Category Archives: Transgender

60th Discussion: Mehmet Murat Somer’s THE KISS MURDER

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Moderators: Raj & Timmy
Attendees: Dominic, Sharad, Jiaqi, Aaron, & Alexius

We had such a fun time reading Somer’s The Gigolo Murder, we decided to read a second novel of his.  We started with some complaints, recurring among our members: stereotypical, vain, self-centred protagonist (Dominic & Aaron); underwhelming ending (Sharad, Raj, & Timmy); convoluted (Timmy); homophobic and sexist (Aaron); and predictable (Alexius).

THEMES

1. Homophobia: Sharad brought up that the novel depicts straight men as “real” men, and gay men as not “real” men. Gay men are being made fun of. Aaron was unhappy that protagonist tries to force Hasan into a gay stereotype. Sharad noted the use of the word, “fag.”

2. Women: Dominic mentioned that women in the novel are either subservient or laughed at if they are strong and powerful.

3. Men: treated either as sex object or useless (Aaron). Raj noted men are potentially bisexual, ie, she  attracts all men but nobody can satisfy her.

4. Difference between transgender and transvestite: Doesn’t seem to differentiate them in the novel.

5. Middle class. Sharad hypothesized that protagonist’s dislike for middle class is because middle class rejects her, so she rejects them as a form of defense mechanism.

6. Family. Raj noted that Buse is accepted by her blind mother. Dominic also noted the queer family between Sureyya Eronat and blind mother.

7. Religion. Timmy argued that protagonist is a left-wing Muslim: she doesn’t want to pray so she dresses up as a woman to attend the funeral. Raj saw the act as a form rebellion.

8. Queer Sex. Sex in front of the blind mother? Dominic also brought up the pederastic relationship between Suleyman and Sureyya Eronat.

9. Asexuality of Sureyya Eronat.

10. Fat shaming. 

11. Disability. Seems like the only positive portrayal of differences from the norm is the blind mother. Raj admired her for her guts to cry and that she accepts Buse. Alexius likened her to X-Men, she disappears when people want to kill her. Her blindness is her immunity.

somer - thekissmurdertomerhanukadesignCHARACTERS

1. Both Timmy and Raj pointed out nameless narrator is narcissistic, and bashes everyone except herself. Raj also noted she has no attachment to people and she has little backstory. Aaron felt that she possesses a “Before you judge me, I judge you first” mentality: in other words, she has a victim’s mentality. Dominic claimed that her insecurity is demonstrated when she is perpetually concerned with her masculinity. On the other hand, Sharad read her as being comfortable in both her masculine and feminine identities, like, Timmy quipped, “Hannah Montana.”

While Aaron disliked the narrator, Timmy loved her because she represents 90% of the bitchy gay population. Ouch, jaded much? Sharad also found her sympathetic because of her defense mechanism.

2. Dominic’s favorite character is the cleaner because she can put the nameless narrator down without comeuppance.

3. Aaron found the trinity of men, policeman, Huseyin, and Suleyman hot. He said that Huseyin is determined, and he perserves; he knows what he wants ,and he goes out to get it, and he gets it in the end. But everyone else, including Sharad, protested saying Huseyin is a pesky little puppy.  Alexius also objected to the policeman because he can’t give no satisfaction. 10 minutes?! But Timmy said, most men last about that anyway.

4. Raj hated Buse because the novel started because of her; Timmy, Sofya because she places herself above others; Dominic, the female journalist, because she bites off more than she can chew.

In the end, we thought this novel was MRT friendly (Raj), short (Alexius), enjoyable (Timmy), and a better read than Beauty Queens (Jiaqi). Both Sharad and Dominic could identify the protagonist with friends in their lives. Aaron said he could find nothing positive about the novel, and Raj riposted, “At least there is a word ‘positive’ in that sentence.”

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Filed under Class, Disability, Family, Mehmet Murat Somer, Queer, Religion, Transgender, Transsexualism, Transvestism, Turkey

53rd Discussion: Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens

Shout-out to Isaac for allowing us to use his office for our discussion; Aaron moderated the discussion.

