16 October 2012

Movie Review: Two Weddings and a Funeral

I have seen a number of films on Korean gay life, but I think this is the most nuanced and uses the day to day hustle and bustle of Korean gay life as the backdrop to this tragi-comedy. The movie deals with the most difficult subject, coming out and being openly gay in homophobic, macho Korean culture, with humor -- and without caricature of gay life.

The short of this is that a gay guy marries a lesbian -- both have their reasons. The guy has some family and professional needs while the lesbian wants to adopt an orphan in her care. Both are medical doctors at the hospital. This arrangement seems to work out half-way well. The guy's mother drops in unannounced every so often and snoops around which creates stress. Then, the guy finds the love of his life -- his first real intimate relationship. The lesbian's life partner lives in the flat across the way while the guy's partner moves in. Everything is all and well until the nurses at the hospital start spreading gossip about the lesbian. Then the whole thing begins to unravel.

I have seen way too many coming out movies. In fact, there is a whole industry in Hollywood that churns these out made for cable coming out movies. But this is movie takes the whole thing to another level and does so in a way that personalizes the everyday struggles of gay society in Korea. This is another must see.

15 October 2012

Movie Review: It Gets Better ไม่ได้ขอให้มารั

I did not know what I was going to be watching except that there were going to be multiple stories about Thai gay life. This movie definitely has three stories and all involve transgenderism. The first is of the woman pictured above, an aging post-op transgender on a vacation to the bucolic Northern Thai country side. The second is of a young Thai man returning to Thailand from the US to deal with his recently deceased father's business. The third story is of a Thai adolescent who enters the monastery after his father catches him parading about the house in his dead mother's clothes.

These stories show the multiple facets of transgender life in Thailand from multiple angles and perspectives where sometimes gay and transgender blur and sometimes gay and transgender are in sharp relief, sometimes there are neither good nor bad guys and sometimes there are good and bad guys. Most importantly it sheds light on the complexities of transgender life in a country where tolerance of transgenderism is not the same as acceptance or understanding of transgenderism.

It is a touching story with a number of very handsome actors. If you are transgender or gay in an Asian country, it would be impossible not to like the movie. The story that I felt most drawn to was the third story of the Thai adolescent who entered the monastery. He did not want to enter the monastery until he sees one of the senior monks -- who the boy decides is a hottie. The story really addresses the limitations of classical Buddhist monasticism (vinaya) with sexuality and gender variation.

Anyone who is raised Buddhist and had extended contact with monasteries is familiar with the very gay atmosphere. Yet, it is a shadow feature of the monastery where a young monk simply has to watch his ass. The story teased at why I decided not to go the route of full ordination as a monk and instead lead the life of a householder. This story is the most minor of the three stories but the one I identified the most with although I felt affinity to all three.

I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to more movies with this kind of nuance in Thai cinema.

08 October 2012

Book Review: God v. Gay?

Jay Michaelson is a Ph.D. candidate in Jewish Thought at Hebrew University and has taught at Boston University Law School, Yale University and City College of New York. He has written on spiritual thought and the law.

This is a fascinating book. I have not extensively read in LGBT focused theological writings although I have extensively read about the historical closeness between the LGBT movements and the religious right in the U.S. -- I have reviewed a few books on this topic here on this blog such as How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism, Straight to Jesus, God Hates Fags, Recruiting Young Love.

Perhaps the only other book that I've reviewed that deals with this subject is The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology and perhaps Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe.

Although I am Buddhist, Christianity informs the immediate world around me historically and ideologically and much of the political and legal regulation of sexuality in this world is based upon various interpretations of Christian and Jewish scripture. I have been waiting for a compelling and thorough examination of the issues with regard to sexuality.

Michaelson makes this case. As he says,
We should not suppose that the only religious values that attach to sexuality are tied to marriage and family. Every sexual act is an opportunity for ethical choice, and even for spiritual transcendence. Is a spiritual encounter loving, passionate, ethical, respectful, consensual and safe? Does it celebrate the energies of the body, and invite in holiness, as you understand it? These are ethical, moral and religious questions that present themselves in all sexual experiences, whether in traditional contexts or not. Yet there is only a small constituency interested in asking them. On the conservative side, there is a great deal of moral discourse but only a limited range of acceptance. On the liberal side, there is a wide range of acceptance but only a limited amount of moral, ethical and spiritual discourse. This is a shame, because asking such questions can be empowering and liberating.
Michaelson case is simple: intimate relationships heal the primary flaw of creation, a loving God could never want the 'closet', love demands authentic compassion for others, sexuality diversity is natural and part of God's creation, honesty and integrity are sacred and 'coming out' is a religious act, and inequality is an affront to religious values. His arguments are simple and elegant. It will likely not persuade the most reactionary of fanatical believers who are driven by a psychological complex tightly wrapped up with gay sex and sexual shame, but it should persuade at least thoughtful individuals who do not accept sexual diversity as part of God's creation to do some soul-searching about this issue.

The only limitation on Michaelson is that there are shadows of judgments against other sexualities outside of his expanded range of normative sexualities. His chapter on authentic compassion does the closest to working out this problem. It is significant as The Trouble with Normal and Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times both discuss the dangers, in different ways, of narrowly redrawing the lines of normalcy.

Michaelson's limitation is that he does not present a robust and coherent account of all of the sexualities that he doesn't think is normal and what the religious, ethical and moral response to those might be. It wasn't his intention to present that case so it isn't his fault, but it is an area of further consideration and argument that a theology of sexual diversity will need to consider. This is a minor consideration, however.

If we can educate the members of Congress and the Senate to this understanding, the direction of Philippine law and the good life will be radically transformed as God's will will not be understood to be a product of reasoning in legal formalism, but rather, on the basis of love, honesty and integrity. This is a theological basis to Alikpala's God Loves Bakla.

The version I read was a 232 paperback published by Beacon Press (May 8, 2012) ISBN: 978-0807001479. The book is written in English. The lowest available priced book is used at abebooks.com.

01 October 2012

Spirit, A Challenge

raised in the land across the river
one day i awoke to find myself lost
in a world of gods and men, angels and demons
i had forgotten my homeland
in the struggles of gods and men
of that place of
no obstruction, no teacher, no center, no periphery
a pulsating love radiating in all directions
engulfed in the beautiful vision of that darkness

raised in the land across the river
one day i awoke to find myself lost
in a world of gods and men, angels and demons
i had  forgotten my homeland
in the struggles of gods and men
and in those brief infinitesimally small moments
when i am again in the land of my birth
this is my heart's sorrow:
no one drinks from the well

raised in the land across the river
one day i awoke to find myself lost
in a world of gods and men, angels and demons
i had forgotten my homeland
in the struggles of gods and men
in the center of my heart, through the curtain
passed the initiations, beyond the voice of the teacher
i return to the place of my childhood
into the song of the clear light

Challenge VI: Spirited Away
 ןıuǝ oɟ ɟןıƃɥʇ  
 Spiral Prince 
 Leader of the Opposition