Chris Randle 「Size Matters: An Interview With Anne Ishii」

Posted on December 31, 2014 commentaires
Anne Ishii & Graham Kolbeins

In『Our Lady of the Flowers』, Jean Genet posited: “A man who fucks a man is twice a man.” His bluntness invites multiple interpretations – is the man becoming engorged, or dissolved? Gengoroh Tagame’s intense, sadomasochistic porn comics test that hypothesis to extremes, as if trying to break maleness itself. The book designer Chip Kidd discovered them during a trip to Japan in 2001. This was gay manga, but not the yaoi or “boys’ love” most familiar in North America, with its epicene beauties primarily drawn and read by women. (The female counterpart is called yuri.) Butch-looking, often hairy, the men had precise taxonomies of size, from gacchiri (muscular) to gachimuchi (muscle-curvy) to debu (fat).

Kidd’s initial entreaties went unanswered, but some time later, working with Graham Kolbeins and Anne Ishii – a former colleague at the publisher Vertical – he tracked Tagame down. When the first authorized English-language collection of his comics came out last year, co-edited by that trio,『The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame』was quite literally bound inside the Japanese wrapping called an obi.

Tagame is a touchstone for the subgenre sometimes known as bara, both through his own work – he helped found the influential magazine『G-men』two decades ago – and his efforts to preserve the history of Japanese gay art, which flourished in ancient forms before the Meiji regime strove to modernize such “barbarism” out of existence. In their new companion anthology『Massive』, the editors give some context to his fellow cartoonists: the gender-norm-mocking gag comics of Kumada Poohsuke, Gai Mizuki’s porny fantasies, Jiraiya’s hyperreal beefcake.

I wanted to interview Ishii about it ever since Tagame guessed his fanbase might be half female – his earliest comics were published in the yaoi magazine『June』, a name punning on Jean Genet’s. Why can’t gay manga for men be for women too? As Tagame chuckled to me last year: “I actually really love taking, you know, the guy who says ‘I’m a real man!’ and saying to him: ‘Maybe you’re a woman.’”

Do you remember the first time you encountered the kind of material in『Massive』?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it began with Gengoroh Tagame’s work, which I was translating for Chip Kidd a million years ago. That was my entree. And then from there it was just other people who were fans of other artists, meeting people like Graham [Kolbeins]. I guess the first person after that was Jiraiya, and actually Kazuhide Ichikawa, mostly because he speaks English and is pretty prolific online, he was easy to find. And then a lot of the other artists we found through more research, but Tagame was my first.

What was your reaction to it at the time?

Well, with Tagame’s work, my first reaction was “what the fuck am I looking at,” because it was so outrageous [laughs]. I guess it started when Chip showed me his books, so I have to say it was not as shocking as all that, because there was actual narrative and it was packaged in a nice way. But I followed to the cookie crumbs to his website, and then I found his illustrations, which were just so extreme. So there’s a bit of shock and delight in all of it, but then because I was translating it wasn’t so much my reaction as – how do I interpret this, how do I translate it? And that was interesting, learning a lot of that language.

Had you been a reader of yaoi or anything like that at all before then?

No, that’s the funny thing – I have to say, as far as my tastes in manga run, it’s definitely not – I’m not really a shojo reader in general and I wasn’t reading any yaoi or BL ever. So I was totally unfamiliar with what we call slash fiction here, or over there the interpretative doujinshi market. I didn’t know anything about that until pretty recently. My initiation into a lot of manga is not as a reader but a translator.

Can you tell me about the process of selecting and tracking down all these different artists? Some of them are very private about their personal lives. Did you have any mysterious Deep-Throat-style meetings?

[laughs] It’s not that cloak-and-dagger. The privacy issues that a lot of our artists have aren’t about getting exposure, just protecting their personal identities. They love the exposure for their work – actually, almost all of them are online and have active personas on Twitter and on blogs and Pixiv and things like that. Half of them actually sell their stuff online. I think they’re glad about the exposure, but partly it’s a language barrier and partly it’s about protecting their identities. As far as the process of finding and selecting them, we cast a pretty wide net across the field of gay artists.

We depended quite a bit on Tagame introducing us to some of the people that we knew on our own, and with others Tagame recommended specifically that we reach out, because we might not have heard of them but they were worth checking out. There’s an artist Fumi Miyabi, who was not someone we really knew until Tagame said we should be checking him out, which I’m really grateful for. Other artists we talked to wanted to participate but it just wasn’t gonna work out at this juncture, because we couldn’t get interviews or enough material from them in a timely manner. This easily could’ve been up to 15 artists, but the nine we chose fit our timescale and our editorial limits, as it were. I also think they represent a pretty diverse range of comics styles, so it’s not just erotic or it’s not just long-form.

I was struck by that, actually, because obviously the first book was all Tagame, and it makes sense to me that he found that big following outside Japan – his work is kind of classical, in its fetishistic way. Whereas [Kumada] Poohsuke, in this book, makes what are basically gag comics, and the humour is very much about modern Japanese culture. Or there’s, um, I can’t remember the artist, but there’s that amazing story about the straight-identified schoolteacher who gets so uncontrollably horny that he just has to let the janitor suck his dick, which is an all-out porn scenario.

Totally.

And it’s interesting that Tagame – not only just because of his popularity, but also because of the way that he’s researched the history of homoerotic art in Japan – has sort of become a locus of all this.

Yeah, I think his role in the creation of the gay art canon in Japan can’t be overstated. He is not just responsible for the biggest tome of work – he’s been a really important archivist too, I think... And it’s lucky for us that he was just bilingual enough that his work communicated to a few key people back in the day and then that came our way.

It’s also... this stuff goes back so far, into a pre-modern understanding of sexuality, but a lot of it was deemed to be “degenerate” during the Meiji era, and suppressed in various ways.

I think you’re right, and I think Tagame’s pretty self-aware about the role of history when it comes to conveying erotica to other readers. Some of our artists, with all due respect, have created their art in a bubble, because they know who their audience is. Which is great, because then it becomes something that’s just full of their own passion, but an artist like Tagame distinguishes himself by considering the universal audience, and in that sense has to keep context in mind. History is always in the background, even if it’s a modern setting. He’s just done such a great job contextualizing inside and outside of his work, you know?

I’m assuming you did most or all of the translation work, and there’s a really fascinating section where Graham Kolbeins talks about the word bara, which is what all this manga has been most commonly known as in North America. But a lot of the artists don’t identify with that term at all, because it’s like a reclaimed slur, right?

Yeah, it’s a false positive for sure. I guess that happens a lot between languages, so I don’t think it’s the fault of any one culture or person, but it’s definitely taken on a life of its own in North America and in Europe, actually. The broad West, for whatever that word is worth. I know that for a lot of the artists we spoke with – I don’t think anybody was offended by that nomenclature, they were all just confused. It would be like if we started to re-appropriate “pansy,” which is fine, except that’s not a word whose currency was so long ago that – to fix that problem almost seems 20 years too late, you know?

Yeah, and in Japan they have these identifiers with no precise equivalents in North America, like the whole “muscle-curvy” thing.

Actually, it’s funny, I think one of the reasons bara took on any currency was because it had a vaguely exotic feel to it, because it was untranslatable, or we thought it was untranslatable. People preferred to call that bara because it wasn’t a Western word, except meanwhile there were plenty of untranslatable Japanese words that just weren’t gaining the currency for some reason. And another reason is that these words all describe corpulence, but there isn’t an umbrella term for all of that, the concept of referring to men by their size is the lexicon for gay erotica. Things like “muscle-curvy,” or “muscle-fat,” or “muscly-muscly” or “muscle-hairy.” There’s so many combinations of that.

Were there any specific challenges in translation, whether because it was slang or some other reason?

