28 September 2013

27 September 2013

Movie Review: The Wise Kids

I wasn't sure if this movie was a real movie or a documentary. The synopsis I had to work with was this:
In a Baptist church community, three teenage friends contemplate the next stage of life. There's Brea, an introspective pastor's daughter; hyperactive Laura, a devout believer; and Tim, a gay teen navigating his faith as he prepares for college.
I really wasn't sure what to expect and half way through the movie I was wondering if this was a fundamentalist Christian propaganda movie where, at any moment, the gay teen would be whisked off to ex-gay camp.

No, that didn't happen. I would call this movie poetic. While it appears that the movie is an ode to Tim, and in fact, there is an ode to Tim, this movie is not about Tim and his blossoming into a gay adult man from the bowels of fundamentalist American Christianity. This movie is about Christ and Christianity. Tim is not the Christ figure. He represents a new way of living which is in opposition to the old order. But he is not conflicted about this. There is uncertainty but little conflict.

The conflict, the cross to bear, the Yggdrasil from which one must hang, is for another who has planted both feet firmly in the old order but is gay. And that character is Tim's music/drama teacher, Austin. Austin has been married to Elizabeth for eight years. But he has developed an obvious crush on Tim -- who represents the shadow part of his life -- and gawks at every same-aged man that passes within his field of vision. He and his wife cannot bring themselves to discuss this issue. Maybe they ask themselves, what is there to discuss? And they discuss nothing. It has a corrosive effect on the marriage.

The teenagers help to flesh out Austin's conflict in many ways so that when we meet Austin in a scene, we can focus on the incredible weight of tension and conflict he suffers -- silently. Then there is the crush on Tim with all its awkward glory. The movie ends with the conflict and tension never resolving and that is the tragedy of this film. He does not come down from Yggdrasil, collect the runes from the Well of Wyrd. He was not buried. He did not rise again nor does he ascend to heaven. Nor does he sit at the right hand of the father.

It's worth seeing to get a glimpse in the part of America that is rarely shown with any nuance in cinema. That is the white, fundamentalist Christian society in America. It is a society cloaked in mystery and intrigue -- in my mind. Two other posts previously that come to mind are Men Like That and Straight to Jesus. Cone's rendition of Austin helps put a number of fragments together but Tim's successful transition to his own life seems somewhat empty in the face of Austin's unresolved conflict. But Cone sets up the feeling tone of this movie exactly right. Even if I did suspect I was watching fundamentalist propaganda.

24 September 2013

Movie Review: Joshua Tree, 1951

When I don't wonder how my life may have been as a poor urban dweller in early nineteenth century Europe, I sometimes wonder if in my previous life I was a human -- a gay man, my grandfather's generation -- who at some point ended up in southern California in the early 1950s before transitioning into a hippie in the 1960s and then dying prematurely in the early 1970s.

This movie, which is titled Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean, is really a cinematic experience. The cinematography is just great. While the script was a little exposition heavy at times, the acting and the cinematography was, well, just great. The formalism of the movie lends itself to a jarring experience of the emotional life of the characters and James Dean in particular. There is a puerile quality to it that help clarify the contours of the tragic experience of James Dean.

There is set of scenes in the film between Dean and the "Boy on the Beach" where the reflection of puerile sexuality peaks in tragedy. There, Dean and the "boy on the beach" hook up. When it is done, Dean, in a flippant and casual way inquires regarding when they will see each other again. The Boy on the Beach hesitates -- a pregnant pause. The I-don't-give-a-shit-macho-fag routine was called out by a fem bottom in a flippant and casual way. Crushing, tragic.

The movie is not an example of realism in any sense. In fact, its formalism helps to make it seem more real in terms of a historical accounting of this person's life. The memories do not nicely flow one into the other and the chronology is disjunctive. The soundtrack reminds me of memories of that moment just before I entered into the intermediate state, into the poetic flux outside of time and order.

21 September 2013

Movie Review: Gayby

The concept that I thought I was going to watch was interesting. The summary I was given: When yoga teacher Jenn and her gay friend Matt find themselves thirtysomething, single and childless, they decide to parent a baby together. But trouble arises when they discover they have differing ideas about the method of the child's conception.

