gay

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Katya Hammered and Sickled My Heart to Pieces

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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. 

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

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

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

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

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Now serving: rebellious illegitimate daughter of Ayn Rand realness.

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

New City

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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.

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“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.

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“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.”

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

Rise Headless and Ride: A Book Review

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I picked up the Kindle version of this book last fall in a fit of autumnal yearning for American folklore. For growing up in the southern USA, I think I have a decent grasp of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. I’ve seen bits of the animated film, and I’ve even seen a couple of live theater performances of it. Fortunately, if you’re not as cultured as I (Ha!), the original short story is included with the novel if you need to catch up.

Rise and Headless and Ride, by Richard Gleaves, was released in 2013. It tells the story of a young man, Jason Crane, as he moves to Tarrytown, New York, or more famously Sleepy Hollow. There he explores the legend and its characters, and finds some startling truths about it, and about himself.

The plot surrounding Jason’s investigation of the Sleepy Hollow legend is interesting, especially if you’ve an interest in the tale already, but for me the true strength of the novel lies in its characters.

I’m always a fan of good characters and this novel offers that in abundance. The tight, effective plotting requires only a handful of characters, and the main ones especially are well motivated and realized.

My favorite is Liza, the main character’s grandmother. Her eager perspective on life despite her age actually reminds me of someone I knew, which made her really jump off the page. Even if she is a mere construct for the purpose of the plot, she seems like a plausible figure who is seamlessly stitched into the story.

The main antagonist for the story is a joy to dislike. He isn’t some apologetic, morally gray figure. No, he is unabashedly unethical, manipulative, and he knows it. It is completely within his power to be otherwise, but he chooses his path, and for the purpose of the plot, he is a conducive catalyst for dramatic conflict.

Also, there are a couple of gay characters in the book. As a gay person myself, it was refreshing to see. What was really great, however, is that these aren’t just token gay people who were injected to create an illusion of diversity. They had their own motives and drama that existed outside of the main character, and actually wound up enhancing the main conflict.

Even more, each of the gay characters provides a different perspective on what it’s like to be a gay teenager, without being stereotypical or satirizing. Being gay isn’t the overwhelming quality about them, but neither is it some superficial addition that the author made to garner extra points.

Overall, I get a positive impression from the book that reminds me of a really great pilot episode of a promising TV series. The comparison to television is not meant to be demeaning. Outside of novels, television in the past several years has provided some of the best writing of both story and characters.

There is a good degree of restraint applied to this story. Not everything is explained all at once. Elements are left to simmer and develop. The right moments are allowed to happen, while even more dramatic things grow in the background. The novel concludes intensely, and cleanly, but it beckons you for more.

At the novel’s start, we are introduced to a world that strongly resembles our own, but by the end we are escorted into new and surreal territory. This kind of transition is not often done so smoothly, with many authors being quite blunt about it.

One last thing that surprised me was that the novel is listed as Young Adult Horror. This isn’t a bad surprise. In fact, I didn’t really feel like I was reading a young adult novel. What I mean by this is, don’t let that category deter you. There is much to enjoy here.

Its sequel, Bridge of Bones, was also just released in October of 2014.  It’s exiting to see that there is more to come.

Image from Goodreads.