Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thinking of You

Philosophical possibilities aside (because I know that there are many passages I could bring in here), I've been wanting to mention one thing that has really been on my mind over the past couple of weeks.

There's a really good chance that you are part of it. Seriously.

Because what I've been paying attention to are the many instances, minutes, and days in which thoughts of other people are present to me. Most likely, all of this occurs unbeknownst to those who cross my mind. I imagine that many, many people would be surprised to know how often I actually think of them. Once I started paying attention to it, it even surprised me. I'm talking about strangers, friends from 10 years ago who I no longer talk to (in fact, lots of people with whom I've seemed to lose touch), peers from high school, teachers, students, friends of friends, people I've never actually met but whose path I've crossed enough to recognize their bags, and of course, family members, loved ones, friends, and acquaintances. I often think of people who I've never had the chance to meet but whose stories I've heard, as well as (of course!) those who make their way into my stories. And there are those who I don't simply conjure up in my memory but who I literally see throughout any given day. When I'm sitting in a coffee shop or watching people walk by me, I wonder how many of them are aware of the fact that I am aware of them.

That is what all of this comes down to: Recognition. Acknowledgment. Consideration. Awareness.

This has come up for me pretty strongly lately in part because I have had the great fortune of being contacted by lots of people over these past couple of months. Just last week I was taken aback by the amount of birthday wishes that I received from people on facebook alone. And over the summer, I've received numerous messages from strangers on the Internet, while others say when we formally meet, "I've seen you walking around campus before..." These are some of the ways that indicate when and how others think of you. Just think of all of the mini thoughts that we have of people which seem to leave no trace...

Sometimes it's heartening to hear from others. Sometimes it's humbling. Sometimes it's surprising, and yes, sometimes it's kind of weird to find out that people have "noticed" you before. But the vast majority of the time, I think it's important to know that you were on someone's mind, because it helps one to better appreciate how connected we actually are and recognize that even in times when we might feel isolated, disconnected, or alienated, it has to be trusted that you are significant enough to be remembered and recognized by someone, somewhere.  We see each other more than we let on, I think. We notice lots more than what others are probably aware. We remember so much, too. A lot of the time, I think it's because we really do care.

So I've been wondering what it might mean if other people could somehow know that someone else remembered, considered, and acknowledged them. Even if it was just for a second. I've imagined what it would be like if it was possible to keep a running tally of all the people who worked their way into my conscious awareness in one day and then share it in such a way that they would know that someone, somewhere, was (unexpectedly?) thinking of them. Sure, there might be something valuable on its own about appreciating "traceless thoughts" and letting them stay that way, but my sense is that there are lots of people who don't give themselves enough credit, who underestimate their significance in the world, who seem to think that no one cares about their existence. And I think that it would be really cool if, at least for just one instance, they could be shown otherwise.

Despite all of the frustrations that people might have about social media and the way that Facebook, Twitter, and other online-whatevers have degraded our ability to communicate, to know what "real" connection means, to maintain substantive relationships with others, and to participate in genuine human interaction, I am rolling with the changes that they bring. Sure, these parts of our lives have been dramatically transformed, but that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing.

What if we weren't afraid to reveal that we were "stalking" someone on Facebook and actually went ahead and "Liked" something that they posted? Then they would know that we're following and paying attention.

What if we just sent a text that said, "Hi. Thought of you today. I really hope you're doing well." to one of those long-lost someones in our contact list?

What if we went back to writing letters? Because we can.

What if I finally stopped those two guys who I've seen for months and years (respectively) and told them that I love the style and attitude with which they walk around the streets of this fake little town--that they liven it up in a really wonderful way?

And then there are those people with whom we can't connect in tangible ways...

What if we could let those who have passed know that we are still thinking of them?

What if we could tell their family members that the loss of their loved one brought us to tears, too, and that we are heartbroken right along with them?
What if we could reach out in lots of ways and let others know?

In large part, it probably comes down to time. We may just not have have enough time to let others know that they crossed our mind. It's probably more so the case that we are too uncomfortable to break through whatever boundaries keep our thoughts traceless.

But just imagine. How cool would it be if.....

Yet even as I write, I am hesitant to put down specific names of those from just today. I know that the list would be necessarily incomplete. But even in acknowledging its partiality, it's almost too daunting to attempt. I want to. I really do. I just haven't figured out how yet. (And there's probably something important to be learned from that...) Or maybe one of these days it will become it's own project.

For now, suffice it to say that, someone, somewhere, has probably thought of you today.

