isaacjlouie

So for the past week I’ve been submitting articles obsessively to Medieval POC’s Math and Science Week. (I’m the contributor aseantoo.)

At first, I thought I’d be contributing info about the usual suspects - canonically great Asian scientists like AvicennaLi Shizhen and Srinivasa Rajamunan. And that’d be important - there are whole canons of great scientists in the Middle East, China and India going back for thousands of years.

But then I realised that this’d be kind of reinforcing the stereotype that Asian men are all great at math and science. That demoralises girls and women; that demoralises Black and Latin@ and Native guys; that reinforces bullying against Asians in the US (who’re already disproportionately bullied).

So I instead I wrote about the Ming Dynasty woman doctor Tan Yunxian, the 18th century Nigerian mathematician Al-Kishnawi, the Aboriginal Australian inventor David Unaipon. These are folks whom liberal science nerds (at least outside of Australia) haven’t heard about - folks I hadn’t heard about until I did some digging. But they’re part of our history of science too.

And yet I did post some info about a Chinese man, based on a request from one of Medieval POC’s fans. And I discovered a really moving comment in a reblog:

isaacjlouie:

medievalpoc:

aseantoo submitted to medievalpoc:

Xu Xing / 徐星

Photographs by Calum MacLeod, USA TODAY

[x]

One of your fans, Cometkins, asked if you knew about any POC paleontologists.

The world’s most prolific discover of dinosaurs is a Chinese guy who’s been called a real-life Indiana Jones. 

He’s discovered at least 32 new species of dinosaurs. Also furthered loads of new theories about their connections with modern birds.

I also find him pretty damn cute.

[x]

Why doncha come and dust off my feathers, baby. :)

this is pretty much my entire childhood’s dream. seeing this, in a way, makes me feel like “i” have realized it.

I mean… wow.

An (I’m assuming) Asian guy in the West will of course grow up knowing that Asians can be scientists. But he still won’t see himself in one of the “cool sciences” like sciences like dino-hunting…

So just seeing a middle-aged Chinese guy with a set of Nanyangosaurus bones makes a difference. It does a body good to see a body like ourselves living out our dreams.

Maybe it helped that I was sexually objectifying Xu Xing. Though the truth is, he does not always photograph well.

Anonymous asked:

Hi are you going to reply to dorothyparkerwashere's rebuttal? If you meant your response to be a proper discussion on racism, then maybe you should with your FB like you did before so other people can comment on the discussion as well. At least she wasn't vulgar this time round.

No, I won’t be doing a re-rebuttal. I was mostly upset about her earlier post because it was reblogged on MedievalPOC, where loads of people who knew nothing about Singapore were reading it. (Also, that she was saying that everyone should boycott our books, without suggesting other books they ought to try out.)

Another reason I’m not responding again is - well, because she’s right, in many ways. I am benefitting from race privilege constantly. And I’ve better things to do than pick a fight with someone who ultimately has the same ideals as I do.

Btw, to everyone who still visits this blog - if what I write is sexist or racist or prejudiced or bigoted in any way, then call me out on it. Of course, I’ll digest it better if you don’t insult me and my “dudebro” friends while you’re at it. But I’m not gonna become a better activist if you keep your mouth shut.

(This post was originally written as a submission to Medieval POC,)

Last week was Fiction Week at Medieval POC, and I submitted a little post about Singapore-published speculative fiction, and how it usually (but not always) contains Asian characters as its protagonists.

A Tumblr user named dorothyparkerwashere criticised the hell out of my post, telling everyone not to buy the books because it would be tantamount to supporting Singapore’s racist society. Medieval POC reblogged her criticism. And though I know it was done out of a sense of genuine concern for world issues, it depressed the hell out of me.

Well, I’m not supposed to be blogging - I’ve stories of my own to write - but I’ve gotta respond to the charges.

1) He/She conveniently forgets to mention that they’re all written by Chinese Singaporeans, about Chinese people…

Actually, three of the books I posted about - Fish Eats Lion, Eastern Heathens and Lontar Vol #1 are full of works by writers of different races in Singapore, as well as different nationalities. (Check out the border of the Eastern Heathens cover - you can see the names of the contributors.) Plus, many of these authors wrote stories with very multiethnic casts.