Absolutely, yeah. I mean, slang is sort of hard, but I think it’s also popular culture. A lot of our artists make references to things that are part of Japanese popular culture mainstream that would never make sense here, so I would have to just make up my own correlation. This isn’t in our book, but in a translation I did for Takeshi Matsu for a different title, he makes heavy references to a bunch of famous Japanese comfort foods. In that situation I decided to just leave it as-is and italicize Japanese dishes. These are foods that none of us would consider comfort foods. That’s the hardest one, because I have to use my own creative judgement and come up with different corollaries. You know, their miso soup here would be something you only get at a sushi restaurant, but there it’s like part of breakfast, so I can’t really translate that, right? I have to give the reader the benefit of the doubt and hope they just figure it out. And that’s the great thing with manga, even if the words don’t have exact translations the images always mean the same thing.

This comes up again and again in the mini-profiles of the artists – there are fans who translate this work on their own, but they’re also releasing it for free, which is giving a lot of the cartoonists even more economic anxiety. Do they have a common position on the whole scanlations issue?

Well, it’s funny you should bring that up, because we had several artists tell us they weren’t opposed to it, but they didn’t want to be on the record, because as a community it would not behoove them to fall out of line in that argument. And of course in a perfect world there aren’t scanlations and everybody profits off of their own art or whatever, but that’s just not a reality. I think it’s sort of like the way a lot of writers in North America feel about Amazon, where it’s a necessary evil. I know even our own book wouldn’t really be sustainable if there weren’t a huge underground community of people reading scanlations. This isn’t to say I think they should all be doing scanlations, but we know what we’re dealing with, and it would be a little bit naive not to. And in that regard we do have a few artists who are not opposed to it whatsoever. If you read our book carefully you’ll know which ones they are, because we don’t quote them saying that they hate it, but the ones who are opposed are very vocal about it.

Other people have more ambiguous or nuanced positions on it. Like, [Seizoh] Ebisubashi, who did that story you just mentioned about the 5th-grade schoolteacher who identifies as straight but fucks the janitor [laughs], I think that’s kind of an apt metaphor for how he feels about piracy. He doesn’t self-identify with it, but will certainly fuck with it. He has said on his own Tumblr, like, let me know what you guys want for free and I’ll try my best to provide as much of it as I can, but beyond that I really do need to make a living because of this, so please endorse my work by actually buying some of it. He’s been very generous with content on his Tumblr while embedding a lot of cues to go buy what is pretty affordable digital comics. And I have to say personally that that’s probably the best way to go, because you can’t really fight the hunger for the content.

Yeah, it must be difficult for a lot of them, because it’s not just some guy ripping a CD to torrent it. People are putting actual work into this out of love for their comics. It’s a tangled, fucked-up affection, I guess.

The weirdest part is the person who actually profits off of a scanlation without even getting in touch with these artists who are otherwise pretty visible. That’s the part that’s a little bit unsavoury. I understand when people want something they’re going to get their hands on it, but it’s not that hard to get in touch with some of these [cartoonists], and they’re not necessarily opposed to the exposure. At a certain point, if you’re gaining more than the original artist then that’s a problem.

It seems kind of analogous to the way queer bookshops in North America keep closing. I think you mentioned that they sell these books at gay bars in Japan, which is an interesting... economic model, or strategy? The bars or clubs or other spaces there, they seem more like clubhouses, almost.

Yeah, I think you’re totally right. That’s a really interesting corollary, actually, because as a business model it’s pretty unique. I’m thinking about this for the first time, but wondering out loud if that would be possible here, you know? If gay bars would support small libraries like that.

Is there a story about when you went to that Big Gym – which is an amazing name – the Big Gym store, and they weren’t very welcoming?

Right, right. Yeah, I tried to go into a Big Gym in Shinbashi, which is notoriously a business neighbourhood, it’s really close to the so-called Wall Street of Japan. I understand now in hindsight it’s probably catering more towards businessman who are in the closet, but I walked in there and the clerk was like: “What are you? Are you female?” I tried to pull the tourist card [laughs], like, I don’t know what I’m doing here, but it all worked out. And the best part was, even though he was trying to get me to leave the store, when I finally made my purchase he slid some party flyers into my bag. “Please don’t come back, but don’t forget we have a party on Tuesday night!”

I actually just met another Big Gym manager, and the store is very sympathetic to all consumers of gay media, for sure, but that particular branch doesn’t let women in their store. I talked to another manager who said that frequently they get women coming, especially when a new Tagame book has been released, they’ll come to the store and come right up to the door and not step in, just hand a note to the clerk and say “this is what I’d like to buy and here’s my money, can you...?” They’ll just wait by the door for the clerk to make the transaction for them [laughs]. We talked to yet another manager of a gay bookstore who was saying they have these rules that were imposed to protect their consumers, but it’s beginning to feel outdated in the 21st century. Girls are certainly not the enemy. Maybe the censorship police, but...

Do you have any theories about why women are drawn to some of this work? Hannah Black wrote this really great essay about her youthful identification with novels by gay men. She wrote – I’m just quoting here – she wrote: “I read them as a lesson in masculine pleasure, and as a revolt against the unpleasure of femininity... In my image of gay men, distorted by longing, I found masculinity in a form I could bear.”

That’s a really well-put interpretation. That’s beautiful. I don’t really have a theory as to why women are attracted to narratives about gay sex, but it is very determined, what straight women go for. Or actually gay women for that matter, many of whom have told me that they are big fans of Tagame’s work, for example, but not necessarily of some of our other artists. Even though a lot of women do like man-on-man sex in comics, it’s not all man-on-man sex comics. So, like, obviously there’s yaoi and BL, which is created almost exclusively by women, but even in the hardcore realm – it’s not necessarily Jiraiya, for example, most of his fans are dudes. Tagame’s big.

Maybe one of many themes that translates to women is – not just the idea of displacing body issues or displacing gender roles, but getting down to that nutty core of desire. I don’t think Tagame’s work is just about men loving men, it’s really about how dark desire can be. And that’s different from the humour of Poohsuke’s work or the absurdity of Ebisubashi’s work or the celebration of male corporeality in Jiraiya’s work. That’s a theme I think women gravitate towards.

Yeah, I’ve read that Jiraiya’s fanbase is almost entirely male. But the Jiraiya clothing you’ve done through MASSIVE, the licensed apparel, women really seem to love those. I feel like the photorealistic bro-ness of his illustrations almost makes them – it’s this extreme of masculinity that’s kind of camp, and thereby friendly. Like, I’ll wear the classic Jiraiya sweater, and people will, well, sometimes they ask me if it’s a Drake reference. Or they’ll be like, “Are those guys famous?” But more often they’ll ask something like, “What’s the deal with that great sweater,” and I might say “They’re just really good friends.”

I think you make a good point that women love our clothes, but with that one specifically there’s Jiraiya the mangaka and Jiraiya the illustrator, and those are two different things. His comics are really good, don’t get me wrong, but a completely different ball of wax. The victories in Jiraiya’s comics aren’t quite as difficult as, say, Tagame or Ebisubashi’s work, but the illustrations are straight-up pin-ups. And I think for a lot of people, regardless of gender, those pin-ups represent something we all want out of life, a big cuddly dude [laughs]. It’s just very comforting. I know for me, looking at illustrations by him, it just feels nice on the eyes, it’s so aesthetically pleasing. It does challenge a bunch of notions about what the Asian male body should look like, but as an Asian person that’s actually really exciting.

As far as the 「Best Couple」, the classic Jiraiya image, that blue sky background was Graham’s idea, and he might have been thinking of Drake in the very dark recesses of the dark of his mind, but Jiraiya’s original illustration and accompanying subtitle was “the perfect couple,” and his idea of the perfect couple was that image. It’s funny technically speaking because with his illustrations, which are all so magnificent, he doesn’t do backgrounds, only the subjects. So that’s neat too, because he’s talking about a subjectivity, not a universe.

A bunch of his images are composites, right? Or he’ll take an idea for one body part from a photo somewhere, so it’s this totally unreal Frankenstein of a person.

Right, but in a strange way it makes sense when it’s put all together. In our interview, he said the thing he was most scared of was being on the wrong side of the uncanny valley [laughs]. And I think he does a good job of staying away from that weird 「Final Fantasy」 composite. That’s where his talent is, I think, in his ability to do something that shouldn’t work but succeeds.

Can you tell me about the genesis of MASSIVE, not the book but the company?