OPENING

Libba Bray's Beauty QueensAlexius thought the book was not as good as he had hoped, as he thought it could have been the female version of Lord of the Flies. He stated that it was funny for him initially; however it became cheesy and the “singing at the end spoiled the book” for him. Isaac also agreed that it was not funny and felt that the book was not catered to “people of his age.” Jiaqi thought the book was fairly entertaining, though the author did not set out to explore the presented themes in a deep manner and glossed over issues in an attempt to make it more “politically correct.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Javin actually read the book and declared that he liked it, comparing it to Miss Congeniality. Aaron gushed about the book too, saying that despite the “cheem” English being used, parts of the book were a “tour de force” with sublime writing.

THEMES

We first delved into the opening chapter, “A Word from Your Sponsor.” Aaron asked why did the author started with this. Alexius commented that it acted as a preface and to give context to the book. Javin felt that the chapter was meant to be ironic and read with a sense of humour. Like Alexius, he believed that the opening chapter sets the stage for the rest of the book. Both of them agreed that it was akin to the reality television format that we see nowadays.

Death was pretty imminent in the book; in fact, according to Aaron, they were too many of them. The closest explanation that we derived from this was to showcase the blood, sweat and tears to becoming beauty queens, and what their world is like in extreme situations (Javin).

From there, we moved on to why Taylor started on her killing spree. Aaron thought that the change in character was freaky; Javin felt it was too sudden and Alexius commented that Taylor may have been possessed. All three agreed that Taylor suddenly became unstable.

We also touched on the topic of race. Aaron felt there was diversification covered in the book, which got the thumbs up from him. It also highlighted racism and society as a whole. Aaron asked Shanti’s motives for being best friends with Nicole, the other minority character of the book. Javin viewed it as a strategy to win the beauty pageant, while Timmy felt it was just a minority allaying with another minority. Jiaqi opined that the two share the same challenges and thus, would be able to understand the problems if they face it together.

Jiaqi felt that the transgender issue was not treated in a “deep” manner and no serious conflicts were portrayed. Javin disagreed, highlighting that Petra was initially supposed to be cut out of the pageant due to her nature, but was eventually allowed to stay when they were stranded on the island. Aaron questioned whether the issue was sensitively handled. He also brought up the question as to why Shanti disliked and ostracized Petra. Timmy commented it may have been a case of minority versus minority, while Javin quipped that “all Indians dislike transgenders.”

We also discussed briefly on lesbianism, which Javin felt was handled too tamely compared to the other issues that were present throughout the book.

Aaron questioned whether the book was a feminist book, which got a positive response from everyone else. They all agreed that it portrayed all kinds of women – stupid women, weak women, strong women, coloured women. Aaron felt that this portrayal was “amazing” as it showed the different sides of beauty queens and not as one-note, dumb females; that behind these facades, they are smart, gung-ho women.

In comparison, the males were glossed over and came across as only two-dimensional. The pirates, in particular, were hardly portrayed (Jiaqi), only had to be hot, good looking and have abs (Javin), and were daft, scheming douches (Aaron).

CHARACTERS

Taylor

Aaron felt that the author was punishing her by turning her into a crazed killer and making her stay on the island. Javin agreed, adding on that she has the necessary skills to become Ladybird Hope. Overall, he viewed her as a sad character who may have decided to remain on the island because she “cannot win the beauty pageant.”

Jiaqi disagreed; he felt that she became more interesting due to the transformation and may have even found herself. “She became what she wanted,” Alexius quipped, from being leader of the (beauty queens) tribe to leader of the jungle.

Adina

Javin found her annoying, “high and mighty”, sarcastic and disrespectful; someone who was no better than the rest of the beauty queens. Aaron agreed, commenting that she was too moralistic and compared her to Sandra Bullock’s character in Miss Congeniality. Alexius felt there was nothing special about her.