The story surrounding Matt is mostly believable. But Jenn is a different story. I mean, are there really people in this world that clueless that can somehow eek out a living in a big city? I had contemplated not writing about this movie at all but there are a few lines of dialog (involving Jenn) that I think are great:

PAINTER: What’s wrong? Your color’s off.
JENN: I just had this really terrible date with this judgmental do-gooder douche bag.
P: Oh man, I hate that type.
J: Yeah. And the guy I'm having sex with and the guy I like are both busy. So you know...
P: You're polyamorous? Right on.
J: Yeah. And I'm taking these herbs that are making me feel like all sorts of weird.
P: What kind of weird?
J: Like crazy horny weird.
P: You wanna have sex? I'm basically done here. I've got like half an hour to kill.
J: Let's kill it.

What kind of weird? Like crazy horny weird. It's worth watching the movie just for this dialog.

18 September 2013

Book Review: Buddhism and Abortion

Damien Keown is a British Professor of Buddhist Ethics at Goldsmiths' College at the University of London. He editing this book and wrote in it about abortion in relationship to Buddhist ethics in the modern world.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Buddhism has a quite ambivalent and ambiguous relationship with sexuality. One of the five precepts of all Buddhists is for lay practitioners not engage in illicit sexual acts. But what does that mean? The focus of Buddhism is on salvation, liberation, perfection, etc., etc.,. Sexuality is generally considered to be an obstacle to that (much in the pre-Pauline way that Christ is against marriage, see Matthew 19:12). In that way, for Buddhism, homosexuality and masturbation are considered to have the moral equivalency of heterosexuality. Monks and nuns were prohibited "marrying" individuals. Even that prohibition has been more or less set aside as monks and nuns do bless and participate in marriage ceremonies these days.

I have decided to review this book here to consider other aspects of sexuality -- namely abortion. One of the other five precepts in Buddhism is "not to kill." Like sexuality, what does that mean? For example, in Thailand, Buddhists generally consider a greater harm/sin in eating larger animals and lesser harm/sin in eating smaller animals. The idea is that the intent to kill and the amount of effort needed to kill increases with the size of the animal. In Tibet, Buddhists generally believe the opposite. It is better to eat one large animal for two weeks than to eat twenty small animals for the same amount of time because with one large animal, only one life is taken whereas with the smaller animals more lives are taken. This weighing and considering of course considers nothing of the value of biodiversity and carbon footprints to lessening suffering overall of lives-in-existence.

Keown's edited volume focuses on the current state of abortion in society (in the 1990s) in Thailand, South Korea and Japan along with a debate about Buddhist view's of abortion by western Buddhism. But we see that abortion, in just about every country, is real a mediating symbol for other issues in society: women's bodies, regulation of sexuality, the role of religion in politics, etc.,.

In the US, abortion is viewed in two frames: pro-choice and pro-life. These two discourses have almost no shared assumptions. Consequently, these clashing views constantly must go to court to reach a resolution to any particular problem.The US is one extreme. In much of Europe, there is an inverse correlation between access to abortion and access to child-rearing social services. Japan and Vietnam represent another extreme in terms of the official abortion rate while the Philippines and Ireland rates represent another.

I myself believe that abortion should be legal and readily available to any woman who needs one from a qualified medical practitioner. I also believe that contraception should be made readily available together with appropriate medical information regarding sex to women and men. Preventing the need for abortion is the government's greatest goal in managing abortion rates and when those prevention strategies (appropriate sex education in the schools, access to appropriate medical information and contraception) fail, safe abortion procedures should be readily available.

I understand that abortion was used by a number of states during the twentieth century as a way to engage in ethnic cleansing, political persecution, etc., and that we must be cautious in that regard. Many people who survived those regimes are coldly against abortion in any form. I am not in favor of forced or mandatory abortions -- and this could be challenged as an illusory claim as a poor woman with no resources to raise a child may be "forced" to have an abortion. That may have some validity, but I don't consider that the force or mandate that I refer to above. I'm talking about an individual being forced to do something without their informed consent.

And from my perspective, as a Buddhist, religion should use its power and symbolic resources to then comfort and assist women who have had abortions which are both physically and psychologically intense as they do in Japan by conducting rituals to allow the women to release the psychological burdens and shame they feel from having an abortion. The issue of when life begins is a metaphysical question that has no legal or medical answer. Nevertheless, abortion is a juridical and medical phenomenon and the contours of its legal access is something that can be determined on a juridical and medical basis.

The version I read was a 236 page cloth published by the University of Hawaii Press (May 1, 1998), ISBN-13: 978-0824821081. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at amazon.com (if you include shipping in your calculations).

