泰山, Mountain Spirits and the Ancestors

letters-to-charles:

This past week I spent my time traveling to and around the city of Tai’an in China’s Shandong province. The most significant place and my ultimate goal was Mount Tai [ 泰山 ].

On top of Mount Tai is a series of temple complexes dedicated to the Mountain Gods, Peace, and the Ancestors. I wanted to visit Mt. Tai as a personal pilgrimage to remember my ancestors and their sacrifices but I had to first climb a 7000+ steps stone stairway up the mountain.

The task was more difficult than I had imagined but I managed to get up the mountain within 2-3 hours. The journey itself up the mountain was a good opportunity for me to reflect on myself. For every flight of stairs I climbed I challenged myself to think about one selfless act that my family members or friends had done for my benefit.

I thought about how my parents had sacrificed so much of their lives to give me everything they could. Even though my parents and I never had a great relationship, I realize it was everything they could have possibly done and it was done through love, for that I am grateful.

I thought about how my siblings had supported my endeavors and goals, fighting for them to be accomplished. How when I, myself, almost gave up they lifted me up to breathe again.

I thought about my friends who saw me through one of my darkest time when I came out as a gay man. When family became estranged, the warm hands of true friends held mine through the night to see the sun rise again.

I thought about my ancestors, who fought through oppression and died to give me the chance to live such a life as I do today—free from the fear of death and a chance to escape poverty.

I thought about how immeasurably fortunate and blessed I am to simply be alive and free from the pain and suffering that so many endure.

~

The breathe escaped my wind-chapped lips, curling slowly into the misty mountain air. I was panting heavily, cold sweat soaked my clothes and hair but I was filled with a calm happiness. I had made it.

In front of me was a small shelf of granite stone jutting out from the side of the mountain, behind me a steep stairwell fell. Their was enough room for three people shoulder to shoulder to walk across the landing, to the side of which a sheer drop began.

I proceeded to the end of the stone shelf at which a solitary altar made of hammered iron sat. I was alone, and the silence was absolute except for the shuffling of my feet. Reaching the altar I opened my backpack to take out the bundles of incense sticks I had carried up the mountain. After lighting them from the flame of an oil lamp I placed them in the cold ashes of the altar.

I thanked my ancestors for their sacrifices as I watched the breeze carry away my prayers.

I hope everyone is enjoying their Halloween festivities! In that “spirit”, here’s a reflection from @letters-to-charles on spirituality and remembrance.

-Jeffrey

Advertisements

Follower Friday: reyjeffy

Follower Fridays is a series of profiles highlighting members of Gaysian Third Space to showcase the diversity of gaysians in the Community. This week’s featured member is @reyjeffy.

image

Who are you?

I am a third-generation Chinese-American environmentalist and lover of good food who sings a little too much and laughs a little too hard.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in California with ancestral roots in Hoiping/Toisan in Guangdong Province. I went to school in the Bay Area and after graduating, spent a year abroad in Beijing. I am currently based in Washington D.C.

What do you do?

I am a government consultant performing economic analyses on environmental regulations for the federal government. In my free time, I enjoy hiking, biking, reading, listening to music, playing games, and meeting up with friends.

What are you passionate about?

Well if it isn’t obvious already, I care a lot about this little blue planet. Recently, I’ve been taken with climate adaptation issues, or how society will adapt to a changing climate. Whether it be climate refugees, shifts in agricultural production, or access to safe and clean water, climate change will place tremendous pressures on humanity and I’m interested in making sure our collective response is proactive, fair, and just.

I’m also nurturing an interest in education. I deplore the low social status of teachers in the US and view public divestment from education as a divestment from our future. That’s why I hope to become an educator later in my career, distilling years of field experience to inspire the next generation to take on the challenges of the century, environmental or otherwise.

What is your dream job (real or fantasy)?

A position where I am involved with both high-level policymaking and grassroots implementation to create a resilient and regenerative society.

If you could change the world with one idea, what would it be?