Shanti

Javin’s favourite character; he found her “realistic” and felt that she was “interesting” due to her devious nature. Aaron, however, felt that the author made her unlikable and only used her “cultural background” to make people/ readers like her. Javin disagreed, proclaiming that Shanti “does not represent her race.”

Petra

Jiaqi thought that she was not negatively portrayed. Aaron and Javin both agreed, saying that her character was fleshed out quite well (Aaron) and she was tastefully written (Javin). Javin further added that the author gave her a good ending and allowed her to shine. Alexius agreed to a certain extent, but also found her “scary” as “transgenders may influence heterosexuals to like them.” (WHUT.)

Tiara

Jiaqi felt that she was not stupid, perhaps just “slow” in thinking and reaction.

Jennifer

According to Aaron, she was not like a typical beauty queen, although Jiaqi felt that she did not get her “happily ever after.”

Sosie

Javin viewed as a typical, normal person who struggled with her decisions and took more time to figure things out. Jiaqi felt that she was sexually experimentative, and that was fine with him, which led to Aaron asking whether she was just using Petra to figure out her sexual orientation (“any hole to poke”).

Mary Lou

Jiaqi found her to be the more interesting character of the book. Aaron thought her sexual awakening scene to be the dreamiest and sublime part of the book.

Agent Jones

Like Taylor, this character too ended up going crazy, which led to Aaron proclaiming it as his punishment for being the mastermind of the island. Jiaqi and Javin both viewed him as the bad guy of the book. Alexius felt that he was the only one to have a back story out of all the characters. Agent Jones is also Alexius’s favourite character thanks to his humorous outcome (he put on a bunny suit, had a serious exchange, and then died shortly afterwards).

Apart from Javin and Alexius, both Aaron and Jiaqi did not have any favourite characters. Aaron found them all to be unlikable and hated them, yet he still liked the book, which he felt was very difficult to achieve.

CLOSING STATEMENTS

In capping off the discussion, everyone was required to share something (good) about the book. Alexius liked the back cover and thought it showed some initial promise and meaning to the book. Javin liked the book and found it hilarious, commenting that the book did not take itself too seriously and was portrayed realistically to a certain extent. Jiaqi found the book fairly easy to read and was kept entertained. Aaron thought the book was well-written and multi-faceted, though he felt it was rather difficult to sustain a satire throughout 400 pages.

Isaac, however, found the book annoying and the humour did not bode well with him; hence he had a DNF (did not finish) stamped all over it.

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Filed under Americas, Bisexuality, Class, Disability, Lesbian, Libba Bray, Love, Queer, Race, Transgender, USA, Young Adult

48th Discussion: Mark Gatiss’s The Vesuvius Club

51PRDXDX23LBecause of the haze, we decided to cancel the meeting. But for those who have read the book, these are some questions to consider. Feel free to comment and discuss online.

1. The start of the novel is a rewriting of Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, signaled by some keywords such as “Behold! Your immortality!” What is the intention of Mark Gatiss to do so?

2. In the beginning, Lucifer tells Everard a story of Ida’s death but we find out later that Ida is alive. Why does Lucifer lie? What does it show about him?

3. What is up with the corny names, Lucifer Box, Everard Supple, Midsommer Knight, Charles Jackpot, Creataceous Unmann, Christopher Miracle, etc?

3. Themes

Bodies:

a. There are many disabled bodies in the novel: Ida’s limbs, Everard Supple’s glass eye, Mrs Knight’s face, Prof Quibble’s wheelchair. To what purpose do the disabilities serve?

b. There are only fat or slim bodies in the novels. How are fat bodies portrayed? And how are skinny bodies portrayed?

Father Issues:

c. Both Bella Pok and Venus obviously adore their fathers very much and seek revenge for them. Father issues anyone?

gatiss-the_vesuvius_club_fcGender:

d. If we take Venus as a transwoman, how are the women portrayed, bearing in mind that Venus and Bella are the villains in the novel? Is it fair to say that women are either femme fatale or docile in the novel, showing a sexist mindset?

e. List some of the INNOCENT victims who die or suffer in the novel. How many are men and how many women?