On a more specific note from me, thank you to those who let me know that you were thinking of me, too. Thanks for the messages, the calls, the chats, the video messages, the texts, the meeting-ups for hugs and  "hello's." I've got mad love for you all.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

All Things Out of Exuberance

In one of my most recent posts, while writing in the wee hours of the night into the birds' songs of the dawn, I reflected on my hesitations around writing my dissertation prospectus and concluded that I had not been fully preparing myself in ways that I knew were necessary for my own process. I spent those hours acknowledging that there was an unusual amount of fear and insecurity present in me, and I decided to allow myself a couple of more days to do whatever it was that I needed to do to get to a better, more productive place.

The next night, with philosophy books pulled off of my shelf and scattered about my bedroom floor, I ended up reading back through some of my old journals that were stored next to some of my most relevant philosophy texts. I flipped through the past two years worth of random thoughts, reminders, sketches, and poems about my relationships and the most growth-inducing experiences, as well as the tidbits of notes from philosophy talks and other paper ideas that were distributed throughout those now-filled journal pages. As I put down one journal to pick up the next, the next relationship, the next saga, the next series of challenges and reflections, their tan covers were soon intermingling with the books on my floor about feminism, phenomenology, Nietzsche, and Foucault. Of course. Of course it would all come together like that.

With the arrangement of thoughts and feelings and memories and ideas and arguments and personalities surrounding me, I picked up my current journal and began writing. Much like the texts and the books and my experiences throughout the past month of May, what I wrote reflected the near seamlessness of my philifesophy (that may be one of the first time that I have actually used the word in a sentence and meant it as such). I wrote about where I was at in that moment: After a month of dedicating my attention to my own patterns and personal relationships, I needed to create some space for myself and in my head and in my heart to let those realizations breathe a bit on their own. I need to shift gears into work, and let philosophy be the area that teaches me about my experiences. I wrote about the basic questions that will be guiding my dissertation. How is it that philosophy can change a person? How might this effect change how we understand philosophy itself? And as I elaborated upon those questions, without really intending to, I slipped back into addressing relationships (in very transcendental terms no less!): "...we work on cultivating the conditions for the possibility of the relationship..." And with that last twist in my writing, it became evident that what I needed to do was think my personal thoughts (which usually center on relationships) and my philosophical thoughts (which usually center on meta-philosophical questions) together.

No kidding, right?

I was already aware of my hesitations around philosophy. I was being held back by something, and I don't think it was just a matter of being preoccupied with all of this self-understanding that I had been engaging in for so long. It wasn't just that I needed to redirect some mental energy to the work; it was that I needed to approach my work from a different place. One that wasn't riddled with fear, anxiety, and insecurity from imposter complexes, and a place that wasn't defensive. I don't want to prove that I am right and others are wrong. I needed to get ready to do philosophy in the only way that I healthfully and happily can--by being fully engaged, creative, curious, and fully open to being transformed by it. I needed to put myself into the project with all of the passion and enthusiasm and glee that I feel whenever I read Nietzsche.

And what I soon realized was that I was also starting to do a weird thing in my personal relationships. These past few months have been really unusual: after ending my last long-term relationship in March, I've been surrounded by lots of new people and doing lots of new things. And in the process, I've met someone who I actually have started to like quite a bit. It's been rather unexpected, but wonderfully fun and exciting at the same time. Nevertheless, on that night, I realized that I was going through a pretty common thing that happens when someone starts to develop feelings for another person. It's the case with me, and I know others who have been through it too, that the precise moment when you start to like someone else is when worries begin to blossom: What if they don't like me? What if I do something stupid? What if...?

But just as quickly as those feelings were acknowledged, I let them go, because the thing is, none of that matters. Those questions and worries are misleading, if not completely misdirected already on their own. At this point in time, and it may be that this is always the case, I don't have to impress anyone. There are no stakes on making sure that someone likes me back. I can't convince someone to fall for me, and even if I could manipulate someone's heart into heavy infatuation, I wouldn't want to! To ask, "What if...?" and to approach someone (about whom you are interested in and excited about) from that place is to allow your feelings and actions to be rooted in insecurity and doubt. There is a degree of clinging that wants to bring someone into your life and hold on to them, hence the fear of rejection, but that is not a healthy source out of which one should develop any kind of relationship.

It reminded my again of why I love Nietzsche's the Gay Science: When we approach work, love, and life out of a type of need, clinging, resentment, or insecurity, this affects the nature of what follows suit. Rather than being wholly reactionary, what if we strove to take on projects, start new friendships and relationships, write philosophy, and live in general from a place of overflowing generosity? Not because of a need to hold on to something or someone or to protect ourselves, but rather because we need to express the enthusiasm, joy, creativity, passion, and love that begs to be given. How would that change our philosophy? How would it change our relationships?

