want to hide, or even change who we are. However, we all have a chance to be who we want sooner or later. While it may seem difficult to accept those things about us that others seem to hate, it starts starts with ourselves. If we all retreated from the truth of who we are, then there would be no documentary that charts the achievements of George, and it wouldn’t be okay to be Takei.

Her Name Was Leelah

image

It’s tragic when someone dies.

It’s even more devastating when that death is a suicide.

When that act is committed by a young person, all of that is compounded exponentially.

Leelah Alcorn was a teenager who identified as transgender, who was transgender. Unfortunately, her religious, specifically Christian, family could not accept this. In their horror, they decided that their son who felt he was really a daughter should not accept this either.

That’s the thing about Christianity, if you don’t conform you are condemned. It is seen by Christians to be a righteous act to “save” someone by changing his or her nature to prevent condemnation.

This is how Leelah’s family reacted, by subjecting their child to religious based counseling. All they wound up doing is confirming that this type of therapy does not work. They broke their own child’s mind, and heart, and sense of life. Leelah decided to preserve what was left of herself by prematurely ending her life in order to avert more torture.

Many will judge Leelah for this, but no one has a place to do so. No one really knows for sure that things could have gotten better for her, so no one can say that she should have held on to such an unconfirmed potentiality.

The real regret is that Leelah is not alone. Many young people will suffer the same fate, but with much less awareness. Leelah’s desperate wish was that her death would mean something, and I’m attempting to do my part by sharing my sadness at her loss.

I didn’t know her personally, but I have felt similar pain. I am fortunate to find acceptance for being gay where she did not for being transgender, but I always feared that I wouldn’t either. In some ways, I still don’t have true acceptance, but those of us who are different have to take what we can get, because some of us, like Leelah, don’t get any.

I wish to extend with my words through this blog all the sympathy that I can to those like Leelah, living or otherwise, who are transgendered, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, or just different in any way that is especially challenging. It does not get better for everyone, as long as people like Leelah’s parents wreak their ignorant havok upon the innocent.

It is true that there are some who have come through the pain to see better days, but that is not a promise made that is always kept by fate. We still have a long way to go, and when we lose friends on the way, we have to remember that we fight for their equality as well as our own.

Image by pixel–speechbubbles on Tumblr.