Homosexuals:

f. What is the portrayal of homosexuals, Charles Jackpot and Lucifer Box, like?

Race:

g. What is the portrayal of Other races (other than whites)? Is it racist?

Transgender:

h. After Venus’s sex is revealed, whenever Venus is mentioned, the characters go, “Venus, that…. person,” instead of “that man” or “that woman.” This clearly shows the characters not knowing how to place Venus–male or female? But the characters also persistently use “he” as a pronoun on Venus. What does this demonstrate? Is this trans-phobic?

Class:

i. How does class issue come into play? Does it matter than Lucifer lives at Downing St?

Ecology:

j. Is there a metaphor about playing god when blowing up a volcano?

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39th Discussion: Virginia Woolf’s Orlando

Notes written by the multi-talented Timmy. He can moderate discussions, he can write and he can kiss his boyfriend all over town. Hooray!

      

Foods served this week were fried chicken, chips, blue cheese dip, and an “indescribable” cake which turned out to be zucchini. “The selection of foods for this month is meant to be as confusing as the book,” explained Raj-ella Lawson.

Aaron moderated the discussion, which was joined by Raj, Alexius, Joshua, Alex, Glenn, Ernest and Timmy.

First Impressions

Alexius was up first, and said that the book was too descriptive, chunky, draggy and “not MRT friendly.” Joshua, however, thought the book was well-written, despite the plot being non-coherent. Raj was appreciative of Virginia’s writing style, though he did mention that this was a book that he would not like. Alex could not remember much about it, while Aaron had no opinion of the book except that it was “avant-garde.”

Themes

Plot

Joshua found the story itself as illogical; Alex described it as irrational and hysterical. As the book was written during the Second World War, Alexius jest that perhaps Virginia could not keep track of her writing. Aaron explained it could be so due to the limitations of a biography. Both Raj and Timmy joked that the author may have just randomly input things just so that it is compiled as the book.

Transition/Narrative styles

Raj felt that Virginia portrayed women well, and commented that the switching of writing styles went well with the sexes (males = action oriented; females = word oriented). Aaron, however, disagreed and thought that the changes in narrative styles were more in correlation with the time period as opposed to gender. Joshua felt that the transitions were jarring. Alexius thought that the transition as a whole was absurd and speculated that the author may have “an agenda.”

“How has Orlando changed throughout the course of the book?”

“Clothes,” said Alexius candidly. He also mentioned sexual preference, which led Alex to ask: “Was he always straight?” Raj highlighted Orlando’s preference for girls who look like guys when he was still a male.

Aaron, Raj, Alexius and Joshua perceived Orlando as an androgynous character – feminine male, then masculine female. Alexius found Orlando’s transformation as a male to be more interesting compared to when he/she was a woman.

Chapter 3 (aka the dancing goddesses/sex change scene)

Raj joked that the dancing women were akin to the three (good) witches of Macbeth.

According to the passage, the three ladies were representations of modesty, chastity and purity. Timmy asked if these are qualities that women of those times should attain. Raj replied that the three values were the epitome of womanhood. Aaron, however, countered that they seemed to be imposed limitations so that women of those times could be culturally accepted. Joshua agreed with Aaron’s sentiments. Alex quipped that these are the qualities that none of us have. We all laughed because this is legit information.

Cross-dressing

Alex speculated if Virginia had lesbian tendencies. Aaron clarified the book was written for her girlfriend. Raj found it to be a dramatic twist to the story. Alexius questioned if Virginia and Orlando could be the same person, as both shared the same personalities and liked poetry. Someone then joked that the oak tree symbolised the male appendage.

Marriage and child

“What’s the point (of including them)?” Aaron exasperatedly asked. Raj equated it to a marriage of convenience. The two of them noted that the sailor came out of nowhere, as well as the child (“magical child,” as Aaron put it).