Um, yeah. The short of it is that Graham and I needed to make money [laughs]. We were talking about this book deal, and did the math, and realized we weren’t going to make any money – certainly not off『The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame』and not a lot when we did『Massive』. That has nothing to do with the generosity or paucity of our publishers but the industry in general. So we said, “let’s just start by making some T-shirts,” and then Graham’s imagination has just been so fruitful. He keeps coming up with ideas for extensions to the clothing line, the Opening Ceremony collaboration was his idea, all of these things.

With the MASSIVE-branded Tenga, the sex toy.

Oh my god, the Tenga. That was actually all Opening Ceremony, I was really surprised, but they have an existing partnership with Tenga. The funny thing about that too is that Tenga won’t sell it in Japan. It’s a Japanese company and it’s Japanese art, but it’s only available at Opening Ceremony in New York and on our website [laughs].

I had never heard of it before then, and I thought the whole deal with Tenga was fascinating in that the toys are all really abstract. They don’t try to mimic a specific body part or anything.

I hope not, otherwise humans would be out of a job. But yeah, MASSIVE started that way... Once we started doing the clothes, we realized we could be bigger than just T-shirts. So now our focus is on importing more comics and becoming a sort of clearing house for more queer comics in general. On this recent trip to Japan we talked to editors of other forms of queer comics – actually, we talked to some people about straight art that has to deal with issues of the body and falling outside of heteronormative notions of identity. Eventually we want to be able to broker more content and less in the business of manufacturing clothes.

So were you looking at yuri and that kind of thing?

Oh yeah, absolutely. Not saying that we have plans for that yet, but we’ve been hugely interested in that for a minute now, definitely.

This is totally speculation on my part, but I feel like a lot of the explicit yuri comics in Japan are drawn by men. Is there an equivalent to the work in MASSIVE, where it’s comics about women drawn by women?

Yeah, I don’t know the community that well, to be completely honest, but they do exist, and manga editors are more and more interested in finding these kinds of outsiders right now. I think the market for things like yuri and yaoi, or for that matter shonen and shojo, is so competitive that it’s become pointless for a lot of editors to pursue that market, in the same way that a lot of independent publishers have given up on superhero comics. Offhand I’m thinking of a handful of artists who identify very openly as lesbians and write about their experience, that’s obviously interesting to us. But I don’t know what the Big Gym of that community is, or the『G-Men』of that community. It probably exists, but I don’t know what it is.

Do you have a sense of the demographics of the MASSIVE customers?

I can’t say, like, it’s 80% this or whatever, but I can definitely say the most surprising – or not the most surprising, almost the most tragic market, is the Japanese one. We have a big Japanese market, which I find kind of ironic given that a lot of this content obviously comes from there. I don’t think we’re mainstream, but we’re more mainstream than a gay bookstore in Shinjuku Ni-chome. That’s not to fault those bookstores, but that’s been the surprising market. Or the market we have in Asia in general. We frequently get orders from China with specific notes, like “don’t describe the content,” or “please package this discreetly,” and I’ve heard from one fan, this woman out of Shanghai, that she knows people who’ve been arrested for importing or buying these things. Not our things, but gay content in general. So that’s kind of a weird place to be. I enjoy it, I like providing that service, but it seems a little tragic.

It’s interesting that you mentioned a lot of your customers being from Japan, because homoerotic material is not necessarily legally persecuted there, but from the interviews with certain contributors in the book, and other stuff that I’ve read – at least outside of the big cities, Tokyo, Sapporo, et cetera – it won’t be a threat if people find out you’re gay, they might just consider it gauche, like a social faux pas.

It’s so tricky, because – like you said, it’s not that it’s frowned upon per se, but it is – people don’t wear their sexuality on their sleeve, literally or figuratively. But I guess that’s like most of America too. The thing with these products is that people might not necessarily be public with it, for some of them owning it is enough. In other ways, each time I go to Japan I’m astonished by how much more open it is where sexuality is concerned. What’s considered obscene has changed a lot over the last 15 years, I’d say.

And over here, queer people – maybe a few people who don’t identify as queer, too – visibly ignoring gender roles, they still get a lot of shit for it. Like, if you’re not the archetypal straight-acting gay man. So I thought it was great that Poohsuke specifically does these hilariously confrontational gender-subverting antics. You mention in the book that he’s a huge fan of... I can’t remember the name, the theatre where a woman plays every role...

Oh, Takarazuka.

Yeah, the all-female theatrical revue, where half the roles are women in drag. Or he’ll put on makeup and a skirt and do a performance involving the J-pop group Perfume.

Which is funny, because Takarazuka is kind of a response to kabuki, notoriously all men. There’s an action and a reaction, you know? Poohsuke’s great, he’s a seventh wonder of the world in that sense. He’s doing a lot of interesting things on his own. When we saw him on this last trip, he said he’s really into zentai right now, which is the full-body latex suit. I guess there’s a group of fat guys who get into the zentai suits, and they’re not all necessarily male? Because they can’t see each other they’re allowed to be women as well. He was just telling us how exciting it is to finally interact with fat women without feeling weird about it [laughs], because he can’t see their faces or their genitals. I thought that was amazing. Talk about breaking out of form.

I asked [cartoonist/friend/collaborator] Mia Schwartz if she could think of any questions I should ask you and she was just like, “Ask her how much she can lift!”

[laughs] Wait, did I tell her that I lift? Is she a lifter? Now I have to make up a number that seems plausible but isn’t – oh my god. I can lift a lot, I’m actually really strong. I can princess carry my fiance across a room.

I got this image that you didn’t even go to the gym, you just read all these muscle-dude comics and became super buff through osmosis.

Exactly, I became strong through reading gachimuchi porn.

Chris Randle is a writer from Toronto. His work has appeared in Hazlitt, Slate, the National Post, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Little Brother and also Opening Ceremony’s blog. He makes the comic『Charivari』with Mia Schwartz for『Adult』magazine.

Author: Chris Randle/Date: December 31, 2014/Source: http://thehairpin.com/2014/12/size-matters-an-interview-with-anne-ishii/


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Mark Guiducci 「Joseph Altuzarra and Seth Weissman’s Wedding at the Rainbow Room in New York City」

Posted on November 20, 2014 commentaires
“The hora was another highlight of the evening! There was so much joy in the room, and everyone participated!”
Photo: Rebecca Walker & Angi Welsch for Ira Lippke Studios

While our federal government and more than 30 states now agree that a same-sex marriage is wholly equivalent to any other, the autumn nuptials of designer Joseph Altuzarra and his boyfriend, Seth Weissman, were evidence that things are still a bit different, at least in their case. Most bridegrooms, for instance, do not create mood boards for the hair and makeup of their “groomsmaids,” as Altuzarra calls them. Neither do most married-men-to-be outfit the wedding party in evening­wear of their own design, as Altuzarra did for Vanessa Traina Snow and Mélanie Huynh, who, respectively, wore a dress from his fall 2014 runway done in navy-blue panne velvet and the resort look in which Rosamund Pike appeared at the premiere of 「Gone Girl」. (Including Weissman’s own six groomsmaids, the event was virtually an Altuzarra retrospective.) Neither does the typical groom fret that a dear friend “is going to show up in leather shorts and a T-shirt,” an anxiety much relieved by the sight of groomsman Alexander Wang wearing a tuxedo on the big day (sans bow tie, of course).

In other ways, the nuptials were as traditional as could be. Inadvertently, theirs included something old (Seth’s grandfather’s pen, used to sign the marriage license), something new (a Saint Laurent bow tie that Altuzarra purchased that very morning after misplacing his own), something borrowed (Seth’s father’s studs and cuff links), and something blue (Seth’s midnight Tom Ford tuxedo). Even without a bride to speak of, there was still a critical dress moment. “We got ready at Joseph’s parents’ house in Tribeca,” Traina Snow remembers (Altuzarra says that his mother – and board chairman – served “chicken salad, so nobody fainted during the ceremony later”), “and Mélanie, Joseph, and I squirreled away into the bathroom so he could zip us up. Coming out together, it felt like the big dress reveal, and it felt like family.”