After reminding myself of all of this, I went down to the kitchen and wrote myself a note:

I also used the dictionary to help me put all of this into very dry, concrete terms:

exuberance: the quality or state of being exuberant
exuberant: 1. extreme or excessive in degree, size, or extent 2. joyously unrestrained and enthusiastic, unrestrained or elaborate, especially in style: FLAMBOYANT 3: produced in extreme abundance: PLENTIFUL
exuberate: to have something in abundance: OVERFLOW

Since that night, I've been doing more work. I've had peaks of motivation and productivity, and I've felt a greater sense of relaxation and release in both my work and my interactions with those around me. All of that has, of course, still occurred in between my fair share of summer fun--karaoke, dancing, late nights of hanging out, and cooking lots of farm fresh meals. I also decided to follow up on a suggestion from a friend and read this book with my breakfasts over the past couple of days:

Go here to take a peek inside the book.

It was a good, quick, and easy read, and one that spoke to me on many levels. In fact, I wanted to write about play and how it brings me back to Nietzsche, affect, and philosophy here today, but since I got carried away with these other things, I'll save that for next time...


Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Pleasure of Not Smoking

I'm thinking of quitting small task. But instead of quitting out of some sense of guilt or shame, like because smoking is bad or because others negatively judge those who do it, I want to apply some ideas that I have come across through podcasts and philosophy to make this a pleasurable process. That is, instead of using pain and punishment as a mode of discipline, I want to discipline myself to quit smoking through the use of pleasure. If and when I want a cigarette, I will ask myself, "What would I enjoy even more than a cigarette right now?" and then do that.

You can listen to the podcast I mention here.

(By the way, Radiolab is one of my favorite podcasts! The shows are definitely worth a listen.)

You can also go back to my previous blog post about the Creation, Intensification and Multiplication of Pleasures.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Trouble for Old, Dead, White Guys (Video)

Think for a Change (13):

A viewer on Youtube asked about a forum for longer comments. I guess this will do for now...Please feel free to post your thoughts below.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Hesitations Before the Changes, and Breaking My Writer's Block

It's been a week and a half since I've been back after my cross-country drive with my dear friend. On that journey, I wrote about not doing philosophy, taking a break from the seriousness of it all, and allowing myself to stay grounded to the everydayness of life outside of academic philosophy. Upon my return, I knew that I would have to get back to business. With less than a month before I start my summer teaching, it is time for me to actually put together the structure of arguments and chapters for my dissertation. But, alas, in the past week and a half, I have not.

Despite my desire to be productive with my reading and writing, and despite the fact that the ideas I will work through in my dissertation have been resurfacing in various forms over the past few years now, for some reason, I can't bring myself to actually do it. Writing this prospectus is hard...This is the ultimate form of writer's block. I haven't even started writing it. So, much like I've done before, I have decided tonight that while I keep to the insomniatic schedule that screams as a poor excuse, "I'm still jet-lagged and on west coast time," I might as well write about my current process. At least it's something.

My advisor has, as usual, been very supportive. She previously described to me the experience of writing her prospectus as a "semester of floundering." To me it feels like desperately seeking guidance in an open field with no structure to direct or even limit the moves that you could make. Strange that limitations would be welcome, and yes, it feels a lot like floundering.

I keep telling myself that getting into it is probably the most difficult part of the whole writing process, especially since it requires that I make claims that I can't yet fully support. I have to suggest my arguments about embodiment, affect, psychosomatic phenomena, oppression, bodily practices, resistance, transformation, and the role of philosophy in all of this without even having done sufficient research to back them up. Not only does this go against my training, but it also quickly brings up the anxieties related to not yet knowing enough (Oh, the imposter complex strikes again. Hello, old nemesis. I haven't seen you in a while!). Of course there are a thousand more books out there that I can read, and hundreds of other people have written on the topics in question. In fact, whole disciplines are dedicated to understanding the biochemical capacities and physiological processes of our human bodies--yes, my dissertation is looking in these directions--but unfortunately, right now I could probably better convince more people that I'm interested in being a presidential candidate for the GOP than I could intelligently speak about these sciences.

Nevertheless, I know I need to do it. So in between cooking adventures, eating binges, and long conversations with friends and neighbors, I have tried to think about how I would put all of this together in a book-length manuscript. During one attempt this week, the farthest I got was to writing, "Do I really have to delve into psychoanalysis?" "Do I really need to deal with the unconscious?" "Do I really have to address Truth?!" How daunting! Especially because the answer to all of the above is most likely, "Yes."

So naturally, I started to feel a bit worried and overwhelmed. I started to wonder, how am I actually going to do this? I know that I can do it, but HOW?? And then tonight, just as I was getting ready to get myself out of the house and meet up with some friends, something occurred to me.

I'm not ready for this.