“A lot of things in this book happened for Orlando’s benefit,” Raj highlighted.

Longevity

Besides Orlando, Aaron highlighted that Nick Green and Mr Dupper lived very long lives in the book. “Why them? Especially Nick Green, in particular?” asked Aaron. Joshua said this was done to show how Orlando has changed. Raj added on that Orlando needed the men, as writing was perceived as a man’s job at that point in time.

Foreigners

Aaron asked of their treatment in the book. Raj felt that it was barbaric, while Joshua surmised that the English have a superiority complex.

The ending

“She bares her breasts to the moon.”

Timmy quipped that she can’t do it to the sun as she may get sunburn. Joshua described the gesture as a mark of sexuality. Aaron and Alex believed it to mean femininity. Alex then joked that Orlando was turning into Chang Er.

Final say

Aaron liked the book even more after the discussion. Joshua concurred, even though he still found it confusing. Raj didn’t hate the book as much, though he hoped to go through some parts of the book quickly to finish it. Alexius didn’t like the book. The rest of us reserved our judgments.

We grew bored discussing the book through the middle of the discussion, so we decided to end it quickly to catch up with one another instead, which is more fun as compared to talking about Virginia Woolf and Orlando.

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Filed under Bisexuality, Class, Classics, Family, Love, Post-Colonialism, Queer, Transgender, Transvestism, UK, Virginia Woolf

24th Discussion: Rose Tremain’s Sacred Country (15 Sep)

Thanks for all the moral support, peeps, David, Timmy and Nicole. Javin saw objectively the novel as good with complex characters and their desires but personally, he disliked the bucolic setting. Nicole liked it because it’s English. Raj was neutral while Alex thought that it is unoriginal. Josh liked its realism.

1. Characters

a. Grandpa Cord: Nicole’s favorite character 100 pages into the novel. Cord is adorable, fun, astute and open-minded. Josh said Cord has unconditional love.

b. Estelle: Josh’s favorite character. He argued that she shows a limited form of empowerment for women at that point in history; she is “sane in being insane” and see things clearly. He noted that what Estelle cannot achieve in her life, that is piecing pieces together, she does it by sewing. Josh and Nicole reminded us that the novel should be read historically, that is, Nicole mentioned, Estelle’s insanity could be a tool of oppression of men. Raj, Alex and Josh believed that it is very empowering for Estelle to lie still and order Sonny to impregnate her. Aaron wondered aloud if Tremain is critiquing the characters in the book: both Cord and Estelle are perceptive characters and yet none of them does anything to help Martin: is Tremain trying to say, “Kind intentions are not enough, one must act on it?”

c. Walter: Alex’s favorite character because Walter never gives up on his dreams but Nicole called him a spineless “wank” although he too grows balls at the end and goes after his dreams. After a discussion, we concluded that Walter’s sexuality is fluid; he likes the person because s/he is kind to him. Aaron brought up a quote found in the book, “Souls have no gender,” which is perhaps the moral of the story.

d. Edward:  Raj firmly believed that Indians have a prerogative on reincarnation and was flabbergasted by Edward but both Josh and Alex found him hot and philosophical.

e. Pearl: Aaron was quite repulsed by the angelic, 2-D portrayal of Pearl whom Alex called “a vacuous, boring woman.” Nicole added that even her name is a precious thing, not human. Josh defended Tremain and said that there are people, who are loved all their lives, who turn up nice and boring and colorless.

f. Georgia: We loved a minor character, a cougar who preys on Martin, who–Alex observed–is as violent as Sonny, Martin’s father. The irony, Raj said, is that she’s incapable to control her own emotional world when her occupation is Aunt Agony.

2. Themes:

a. Family:

i. Mothers & Sons: Alex and Javin claimed that Estelle (mother) doesn’t understand Martin although Josh disagreed with them. Alex and Javin said that because Estelle couldn’t understand Martin, she doesn’t help him. Nicole countered that Estelle is clinically depressed, which renders her incapable of actions in the first place. As a group, we saw Estelle’s apology as a  form of helpless; she realizes in the end that she ought to be supportive of Martin, which she has failed to do so.