Perhaps the most classic component of the wedding, however, was its spectacular Manhattan setting: the newly reopened Rainbow Room, atop Rockefeller Center. “It felt both romantic and festive, very Frank Sinatra, very New York,” Altuzarra says, emphasizing that it’s the city where he and Weissman met nine years ago. “And we wanted to find a place that wasn’t too feminine.” As for the famed spinning dance floor, Altuzarra confirms that “there was plenty of revolving.”

But were there any Rainbow Room puns? Altuzarra’s brother, Charles, was the first to point out how aptly named the location was. A physicist who works on quantum photonics, Charles noted that rainbows are made by the deflection of sunlight through rain. “Alone, light is white and rain is just water,” Altuzarra explains. “But together they create a myriad of colors.” That’s a metaphor that knows no gender.

Author: Mark Guiducci/Date: November 20, 2014/Source: http://www.vogue.com/4470507/joseph-altuzarra-wedding-seth-weissman-rainbow-room/




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Grace Wang 「This Artist Is Changing China's Canvas, One Butt Plug At A Time」

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Looking at the work of Chinese artist Tianzhuo Chen, one would think that he, a bespectacled, congenial guy, was oblivious to the notion of political correctness. From butt plugs to weed leaf prints and huge sculptures of 「South Park」 character Eric Cartman, his many performance art pieces, installations,​ and​ collaborations with Shangguan Zhe of ​Xiamen-based clothing label ​SANKUANZ (a label that is equally tongue-wagging with its neon-pop color and cartoonish, phallic graphics), all push the envelope until it rips. ​Tianzhou is genuinely fascinated with the subversive and aggressive, from drag-queen get​-​ups to rapping midgets.

Being from a country that has only in recent years started to soften its various restrictions, he has the advantage of looking at these Western cultures with a fresh, unbiased eye; instead of being force-​fed pop culture, he can selectively absorb whatever takes his interest, and comprehend them in his own way without existing social structures.​ Here, an edited transcription from Opening Ceremony's Skype chat with the artist, in which we touch upon religion,​ anti-elitism, and​ ​“hip-hopera.”

Shop all SANKUANZ here

GRACE WANG: ​You moved to London from Beijng to study design at Central Saint Martins then Fine Arts at Chelsea. What was that like?

TIANZHUO CHEN: ​From London​,​ I started to realize that I wanted be an artist. London is really different — it’s got lots of artists and people from different cultures. That diversity really influenced me: I’m really into queer culture, I’m really into the drag-queen stuff, and I really like street art, so I just kind of pull them together into my pieces.

Your work does draw on a variety of cultures. Can you talk about this mix?

I’m just really into different kinds of dance, and how they express feeling and soul through movement. For example, the Butoh dancer is trying to reach their soul; they’re trying to express that feeling after World War II. You can put different cultural elements and different dances or different art together, and it can actually start something new.

Can you talk a bit about your “hip-hopera?”

Hip-hop is just part of it. It has traditional opera and, like, a drag-queen performance. [It’s a] fictional religious story, about how to create a god. So it’s like putting some more contemporary elements into a really traditional story. I’m still planning it because I haven’t got enough funding...

You’ve said in past interviews that religion plays a part in the opera. Are you religious?

Yeah, I’m a Buddhist, [but it] references different religions. I wanted to make the main character dramatic, playing different gods at the same time. It’s kinda this religious country that has lots of different gods. One day he realizes that there is a divine real god so he starts questioning the belief that they have. So yeah, I think the story’s more about questioning yourself, what you actually believe, and what’s real and not real.

You also said in your other exhibition 「Tianzhuo’s Acid Club」 that you wanted to create a crazed feeling in your audience, like what people feel toward religion...

I think I feel a little bit lost, especially in China or Beijing where people don’t really have religion, so I just wanted to make people feel a strong, religious experience. They walk into the space, a church-like or a temple-like space, with a giant eyeball, lots of creepy installations around them, almost like a temple in Tibet. I want to make them, like, emotionally reflect the environment; make them think about their religious side of life and the fragility side of life.

What was it like?

It’s just like a place to really release yourself. People kinda got trippy, lots of people smoking weed and taking drugs, which is actually quite dangerous in Beijing. I think this is the only way you can find your freedom [here], 'cause it’s been forbidden, so you don’t have the chance to do that all the time.

In this interview you said, “I can’t just stay in one thing; I can’t just paint the same thing again and again. I’d lose my passion.” Could you elaborate?

I started painting when I was in college, and after a year I felt really bored. I thought I hated my work. So I started making installations to bring new blood into [them]. Then I thought installations are just too contemporary, too “art,” — people can’t really interact with an installation. I wanted to make my work more emotional, more sensational, so I started making performance art and videos.

When you say “too art,” are you poking fun at the elitist nature of the art world a little?

Yes, indeed. I guess there is a bit anti-elitism in my work. I like my work being absurd​ and aggressive.

Author: Grace Wang/Date: November 20, 2014/Source: http://www.openingceremony.us/entry.asp?pid=10649

Tianzhuo Chen 陈天灼
Official Website: http://tianzhuochen.com/
Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/tianzhuo
Instagram: https://instagram.com/asian_dope_boys/


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Awkwafina 「Daydreaming」

Posted on November 18, 2014 commentaires
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Zak Cheney-Rice 「16 Stunning Photos That Shatter Society’s Stereotypes About Asian Men」

Posted on November 17, 2014 commentaires
Retour sur la fameuse série de photos d'Idris + Tony, qu'on vous avait rapportée précédemment (c'est ça les « 16 Stunning Photos That Shatter Society’s Stereotypes About Asian Men » !), par Zak Cheney-Rice pour le site Mic.

What makes a man handsome?

Americans have debated this question for years, whether in magazine pages, online listicles or more intimate wars between themselves and the mirror. Scientists have weighed in with equal verve: Is attractiveness measurable, a matter of facial symmetry and body fat percentage? Or is it subjective in ways that are much harder to calculate?

Whatever your opinion, few can argue that these metrics are inclusive. The American beauty standard is undeniably a white standard, and people of color are bombarded with words and images that celebrate features they, as a matter of genetics, do not possess.

It’s part of why Idris + Tony, a Brooklyn, NY-based fashion photography duo, embarked on the 「Persuasian」 project earlier this year.

Originally conceived as an outlet to depict Asian men in a way most American media won’t — i.e. as unabashedly masculine, sexual and desirable — the series was featured on Models.com in July and garnered significant buzz among fashion industry insiders.

But 「Persuasian」 is more than just a feel-good story about diversifying beauty standards — it’s a deeply personal and empowering testament to the importance of self-esteem.

“I grew up in a very rural town,” Tony Craig, one half of Idris + Tony, said in an interview with Mic. Growing up with an Asian mother and a white father, he explained that the perception of Asian maleness in his community was one of “complete [inferiority].”

“[Asian] masculinity wasn’t acknowledged,” he said. “It was stripped away... And the way Asian men are depicted in popular culture, [we’re] never the object of desire... we’re still very much ‘just a friend.’”

Evidence for this claim abounds in American culture. Asian men in the U.S. are saddled with a troubling range of stereotypes: Whether framed as docile and submissive or rigid and emotionless, the perception is of a group so devoid of intimacy as to be certifiably sexless. Meanwhile, attempts to challenge this haven’t been well received. The first TV show in recent memory to depict an Asian man in a romantic lead, ABC’s sitcom 「Selfie」, starring John Cho, was recently cancelled after 13 episodes.

Yet by framing Asian men as objects of desire, Idris + Tony aim to flip this narrative on its ear. These men are indeed sexual beings, they insist, and undeniably worthy of intimate attention.

“We wanted to show that you don’t have to be a white person to be revered in this culture,” Idris Rheubottom, who is black, told Mic. “Any culture that’s not the majority here is seen as inferior, so it’s cool to hear people [now] talking about which guy is good-looking, not just which Asian guy.”

One could argue this objectification route fails to address a larger problem, that fixating on physical beauty can distract us from more substantive engagements with our fellow humans. However, as the photographers suggest, there’s something to be said for valorizing a group that’s traditionally been marginalized in this realm — even if its marginalization doesn’t intersect with a comprehensive range of issues.