Grant everyone the ability to listen and think critically with an open mind.

clinth:

thesylverlining:

ayellowbirds:

feminesque:

madgastronomer:

marxvx:

my night manager (who is a gay man) and i sometimes sit down and exchange stories and tidbits about our sexuality and our experiences in the queer cultural enclave. and tonight he and i were talking about the AIDS epidemic. he’s about 50 years old. talking to him about it really hit me hard. like, at one point i commented, “yeah, i’ve heard that every gay person who lived through the epidemic knew at least 2 or 3 people who died,” and he was like “2 or 3? if you went to any bar in manhattan from 1980 to 1990, you knew at least two or three dozen. and if you worked at gay men’s health crisis, you knew hundreds.” and he just listed off so many of his friends who died from it, people who he knew personally and for years. and he even said he has no idea how he made it out alive.

it was really interesting because he said before the aids epidemic, being gay was almost cool. like, it was really becoming accepted. but aids forced everyone back in the closet. it destroyed friendships, relationships, so many cultural centers closed down over it. it basically obliterated all of the progress that queer people had made in the past 50 years.

and like, it’s weird to me, and what i brought to the conversation (i really couldn’t say much though, i was speechless mostly) was like, it’s so weird to me that there’s no continuity in our history? like, aids literally destroyed an entire generation of queer people and our culture. and when you think about it, we are really the first generation of queer people after the aids epidemic. but like, when does anyone our age (16-28 i guess?) ever really talk about aids in terms of the history of queer people? like it’s almost totally forgotten. but it was so huge. imagine that. like, dozens of your friends just dropping dead around you, and you had no idea why, no idea how, and no idea if you would be the next person to die. and it wasn’t a quick death. you would waste away for months and become emaciated and then, eventually, die. and i know it’s kinda sophomoric to suggest this, but like, imagine that happening today with blogs and the internet? like people would just disappear off your tumblr, facebook, instagram, etc. and eventually you’d find out from someone “oh yeah, they and four of their friends died from aids.”

so idk. it was really moving to hear it from someone who experienced it firsthand. and that’s the outrageous thing – every queer person you meet over the age of, what, 40? has a story to tell about aids. every time you see a queer person over the age of 40, you know they had friends who died of aids. so idk, i feel like we as the first generation of queer people coming out of the epidemic really have a responsibility to do justice to the history of aids, and we haven’t been doing a very good job of it.

Younger than 40.

I’m 36. I came out in 1995, 20 years ago. My girlfriend and I started volunteering at the local AIDS support agency, basically just to meet gay adults and meet people who maybe had it together a little better than our classmates. The antiretrovirals were out by then, but all they were doing yet was slowing things down. AIDS was still a death sentence.

The agency had a bunch of different services, and we did a lot of things helping out there, from bagging up canned goods from a food drive to sorting condoms by expiration date to peer safer sex education. But we both sewed, so… we both ended up helping people with Quilt panels for their beloved dead.

Do the young queers coming up know about the Quilt? If you want history, my darlings, there it is. They started it in 1985. When someone died, his loved ones would get together and make a quilt panel, 3’x6’, the size of a grave. They were works of art, many of them. Even the simplest, just pieces of fabric with messages of loved scrawled in permanent ink, were so beautiful and so sad.

They sewed them together in groups of 8 to form a panel. By the 90s, huge chunks of it were traveling the country all the time. They’d get an exhibition hall or a gym or park or whatever in your area, and lay out the blocks, all over the ground with paths between them, so you could walk around and see them. And at all times, there was someone reading. Reading off the names of the dead. There was this huge long list, of people whose names were in the Quilt, and people would volunteer to just read them aloud in shifts.

HIV- people would come in to work on panels, too, of course, but most of the people we were helping were dying themselves. The first time someone I’d worked closely with died, it was my first semester away at college. I caught the Greyhound home for his funeral in the beautiful, tiny, old church in the old downtown, with the bells. I’d helped him with his partner’s panel. Before I went back to school, I left supplies to be used for his, since I couldn’t be there to sew a stitch. I lost track of a lot of the people I knew there, busy with college and then plunged into my first really serious depressive cycle. I have no idea who, of all the people I knew, lived for how long.