Raj brought up the relationship between Gilbert the Dentist and her mother, that mothers always know sons’ sexuality. Alex noted a point that the crumbling coastline is metaphorical of the erosion of family. Aaron mentioned that all mothers should police their children, very hawk-eyed, and wondered what Tremain is trying to say.

ii. Violence In the Family: Josh shrewdly pointed that the Martin is perpetuating the violence he has learnt from his father, Sonny, when he tries to rape Pearl.

iii. Sibling Rivalry: Javin contended that Martin is jealous of Timmy because Timmy not only robs away Sonny’s affections but, to Martin, he believes he is a boy too and feels indignant when Timmy gets the attention that he should be getting. Aaron opined that while Martin treats Timmy with hostility, Timmy is always deferential to Martin. Josh continued that the sibling rivalry is because of the failure of the parents to love the children for who they are, causing the tragedy of their lives.

b. Rage/Hatred: Josh criticized that Martin is driven by hatred and rage and the novel is a journey for Martin to come to terms to himself and people around him. Whether this be true or not, Aaron imagined, “Wouldn’t you be angry and full of hatred too if you were born in a body of the ‘wrong’ sex? I know I would, especially when there is no support.”  Josh also very perspicaciously discerned that Martin hasn’t gone for a full operation yet and is still searching for himself.

c. Country VS City: A common perceptive of the group is that we think country people would be more narrow-minded but Tremain doesn’t fall into this fallacy. Everyone seems to accept Martin for who he is: the country characters do it tacitly probably because they suffer much too and can understanding suffering, while the City people accept diversity, although Raj sharply pointed out that the City people are African and Australian, all outsiders, not English.

d. Love: Does Martin attend Pearl and Timmy’s wedding? Alex claimed it was ambiguous since Estelle hears Martin call her. Aaron pointed out how idiosyncratic Pearl’s reason for marrying TImmy, that is, he has hands that will never produce beautiful handwriting. Raj and Josh believed that she is merely settling. Raj argued that Pearl can never love Martin because Martin has killed Mary, while Aaron was more inclined to Josh’s thinking, that Pearl does love Martin and Timmy is a substitution for Martin.

e. Knowledge: What is the point of Timmy’s right angle? Aaron suggested that there are two angles to look at it: (i) the lines when extrapolated will never meet, as mentioned in the novel, and the non-meeting of the lines demonstrates the solitude and isolation each character feels. To support this assumption, Timmy tries to tell someone about his puzzlement with the right-angle and no one would listen to him. (ii) If the novel is seen as a bildungsroman, both Timmy and Martin try to make sense of the world through knowledge. Martin has his Book of Inventions. They need explanations to themselves why they are who they are. They are finding their way and they need information.

f. Gender: We loved the complex and balanced representation of both genders, without falling into the what-masculine-is and what-femininity-is trap.

g. Sexuality/Cougarism: Aaron, playing devil’s advocate, asked, why is Gilbert, the only gay man in the novel, incapable of loving, so callous? Is it homophobic? No direct evidence from the novel to this, but the group’s gut feeling is it is not homophobic because the novel is so sympathetic.

There are also many cases of cougarism in the book, notably, the Gypsy-Walter and Georgia-Martin.

h. Animals: include Marguerite, the hen (Raj’s favorite character); Sonny’s dog, Wolf; the Psychiatrist’s fish; Pearl’s visit to the Natural Museum where Pearl informs Martin about the myriad of animals; Pete who killed a dog because it was fucking him; a parable of two cubs eating up their mother bear who was snared in a trap. Even Timmy is described as a frog: “Timmy’s frog’s eeyes were filled with tears. ‘No,’ he replied. ‘Never. Not since I gave up butterfly.” Alex evoked the multitude of animals as “souls,” linking the animals with Edward’s theory of reincarnation. Edward says maybe Martin’s soul is a marmoset. Aaron claimed that Tremain may have two intentions: (i) Wolf is used to redeem Sonny. Sonny is obviously capable of deep devotion and love but his incapability to express his emotions mars his life. His emotional turmoil and pain in killing off Wolf is unimaginable. And (ii) See below 3b, Repetitions & Multiple Voices.

