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Kim Fu's ‘For Today I Am A Boy’: Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

Early in this uncommonly moving debut novel—the last book I read in 2014, and one of the best—the young narrator, Peter Huang, goes to the movies with his adored older sister Adele. The theater plays old movies, and they watch Sabrina, the classic film starring Audrey Hepburn. Sitting with his beautiful sister, heartbroken that in a few weeks Adele will leave for college, Peter sees in Hepburn an impossible ideal, an embodiment of the kind of woman he feels sure he was meant to be.

FuBut everything in Peter’s life seems designed to keep him from anything like an authentic self. The child of Chinese immigrants in a small Canadian town, Peter is the only boy in a family of four children, the answer to his father’s prayers. Peter’s father is in some ways desperate to assimilate—he refuses to speak Cantonese and forbids his wife from cooking their native cuisine—but he has deeply traditional ideas about gender and the duties of children. He gives Peter the Chinese name Juan Chaun, “powerful king,” and expects him to act accordingly.

But Peter can’t be the son his father wants, and he lives for stolen moments when he can imagine himself into a different life. Alone in the afternoons after school, he puts on his mother’s apron and cleans the house, then cooks a meal his sister will take credit for. When his father discovers that his son has been doing “women’s work,” his response is immediate and cruel.

Peter does find allies in his small town, people he can begin to share his secrets with, but it isn’t until he moves to Montreal as a young man that he has his first glimpses of queer life. And even here he can’t let himself make use of his new freedom. Years after he leaves home, even after his father’s death, Peter is still ruled by his parents’ expectations. He feels not just shame at being trans, but absolute certainty that anything like a full life is impossible.

It’s not surprising, then, that Peter’s first sexual experiences are bound up with violence. In one of the book’s most powerful sequences, he enters into an abusive relationship with a much older woman, who stages scenes of sexual sadism and racist humiliation. In a devastating scene, this woman dresses Peter as a woman and then chokes him in front of a mirror, so that “I could watch my own blissful face white out slowly, glowing like an angel’s, until I passed out.”

Kim FuStructured in short, intense fragments and poetic scenes, Kim Fu’s novel follows Peter’s life over three decades, and one of its strengths is that Peter’s coming of age doesn’t fit into any easy narrative of liberation. Even when he does fall in with a group of young people who seem entirely comfortable with their queer identities, with rich lives and loving relationships, Peter’s response, at least at first, is to feel less relieved than enraged. 

“Who were these kids?” Peter asks himself. “What right had they to be born into a world where they were taught to look endlessly into themselves…To ask themselves, and not be told, whether they were boys or girls?”

The novel doesn’t offer any easy answers to Peter’s questions, or to other questions he asks about family and gender and sex. It certainly resists any sense that there are ready-made answers to those questions, or that they can be resolved in anything other than individual, divergent, and partial ways.

In fact, the novel suggests, Peter’s best chance at happiness may not be in the urban queer community Montreal offers, but instead where he began, within his difficult, fractured family, and especially in his relationships with his three sisters, each of them desperate for a wholeness their lives seem to refuse them.

For Today I Am a Boy is an extraordinarily accomplished first novel, and Fu is a thrilling new voice. She’s at once compassionate toward her characters and uncompromising in her refusal of the usual novelistic resolutions of questions that remain intractable in lived experience. Lyrical, sometimes brutal, always beautiful, this is a brilliant book. 

Previous reviews...
Joyce Brabner’s ‘Second Avenue Caper
Shelly Oria’s ‘New York 1, Tel Aviv 0’
Colm Tóibín’s ‘Nora Webster’
Saeed Jones’s ‘Prelude to Bruise’
 
Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. His new novel, What Belongs to You, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in September 2015. He lives in Iowa City, where he is an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


Canadian Gay Adult Film Actor Found Guilty In Savage Murder, Dismemberment Of Chinese Student

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The Quebec Superior Court found Canadian gay adult film actor Luka Rocca Magnotta guilty of first degree murder, among four other related charges, and sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of applying for parole for 25 years for the brutal dismemberment and shocking murder of Chinese student Lin Jun reports Global NewsLin Diran, the father of Lin Jun, was present at the trial for the verdict while the rest of Lin's family lives in China. Lin Diran read an emotional statement after the conclusion of the trial.

Said Lin Diran:

"In one night, we lost a lifetime of hope, our futures, parts of our past. We do not want to tell our story because it is too sad to repeat. We cannot talk much about Lin Jun without talking about his murder. The murder has robbed us not only of Lin Jun but our ability to think and talk about him without feeling pain and shame."