Case in point: “I’ve always had negative self-image because of my Asian heritage,” Tony said, “even though I started out as a male model ... I would not give Asian guys the time of day, nor was I attracted to them in the same way I’ve been attracted to other races.”

The 「Persuasian」 project, then, was cathartic for him: “These Asian men [mostly models born and raised in countries like Taiwan, Korea and Japan] are coming in, and we start shooting them to put them on file... [and] there’s something I noticed in them that I hadn’t seen in Asian men before, or even myself... I think this work [can persuade] Americans to look at Asian men differently.”

Ultimately, the series remains a work in progress, but Idris + Tony are encouraged by its reception so far. They see it as a potential challenge to the entrenched and often subconscious racism plaguing the fashion industry as a whole, which they say privileges whiteness in the name of demand economics.

To date, it’s unclear if fashion tastemakers are actually as committed to diversity as recent trends suggest. But 「Persuasian」 strikes a powerful blow against the existing paradigm: The more people see it, the more opportunity it has to imagine a more inclusive standard of beauty, and the revived notions of self-esteem and positive self-image that come along with it.

All images courtesy of the photographers. You can see more of Idris + Tony’s work on Instagram, online, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Their upcoming project, the『BASTARD』Fanzine, can be viewed here.


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Angry Homosexual 「The Jack’d Racism Study: Asians are as Racist as Whites」

Posted on November 15, 2014 commentaires
It’s a well known fact that gay white guys generally prefer to date other gay white guys. Gay Asians know it all too well, but we’re mostly complaining in our own echo chamber while white guys party on.

But there’s another form of subtle racism that we rarely talk about – gay Asians discriminate against themselves in favor of whites.

I’ve seen many an Asian stricken by potato fever, but I wanted more than just anecdotal evidence. So I dug around for some data, turning to Jack’d, one of the most popular gay mobile dating apps. After going through 200 profiles, I was shocked at what I found.

Jack’d is a treasure trove of data
Ok, so where is this Jack’d data? As an unpaid user, you only see other guy’s reply rates, however if you cough up the dough for a Pro subscription, you get access to statistics showing which age groups, scenes (twinks, bears, etc.) and races another user is interested in. There are two features in Jack’d that are used to tabulate a user’s racial preference: Match and Favorite.

For Match, Jack’d shows you random profiles of people in your city and you either click Interested, Not Interested or Skip. The Favorite button bookmarks guys you like while you’re browsing. When you Favorite a guy, he’ll be saved in your Favorites folder and he’ll get notified of it.

Methodology
I randomly picked 100 Asian guys and 100 white guys who were last online in San Francisco.

San Francisco, the gayest city in the US, was a natural choice for this study. The city is 34.4% Asian and 41.6% non-Hispanic white. Because both races are roughly equally represented in the city, one can study their preferences for each other without having to account for Asians being a small minority, which they are in most of the US.

To ensure a reliable sample, every profile needed to have a face picture and a plausible age (i.e. not 99). They also had to have an interest in at least two different age groups and two different scenes in order to select for people who’ve used the Match and Favorite features extensively. I wanted to target only San Francisco residents so I excluded anyone whose profile said they were visiting.

Diversity of Jack’d Users
I picked a random point in central San Francisco and counted all Jack’d users within a one mile radius. This one mile radius covers a diverse array of neighborhoods in the city, with bits of the Mission, the Castro, the Haight, SoMa and the Tenderloin.

I counted the number of Jack’d users of each race within a one mile radius of a random point in San Francisco


You might be wondering how well Jack’d users represent the whole rainbow of races out there. It turns out that Jack’d users in central San Francisco form quite a colorful rainbow.


One might say that Asians are over-represented on Jack’d, which isn’t surprising given Jack’d’s reputation as an Asian-heavy app. If anything, the over-representation of Asians is a good thing because if we observe a bias against Asians, it can’t be attributed to their low numbers.

Determining Racial Preference
For each of the 100 Asian and 100 white guys I studied, I recorded their age, reply rate and the ethnicity distribution of guys they’re interested in.

For example, we can see in the following example that 92% of the guys Freddie’s interested in are Asian, 5% are Pacific Islanders, and the remaining 3% are split between Middle Eastern, Mixed and Other. He’s never Favorited a white, Latino or black profile.

Example Jack’d Insight Race Data for a user


After recording the ethnicity preferences of 100 Asian and 100 white profiles, I analyzed the data to see if I could find any obvious patterns. It didn’t take long...

Asians and Whites both avoid Asians
It turns out that both white and Asian men are somewhat allergic to Asians.


Not many rice eaters
There’s a strong bias against Asians. A significant proportion of white guys (40%) and Asians (29%) are never interested in Asians. That jives with OkCupid’s data showing that 43% of gay whites preferred to date their own race.

Plenty of potato love
Whites don’t have many haters. The vast majority of white and Asian guys are interested in white guys to at least some degree. I’ve heard many white men complain about sticky Asians, but the fact is that 93% of Asians are open to dating a white guy.

Whites prefer whites, but Asians prefer whites even more
A person prefers a race if 51% of the guys that person is interested in are of that race.


Asians have a stronger preference for white guys than white guys have for each other
The majority of gay Asians, 57%, prefer to date white guys. By contrast, only 45% of white guys prefer to date other whites. Also remember that 40.1% of users are Asian and 28.2% whites. The supply and demand dynamics are incredibly unbalanced and quite frankly sad. Why do Asians have such a gravitation towards potatoes?

Quantifying Rice Queens and Potato Queens
Let’s raise the bar even higher and see what happens when we try and pick out the rice queens and potato queens. A rice/potato queen is someone who prefers Asian/white 70% of the time or more.


Can you say potato addiction?
41% of gay Asians are potato queens. Gay Asians really, really love white guys. Almost half of gay Asians love white guys to the point where it’s an obsession. Compare this to only 18% of gay white men are rice queens. This is great news if you’re a white guy who eats rice.

Rice queens have the upper hand
A couple weeks ago I argued that the Gaysian dating world is stacked in favor of rice queens. Now we have the numbers to back that up. For every rice queen, there are 2.3 potato queens. White guys have their pick, but Asians have to settle for whatever they can get.

The only way all those gay Asians will settle with white men is to lower their standards and date older and/or less attractive white men. There’s no other way all those gay Asians’ desires can be accommodated.

I’ve put all the numbers we’ve seen so far onto one chart.


Notice that Asians and whites both prefer white guys by a substantial margin: the white guy is always more desirable than the Asian by a factor of 1.5-2x.

If you remember my Asian vs. White Grindr Experiment from a while back, you’ll recall that a hot white guy can expect 1.5-2x as many Grindr messages as a similarly endowed Asian. That’s almost identical to the margin by which Jack’d users prefer whites over Asians.

Asians are racist too
We often think of racism and discrimination as something whites are guilty of. But it turns out Asians are equally guilty of discriminating against themselves. You might write off the racism of whites as simply a preference for dating people who look like themselves, but how do you explain the preferences of gay Asians?

At least in the minds of gay Asians, white men are the gold standard of beauty and desirability. Maybe it’s an unavoidable consequence of growing up in American culture, where seeing almost nothing but whites on movie screens and fashion runways has indoctrinated us to the idea that only whites are attractive.

You might think that gay Asians, having grown up with the dual stigma of being both a racial and sexual minority, would be more open-minded than your average person. Some certainly seem to think they are:

Oops. I guess he meant to say he’s open-minded unless you’re Asian. ;)

I once said that gay Asians have no realistic chance of dating a hot white guy their own age. It turns out they might have the same struggles finding a hot Asian their own age too.

Author: Angry Homosexual/Date: November 15, 2014/Source: http://angryhomosexual.com/jackd-racism-study/
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Jolin Tsai 蔡依林 「Gentlewomen」

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Jolin Tsai 「Gentlewomen」【第二性】- from『Play』【呸】released on November 15, 2014.

Un clip « madonnesque » et très joli, réalisé par Scott Beardslee & Kitty Lin, avec un très joli garçon dansant en porte-jarretelles et bas !


