from slander #7 by Mimi Nguyen:
Someone, somewhere, was on a hunger strike, and it came up in a conversation between Mark and a homeless man, who said, “Hey, I’ve been on a hunger strike for three years, and I still haven’t had my demands met!”
Just so. Now, I admit: I’m a critical girl and I don’t let go easily, but it seems important to ask. Who has the luxury to go on a hunger strike, to go hungry (for just a little while) to make a political point, and for whom is hunger not a strategy but a normative condition, the way they exist from day to day?
Then later, this made me think of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.
I recently read a zine as pretty as can be, wrapped in a stenciled, hand-made fabric bag like a pillowcase, all yellow and pink flowers. In between emotive prose and indie rock, xeroxed photographs and clever lay-outs with cat’s-eyes glasses, I stumbled across the reviews, and found myself in them:
slant is a heavy read, mostly about race issues. i feel bad saying it, but i feel so white when reading...i couldn’t related, and then felt bad feeling like that
I wondered if I should write to her, tell her maybe the point wasn’t for her to relate, but to challenge herself to think more broadly, critically. Or maybe suggest that I didn’t want her to related, because she is not like me, and that the very real issues of race, class, and nation affect our sociality, even in a supposedly “neutral” space like art, or punk, and that we need to be aware of these things and take them seriously.
Then I realized that I’d already written all these things in the zine she reviewed.
As i continued reading through the zine i realized i had forgotten (i have read this zine before) how amazing Mimi is. There are a number of pages discussing a local sex shop, and she touches on various disturbing racial issues and the problematics of “sex as liberation.” Then there was a piece on homeless (Vietnam) veterans (which i quote from below) and a piece on “public” space and war memorials. I have a tendency to read, looking for things to copy down, maybe even to reprint in a zine of my own, but i found myself wanting to reprint more of slander than was really feasible; it’s one of those zines i want to just hand copies of to people, also that makes me want to interrogate everything i come across -- how the dominant culture shapes everything, and shapes our perceptions of everything.
Mimi’s piece on sex and tokenism and race and so on reminded me of a conversation i had with a friend recently. We were discussing various modern issues in gay rights and Matthew Shepard came up. He said that that was one of the things that kept him from coming out. I felt fear inside me. I have often thought about the privilege i have in being able to hide my queerness, to not “come out,” but i had never thought about how my female-ness gives me privilege. Sure, there is the chance that some man will (try to) rape me to “make me straight,” but there aren’t horror stories of things like that like there are of the brutal rapings/beatings/murders of (perceived) fags.
Writing about this now also reminds me of the balancing act i do with this journal. I don’t friends-lock any entries, but i am very conscious of the audience. I know my mother reads it. There is a link in my AIM profile, so anyone whose BuddyList i’m on can access it. But i don’t put in my e-mail signature. No one at church knows about it. No family outside my immediate family knows about it. I often consider making it more known, because it’s an easy way for people to follow my life, to understand better what i care about and what affects me. But then i rant about extended family or work or church and i know i wouldn’t do that, at least not in the same way, if i knew the people i was bitching about were reading. My audience makes me cautious. Also, even if i had no qualms about sharing my own thoughts and feelings, the fact that i talk about queer people in my town makes me cautious. It is not my place to “out” anyone, nor is it anyone’s place to “out” me (though sometimes i almost wish someone would, to save me the trouble). The problem with balancing how open you want to be about your own life is that “your” life is bound up with other people’s lives, and it is sometimes impossible to separate the threads.
“For every one POW they might believe is still trapped in Southeast Asia, there are at least one thousand homeless veterans on the streets of the United States right now. Where are the bracelets, the fundraisers and millions of dollars to aid the ones that are right in front of them, rather than the phantoms of men who no longer exist?” -Mimi Nguyen, slander #7
Can you believe i just wrote (and sent) the following letter to the head of the English Department of my high school?
Dear Ms. Brady,
I was talking to a friend recently, discussing the diversity of the literature taught in Norwood High English classes, and at first I came up with more queer writers than writers of color, which I thought was interesting. If one counts summer reading books, writers of color outnumber queer writers (and incidentally, looking at the summer reading lists, there’s a plethora of multicultural lit; and the problematics of required summer readings is a topic for another e-mail), but otherwise I can only come up with 3 of each. (Tennesse Williams: The Glass Menagerie -- not that Tennesee Williams’ sexuality ever gets discussed, but that’s a separate issue entirely -- , Truman Capote: In Cold Blood, Willa Cather: My Antonía; Lorraine Hansberry: A Raisin in the Sun, Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird, Sandra Cisneros: The House on Mango Street) Although of course there is the problem of the fact that it is fairly easy to know if a writer of a few centuries ago was white or not, but difficult to know if anyone earlier than the nineteenth century was other than heterosexual. And then there is the problem that almost all of the works we read by people of color are by African-Americans. I can think of one by a Hispanic-American and none by any Asian(-American) or Native American authors. On the positive side, there seems to be a fair balance of modern and “classic” literature, as well as of male and female writers (considering how difficult it has been for women to get published for most of history).
No, I don’t have any specific queer/female/non-Caucasion/non-middle-cl
ass authors to recommend. I’m just increasingly aware of the dominant culture and how it infiltrates everything and have been interrogating everything more and more. Interestingly, while I’m certainly looking forward to going back to Smith in a week, I’ll miss the luxury of being able to do all this research. Once back at school I’ll just be doing research and critiquing within the frameworks of the courses I’m taking. And all my classes this semester are fairly classic. There is no queer studies, no ethnic studies. Not that I’m not very much looking forward to them all, of course. It’s just a bit odd after all the reading I’ve been doing this summer.
Anyway, I’ll talk more to you when I’m home for break, or you can just e-mail (and hopefully the server won’t eat it along the way).
I am training myself to not dismiss what I say with statements like “Well, that’s enough of my babbling.”