17 September 2013

Movie Review: Out Late

I have written about this topic, sort of, in response to a news article about a grandfather coming out to his gay grandson (and family) in A Grandfather's Struggle with Coming Out. This documentary had promise but I think came up way short.

What interested me in watching this film was how coming out later in life is different and similar to those that come out in their earlier years. But I didn't get much of a comparison. Their biographies and the reasons for not living in an LGBT-identified way for much of their life was the most fascinating part of this documentary.

The Kansas portion where we learn about the struggles of a middle aged lesbian couple with their conservative and conflicted neighbors seemed to be out of place. I failed to see what this had to do with coming "out late" and it seemed much more to be a dramatic tangential feeler for same-sex marriage issues. It was distracting and unfortunate.

Also missing was a discussion of aging in general. Sometimes it felt that we were listening to a twenty year old telling their coming out narrative, from the body of an 80 year old.

In sum, I wouldn't go out of your way to see this. Nevertheless, it has some interesting points.

16 September 2013

Book Review: Angelwings

Fran Martin is a Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies with the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. She translated and editing this book of queer Taiwanese fiction(but did not contribute any stories).

It is rare that I write about fiction work here. I enjoyed two of the stories especially and decided to include it here, in the event that someone else is curious about Taiwanese gay/lebsian/queer literature.

The two stories I particularly enjoyed were Hsu Yoshen's "Stones on the Shore" and Lin Yuyi's "The Boy in the Pink Orchid Tree". Hsu's story is an interesting representation of diasporic Chinese queer life in American while Lin's work manipulated my soft spot for unrequited love in narrative.

Some of the other stories were a bit tedious for me and I have to admit that I didn't connect with the lesbian stories. I don't know if that was the style of author or it came out in translation that way. It certainly wasn't the translator's problem because I really liked Hsu and Lin's stories. Chi Tawei's "A Stranger's ID" was written well but very depressing and left me with a sense of meaninglessness about life.

The anthology presents a snapshot of LGBT life in Taiwan of the 1970s-1990s.

The version I read was a 247 page cloth published by the University of Hawaii Press (February 2003), ISBN-13: 978-0824826529. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com (if you include shipping in your calculations).

15 September 2013

Movie Review: Any Day Now

To be perfectly honest, I avoided watching this movie because all of the posters I saw prominently feature Alan Cumming. I don't even know what my bias was/is with that. Maybe he's so good at being a sleazeball as Eli Gold in The Good Wife series that I developed an unconscious dislike for him.

The plot summary I always saw said this: "Rudy and Paul take in their neighbor's teenage son Marco, who has Down syndrome, when his neglectful mother throws him out of her apartment." My eyes must have glazed over or something like that because I just discovered that same plot summary ended with: "Their attempt to legally adopt Marco sparks a court battle over gay rights in this powerful true story."

Well, I'm glad I ignored my own ignorance and watched it. Alan Cumming gives an Oscar winning performance as a working-class, East-coast drag queen living in California. I guess Hollywood has gay fatigue or something that he didn't get an Oscar nod. I mean I think George Clooney and Jean DuJardin were good choices but I think Gary Oldman or Brad Pitt should have given way to Alan Cumming in this performance.

The plot summary says it all yet reveals nothing of the narrative or the brilliant acting that make this movie such a great film. The narrative itself is propletic. For many urban gay American cinema watchers, the idea that the various actors in the legal system would conspire together to deprive a non-white Down syndrome child of a loving home simply because it has two daddies is something telescoped into the 1970s and earlier. Yet, this story was based on a legal case that occurred just 5 years ago in the US state of Florida. While West Hollywood jurists may have only done these sorts of things 35 years ago, there are many places in America today where justice is dispensed by the prejudicial whims of bigoted jurists.

I also discovered that Alan Cumming is gay and married to a man and that he took his role in the movie for union wages. Amazing. I'm glad I watched the movie and I hope you will too.

14 September 2013

Book Review: Gender and Change in Hong Kong

Eliza W.Y. Lee is a Professor and Chair of the Department Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong. She edited the volume and wrote the chapter on women in the legal profession in Hong Kong.

I have to admit that I was again looking, in a futile attempt, for some real meaty substance on sexuality in a gender/women studies book. First time shame on you, second time shame on me! Haha. Anyways, there were parts, that I found dreadfully boring. I like drama and contention in my social science narrative and sometimes some of the more traditional analyses can get as dry as a biscuit.