i. Politics/ War: Aaron asked for the significance of starting with the death of King George. Nicole regarded it as setting a timeline for the story; Raj proposed that it allows Martin a quiet time to reflect, and it’s a time to signify change while Alex stated the incident reflects the dynamics of the family. While all the reasoning are true and sound, we could not help to feel that there is something deeper that we were not getting, especially with the heavily political nuances going on in the novel and Sonny being a WWII veteran. Do the politics parallel the family structure in England?

3. Style:

a. Title: Alex inquired over the significance of the title. Aaron quoted from Grandpa Cord: “He said beass rubbings were ghostly things in two sense and everything important in life was dual, like being and not being, male and female, and there was no country in between. I sat on the toilet and… thought, Cord is wrong, there is a country in between, a country that no one sees, and I am in it.” In other words, Aaron surmised that Tremain is advocating a postmodernist world, a world that has shades from black to white, from male to female. That is the “Sacred Country.”

b. Repetitions and Multiple Voices: Many characters share the same fate: the mothers are police; the children move away; Estella’s trance, enraptured by a tap-dancer, in the asylum is repeated when Walter, Sky and Martin go to Pryland, biggest parking lot in the world, and Sky roller skates, captivating the men. Aaron asserts that the repetitions, the multiple voices and the animals all point to how Tremain writes about the human condition, that we, including the animals, share a common existence, a common history, a common story, we suffer in the world and so we shouldn’t cause more suffering to Martin, Walter, to humans and to other living beings. We should help alleviate the suffering by being sympathetic and understanding, as in shown in the sympathetic style and non-judgement of the author towards the characters. This is truly a tremendous, extraordinary, compassionate novel, a novel that makes the world a better place.

*

After the discussion, Raj, Aaron and Alex appreciated the book better and found it more meaningful.

 

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21st Discussion: Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (18 Jun)

This was a short session, which didn’t do justice to such a complex book, because the festivity of Pink Dot made it difficult to discuss.

It’s a 2-2 vote for the book. Timmy disliked the book because it was overly scientific and ambitious although he is willing to give the book another go; Alex disliked the later part because of the tedious description of the journey. On the other hand, Raj and Aaron loved the book very much. Not his preferred genre, Raj was surprised at how he could relate the book to real life. Aaron liked the complexity, intricacies and the journey of a homophobic to a non-homophobic person.

1. Favorite character: Alex and Aaron both liked the handsomest “man/woman” in the book because he is evil.

2. Sex: Timmy felt that Le Guin seems to be playing god because she dictates the roles of sex in beings.

a. Incest: Both Timmy and Alex felt that the incest isn’t creepy.

b. Lesbianism.

c. Mother/Father figure: Timmy thought that a being which can be either a mother or a father questions religion.

d. Estraven-Genly Ai: Do they have sex? Alex didn’t think so; Aaron thought it was suggested, like the camera shifting from a kissing scene into the embers of dying fire. Aaron said that it is reasonable for them to have sex because then they would be connected by soul and body. Timmy said that’s cheesy.

e. Prostitution: Alex brought up that it is interesting that there are bordellos and that part should be explored and would potentially be interesting. Timmy related the bordello to a gay sauna.

f. Sexuality: The sexuality of the beings defies any forms of categorization. They are gay, straight, bisexual, and transgender, all roll into one.

3. War: Do wars exist only because of the aggression in the male sex? The novel is ambiguous.

4. Politics: Aaron thought the “shifgrethor” (saving face and avoiding confrontation) is reminiscent of Singapore’s politics; but Timmy suggested that it is applicable to Asian societies.