But I didn’t post any books that were fronted by non-Chinese and non-white writers/editors, so here’s my attempt to remedy that. If you want to boycott the works of Chinese Singaporeans, then please buy these books by Malay, Indian and Eurasian authors instead:

Intercession 
by Isa Kamari

A novel about an attempt to clone the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh),

Govinda: The Aryavarta Chronicles Book I
by Krishna Udayasankar

A reinterpretation of the Hindu epic of the Mahabharata,

Ten
by Shamini Flint

A story of a mixed-race Malaysian girl who’s obsessed with soccer,

Body Boundaries: The EtiquetteSG Anthologies Volume I
ed. Tania De RozarioZarina Muhammad and Krishna Udayasankar

A feminist anthology of fiction, poetry and essays.

The Wayang at Eight Milestone
by Gregory Nalpon

A collection of “Singapore Gothic” stories about crime and the supernatural, written in the fifties, sixties and seventies by a deceased but recently rediscovered author.

Malay Sketches
by Alfian Sa’at

A collection of microfictions about Malay life,

2) Amanda Lee is a piece of shit who wrote a piece of shit set of short stories where she basically perpetuates every stereotype possible against Malays, especially Malay women.

Since Amanda Lee Koe is my friend, I’ve gotta stick up for her. The book dorothyparkerwashere is talking about is this:

The Ministry of Moral Panic
by Amanda Lee Koe

I think it’s a really good book. In fact, it was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Prize.

Yes, there are Malay stereotypes in it.  Amanda was a Chinese person writing about a multiethnic set of characters. She should’ve run it by more Malay readers before finishing her final draft.

Malay author Alfian Sa’at at first criticised the book for this, but on finishing it called it "[p]ossibly the most exciting debut collection of stories by a Singapore writer I’ve ever read".

3) And Ng Yi Sheng is the oh so tolerant liberal shit who frequently tries to shut down and derail conversations on racism in Singapore by acing as if us minorities should shut up and band together in solidarity with them in their fight against the dictatorship in Singapore.

I’m the Ng Yi-Sheng she’s talking about, actually. Which means I should’ve come clean at the beginning and said I was involved in two of the books I was pushing - I have a story in Fish Eats Lion and I co-edited Eastern Heathens, though it doesn’t contain any of my stories. Sorry about that.

Yes, I am an oh so tolerant liberal shit. I’m an LGBT activist and I’ve been trying to do some anti-racist activism to change my society. And god, I know I make mistakes.

But I don’t know why dorothyparkerwashere claims I’m silencing non-Chinese voices. Maybe because I told a Muslim anti-LGBTs crusader that I really hoped that LGBTs and Malays could one day fight against discrimination together. Or something else. I’m curious to know. Do I really do it frequently?

4) Chinese Singaporeans hold all political, social and economic power here. They use this to limit our opportunities, deny us representation and even engage in terror against us. An Indian kid was killed in jail by his Chinese guards. Nothing happened to them. An Indian construction worker had his head cut off by a bus that ran over him. Again, the justice system did nothing. The name of the murderer wasn’t even released. The Malay community is denied everything in their own homeland.

If all this sounds familiar to POC in the West, it’s cos it should. White people in the West are what Chinese people are in Singapore. They terrorize us and ruin our lives while acting as if they built a colour blind post racial state.

Yes, Singapore is racist. (See also here. And here.) But while the Chinese majority does marginalise minority Malays, Indians and Eurasians, there isn’t a system of apartheid going on - there’s a consciously PC program of multiethnic representation in politics, and surveys show that about half of citizens have close friends of different races.

This really is a situation like white people in the West, in that most of the oppression takes the form of bad policies, unconscious prejudice and exploitation of the poor. So the use of the word terror is really weird, given that there is genuine terror being executed in Burma against the Muslims, in Israel against the Palestinians.

We do have a fucked up human rights situation, though.

Like in the case of the Indian guy killed in jail - Dinesh Raman - the issue everyone was talking about was accountability of our massive prison system, not race. (The officer got fined, by the way.)  Also, everyone freaked out because this kind of thing doesn’t usually happen. 

In the case of the Indian guy decapitated by a bus - Sakthivel Kumaravelu - the much bigger issue was that it sparked off a riot by Indian foreign workers , resulting in deportations without trial and restrictions on public mobility, which is an atrocity of foreign workers’ rights more than racial justice. And again, everyone was freaking out because this doesn’t usually happen. More info here.