The three chapters that I found most interesting (although even they at times seemed to waver in their commitment to suspense and drama in historical analysis) were the women in the legal profession, the development of anti-discrimination law, and the legal and political consequences of Hong Kong citizenship laws with respect to hetero/sexualities that did not respect national boundaries.

The chapter on the shift to cheap, female, Mainland labor from Hong Kong as it moved from export manufacturing to services was very dry. The chapter on the history of women's movements in modern Hong Kong was boring. I didn't know any of the people she mentioned and the historical references were too far and between to keep my attention. Finally, the chapter on gender identity and religion got off on the wrong foot with sweeping generalizations about Christianity that even I couldn't ignore as it cascaded from page to page.

So what I found the most interesting was the issue of sexuality and  citizenship. I consider any legal system that differentiates between legitimate and illegitimate children to be hopelessly feudal. While a government may have a rational basis to distinguish between lawfully married spouses and a mistress, the government has no such basis to distinguish between the children that arise from those two types of relationships. Children are not merely extension or objects of the mother and so their legal status before the law or legal relationship to each of their parents cannot be rationally derived to their parents legal relationship to each other.

 I was not keenly aware that this has been a long simmering issue in Hong Kong. I recall once a person from Hong Kong telling me derisively about wealthy mainlanders coming to Hong Kong to have their babies to obtain residency (I assume under the jus soli principle and it somehow being extended to the parents of a child born in Hong Kong). But I didn't know that Hong Kong people were having children in the Mainland with each other and through extra marital affairs. The chapter focuses on the time in 1997 when a large number of persons on the Mainland entitled, under the jus sanguinis provision of the Basic Law, applied for residency in Hong Kong.

The popular discourse at the time was that these were the children of concubines (banned as a lawful practice in Hong Kong only in 1971) and that the law itself was intended for middle and upper class professional expatriates abroad. In reality, as to the first point, most of the people applying for residency were more likely the products of lawful marriages. This issue brought up just about every conceivable political, moral and legal issue one can think of as it relates to compulsory heterosexuality and patriarchy.

I also found the chapter on the development of anti-discrimination law in Hong Kong to be well written. I was kept interested in an area that can easily become incredibly boring. It also makes me think of all the ways in which the law both legislative and juridical continues to reinforce patriarchy time and time again through seemingly innocent, gender neutral applications of sexist, patriarchical laws.

The version I read was a 224 paperback published by the University of British Columbia Press (August, 2003), ISBN-13: 978-0774809948. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com (if you include shipping in your calculations).

12 September 2013

Book Review: Deadly Dialectics

Roy Starrs is an associate professor of Japanese at the University of Otago, New Zealand.  This was one of his first books upon becoming an academic.

I'll be frank with you. I have no idea how this ended up in my pile of books. I've written about Beautiful Mystery and Yukio Mishima previously. Let me liberally quote from that previous blog entry:
Mishima was a famous Japanese nationalist after the Japanese lost World War II. He joined the paramilitary force in Japan and in 1970 staged a take over of the office of one of the commanders of the paramilitary. It was unsuccessful and he and his friends committed seppuku -- although it took a few whacks to behead him apparently. He was hated by the political left in Japan for his nationalistic samurai-worship and by the regular nutty Japanese nationalists for insisting that Hirohito should have abdicated and taken responsibility for the war dead.
Got it? So with Beautiful Mystery I felt it was mostly gratuitous sex-violence/soft-porn action going on. Nothing too deep. Well, everything critical, clinical and analytical missing from that movie was packed into this book. I'm so unfamiliar with authors who are not (1) Marxist, (2) post-structuralist or (3) Jungian, that it's weird to believe that the bulk of literary criticism is written in this style -- which can get a tad dry for me and seemed to lack any kind of intensity.

Okay so the book and Yukio Mishima. I still haven't read any of his books and this book doesn't make me want to change my mind. The phrase that repeats in my head is that Mishima eroticized his own violent death. I'm not into S&M and the one time I tried anything remotely down that path, I had a hard time not laughing until I felt the slightest bit of discomfort and I stopped everything. It's hard for me to empathize with S&M in its physical, external realm -- I fully appreciate its inner workings and psychological dynamics. I freely admit it. So it's hard for me to really understand how someone could eroticize his own violent death or how someone could commit suicide and "get off" on it.