The Quilt, by the way, weighs more than 54 tons, and has over 96,000 names. At that, it represents maybe 20% of the people who died of AIDS in the US alone.

There were many trans women dying, too, btw. Don’t forget them. (Cis queer women did die of AIDS, too, but in far smaller numbers.) Life was and is incredibly hard for trans women, especially TWOC. Pushed out to live on the streets young, or unable to get legal work, they were (and are) often forced into sex work of the most dangerous kinds, a really good way to get HIV at the time. Those for whom life was not quite so bad often found homes in the gay community, if they were attracted to men, and identified as drag queens, often for years before transitioning. In that situation, they were at the same risk for the virus as cis gay men.

Cis queer women, while at a much lower risk on a sexual vector, were there, too. Helping. Most of the case workers at that agency and every agency I later encountered were queer women. Queer woman cooked and cleaned and cared for the dying, and for the survivors. We held hands with those waiting for their test results. Went out on the protests, helped friends who could barely move to lie down on the steps of the hospitals that would not take them in — those were the original Die-Ins, btw, people who were literally lying down to die rather than move, who meant to die right there out in public — marched, carted the Quilt panels from place to place. Whatever our friends and brothers needed. We did what we could.

OK, that’s it, that’s all I can write. I keep crying. Go read some history. Or watch it, there are several good documentaries out there. Don’t watch fictional movies, don’t read or watch anything done by straight people, fuck them anyway, they always made it about the tragedy and noble suffering. Fuck that. Learn about the terror and the anger and the radicalism and the raw, naked grief.

I was there, though, for a tiny piece of it. And even that tiny piece of it left its stamp on me. Deep.

2011

A visual aid: this is the Quilt from the Names Project laid out on the Washington Mall

image

I was born (in Australia) at the time that the first AIDS cases began to surface in the US. While I was a witness after it finally became mainstream news (mid-85), I was also a child for much of it. For me there was never really a world Before. I’m 35 now and I wanted to know and understand what happened. I have some recommendations for sources from what I’ve been reading lately:

I don’t think I can actually bring myself to read memoirs for the same reason I can’t read about the Holocaust or Stalinist Russia any more. But I have a list: 

Read or watch The Normal Heart. Read or watch Angels in America. Read The Mayor of Castro Street or watch Milk. Dallas Buyers Club has its issues but it’s also heartbreaking because the characters are exactly the politically unsavory people used to justify the lack of spending on research and treatment. It’s also an important look at the exercise of agency by those afflicted and abandoned by their government/s, how they found their own ways to survive. There’s a film of And the Band Played On but JFC it’s a mess. You need to have read the book.

Some documentaries:

Everyone should read about the history of the AIDS epidemic. Especially if you are American, especially if you are a gay American man. HIV/AIDS is not now the death sentence it once was but before antiretrovirals it was just that. It was long-incubating and a-symptomatic until, suddenly, it was not.

Read histories. Read them because reality is complex and histories attempt to elucidate that complexity. Read them because past is prologue and the past is always, in some form, present. We can’t understand here and now if we don’t know about then.

*there are just SO MANY people I want to punch in the throat.

Please, if you are following me right now, read this. It’s so important to remember this, to understand how much we lost. To understand that, when I was a little kid, the biggest thing about the community was that shared loss. 

There is a lot I want to say and I don’t have the spoons but. Yeah. This is all so, so important. Please read this.

@gaysianthirdspace thought this might be a good read, even though it’s not specifically about gaysians. 

Thanks to @clinth for pointing out this thread for G3S! The AIDS epidemic was a traumatic ordeal for the LGBT community and the level of awareness on the depth of the tragedy is lost among many younger LGBT. I’m curious if members of the Community would be willing to share some of their stories from that dark time. Perhaps @postcardsfromthebay?