What’s much more problematic than our racism is our xenophobia - see hereherehere. It cuts across racial lines. There’s this interesting article pointing out how landlords discriminate against migrant workers from both China and India.

Basically, if you wanna boycott us, boycott us for the right reasons. Did I mention we still have a law against gay sex? Boycott us for that.

5) Please don’t buy these books… Support this if you want, but realise you are supporting Asians who oppress other Asians. Ask yourself if that’s something you can live with, all in the name of solidarity.

This is pretty much like telling people not to buy books by white Americans - or any Americans! - because white Americans oppress POC. It’s a huge blanket condemnation, because white Americans are the majority (for now), and if you want to find out about the culture, it’s kind of necessary to read some of their work.

By the way, there’ll be a Singapore Literature Festival in New York City from October 10 to 12 this year. Singaporean writers from lotsa different races will be present, including Alvin Pang, Alfian Sa’at, Haresh Sharma, Pooja Nansi, Tania De Rozario and Jason Erik Lundberg. 

If you’re in the area, go talk to them - or scream at them, if you like. 

We’re a small country. Mostly, we’re happy as long as you notice we exist.

Madonna
Nothing Really Matters
US (1998)

Ah, Madonna Ciccone. How could we talk about queer divas without mentioning you?

I know that in the current activist climate we’re supposed to feel angry at you for appropriating other ethnicities’ culture in your music videos. And certainly, it’s troubling how people associate you with voguing rather than the Houses of Black queer youth in New York that invented it.

But the truth is, I always felt kind of honoured at how you drew on Asian inspirations for your own metamorphoses. I mean, the aesthetic of butoh dance (using genuine butoh artists) in the music video for Nothing Really Matters is pure magic. I also liked it when you threw in a Thai khon headdress in your cover of Fever, and your Indian hennaed-up hands for Frozen.

Oh, and then there’s this:

Madonna
Shanti Ashtangi
US (1998)

Maybe it’s because I’m a majority race Asian guy from Asia, so I didn’t feel I had very much to lose when you were borrowing/stealing our cultures. Maybe it’s cos this was taking place at a time when there was a lot more ignorance about Asia in the West, so even an exoticised representation seemed positive.

And maybe it’s because you actually cast Asian dancers in several of your videos, before that was a thing. There’s a sexless Asian guy in Vogue, but a pretty hot one in Human Nature. And I’ve recently realised that Mr Stupid Hot White-Looking Guy in Hung Up is actually Filipino.

Long story short: you’re welcome to shoot an appropriationist music video in Singapore anytime. Americans still need a geography lesson about where we are.

A Mei/ 阿妹 brandishing  a rainbow flagFrom here
This was in the news a while back, and I feel bad for keeping it on the backburner so long. Via Shanghaiist:

Taiwanese diva A-Mei was banned from singing her LGBT-friendly song "Rainbow" at a concert in Singapore last weekend. She was informed the song about same-sex relationships would not be allowed shortly before her performance at the Spring Wave Music and Art Festival on 7 June, stunning her and her staff—particularly as she had performed the song and spoken on gay rights at previous gigs in the Lion City.
A-Mei, a Taiwanese aborigine from the Puyuma nation, previously courted controversy in 2000 when she sang the ROC national anthem at the inauguration of pro-Taiwanese independence president Chen Shui-bien. Beijing responded by ordering all radio stations to cease broadcasts of her music, banning her from performing in the PRC and pressuring Sprite into cutting their endorsement contract with her.
The music video for her 2004 single “Love is the Only Thing” featured a gay wedding and a kiss between two men—a scene that had to be cut before the video could air in China—and in 2009 she performed as Rainbow Ambassador at the Taipei Gay Pride Parade, setting the record for the largest gay pride event in Asia. Last year, she held a free concert in Taipei in support of gay rights that was attended by over 20,00 fans.
Images of kissing same-sex couples on the screen won loud cheers from the audience during A-Mei’s previous Singapore concert.

You see, we have our own divas in Asia! Here’s the video of her Rainbow/彩虹 song, btw:

A Mei/ 阿妹 brandishing  a rainbow flag
From here

This was in the news a while back, and I feel bad for keeping it on the backburner so long. Via Shanghaiist:

Taiwanese diva A-Mei was banned from singing her LGBT-friendly song "Rainbow" at a concert in Singapore last weekend. She was informed the song about same-sex relationships would not be allowed shortly before her performance at the Spring Wave Music and Art Festival on 7 June, stunning her and her staff—particularly as she had performed the song and spoken on gay rights at previous gigs in the Lion City.