This book didn't really get me to that place where Mishima was when he committed sepukku and two of his love slaves struggled to whack his head off but it got me closer than Beautiful Mystery. I found the discussion of Nietzsche and nihilism to be somewhat jarring. Perhaps in the conventional literary criticism world everyone know what is meant when one refers to Nietzsche's work or how nihilist thinkers appropriated Nietzsche's work. I have a different experience of Nietzsche's work so there were times where I was confused and not sure if Starrs was saying Nietzsche's thought was nihilistic or not -- maybe he was himself confused.

The psychology chapter was very disappointing and well, I'll just leave it at that. What was underdone with Nietzsche was wholly lacking for the psychology section. I consider a psychological analysis to begin with a methodology for the analysis. A quote from Freud here, Adler there wasn't enough. The use of Nietzsche for psychological purposes just after the confusing meanderings in the previous chapters no his philosophy didn't help. Starr's analysis of Foucault as self-hating lacked any indicia of critical or clinical credibility and seemed to be solely a way to dismiss the "pre-eminent Nietzschean of our time". For me, it's almost cheating to go to the post-mortem unauthorized biography of a philosophy to make the shallow comparison between Mishima and Foucault stick. Why not cite to Foucault's work? I see no resemblance between Foucault's work and Mishima's.

The version I read was a 232 paperback published by the University of Hawaii Press (June  1, 1994), ISBN-10: 0824816315. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com (if you include shipping in your calculations).

11 September 2013

Movie Review: Keep the Lights On

This movie involves two main characters, a gay Dutch(?) filmmaker and an American attorney with a drug problem. I had no idea this movie had anything to do with drug addiction and if I had known, I probably would not have watched it. Naked Lunch, Requiem for a Dream, Fear and Loathing, anyone? No, there were no typewriters that turned into mechanical insects that attacked helpless junkie writers. No elderly mothers compulsive vacuuming late into the night. No bar scenes in Vegas. Instead, we get what many young gay men end up in, a control-domination type co-dependent relationship that with the additional layer of drug addiction was frankly nauseating.

The film captures what I can only dream is what its like to be thiry-something and not in a stable, long-term loving relationship -- yep, I have some biases, what can I say? The film captures what I consider the shadow-side of the "blight lights" glory of Queer as Folk living.

That being said, it slows down after the half way point and doesn't seem to pick up again. Zachary Booth ends up being too pretty after years of drug abuse by the midpoint of the movie to be believable and that ends up amplifying the slow down. If you'd like to watch a study of what it looks like between two men in a relationship where one is possessive and the other has a serious drug problem, this is your movie. Otherwise, I'd skip this one.

09 September 2013

Book Review: Sex and Borders

Leslie Ann Jeffrey is a Canadian professor of political science in the Department of History and Political Science, University of New Brunswick. After the last book about Thai "gender and sexuality", I was hopeful the picture on the book meant that we were going to be looking at things a little more holistically.

Again, I was wrong. Apparently when women studies authors write about prostitution in Thailand, they write about heterosexual women and the men who oppress them. If anyone can recommend a book analyzing male prostitution in Thailand and what that says about the gender hierarchy, oppression of women, repression of desire, etc., please let me know. I'm interested.

Even with that little caveat, I really enjoyed this book. It was a political and historical account of how patriarchical Thai society and how global flows of ideas, capital, etc., had an impact on Thai society and the Thai state's nation-making through enforcing strict gender hierarchies.

Jeffrey also indirectly tells an important lesson about nationalism -- to which I am a great skeptic, in all but the most limited ways. Nationalism was used by the military to control the populace and justify whatever it wanted to do with society. In the 1960s and 1970s, students and the middle class began to appropriate the structure of nationalist discourse to critique the military and its relationship to the U.S. military. More recently, nationalism is used by the economic elite to extract surplus capital. As I say, nationalism is a useful boat to cross the river of independence. But, once on the other shore, it is nothing but a burden to then carry that boat on our backs when the next step requires us to walk into the forest of a new world.