-Jeffrey

Breaking the Curse

thoughtsfromthewalkhome:

Living in D.C. as a gay male (although I am sure it is true most anywhere else), there is an unspoken pressure to look a certain way. I first noticed it with the way Lee was dressed, the way the vast majority of gay couples look in DuPont Circle, and when I hung out with Shen’s friends on Super Bowl Sunday. Even among those who are clearly members of the upper echelon of physical attractiveness and stylishness, there is a pervasive desire to look yet more beautiful. I am sure even those who would rate themselves a ten on the
proverbial one-to-ten scale would not be satisfied until they are an eleven.

One thing I find particularly refreshing about Shen is the
relative absence of vanity. He has a rather frumpy sense of fashion and does
not see a day away from the gym as a moral failing meriting self-flagellation.

Already primed by my environment to be particularly aware
of my physical attractiveness (or lack thereof), I was somewhat surprised to
learn a few days ago

that a friend was going in for cosmetic surgery. Seeing
that he already ranks highly in terms of facial symmetry and skin smoothness, I
was curious to see what he was going to have fixed. Had years of Photoshop
erased the existence of a horrible deformity from his Facebook profile?

“Blepharoplasty,” he confessed. “Double eyelid surgery.
The dissymmetry of my eyelids when I smile really
bothers me.”

Several things ran through my head. First was the power
of the Platonic ideal of beauty. That is to say, the idea – espoused by the
likes of fashion magazines and the vast majority of other media – that there
is a singular, flawless standard of beauty against which everyone compares. Any
deviation, no matter how slight or inevitable, renders a person as glamorous as
a dropped pie. The second was the slightness of his complaint. I think most
people would kill to have our most glaring physical flaw be a tiny unevenness in
our eyelids. The third was a newfound awareness of this defect in my own facial
features.

Though I did not mention this third point to him, I
wondered if he considered the implication of his comment on others. It
primarily reminded me of what happens when people say things like “I just cannot get along with people named Steve”
in the presence of someone named Steve and then hastily follow it up with “Oh, but you’re different.”
Second, there was also the unsettling insinuation that the shared defect, about which
I had never previously been aware, was something requiring surgery to fix and that
anything short of total amelioration was akin to a disfigurement.

The great irony, though, is that all this effort to
attract potential romantic partners will likely have a contrary effect on his
prospects. I read Dataclysm, written
by Christian Rudder who is the founder of OkCupid, and one of his findings was
that people who divide
opinion with regards to their appearances do better than those who everyone
agrees in beautiful
. If we accept both Rudder’s conclusion and that
blepharoplasty will lean him towards the latter than the former, then such a
procedure goes against his own romantic self-interest.

More important, though, is the principle. In an age where
gay men are seemingly judged solely on the ability of their abs to grate cheese
and in their capacity to inspire jealous desire in others, we should ask if elective
surgeries help or hinder progress in this department. Vanity may have gone the
way of acedia as far as sins are
concerned, but perhaps they can still inform our thinking today. Sure, cosmetic
surgery may help one feel better, but how long will it be until the next fatal
flaw is found? Moreover, I feel that there is some abdication of responsibility
– some acedia – to the community when
we justify radical procedures to minuscule flaws with statements such as “the
whole world runs on vanity”.

I remember watching Shrek
during one of the last days of class in elementary school and seeing the ending
where the curse on Fiona is broken and she discovers that she is still an ogre.
She asks herself why she is not beautiful, to which Shrek replies, “You are
beautiful.” It seems that we often think that anything short of physical
perfection precludes us from love, but the goal is not to find someone who
loves us for who we are on the outside, is it? It is to find someone who sees
our inner perfection without even noticing our unsymmetrical eyelids.

A thoughtful reflection on vanity and the pursuit of the physical ideal by @thoughtsfromthewalkhome. I really liked the article that pointed to embracing one’s differences as an asset rather than a liability in romantic love. Too often we exalt the sculpted abs and bulging arms but fail to recognize the unique characteristics that make us individuals that, arguably, are more desirable.