A-Mei, a Taiwanese aborigine from the Puyuma nation, previously courted controversy in 2000 when she sang the ROC national anthem at the inauguration of pro-Taiwanese independence president Chen Shui-bien. Beijing responded by ordering all radio stations to cease broadcasts of her music, banning her from performing in the PRC and pressuring Sprite into cutting their endorsement contract with her.

The music video for her 2004 single “Love is the Only Thing” featured a gay wedding and a kiss between two men—a scene that had to be cut before the video could air in China—and in 2009 she performed as Rainbow Ambassador at the Taipei Gay Pride Parade, setting the record for the largest gay pride event in Asia. Last year, she held a free concert in Taipei in support of gay rights that was attended by over 20,00 fans.

Images of kissing same-sex couples on the screen won loud cheers from the audience during A-Mei’s previous Singapore concert.

You see, we have our own divas in Asia! Here’s the video of her Rainbow/彩虹 song, btw:

Margaret Cho
I’m the One That I Want
Stand-up comedy recording
US (2000)
From here

Margaret Cho
I’m the One That I Want
Stand-up comedy recording
US (2000)
From here

All-American Girl
Sitcom
US (1994)
From here

Notorious C.H.O.
Stand-up comedy recording
US (2002)
From here

I wanna give a little love to the divas among us. And who better to pay homage to than the Korean-American bisexual comedy star Margaret Cho?

As a kid in Singapore, it mattered so much to see her with her own sitcom, All-American Girl, which I only found out later was supposed to be awful. And then to have her describe, in her comedy routines, how she was raised by drag queens in the Castro District and how she hooked up with another woman during a lesbian cruise she was hired for and how she concluded, "I’m not straight. I’m not gay. I’m just SLUTTY. Where’s my parade?"… Oh, that was wonderful. (She’s also got a whole “gay daddy” routine in The Notorious C.H.O!)

I hear she describes herself as pansexual now. She’s married to a dude, as of 2003, but it’s an open marriage - and she was a big activist for gay marriage, founding a pro-gay marriage website, Love Is Love Is Love (now defunct) in 2004 when they started marrying same-sex couples in California.

Of course, that initiative got stopped - but guess what? As of 2008, when same-sex marriage became legal again, she has been deputised by the City of San Francisco to perform marriages.

So yes, you can have your gay (or straight) marriage sealed by Margaret Cho! Better book your tickets quick!

Children of Srikandi Collective
Children of Srikandi
Indonesia/Germany (2012)
From here

Amba: A Saga of Revenge
Comic book
India (2013)
From here

Battle Scene Between Kripa and Shikhandi from a Mahabharata.
India (1670)
From here

Srikandi wayang kulit puppet
Indonesia, Solo
From here

Srikandi wayang golek puppet
Indonesia, Java (collected 1914)
Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam
From here

Amba asks Bhishma to marry her, from Mahabharat TV series
India (2013)
From here

Sorry I fell behind on Queer Week! I’m travelling in Greece, and the Internet connectivity at the student hostels has been extremely iffy.

Following on from my series on queer mythological figures, I’d like to talk about a strange gender-bending figure in the Hindu epic of the Mahabharata.

The story goes that Bhishma, a warrior prince, stole a princess named Amba away from her father. He planned to marry her to another king as a boon - but she refused, since she was already betrothed.

To cut a long story short, no-one would marry Amba, for various reasons of honour, etc - Bhishma himself couldn’t because he’d taken a vow of celibacy. Amba therefore vowed to be reborn as a man - Shikhandi - and ended up killing Bhishma, who was so immortal at the time that he was still alive while being impaled on a bed of arrows.

From here

This is the version I’ve heard before, and other versions say she became male through magical means. But the key image persists in all the tales - a woman who desired vengeance so intensely that she transformed into a man to fulfill her curse. 

The word “srikandi” now means heroine in Malay and Indonesian. And she’s read as something of a queer feminist icon - hence the labeling of queer Indonesian women as Children of Srikandi in the documentary film of the same title.

Yup, there’s a lot of queer myths out there. We’re not running out anytime soon.

Images of Lan Caihe from China and Thailand
From here, here and here

The Eight Immortals
From here

I think today’s going to be devoted to queer figures in Asian myth and legend!