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Jolin Tsai 蔡依林 feat. Namie Amuro 安室奈美恵 「I'm Not Yours」

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Jolin Tsai feat. Namie Amuro 「I'm Not Yours」 - from『Play』【呸】released on November 15, 2014.

Duo de DIVAS ♡




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Beatrice S. Paez 「Gay Asian youth still struggling for acceptance」

Posted on November 14, 2014 commentaires
It’s not easy being gay under the nosy, critical gaze of social media. Not even on social networks designed to facilitate encounters with like-minded communities.

Fellow gay individuals can be just as hurtful as gay bashers in expressing their distaste for others, but on the basis of race, said Meza Daulet, the co-ordinator of the youth program at Toronto’s Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS).

“Cruising” apps, or social networks like Grindr are notorious for their participants’ unfiltered, unrestrained statements of their preferences, he noted. “There are a lot of people who say, ‘No Asians, please.’”

ACAS has been at the forefront of issues affecting the East and Southeast Asian queer community, since its inception in 1994, providing them with services and safe spaces to speak openly about these types of dispiriting interactions.

While it is common practice to list specific preferences in other dating or matchmaking websites, Daulet said people should be more sensitive to the experiences of others.

For many gay youth still caught in the liminal headspace of admitting their sexual orientation even to themselves, “cruising” becomes one way to try on this sexual identity.

“They haven’t come out, but they may want to explore that [identity], and that’s the first thing they see,” said Daulet. “…It has a huge effect on them, that they’re not accepted because of their race or skin colour. Our objective is to build self-esteem and self-confidence.”

As damaging as coming out to the world on social platforms can be to one’s confidence, others are using these public channels to speak out against discrimination, as seen in a video featuring members of ACAS’ Queer Asian Youth (QAY) group.


Rice Roll Production/QAY 「Voices of Queer Asian Youth」 - posted on August 28, 2013.

Five years ago, it would have been unthinkable to expect 10 people to participate in a video, said Daulet. “I remember when I joined this group [in 2008], most of our youth were not yet out and were careful about a lot of stuff regarding confidentiality.”

Produced by QAY and Rice Roll Production, a group that tells stories of the Asian community, the video shows gay youth talking openly about their relationships with their families and peers and moments when they’ve felt excluded.

One youth spoke in the video about how he felt about the culture on Grindr, “I don’t understand why someone would limit a whole race, ethnicity of people. Not one person of all, any Asian descent looks attractive to you.”

Another youth shared his experience living at home with, what he called, a “traditional and strict Chinese family.”

“A lot of the topics I talk about with other people, I would not be comfortable talking about at home, specifically regarding homosexuality,” he said in the video. “I’m always being told by my father that I shouldn’t be hanging out downtown all the time, because he said, ‘there are a lot of gay people.’ My mother’s biggest fear is for me to turn gay or walk on the wrong path.”

These are acts of bravery that often provide comfort to those struggling to seek or gain acceptance. Some gay youth often opt to compartmentalize this aspect of their lives.

“A lot of their fear [of coming out] stems from rejection. Often family is a really big part of their life and they don’t want to lose it,” Daulet said. “Many are also saving face, they don’t want to disappoint their parents.”

But he said there have been instances when parents have shown willingness to understand their child’s situation, and ACAS has connected them with other families for support.

Gaining acceptance is not just limited to the family fold. There’s a whole a matrix of other considerations, including whether one can find unconditional support from strangers who have faced similar situations.

Barriers to participation at other organizations extend to the languages spoken by service providers. ACAS was borne out of the recognition that there was a need for culturally specific services, which could navigate cultural taboos of openly discussing sexuality and sexual health issues, and address language barriers.

Though a large percentage of the members of the youth group that access ACAS services are university or college educated, born or raised in Canada, the group does outreach for Asian newcomers; they conduct workshops on sexual health in their native tongues.

ACAS also partners with Japanese and Korean agencies to hold workshops for international students to discuss how HIV/AIDS is transmitted and play out scenarios that may lead to risky, harmful decisions due to gaps in their knowledge about practicing safe sex.

Raising awareness about sexual health issues is critical for people under the age of 30, given that more than 1 in 4 people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in recent years belong to this demographic, according to a report released in 2011 by Casey House, a specialty HIV/AIDS hospital in Toronto.

Statistics specific to the queer Asian community are not readily available, but there are efforts to stem the tide of misinformation, said Daulet.

Daulet and his volunteers are dispatched at gay bars and clubs for outreach; they will often quiz people on their understanding of sexual health and reward them with candy. Most are happy to oblige.

Beyond language, many queer Asian youth reared in Canada sometimes find themselves far removed from the broader white, middle class gay community.

“When they come out to the community, they often feel like they’re not represented,” said Daulet. “What they experience doesn’t really connect with other people’s experiences.”

Much of what is discussed at other outreach venues is centered on common experiences of being gay, less on what it feels to be gay and Asian, added Daulet.

Raising the issue of publicly stating racial preferences on social profiles puts some on the defensive, rather than reaching a new understanding or attempting to empathize, he said.

Part of Daulet’s responsibility is to listen to their concerns and to give them the freedom and support they need to create a safe and open community, especially since for many attending a QAY event or meeting is their first or second exposure.

At QAY there’s no distinction between members and volunteers – everyone is encouraged to pitch ideas to boost engagement and foster community, and can decide on their own level of commitment.

Since it started in 2000, the youth group has grown to become a “more self-organized volunteer group.”

The network of peer support has made many, as one volunteer told Daulet, “feel safe to be gay and Asian.”

Author: Beatrice S. Paez/Date: November 14, 2014/Source: http://theorigami.ca/2013/11/14/gay-asian-youth-struggling-acceptance/

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Ringo Le 「Op-ed: ‘Big Gay Love’ Advice for Asians in America」

Posted on November 12, 2014 commentaires
Todd Stroik, Ann Walker & Ethan Le Phong in 「Big Gay Love」

The director of 「Big Gay Love」 shares the struggles of being an Asian man in the American gay community.

My best friend, Chris, called me on the phone the other day to plan our birthdays this year. You know your best friend is excited when he trades his businessman decorum for the ever-so-ubiquitous gay male “hey gurl” talk. We have been friends since the late 1990s, when we met while in college in San Francisco. Chris is Thai-American and I am Vietnamese-American, and we share the unique cultural context of the gay Asian American experience. He is now a successful real estate broker, and I am a filmmaker.

Shortly after Chris and I first met, we went to a youth retreat together at the Asian Pacific Wellness Center in San Francisco. It was there that we were encouraged to speak our minds about the horrible inequality of being a racial minority in the gay world. I don’t remember much, but I remember that it was a gabfest with lots of crying — not from me, but from the more mature men who had experienced discrimination firsthand. They talked about gay bars in the ’70s in the Castro that had signs or bouncers, or both, that stated, “No Asians.”

In many ways, these signs still exist but have moved from the velvet ropes of the clubs in the ’70s to the gay Asian man in America. It is an unfortunate birthright that one must experience being exoticized, objectified, and/or ostracized by gay culture in some way, shape, or form in the constant struggle to be validated by mainstream gay culture.

Fast-forward 20 years later. At a recent launch party for『Daniel』Magazine in Hollywood, which celebrates the accomplishments of gay Asian men, I looked around at luminaries like Allan Brocka, a Filipino American director, and Evan Low, a member of the California State Assembly. I felt pride in my peers, but this sentiment felt overshadowed by remarks I had just read by actress Rose McGowan, who had recently said, “Gay men are as misogynistic as straight men, if not more so.” I wanted to shout, “Rose, I hear you loud and clear,” and further assert that in addition to sexism, racism is alive and well. An equal sign is often used as a symbol for the LGBT community, but I believe a pyramid is a more appropriate image. And at the top of the social hierarchy stands the idealized gay white man, and it will probably never change.