Magnotta did not testify throughout the duration of the trial. Several defense psychiatrists testified Magnotta was schizophrenic and was in a state of psychosis when he killed Lin; others, testifying for the prosecution, said Magnotta had a personality disorder, with some citing his narcissistic behavior, and had the capacity to know the difference between right and wrong.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 3.46.34 PMThe macabre nature of the crime made news around the world, with the story of Magnotta recording his murder of Lin Jun and mailing one of Jun's feet to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, while scattering the rest in public around parts of Canada is straight out of a horror movie. Magnotta's violent history began when he recorded himself on video killing kittens and posting the videos to the web. In 2010, an animal rights group connected Magnotta to the videos however, Magnotta spoke with the British tabloid The Sun, denying his involvement in the killing of the animals.

Magnotta also claimed he was dating Canadian serial killer Karla Homolka who, along with her husband, raped, murdered and tortured three school children including Homolka's younger sister. In May 2012, Magnotta kidnapped Jun and another man (whom he later let go), and videoed himself murdering Jun with an ice pick, which appears to be a sick homage to "Basic Instinct," and later committed necrophiliac acts on Jun's body. Magnotta posted "teasers" of the killing to the web calling the act, amongst others, "1 Lunatic, 1 Ice Pick."

After the mailings, Magnotta fled to Europe. In June 2012, a patron at a Berlin internet cafe recognized Magnotta, who was reading articles about himself on one of the computers, and called the police who arrested the deranged killer. At the conclusion of the trial, Magnotta did not apologize, or express remorse, about the killing to the court or Jun's father. Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer thanked the jury for performing their duties, especially after being subjected to horrifying video and image evidence of the crime.

Said Cournoyer: 

"We’ve asked a lot of you and you rose to the occasion and indeed proved that real and substantive justice is a reality in action. While it may not always be obvious to everyone, a jury trial is one of the most unfailing tests of a civilized country."


Peter LaBarbera Found Innocent Of Mischief In Canada, Says He's 'Sorry To Disappoint All The Nasty Gay Activists'

Labarbera

Anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera was found not guilty in a Canadian court Monday of a mischief charge stemming from his arrest in April for protesting at the University of Regina.

LaBarbera, of Illinois-based Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, and Canadian anti-gay activist Bill Whatcott were arrested after they refused to leave campus despite an order from police.

Officials alleged LaBarbera and Whatcott were violating the university's Respectful Workplace Policy, because students said they felt discriminated against during previous protests by Whatcott. Police asked LaBarbera and Whatcott to leave because they were in possession of graphic anti-gay materials, including a large sign saying "Sodomy is sin" and T-shirts showing a woman who was murdered by a gay man. 

CBC News reports on the not guilty verdict:  

Today, Bill Whatcott reacted to the not guilty ruling by saying he'll return to the campus some time next year.

"They need to be a free and open place that allows debate and so I hope they reconsider their position and that they welcome debate or at least tolerate it," Whatcott said. "People with views that differ from theirs have a right to try to make their case on a publicly-funded campus."

Peter LaBarbera is in the United States and didn't attend court.

At their trial in October, court heard they were asked to leave the campus because their activities violated the U of R's policy on maintaining a respectful work environment.

The Leader-Post reports that Whatcott, who'd been arrested before for protesting on college campuses, uttered "thank you lord" upon hearing the verdict from Judge Marylynne Beaton of the Regina Provincial Court:

At the time, U of R provost Thomas Chase called the materials "graphic" and "disturbing."

But "the validity of (their) beliefs are not in issue," Beaton wrote in her decision.

"I find that the purpose of (their) attending the University of Regina was to communicate information and their actions were passive and non-aggressive," Beaton wrote. "The university's response was disproportionate to the peaceful distribution of flyers."

Whatcott said he plans to return to the University of Regina in January. No word on whether he'll bring LaBarbera. 

In any case, the not guilty verdict is probably a good thing, because it avoids turning this lovely pair into martyrs for free speech, which may have been what they wanted.  

LaBarbera, who spent the night in jail and was voluntarily deported the next day, said in a statement on AFTAH's website

“Hopefully, this ruling will open up door to a resurgence of true tolerance and freedom in Canada. The Left in Canada, as in the United States, does not want debate but rather control. They fear unfettered exposure to moral truth and compelling facts about homosexuality–hence their campaign to silence Christians and others who speak out against sexual immorality and gender rebellion.

“The very fact that I was detained and searched at length twice by Border police upon entering Canada–merely because I and AFTAH espouse historic, biblical, Judeo-Christian teachings on homosexuality–reflects escalating ‘thought tyranny’ and anti-intellectualism in Canada which, if allowed to take root, will only lead to more rigid repression against believers in this great land.”

LaBarbera also reacted to the news on Twitter: 

Tweets

h/t: Joe.My.God. 