Lan Caihe/藍采和 is a special figure for me. He’s one of the Eight Immortals of Taoism. and one of the most obscure. He represents the attribute of youth, I think.

But strangely, he - or s/he - is also ambiguously gendered, and queer in all sorts of ways. S/he’s the patron saint of minstrels, and is said to have sung for pennies in the street, wearing only one shoe, stuffing his clothes for warmth in the summer and sweating in the winter, all topsy turvy and odd and strange.

When I was younger, I chose Lan Caihe as one of my personal Chinese queer icons. (This was before the Internet became what it is today, so I didn’t have that many role models.) I wrote a poem about him/her, and since then I’ve performed it on several occasions. Here’s a taste of it:

Godling, peterlittlepanprince, wunderkind,
Mooncalf, badboy flowergirl, catamite,
Bishonen, enfant sauvage,
Little boy blue come blow your horn:

He is transvestite god,
Prepubescent god of the mad of the meek of the fad of the freak of the fey,
Incandescent god of the glad of the gay – okay,
So see him sailing in his ship of basketweave, of flower and fruit;
Tumescent god,
Lotus blossom lotus root.

Given how important s/he is to me, you can see why it’s a source of annoyance to me that Lan Caihe gets portrayed as unambiguously female, or worse still, as unambiguously male:

The Immortal Lan Caihe, from Jackie Chan Adventures
From here

There’s some online talk about this guy being Zhongli Quan, which would make more sense. But none of the immortals looks gender-ambiguous. Too much to foist on little American kiddies’ minds, I suppose. Alas.

The Eight Immortals, banishers of the Demon Sorcerers with the only key to The Netherworld, the Pan’Ku box.
From here

Does anyone have images of what s/he looked like in the series?

Vishwamohini wth Shiva
India (1940s)
Poster
From here

Siva Chasing Mohini
India, Western Panjab Hills (c. 1790)
Watercolour, Garhwal school
From here

The Hindu gods are all a little multi-gendered, given that all of them - male and female - are simply aspects of Brahman, the Universal Spirit. But the one figure who bends gender the most is probably Mohini.

Qualia Folk describes the goddess thus:

Mohini (Sanskrit: “enchantress”) is an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, who took on the form of an irresistibly beautiful woman to defeat asuras (demons), and afterwards seduced the god Shiva into having sex with her in order to fend off a future catastrophe.

You can see images of Shiva pursuing Mohini up there - and mind you, Shiva is perfectly aware that Mohini is Vishnu in female form; it’s just that her form is that hot.

I only learned about the story via the gay Singaporean poet Cyril Wong’s poem cycle based on the myth:

Cyril Wong
Tilting the Plates to Catch the Light
Singapore
From here

There’s a lot more info about Mohini at Wikipedia:

In the Bhagavata Purana, after Vishnu deceives the demons by his maya female form, Shiva wishes to see the bewildering Mohini again.

Raja Ravi Varma
Mohini-Bhasmasura
Bhasmasura (left) is about to place his hand on his head following the dancing Mohini (centre), as Shiva (right) looks from behind the tree.
India (early 1900s)

When Vishnu agrees and reveals his Mohini form, Shiva runs crazily behind Mohini, “bereft of shame and robbed by her of good sense,” while the abandoned wife Parvati (Uma) looks on. Shiva is overcome by Kāma (love and desire or Kamadeva, the god of love and desire). His “unfailing” seed escapes and falls on ground creating ores of silver and gold. Afterwards, Vishnu comes to his true form and reveals that his maya (illusory power) cannot be surpassed even by Shiva. Shiva then extols Vishnu’s power.

… and at Qualia Folk:

Mohini is also the god Krishna, who transformed himself into a woman so he could marry and have sex with the tragic hero, Aravan. As a Hindu god/dess who changes sex and gender, Mohini is a notable figure in Hindu LGBTQ folklife and the global study of Gay-related religious folklife.

Mohini plays an important part in the mythology behind the annual Kundhavar-Aravan Festival for India’s Hijras (a folk made up of intersex people and males who traditionally emasculate themselves in honor of the goddess Bahuchara Mata). During the festival, Hijras re-enact Mohini’s one-day marriage to Aravan.

Kabir Orlowski
Aravanis, the transgender “brides” of god Aravan, mourn his death. Aravanis don the role of Mohini-Krishna.
Photograph
India (2006)
From here

Trans goddesses FTW!