This past year, I made a feature film called 「Big Gay Love」 about a chubby gay man overcoming discrimination to look for love on his own terms in the image-conscious gay world. The promotion of 「Big Gay Love」 has taken me all over the United States and opened my eyes to the gay community in vast and varying ways. But for some reason, it has connected with straight women as well. Gay men and straight women alike approach me after the film for one of two reasons. First, they think I made the film because I must have gone through a significant weight transformation. Or alternatively, they believe that I must have written the film for them. After hearing these remarks, I couldn’t help but have a Carrie Bradshaw moment, wondering, Did I transpose this experience of race-based dating into weight-based dating? For isn’t the basis of dating all boiled down to one simple principle? We want someone to love us for who we are and not the thousand masks we put on for the world.

I wrote and directed 「Big Gay Love」 to deliberately counter the view that there is a standard of beauty in the gay world. My hero, played by 「Gayby」’s Jonathan Lisecki, is very much what the mythologist Joseph Campbell would call the “hero with a thousand faces.” Upon meeting his love interest played by 「Buffy the Vampire Slayer」’s Nicholas Brendon, the movie upends the ideals of race, class, and conventional beauty. Specifically, I wrote it for gay men who have a very rigid definition of beauty and have felt “lesser than,” because they feel like they cannot live up to that standard. It is sad that too many gay men, and gay men of color, believe they are lesser than their idealized counterparts. Consequently, they compare themselves to nearly unattainable images perpetuated by the gay press. Conversely, when you are a person of color who has conventional Western features coveted by the mainstream, somehow, it gives you a pass. But deep down, you know that the semblance of your physical self does not represent the complete you. And at the end of the day, even the most beautiful person in the world does not know what it is like to be happy if they do not know who they are and what they stand for as a person. So what’s a gay boy to do in hopes of finding love in the great big gay world? You must learn to be yourself at all cost.

It will take you a long time, but one day you will wake up to learn that coming out isn’t about coming out at all, but at its core, it is about coming into yourself. Some people come out and let that single identity envelope them. That is why I believe one’s race and unique culture is not a hindrance, but an asset.

My cultural context is different. My family and I came to the United States from the ashes of the atrocity of the Vietnam War. My father’s village was blown to smithereens during the Tet Offensive in 1968. A decade later, I was born in Saigon. My first memories of the world around me took place on a refugee boat fleeing for America. We made it on our own terms. It took me nearly up until this point in my life to reconcile with that, but I have taken my family’s strength, industriousness, and resilience to be my life motto.

When one is in one’s 20s, it can be extremely hard learning what love really means when you take your cues from the pages of gay magazines or from watching American romantic comedies. The gay world can often feel shallow and flashy. It wasn’t until I went to Vietnam upon making my first feature film that I realized what love really meant. One night I had gone to a Vietnamese pop concert in Saigon and was stranded by my social butterfly friends only to have a mutual acquaintance, Mark, offer me a ride home on the back of his Vespa. That ride turned into a five-hour trip through the city looking for a coffee shop that was willing to take us in to talk until the sun rose. We talked about the residual effects of the Vietnam War and what we were going to do to change our generation. Before I knew it, my life had changed forever. By morning, my entire world was in synchronicity, and I felt like time and space disappeared. In short order, he had obtained a scholarship to go to graduate school and joined me in America. But after nearly four years he missed his homeland. In my heart, I knew our relationship had to end, but it still changed my life. And there will be no other like it, because it taught me so much about loving my culture and myself.

It is only through heartbreak that I have learned these things:
  1. Do not fall in love with an ideal. Fall in love with a person.
  2. Real love is not about finding happiness. Real love is about finding meaningfulness. Happiness is ephemeral, like sex. It is a selfish emotion and it doesn’t last. But meaningfulness is a lasting thing because it is expressed in giving rather than taking.
  3. In the dating world, most will see you for your looks. Only a select few will see beyond that. Know the difference. Someone who sees your ethnicity as a novelty will likely not stick around to understand the complexity of your humanness. Without a deeper foundation, you’ve got very little to stand on.
  4. Do not see beauty based on the Western paradigm, but through the prism of your own cultural roots. Especially as gay men. Create your own culture. Build your own language.
  5. Last and most importantly, you have a say in the narrative of your life. Know yourself. Love yourself. Be yourself. No can love you until you learn to love yourself first and foremost.

As I remind myself what love means upon writing this article, I hope that you go out there and find your 「Big Gay Love」.

RINGO LE is the writer and director of the film 「Big Gay Love」, coming to TLA DVD on December 2. He can be reached on Twitter @ringole or Facebook at www.facebook.com/ringole.


Ringo Le 「Big Gay Love」 trailer - released on May 23 2014.

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Andrew Jacobs 「Taïwan, un phare pour les homosexuels d'Asie」

Posted on November 04, 2014 commentaires
65 000 personnes ont défilé dans les rues de Taipei en faveur du mariage gay. De nombreux Asiatiques se sont joints au défilé, admiratifs du libéralisme taïwanais sur ce sujet.

Brandissant des drapeaux arc-en-ciel et des banderoles exigeant le mariage homosexuel, le joyeux cortège part du palais présidentiel et défile sous les acclamations des spectateurs.

Pour la treizième année consécutive, la Gay Pride a occupé les rues de la capitale le samedi 25 octobre et démontré bruyamment et joyeusement l’évolution de Taïwan en vingt ans, depuis que la démocratie a remplacé la loi martiale [levée en 1987] et l’autocratie.

Les applaudissements redoublent d’intensité au passage d’un drapeau malaisien ou d’une troupe de danseurs japonais en costume traditionnel, des envoyés de contrées plus restrictives. James Yang, une pancarte du Centre communautaire gay et lesbien de Pékin à la main, peut à peine avancer tant les gens se pressent pour se faire prendre en photo à ses côtés.

« J’ai participé à des Gay Pride à New York, San Diego, Los Angeles mais là, c’est très émouvant pour moi, confie M. Yang, 39 ans, directeur du développement du Centre. C’est vraiment excitant mais en même temps, tout ce soutien me rappelle à quel point on reste à la traîne en Chine. »

Coups de fouets en Indonésie, prison à Singapour
À une époque où la légalisation du mariage homosexuel déferle sur les États-Unis, l’Amérique latine et l’Europe, les défenseurs des droits des homosexuels d’Asie ont toujours du mal à obtenir une protection de base.

Le sultanat de Brunei applique la charia qui pénalise les relations homosexuelles, l’assemblée de la province d’Aceh, en Indonésie, a adopté le mois dernier une ordonnance qui punit les relations sexuelles homosexuelles de cent coups de fouet, et la plus haute juridiction de Singapour a confirmé mercredi [29 octobre] une loi condamnant à deux ans de prison les hommes se livrant à tout acte « ressortant de l’attentat à la pudeur » en public ou privé. Dans un État de Malaisie, les garçons efféminés sont envoyés dans un camp d’entraînement pour rectifier leur comportement.

En matière de droits des homosexuels, Taïwan est un monde à part en Asie. Les gays et lesbiennes déclarés peuvent servir dans l’armée et le ministère de l’Education dicte que les manuels scolaires doivent promouvoir la tolérance. Le législateur a adopté plusieurs lois protégeant les homosexuels, entre autres sur le lieu de travail.

« Un modèle pour une grande partie de l’Asie »
Une proposition de loi visant à légaliser le mariage homosexuel a été présentée devant l’assemblée, même si le texte se heurte à une forte opposition de la part des militants chrétiens et de leurs alliés au sein du Kuomintang, le parti au pouvoir.

« Taïwan est un modèle pour une grande partie de l’Asie, déclare Grace Poore, qui dirige le programme Asie et Pacifique de la Commission internationale des droits de l’homme pour les gays et lesbiennes. Elle est très en avance sur ses voisins. »

Avec ses médias dynamiques, ses nombreuses associations et sa démocratie solide bien que parfois tumultueuse, cette île autonome est devenue le phare du militantisme politique pour toute l’Asie. Le mouvement écologiste taïwanais est désormais une formidable force électorale ; en avril dernier, les adversaires de l’énergie nucléaire sont parvenus à suspendre la construction de la centrale nucléaire de Lungmen, même si la décision finale sera peut-être soumise à un référendum.