On another topic, prostitution books always make me wonder if its really just inertia that prostitution is by-and-large criminalized the world over. It seems to be that if there is a real concern for those who profess prostitution, prostitution would be legalized and tightly regulated: weekly or twice-monthly blood tests, paying of income tax, employment based health insurance, unemployment insurance, temporary disability insurance, worker's compensation/employer liability insurance, compulsory contributions to a private retirement fund scheme (not to mention mandatory contributions to public social security insurance scheme), and protection from organized crime, corrupt government officials, petty criminals and violence that criminalization of prostitution allows. Of course, every time I say this in most feminist circles, I'm condemned as a patriarch, sexist pig who wants to rape women (really? really.) I still fail to see more than a hidden religious or patriarchical agenda in criminalizing prostitution (the criminalization of the solicitation of prostitutes is a slightly different story, but I digress) and an only thinly veiled religious one in the well financed international "rescue" industry. Sexual slavery is real and it is a problem and I can't, for the life of me, see how criminalizing prostitutes helps resolve that problem.

In any event, Jeffrey covers many of these issues in great historical and interesting detail primarily as it relates to Thailand and if you were to read one book on the history of the Thai gender structures, this would be that book.

The version I read was a 252 paperback published by the University of Hawaii Press  (February 1, 2003), ISBN-13: 978-0824826185. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com (if you include shipping in your calculations).

07 September 2013

Movie Review: White Frog

This movie by Quentin Lee was quite interesting. The direction and cinematography was better than the last movie of his I watched although I was disappointed that the "gay" part of the movie came at the very end. (Semi Spoiler Alert: This is a ABC/Disney afterschool special where the "gay" theme drops in at the end to create a problem for the characters to solve.)

Booboo Stewart is a great actor but I found his part Blackfoot American Indian ancestry to be a bit distracting visually among his "pure" Asian family -- or maybe it was his previous playing an American Indian werewolf in one of the Twilight movies. Nevertheless, his acting was good enough to suspend disbelief most of the time.

The plot, as I was told it was thus:
Nick, who has Asperger's syndrome, struggles to carry on after the death of his brother Chaz. Their parents have their own problems coping with the loss, but Chaz's best friend takes Nick under his wing.
Actually, it's Chaz's best friends who take Nick under his wing. Since there is no gay mention in the synopsis, perhaps I should have known better. I found the movie to be very interesting anyways but not for the LGBT reasons. That part came way too late and was way too rushed. Of course, if I were a 15 year old watching this on an ABC/Disney television channel and not exposed to much of anything, I'd probably feel different.

I've never heard of Harry Shum Jr before and although he only appears, as Chaz, now and then as a figment of Nick (Booboo Stewart)'s imagination, he almost feels like eye candy in the movie more than anything else. I felt the script was a bit unfair to BD Wong and that the background information on the characters had apparent conflicts or were not deeply enough explored to avoid the conflicting vibe.

Anyways, even just to see BD Wong, Harry Shum Jr and Booboo Stewart, if nothing else, it's worth a watch. Actually most of the male cast involve really pretty boys. It's actually a little distracting, like I'm watching Star Cinema but everyone is speaking English with a Valley Boy accent. My hope is that Quentin Lee can find more nuanced, deeper stories in the future to direct.

06 September 2013

Book Review: Marital Acts

Jiemin Bao is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Although subtitled: Gender, Sexuality and Identity Among the Chinese Thai Diaspora, I think it would have been more appropriately subtitled: identity and women among the thai, chinese thai and the chinese thai diaspora.

I have to admit that my interest in the Chinese diaspora -- in Thailand -- is not incredibly high. I have read a number articles and chapters on the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia, the Chinese diaspora in Asia and in the U.S. There was some overload here, I have to admit. But on the other hand, I got a lot of interesting information about how we make the world through the eyes of Chinese Thai.

I'm always surprised how patriarchy works to structure people's lives and how wholly unfair it is that women's sexuality is so severely limited while men's sexuality is so severely not. I'm not arguing that men's sexuality needs to be more highly regulated. Rather, there ought to be equality of non/regulation among sexuality in general. With that, there is the need for access to proper medical information, sexual health education and adequate and accessible medicine and medical procedures. The ethnographical information about Thais and Chinese Thai was interesting.

The version I read was a 252 paperback published by the University of Hawaii Press  (November 1, 2004), ISBN-13: 978-0824828790. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com.

04 September 2013

Movie Review: Morgan

I'll be honest. I didn't expect much of this movie. The summary I was given was this:
Depressed and despairing after an accident renders him paraplegic, Morgan gets a new lease on life when he meets Dean on a basketball court. But when Morgan risks his life entering a bike race and Dean walks out, he is pushed to the brink once again.
But what I got instead was excellent cinematography, great acting and a wonderful script. It's a love story between two guys where the issues they have to work through (for themselves and between each other) are not their sexuality or society's view of their sexuality. I wonder if this is the direction of American gay cinema. Has the coming out narrative exhausted the market for gay films? Is there a big enough corpus of films covering enough variation within the coming out narrative that now gay cinema can move on to the post-coming out world of the gay man's twenties? If it is, I look forward to this evolution.