5. Style: Alex brought up the style of the novel, claiming that the novel is overly complicated with two narrators, legends, myths, etc. Aaron suggests that this would provide an holistic picture, demonstrating Genly’s flaws.

Other issues not discussed are technology, ecology, post-colonialism, religion, and race.

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20th Discussion: Colette’s Cheri and Last of Cheri (19 May 2011)

Everyone was excited to kick-start this discussion. Timmy exclaimed this is the straightest book we’ve done. Raj loved the book as he believed it was very “French.” Nicole observed that the characters are very well flashed out, especially when Colette writes on women’s psyches. However, Nicole thought that the book has no direction while Timmy found that second part draggy, saved only by the character development of Edmee. Raj argued that the draggy-ness reflects the lift that Cheri leads.

1. Themes

a. War: Aaron noted the prominence of the theme in so many of the books we have done and questioned if a writer could only be considered as “serious” when s/he has written a war novel. He also noted this novel is about post-war trauma, relevant to soldiers today. Nicole suggested that the War is too big an event to ignore. Raj further said that the specificity of the war makes the novel realistic and that war affects the GLBTQ community very much (we thought of the Pink Triangle used to mark out gay people in Nazi concentration camps in WWII). Moreover, Raj claims that the war makes Cheri an outcast, like a gay person.

b. Relationship Between Women:

i. We were all fascinated by the complex relationship between Lea and Charlotte: rivalry, respect, jealousy, cunningness, trying to get the upper hand of each other – and perhaps a different kind of love?

ii. Nicole suspected that the relationship between Lea and the Princess is more than friends from the obsessive descriptions of the women’s bodies and clothing.

c. Race: Aaron suggested that Cheri is described as an African and Chinese because he’s as unformed as an animal. Raj said it may be due to his exoticness. Timmy said Cheri is as flexible as a Chinese acrobat and has big ding dong like an African.

d. Nostalgia: The Pal is a queer character and both Raj and Timmy suggested that she’s a drag queen. Timmy noted the obsession of the Pal with Lea, collecting Lea’s old photos. Nicole suggested that the Pal’s apartment, which Cheri visits often, acts as a space of escape from his mother and wife. Timmy pushed the point further to say the apartment represents to Cheri what life could have been for him and Lea. Raj said that the scene suggests a nostalgia for the past; Cheri even wants to die in the past.

2. Characters:

a. Cheri: Raj claimed that Cheri is not a man but a lesbian. Aaron wasn’t convinced because there are scenes that explicitly point out his manhood; Cheri is, Aaron thinks, effeminate but not definitely not emasculated. Aaron was also amused by the inversion of roles, that Lea, a prostitute, pays for Cheri’s decadent lifestyle. Timmy noted the gay scene between Cheri and Desmond and he also observed that Cheri never grows up as long as he is with Lea. Nicole suggested that Cheri is finding a purpose in life – but fails.

b. Edmee: Timmy’s brilliant analogy: “Edmee reminds me of Jeanette Aw’s in Little Nonya.” Aaron said that Edmee should be a very sympathetic character. She behaves with utmost propriety, defending her husband when she doesn’t love him – but, Aaron asked, why is she demonized in the book? Raj suggested that it may be because she couldn’t manipulate Cheri.

3. Scene Analysis: We questioned but couldn’t find out the reason of Cheri’s vacillation after he spends the night with Lea, betraying his wife. Raj claimed that they are using their heads and not their hearts. Nicole and Timmy both said that Lea handles the situation much better than Cheri.

4. Aaron concluded that although there aren’t any explicit lesbian scenes, the value of this book lies in its normalization of sexuality, such as intergenerational love, relationship between women, and prostitution. These relationships are usually treated with scorn but here, Colette normalizes them. If these relationships are normal, then naturally gay relationship is normal too.

Thanks to Raj and his champagne, figs, cheese and strawberries with freshly-whipped vanilla cream!

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Filed under Bisexuality, Classics, Colette, Coming of Age, Family, France, Lesbian, Love, Race, Transgender, Transvestism, War