Les partisans de la démocratie qui occupent les rues de Hong Kong depuis plus d’un mois ont étudié les tactiques des étudiants taïwanais. Ils avaient pris d’assaut l’assemblée législative au début de l’année pour stopper la signature d’un traité qui rendait selon eux Taïwan vulnérable aux pressions de la Chine continentale, laquelle considère l’île comme faisant partie de son territoire.

« Notre influence est plus grande que notre taille »
« Nous avons peut-être une petite population, mais notre influence est plus grande que notre taille, déclare Yu Meinu, un député du Parti progressiste démocrate (DPP, opposition) qui a présenté à l’assemblée la première proposition de loi relative au mariage pour tous il y a deux ans. Nous avons un niveau de liberté d’expression sans égal. »

Victoria Hsu, qui dirige l’Alliance pour la promotion du droit au partenariat civil, reconnaît que le mouvement pour le mariage homosexuel rencontre une forte opposition. Le fait que les trois principaux candidats à la mairie de Taipei – un poste qui figure sur le CV de tous les présidents depuis 1988 – ont tous exprimé leur soutien est cependant encourageant. Cela signifie que la légalisation n’est qu’une question de temps. « La question, ce n’est pas “si” mais “quand” », ajoute-t-elle. D’après plusieurs sondages réalisés l’année dernière, le mariage homosexuel est soutenu par plus de 50 % de la population.

Andrew Jacobs
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Andrew Jacobs 「For Asia’s Gays, Taiwan Stands Out as Beacon」


TAIPEI, Taiwan – Waving rainbow flags and banners demanding same-sex marriage, the revelers set off from Taiwan’s presidential palace, drawing cheers and thumbs-up from spectators along the way.

For the 13th year in a row, the gay pride march took over the streets of the capital on Saturday in a boisterous, freewheeling demonstration of how far Taiwan has come in the two decades since multiparty democracy replaced martial law and authoritarian rule.

But the loudest applause rose when a Malaysian flag or a troupe of Japanese dancers in traditional folk outfits, envoys from more restrictive locales, were spotted amid the throng. Carrying a handmade placard from Beijing’s gay and lesbian community center above his head, James Yang could barely advance along the parade route because so many strangers wanted to be photographed by his side.

“I’ve been to gay pride marches in New York, San Diego and Los Angeles, but this is so emotional for me,” said Mr. Yang, 39, the center’s director of development. “It’s really exciting, but at the same time, the outpouring of support reminds me of how far behind we are in China.”

At a time when laws legalizing same-sex marriage are sweeping the United States, Latin America and Europe, gay rights advocates across Asia are still struggling to secure basic protections.

Brunei has instituted strict Shariah laws that criminalize gay relationships, conservative legislators in the Indonesian province of Aceh passed an ordinance last month punishing gay sex with 100 lashes, and on Wednesday the highest court in Singapore upheld a law that carries a two-year jail term for men who engage in any act of “gross indecency,” in public or private. In one Malaysian state, effeminate boys are shipped off to boot camp in an effort to reshape their behavior.

When it comes to gay rights in Asia, Taiwan is a world apart. Openly gay and lesbian soldiers can serve in the military, and the Ministry of Education requires textbooks to promote tolerance for gays and lesbians. In recent years, legislators here have passed protections for gays, including a law against workplace discrimination.

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage has been introduced in Taiwan’s legislature, although it still faces strong opposition from Christian activists and their allies in the governing Kuomintang.

“Taiwan is an inspiration for much of Asia,” said Grace Poore, director of Asia and Pacific island programs at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “They are way ahead of their neighbors.”

With its lively news media, panoply of grass-roots organizations and a robust, if sometimes noisy, democracy, this self-governing island has become a beacon for liberal political activism across Asia. Taiwan’s environmental movement has emerged as a formidable electoral force, and in April, opponents of atomic energy succeeded in halting construction of the Lungmen Nuclear Power Plant, although a final decision on the facility may be put to a public referendum.

Democracy advocates who have occupied the streets of Hong Kong for over a month studied the tactics of the student protesters in Taiwan who earlier this year took over the Legislative Yuan in an effort to halt a trade pact they said would leave Taiwan vulnerable to pressure from mainland China, which considers the island part of its territory.

“We may have a small population, but our influence is bigger than our size,” said Yu Meinu, a legislator from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party. “The level of free speech is unlike anywhere else.”

Ms. Yu, who introduced the island’s first marriage equality bill into the legislature two years ago, said one of Taiwan’s greatest assets was its thriving collection of civil society groups. “A lot of the calls for reform come from the bottom up, not from the government,” she said. “And when people here see injustice, they are not afraid to stand up and make their voices heard.”

But the wellspring of opposition to same-sex marriage has highlighted the limits of liberal activism. Last December, at the same spot where gay and lesbian marchers gathered over the weekend, an estimated 150,000 people rallied against the legislation.

Min Daixi, vice president of the Unification Church and a leader in the Taiwan Family Protection Alliance, said same-sex unions were a threat to traditional families. “They are trying to redefine a concept that our society was built upon,” he said.

Victoria Hsu, who heads the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights, acknowledged that the movement for same-sex marriage faced strong opposition.

But she said she was encouraged that the three leading candidates for Taipei mayor – a job on the résumé of every president since 1988 – have all expressed support for same-sex marriage, which to her suggests that the legalization of same-sex unions is simply a matter of time. “It’s not a question of if, but of when,” she said. Several polls over the past year have found that more than 50 percent of people in Taiwan support same-sex marriage.

Religious life here, for the most part, is dominated by Buddhism and Taoism, faiths with little doctrinal resistance to homosexuality. Although they make up less than 5 percent of Taiwan’s 23 million people, Christians have formed the bulwark of the opposition. “Taiwanese are really tolerant,” said Ms. Poore of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “It’s not the kind of place where gays and lesbians have to worry about violence if they are affectionate in public.”

In addition to scores of bars, clubs and gay bookstores, one well-trod tourist attraction is a Taoist shrine dedicated to a rabbit deity – based on an 18th-century Qing dynasty official who was said to be gay – who has become something of a patron saint to gay worshipers seeking good fortune.

Still, in many respects, Taiwan remains a traditional society bound by a sense of Confucian filial duty that emphasizes family and the production of heirs. Edgar Chang, 34, a chemical engineer who was wearing a rhinestone-encrusted tiara and feather boa on Saturday, said he is out to his friends but has not summoned the courage to tell his parents he has had a boyfriend for the past three years. “I don’t think they would disown me, but at the same time, I think it might kill them because they really want a grandchild,” he said.

The gay pride march has come a long way since 2003, when some participants wore masks to conceal their identities. Albert Yang, 37, one of the parade organizers, recalled his trepidation that year as the march set off with just a handful of participants. “A lot of people didn’t dare join, but they slowly worked their way into the crowd, and by the time we finished, there were 600 or 700 people,” he said.

This year, more than 65,000 people joined the march, according to organizers. They included contingents of Filipinos, Malaysians, Singaporeans, and a much smaller number of mainland Chinese, most of whom are restricted from traveling to Taiwan on their own by strict visa requirements imposed by both governments.

Although the Chinese Communist Party takes a mostly hands-off approach to homosexual activity, there are no legal protections for gays in China, and the authorities have become less tolerant of AIDS organizations and gay rights advocates as part of a wider campaign against nongovernmental organizations.

Waving a large rainbow flag over the crowd, Hiro, a 48-year-old television station employee from Tokyo, said it was his eighth time at the parade. “For gay Japanese, this is the event of the year,” he said, declining to give his full name out of concern it could cause problems at work. “I only wish we were as brave as the Taiwanese and could do something like this in Japan.”

Surveying the march from the sidelines, Jay Lin, 46, said he thought Taiwan could do more to promote its live-and-let-live ethos at a time when the island’s economy is slowing. “We have become a beacon for human rights issues across Asia,” said Mr. Lin, who this year started Taiwan’s first gay and lesbian film festival. “This is a strong selling point, and if the government was smart, they would recognize that this is our soft power and market it to the rest of the world.”

Chen Jiehao contributed research from Beijing.

A version of this article appears in print on October 30, 2014, on Page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: 「For Asia’s Gays, Taiwan Stands Out as Beacon」.



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