Archive for Love

On Asian-American men: John Cho, Hollywood, and inter-racial dating.

So: inter-racial dating. There are a few topics I don’t discuss that much in my writing, mainly because for all my openness as a poet I am reflexively very private about some things, and one of those topics is dating. Every now and then, though, I see something which frustrates me enough to take the leap. I have just listened to a short radio piece on Hollywood’s historical reluctance to cast Asian-Americans as leading men, and – perhaps it was the black coffee, the Monday morning, or the slightly early start – something tipped me over the edge.

John Cho, who is a fine actor and something of an ambassador for Asian-Americans making their way in the film industry, spoke of the boundaries he had encountered when growing up. “Girls would say in an almost benevolent tone that ‘I just (have) zero attraction to Asian men’,” he told the BBC World Service. “It wasn’t considered taboo to say something like that.” I can remember being told similar things, and so his words resonated with me. Whilst who you are attracted to is of course a deeply personal matter, the reasons for that attraction often go unexamined. Cho spoke of the way that Hollywood portrayed Asian men as weak, and not as natural leaders, which had implications for how they were viewed in wider society: including, in some cases, the fact that some would not readily consider them as potential romantic partners.

If you think about it, “I have zero attraction to white men”, or “I have zero attraction to black women”, is actually a really odd thing to say to someone’s face. The response I first think of is “what – all of them? There are millions, you haven’t even met each of them yet”.  Look – it could just be their preference. But it still seems a little strange, particularly when you announce that to someone out loud.

I mean – what do I know. Maybe sexual attraction really is as visceral and uncontrollable as the type of food that you like. Or maybe, at some level, we have been socially conditioned to say No! to the possibility of ever fancying someone from a particular ethnic group, to the extent that we feel entitled to look into their hopeful eyes and say it. I don’t know for sure. All I know is that, should I ever again be in a situation where someone ever says “I just don’t fancy black guys”, I will say “OK, so you’ve not met the hot ones so far. Give me a few moments, let me me go through my phone book. I’ll change all that.”

Well played, Ireland. Well played.

So it looks as though Ireland has said Yes to equal marriage by a wide margin. What a day. As John Amaechi recently wrote on Twitter, it really is “restoring faith in humanity” to see that so many Irish people travelled home to vote on this referendum. The reported margin of victory represents a fantastic validation for LGBT people from the society around them – a validation that for far too long they have to draw only from themselves. How remarkable that, in a Catholic country, LGBT people will be able to walk the streets and think “the majority of my nation is on my side”.

Of course homophobia won’t disappear in Ireland overnight. Of course the abuse and the attacks won’t all magically disappear. But that cynicism can take a ticket and wait its turn.  Because this is the type of change that was resisted for years with terrifying aggression, and which was brought about through endless courage, compassion and love.

Every LGBT person remembers the day they came out. For so many, it felt not so much like stepping out of the closet as stepping into flame. For so many, the fear of living life as they truly are will have subsided sharply, to a degree that can never be measured by any public vote. And this outcome will hopefully resonate far beyond Ireland, in deeply religious countries where homosexuality is still illegal, if not punishable by death. LGBT people in those places can look at this referendum and think, “look, the world is learning to care”.

The poet Jessica Horn has spoken of “love as a revolutionary force”, and that is what the Yes vote in Ireland represents today. Well played, Ireland: well played.



Notes for your exit interview.

If you’re about to break up with your partner, and you’re reading this the night before you’re going to tell them it’s over, then here are some tips or guidelines as to how you should conduct that fateful conversation. Unless you are a sadist, no-one particularly enjoys the exit interview, that time when you look into the eyes of someone who cares deeply about you and sever all ties. Of course, you may want to inflict pain upon them for all the terrible wrongs they have done you during your relationship, in which case my advice is irrelevant: I have written this only for those who retain some significant amount of compassion for their doomed lover, and who therefore want to make the breakup as painless for them as possible.

Obviously, the news that you’re leaving them is going to hurt. At the same time, there are degrees of agony, and if tomorrow will be a car crash for their emotions then you have the choice to pass them an airbag. Because you are going to break them tomorrow – the only question is how much. You’ve presumably already chosen the venue. Here’s hoping it’s a coffee shop at a neutral location, safely in the middle of town and close to transport links for your speedy and relieved escape immediately afterwards. If you’ve selected a restaurant, that may not work so well if you’re aiming for urgency and discretion – people tend to eavesdrop when hunched over their meals, it’s just one of those things, and your partner, oblivious to their fate, may order food, which will string the whole miserable experience out.

Wherever you do go, make sure that you sit near the door, or in the corner nearest the street, so as to avoid too much scrutiny. And when you begin to speak, to utter the spell that will release you, please remember two things. The first is that your partner will probably have no idea what is coming. Only the very smartest animals can sense the day when they are being summoned to the slaughterhouse. As a result, there will be a moment when they slow the chewing of their food or the sipping of their coffee and sit up with wide, terrified eyes, a moment when they realise, my God, this is the exit interview, this is actually happening. When that moment comes, and it will, keep your tone as level as you can. You have come this far with conviction; do not fail yourself now.

The second thing you must remember is that, during the course of your once-joyous and now-terminal romance, your partner solemnly gave you possession of a series of weapons. At the time, your partner was not aware that these were weapons. Instead, they were your partner’s greatest fears, their most vulnerable truths. Each of those fears and truths is now a nuclear warhead that you can aim at their self-esteem. When you sit there tomorrow morning, with this silently-seething array of nukes for which your partner had the good grace to hand you the launch codes, there may be a moment when you are tempted to use them. Perhaps one of them, perhaps all of them. Who knows – when your chest is rumbling with emotion, maybe even the thrill of imminent freedom, you may find it cathartic to set off these detonations deep in your partner’s heart. But please be careful. The news that you are leaving them will, of itself, be sufficiently devastating. Any additional bombs that you explode run the risk of being gratuitous and therefore cruel.

That being said, say what you feel you must. Please know, though, that whatever you say to them tomorrow will stay with them for months or years afterwards, like radiation. And know that your mark is already on them. For far longer than they will like, your partner will think they see you walking by in the street, reminded of your gait by a stranger; they will pick up their phone to text you a joke, before remembering that they no longer store your number; they will wander down a supermarket aisle, and then stop themselves, realising they only came this way to collect that food you loved. And every now and then, when they pause the frenzy of tasks they’ve taken on to stop thinking about you – at a traffic light, maybe, waiting for the green to beckon them across – their eyes will fill uncontrollably at the loss of you. Or maybe it won’t be there, in public: maybe they’ll make it back to their home, under merciful cover of night, and shudder with tears against a pillow that they hold unusually close.