Read the judge's full decision here

Listen to The Leader-Post's video report on the not guilty verdict here, and watch video of the arrests, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "Peter LaBarbera Found Innocent Of Mischief In Canada, Says He's 'Sorry To Disappoint All The Nasty Gay Activists'" »


British Columbia Vetoes Approval of Anti-gay Trinity Western Law School

Twu

British Columbia has revoked its approval of a Christian university's plan to open a law school following stiff resistance from LGBT-supportive lawyers who objected to the school's covenant against homosexuality that students and faculty are required to sign.

Said TWU president Bob Kuhn via statement:

“It is difficult to conceive of a justifiable basis for the Minister [of Advanced Education Amrik Virk] to have revoked his approval of the school of law program...We believe in diversity and the rights of all Canadians to their beliefs and values.”

Back in October, we reported on a poll conducted throughout the province that found 75 percent of practicing lawyers agreed that the Trinity Western University's law school should not be given accreditation due to the school's anti-gay policy. Specifically, the policy forbids all sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman.

Said Victoria-based lawyer Michael Mulligan at the time:

“The large return and clear result sends an important message about the core values of the legal profession that include upholding the legal rights of all persons. The clear message to TWU is this: if you wish approval from the legal profession in B.C. you will need to cease your discriminatory practices. The discipline or expulsion of students and staff for private sexual activity is unacceptable.”

[via Metro News]


Ottawa School Backtracks On Decision To Ban Student Project On Gay Rights

Quinn Maloney-Tavares and Polly Hamilton

A Catholic school in Ottawa has backtracked on a decision to not allow two grade 6 students to present a social justice project on gay rights following complaints from parents, reports CBC News.

In a statement explaining the ban in November, the Ottawa Catholic School Board (CSB) said:

“Our Family Life curriculum (Fully Alive) covers all topics around personhood, relationships and sexuality and is developed and taught in an age-appropriate manner. The Board ensures that a pastoral approach is used during the learning process. Parents are notified before sexuality topics are taught in class.

“The principal's decision was made in this context and with the understanding that the project was going to be presented to younger students.​

“Our Board's focus on equity and family life programs ensures students are taught within the context of our faith, with a focus on the dignity of personhood.”

St geoge school ottawaFollowing the ban, students Quinn Maloney-Tavares and Polly Hamilton met with Jeremy Dias of Jer’s Vision, an activist organization that seeks to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in schools and youth communities.

The decision to now allow the project to go ahead comes following a meeting between the girls, their parents and the principal of St. George School near Tunney’s Pasture.

Following the decision, the CSB said:

"The girls will be doing a project on how the topic of gay rights is addressed by a Catholic high school’s equity club. The girls will be welcome to present their project at the social justice fair."

Quinn’s mother Ann Maloney said:

"One person can make change because they came up against a roadblock and took some action and they were able to change the way people think. I think that's a pretty powerful feeling for them to have at such a young age."

Maloney added that although she has received positive messages from parents, some messages have been “very unpleasant.”


Gay Canadian Figure Skater, Olympic Silver Medalist Eric Radford Is Pushing A Perfect 10

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Canadian figure skater Eric Radford (above) seriously considered coming out publicly prior to the Sochi Olympics. 

But ultimately Radford decided he didn't want to be a poster child at an event where gay rights were sure to be a hot-button issue — or worse, risk scrutiny from Russian authorities looking to enforce the country's anti-gay law. 

Radford.Eric4"My concern was that I would be known as 'the gay athlete' if I came out at the Olympics, rather than Eric the medalling figure skater who happens to be gay," Radford tells OutSports. "And I felt uncomfortable with that title."

Whether you agree with it or not, Radford's decision appears to have paid off. Focused on the competition and not media hype over his sexuality, he helped the Canadian team earn a silver medal in Sochi.

Now, as he and his figure skating partner, Meagan Duhamel (right), continue to enjoy remarkable success, Radford decided the time was right. According to OutSports, he becomes the first elite figure skater to come out at the height of his career. 

Radford and Duhamel are three-time defending Canadian pairs champions — and they won bronze at the World Championships in 2013 and 2014. Now, they're setting their sights on the 2018 Olympics in South Korea — Radford even got a tattoo on his chest as a symbol of his dedication to that goal. 

In the OutSports interview, Radford recalls how he was teased mercilessly as a child, not only because figure skating was considered a "gay" sport but because he had a lisp. But being gay in figure skating pairs also has its advantages, Radford says:

"A lot of pairs end up dating one another. It can become risky because your on-ice training can be affected by your off-ice relationship. If you have a fight at home, it makes that training difficult. I used to joke around that I'm the ultimate pair-boy. I never had to worry about developing an off-ice relationship."

Although he just came out publicly, Radford says many in the figure skating community already knew. He and his boyfriend have been together four years, and they're raising a daughter together.  

Read Radford's full interview with OutSports here.

Watch videos of Radford completing a performance despite a broken nose in 2011 and taking the ice bucket challenge with his boyfriend earlier this year, AFTER THE JUMP ...  

 

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