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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."


BioWare Creates Custom Marriage Proposal Videogame For One Lucky Gamer

BioWare, the Canadian software company known for producing the hit video game series Mass Effect, created a custom video game level from the series for one of their fans named Jackie who wrote an email to the developer asking if they could help her propose to her girlfriend, Amy, in a memorable manner in a story posted on BioWare's Blog.

Marriage proposalStudio Manager Marie-Renée Brisebois of BioWare Montréal obliged Jackie's request and asked other developers if they would be interested in fulfilling Jackie's request. Brisebois assembled a small team composed of writers, level designers and analysts to craft a playable level that results in a proposal message accessed by the player, which in this case is Amy. Lead Level Designer Colin Campbell viewed it as an opportunity to share a mutual joy with the couple.

Said Campbell:

“I love being married. It’s my favorite thing about my life, and it’s a huge amount of what I enjoy about living, but being a videogame designer doesn’t often give me the opportunity to help someone else have a marriage.”

“This is rare and something that’s almost never going to happen to anyone in the industry, so as soon as I saw the opportunity, I jumped right on it.”

The team meticulously worked on everything from the writing, including references to the couple's relationship throughout the level, and making sure no programming bugs would occur to ensure a seamless experience. The developers and Jackie got Amy to the studio under the guise of winning a fake contest to tour the studio and play an early version of the next iteration of the series.

Jackie brought Amy into the studio to play the game, surrounded by developers pretending to record data on Amy's playthrough. At the end of the level, Amy's character walked up to a lone console and clicked on the console with a message from BioWare.

BioWare's message:

"Dear Amy, Jackie would like to ask you something.

Love,

All of us at BioWare"

Mass effectJackie then dropped down to one knee, took out the ring and proposed. Read the full story and see if Jackie said yes, on BioWare's blog.

Campbell said:

"There aren’t many situations in videogame development where you get the chance to step back and do something like this for somebody else."

"I think videogames are powerful and an incredible form of art and entertainment and interaction, but they don’t often get two people married. There are only a few stories like that in history, and it’s awesome to be part of one of them."

The Mass Effect series is known for allowing its players to pursue same-sex relationships with NPC's in the game. The studio is also introducing a gay male party member in Dragon Age: Inquisition that is set for release next week, Nov. 18 on both current and last generation systems.


Trial Underway for Canadian Killer Who Mailed Body Parts to Government Offices: VIDEO

Magnotta

A criminal trial of Luka Magnotta is underway in Montreal.

Magnotta, as you may recall, is a Canadian porn actor who in 2012 was the subject of an international manhunt after he was charged with murdering a man and sending his body parts to political parties in the mail.

Global News reports:

Magnotta has admitted to killing 33-year-old Jun Lin in May 2012, of cutting up his victim’s body, videotaping the act and posting it online. He’s admitted to then mailing some body parts, discarding others in garbage bags and stuffing Lin’s torso in a suitcase, leaving the items curb-side in Montreal before taking off for France, then Germany — where he was apprehended June 4 (2012).

But he has pleaded not guilty to the five charges he is facing as a result of those actions; his lawyer Luc Leclair is preparing to argue Magnotta was so psychologically ill he couldn’t grasp the severity of what he was doing.

Leclair cross-examined Lin's former lover Feng Lin on Wednesday, attempting to paint a less than innocent picture of the victim. Also questioned was the apartment manager who rented a space to Magnotta that would later become the crime scene.

You can read many more details here, and there is a video report on the latest proceedings, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Trial Underway for Canadian Killer Who Mailed Body Parts to Government Offices: VIDEO" »


Gay Couple Ejected From Montréal Bar For Kissing

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A bar in the Latin Quarter of Montréal has come under allegations of homophobia after kicking out a gay couple because a security guard spotted them kissing. As CTV News reports, Universite de Montréal student Gabriel Dion says that while many heterosexual couples were seen making out in the bar, he and his companion were singled out because they are gay:

Bar"We started making out, and hugging each other and that's it," he told CTV Montreal.

Dion said he and the man moved into a stairway for privacy.

"We definitely know some people are not comfortable with that, especially in a straight bar, so we tried to be as discreet as possible. But then a security guard came in and just told us to leave," he said.

The bouncer wouldn't let him and the other man their get their bags before leaving, so they had to ask friends to bring the bags outside, he said.

"I definitely felt disrespected. I felt that there was a lot of prejudice, basically," he said.

However, bar owner Maurice Bourassa insists he did not kick Dion and his partner out because they were gay but rather because they “were in a staircase that's used as a fire escape and therefore must be kept clear at all times” and, according to Bourassa, “the men were conducting themselves inappropriately, with one man lying on top of the other. Their behaviour, he says, was more appropriate for a bedroom than a public place.” 

You can watch a news report from CTV on the incident HERE.


Tegan and Sara Join Macklemore for 'Same Love' Performance at Osheaga Music Fest: VIDEO

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Lesbian pop duo Tegan and Sara joined Macklemore & Ryan Lewis at the Osheaga Music Festival in Montreal on Saturday for a performance of his equality anthem "Same Love".

Check it out, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Tegan and Sara Join Macklemore for 'Same Love' Performance at Osheaga Music Fest: VIDEO" »


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