-Jeffrey

social anxiety disorder

dustinsohn:

Growing up, I never answered the phone. I still don’t like receiving calls from unknown numbers but working in an office helped me cope with that. 

In high school, I used to be so insecure that I had to gauge the general consensus on anything (artist, song, movie, etc.) before I felt brave enough to state my “opinion” on it, if that was even considered an opinion at that point.

In college, I frequently avoided social situations and events to work on projects or go to the gym. A couple of times, my own roommates threw parties at our apartment and I ditched to go jogging at 2 in the morning instead. 

I’ve always been good at shutting people out or cutting people off as a defense mechanism, usually to prevent judgement, personal criticism, rejection, getting dumped, etc. This dooms all my relationships and no one is safe. 

There is occasionally a paranoia in the back of my mind that friends, acquaintances or even strangers warn each other about me as a person (this did happen on multiple occasions during and after college, but what helps me cope is the fact that shit-talkers are basically insignificant background extras while I’m apparently a worthy topic of conversation).

I’m still an introvert but I’ve gotten over a lot of these insecurities over the years.
But for some reason it took me until now to realize I had social anxiety disorder.

I think it’s because of my misconceptions about it or that I’ve gotten over a lot of the anxiety:
I kind of assumed socially anxious people were shy, awkward, wallflower types who have trouble with social cues.
I’m not necessarily shy anymore—I occasionally strike up a conversation with strangers (and quite a few celebrities since moving to LA) and I’ve made a few friends at the gym or on the plane.
My intense desire to be liked allowed me develop a sense of humor, wit, charm and interpersonal skills. It’s kind of at the point where I feel like I’m manipulating people to like me, which at times can make me feel like an awful person, but I just remind myself that sociopaths can’t manipulate in the same way because genuine empathy is key to getting someone to like you.  (side note: if I have little interest in getting to know someone, I can’t put the energy into leading people on or being fake… some of my friends have told me I can be cold and distant when I first meet people while others tell me the opposite).
I’ve become extremely opinionated and I even learned to overcome stage fright. I can freely post shirtless photos of myself without shame or wonder of the consequences. Some musical theater experience in college also helped.

Knowing about social anxiety sooner would’ve saved me a lot of anguish, but a weight has lifted! I know this seems like a rather self-indulgent post but maybe sharing my experiences can help someone else with the same afflictions? After all, I’m writing this and having epiphanies after reading about someone else’s post on anxiety. 

5000: Remember the Sting

gregasaurus:

I learned a valuable lesson during my four years of living in New York City: Don’t give a fuck.

Don’t give a fuck about what you’re wearing because the homeless man wrapped in rags next to you on the bus will make you look like a model or the actual model passing by you on the street will outshine you no matter how hard you try.

Don’t give a fuck about your status because there will always be some asshole hipster crooning over how exclusive Brooklyn’s “newest spot” is but you’ll still see him the next morning standing in the same insane line as you, that irritable businesswoman, and that group of obnoxious tourists, all filed in equal rank, all waiting for a fucking cronut.

Don’t give a fuck about others because New Yorkers are the rudest, most impatient pieces of shit you’ll ever encounter but they’re also incredibly kind and resilient and passionate and fascinating. They’re bakers and bankers; pastors and prostitutes; transients and refugees; American dreamers and struggling addicts. They are the scum and the salt of the earth. They’re human, for better or for worse.

Don’t give a fuck. It sounds brash because it is, and alarmingly so. I taught myself: Be numb. Be distant. Be cold. Protect yourself with thick skin and quills and poisonous colors to ward off the outside world because that’s how you survive. You withdraw and learn to separate yourself from the workaday hum of the city to focus on yourself, your career, your craft, your burdens, your dreams. New York City is an island of continuous self-destruction and self-renewal. Living there is a catharsis, an opportunity to reconcile who you are with whomever you want to be. You become selfishly invested in yourself and your own life because that is how you are able to seek fulfillment, to succeed.