All of the actors did a great job. They were real actors -- not just a couple of twinks who are friends with the director. Leo Minaya, see below, played Morgan in his first gay acting role.

Can I say I look forward to more work from this up and coming star? Perhaps the only thing that made this less than a perfect movie, in my eyes, was the first kiss between "Morgan" and Jack Kesy's "Dean" character. I don't know if this was also Kesy's first gay role, but the first kiss was a little awkward and mechanical for me. (Maybe that's how macho, working class, Knicks-watching gay guys in New York kiss?)

But hey, that's a very minor issue in this otherwise great film. Like I said, I look forward to more stories like the one told in this movie with excellent actors (and great stage chemistry). And I look forward to more movies by the director Michael Akers and more movies with the actor Leo Minaya. Got that, citybuoy and YJ? Leo Minaya, with an L.

03 September 2013

Book Review: The Trouble with Nature

Roger N. Lancaster is a professor of anthropology and director of the graduate Cultural Studies program at George Mason University.

This book is a repudiation of the world view of Simon LeVay's Gay, Straight and the Reason Why. LeVay's book is good in the respect that it summarizes, in a comprehensive fashion, the scientific research, up to the time of publishing, of the apparent biological origins of homosexuality. LeVay's book is a great read and I think it is worth reading. But for as long as I can remember, there is always something magical (and suspicious) about gay genes, gay brains and gay inheritability.

Lancaster's book does a number of things. One of them is to destroy the foundations of so-called scientific research on gay genes, gay brains and the like. Lancaster actually sets his aim more on the popular press who he criticizes for distorting the actual research on the scientific research.

The main thrust of the criticism involves bringing to like the naturalization process of what we believe to be truth -- the fact that what we believe to be the truth, in many ways, is the result of political decisions or choices and that the variation through cultures makes it impossible to make universal claims about humans. Nowadays, much of this naturalization process writes papers everything over as "nature" itself. Therefore, claims about gay genes regarding transitory and context specific cultural practices could not possibly have a basis in genes or brain structure. Is there a gene for being a Downton Abbey fan? What about the pasta-eating gene? What about the gene for preferring paper books to e-delivery systems?

Some of it gets a little tedious. I have always been a universalist. I believe that everyone has the potential to be gay. This is in opposition to the dominant theory, innatism, that being gay is something one is born to be and it is immutable like skin color or a congenital disability. I have always felt innatism or minority-ism was an effective political strategy for community organizing and for creating niche markets for extracting surplus capital from new emerging markets, but innatism has never been a good explanation for my experience of how people I knew expressed their desire (well except maybe my own). Yet as we know, gay identity and communities are proliferating around the globe. And this is why I think this 20th century debate on nature v. nurture gets a little tedious. It's not as romantic as LeVay's 19th century European worldview but it is interesting.

Then, near the end,  Lancaster lays out how postmodernism/post-structuralism is faithful to Marx. Example:
An unreconstructed socialist, I shamelessly sing the praises of comtemporary capitalism -- in much the same spirit as Marx and Engeles, whose Manifesto surveyed the dynamic and progressive role of capitalist exploitation in human affairs. "Wherever it has got the upper hand," Marx and Engels enthuse, the bourgeoisie "has put an end to all feudal patriarchal, idyllic relations." Capitalist profiteering has "torn from the family its sentimental veil," undermined "differences of age and sex," and brought "a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country," paving the way for the emergence of world culture. (p 317)
This appears a few pages after he mentions Alexandra Chasin's Selling Out, The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes to the Market, although its a few chapters after I first thought that Chasin's book deserved a mention or some theoretical allusions thereto. If you're read this far, what I'm trying to say, is that the most useful post-structuralist theory is one that (1) hews closely to the facts and (2) addresses how the theory connects to Marxism. Otherwise, it's useless. Lancaster does this.

The Trouble with Nature is an excellent book and a necessary read for anyone interested in LGBT or queer studies. Although it's a little disorganized, it weaves an excellent literature review and addresses much of the current scientific research on sexuality.

The version I read was a 445 paperback published by the University of California Press  (May 1, 2003), ISBN-13: 978-0520236202. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com.