But…what is success when celebrated alone? When sheltered from the eyes of others? When realized and then simply poured back into oneself?

I have approached success, but I still lack fulfillment. And so I have learned to reemerge. To reach out. To feel.

I had forgotten how comfortable the weight of a warm hand cupped in mine felt. I had to be reminded of how much sweeter coffee tastes when it’s shared from a morning kiss. I didn’t realize how long it had been since I had heard such a pained goodbye, a genuine laugh, a defeated sigh. These were the appendages of grief and love and resent that I had previously shed to concentrate on myself. Emotions that took others into consideration were abandoned to preserve my own self-involvement. And while I don’t regret that lifestyle, that formula for living isn’t sustainable anymore, in this city or otherwise.

I am opening Pandora’s box. I am lowering the precious guards that have protected me for so long to take a chance on someone wonderful and terrifying and uncertain. And hopefully, when I remember the sting that is the first inkling of heartbreak, I will have learned not to run away anymore.

Beautiful. Such poetic eloquence from @gregasaurus on resilience and emotional vulnerability.

-Jeffrey

[Chapter 13] Voice Pt. 1

ro-mantik:

My parents raised me as a silent warrior.

When I walked through the double-glass doors of the schoolhouse on what would prove to be the first of many first days of a long, transformative journey, we were told not to speak. Armed with nothing more than a pre-K education haphazardly taken from Barney songs and the traditional sensibilities of my ancestors brought from the streets of Saigon on a boat journey across the Pacific, I was a vessel – a vessel in which my parents and their parents could pour their hopes and dreams into, for when they were young, their visions of a better future were forever marred by poverty, by warfare, by political greed and corruption.

In America, on my very first day of school, my parents saddled us with the belief that an American education and deference to authority could turn affordable housing into mansions, plates of rice and beans into feasts fit for a king, and the children of uneducated Chinese Vietnamese refugees into true Americans. So, I kept silent and I completed homework, essays, and science fair projects. But no matter how hard I wanted to believe my parents’ word as gospel, I learned that, in order to create my own path, I needed to find my voice and realize my own words and thoughts are my most powerful weapons. 

My voice was forged from pencil against poster board, eraser shavings strewn across three-holed punched sheets, and shoebox dioramas charting the course of Christopher Columbus and the early beginnings of our universe. With the guidance of my teachers, the classroom became my sanctuary, where I could develop as a thinker, start to understand the world around me, and question in order to create my own paradigms for living. It was in these very classrooms where I learned that America was not black and white, that meritocracy only got one so far before our institutionalized, internalized fears and biases broke free from childhood ignorance and manifested themselves as schoolyard taunts and leers.

Unfortunately, to a bully, a silent warrior is nothing more than an easy target.

They sang ching chong and pulled at the corners of their eyes. They turned their noses at my packed lunches and asked if I ate dog. They disguised shoves as innocent playground horseplay while openly wondering if the only reason why I earned good grades was because I was Asian. In those moments, the difference between me and everyone else crystallized into the bitter taste that lingered on my tongue every night when I would wash down my dinner with a cup of tea. Shame overcame a desire to develop my voice and I retreated into silence. 

I wrote this today for a scholarship essay that I almost forgot about… It’s more inspired than my writing as of late (can definitely attribute that fact to reading more these past few weeks) and it’s surprising how and when inspiration can just spurt out of you. Anyways, hope you like me showing this other side of myself. I didn’t like how I ended the essay for my scholarship, so I didn’t include that ending here. Maybe I will write a better ending someday.

Growing up, I have experienced my own share of bullying that was partially due to the fact that I was the only Asian immigrant in the class full of Mexican immigrants. I remembered that every interaction I had with someone was inevitably preceded by the question “do you know Jackie Chan” since that’s the only Asian thing these kids knew. Trying to fit in was not at all an option since I couldn’t speak Spanish and barely spoke English. I just accepted solitude as a fact of life. I think many of us probably shared similar experience, and it was beautifully captured in this story by @ro-mantik

– Fish