I think it is the case that some kind of fear forms the root of my hesitations and blocks...It's not necessarily a bad fear, but an anticipatory fear, one that feels a lot like the sort of fear I remember feeling when I was learning how to snowboard. I would take my time while strapping in, making extra sure that the boots were perfectly snug, knowing full well that right when I stood up I would have to attempt to carve out a turn. But learning how to carve is tricky. You catch a lot of edges and fall a lot, and if you stiffen up and hesitate for too long, you start gaining speed and end up rocketing down the hill without any control. When you inevitably catch an edge anyway, with that increase in velocity, the fall only hurts more. Eventually, and with practice, I was able to relax more, bend my knees more, throw my hips more gracefully, and carve pretty effortlessly. Eventually, and this is to be expected, that initial hop up onto the board wasn't so intimidating, even if a tiny little tug in my tummy still remained. And eventually, once I got the hang of it, I was able to really enjoy the feeling of gravity pulling my on my body as I would glide over the snow.

This analogy is the best way for me to relate my current feeling of not being ready (sorry if you're not a snowboarder and the example doesn't resonate in your belly, too). I'm not ready to hop up and get right into the prospectus. All of this time so far (for nearly the past month!) has been me diligently brushing the snow out of my bindings, putting my gloves on...going through the minute motions of getting ready, all the while finding ways to avoid feeling the real fear of standing up.

But, thank goodness, in addition to realizing that I am not yet ready to do this, I think I have also finally realized a part of why I'm not ready to do this: I've been thinking about this project, what I need to do, and what's ahead all wrong!

I've been envisioning myself undertaking the task of sifting through various unknown disciplines and topics--like neuroscience and evolutionary theory, just to give gratuitous nods to other contenders in the ring--all in the hopes of teasing out threads that I can hopefully string together into a compelling narrative about how oppression works on and through our bodies, right down to the physiological dimensions of our affective experiences of discomfort and dis-ease, and how philosophy is a bodily practice that can similarly work as a means of resistance by affectively captivating us through episodes of passion, joy, and enthusiasm. While that may be a pretty good summation of my thesis statement (which is actually not that bad for it being the first time I have written it in such a way AND given that it's nearly 5:00 am), I know better than to think that this is all of what I am going to be doing while I write my dissertation.

From reading my most influential philosopher role models and from my own experience of writing papers thus far, I should know better than to assume that I could have a very solid idea of the ultimate form of my dissertation. One thing that I can be sure of is that my thesis statement will likely change. As I continue to go about the research and the writing, the arguments that I craft are almost certain to change. Perhaps even drastically. And, of course, I WILL CHANGE. The very process of doing philosophy, especially in the very involved, rigorous, and dedicated way that I am going to have to assume over the next 16 months, is a process that engenders new insights, new questions, and lots of growth and transformation.

If you are brighter and sharper than me, then perhaps you already realized for yourself that this is the very sort of change and transformation that I have been talking about for quite some time now. If nothing else, I have already indicated it a couple of times above in this post alone. However, so far, as I have been picturing the dissertation in all of its potential, one of the most important elements of it was missing: me. It's not just piecing together a puzzle, I'll be the one doing it, and I will be just as much as involved in the process as will Nietzsche. Furthermore, and much like snowboarding, I think that doing philosophy is a bodily practice insofar as it will require for me to be present with my own sensations, affects, and feelings as I proceed. But writing the dissertation will also require that I take up new routines, position my body in new locations, develop new habits, and carry all of that in my body. And needless to say, as I continue going about my day to day, I will also encounter lots of other life experiences that will challenge me, inform my opinion, reshape my thoughts, and influence my arguments...and me. None of these things can be anticipated in their specificity, but that I will encounter them is about as sure of a thing as I can imagine. The greatest hope is that, much like snowboarding, there will be even more pleasure and enjoyment in the process than there is frustration while learning.

When I think about the task of writing my dissertation in this way, my worries about not knowing enough and hesitations from needing to do more research make a lot more sense. They are there because I don't know enough. I need to do more research. But it is also the case that I will do those things. That is point of the project. Recognizing this, I can already feel those anxieties begin to dissipate.

It also means that rather than reading more books and articles right now at this moment, the real preparatory work for me to do is on myself. I've been intellectually preparing myself for my dissertation over the past couple of years through classes, selecting topics for my seminar papers according to my philosophical interests, and, lucky me, almost all of the books on my comprehensive exam lists related to these issues of affect, embodiment, oppression, and philosophy. Now, then, I need to get myself ready for a project that is going to change me. I don't know what writing this dissertation will entail, but I know it will be an experience in its own right. And soon, I think I will be able to step up to it.

Tomorrow (or rather, today) is the first day of this new process, but for now, I must get some rest as the birds sing their morning songs.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Pretty Queered Up"

I was recently contacted by Miyuki Baker, a student at Swarthmore, who wanted to interview me for her website about being Asian, Gay, and Proud. (You can go directly to her website and the interview here. It's looks better and is easier to read.) It took about a month for us to be able to find a time to talk that worked for both of us, but eventually, we made it happen. And I am glad that we did. I'm also glad that I had that month to think about her questions. Through my own reflections and conversations with others, I tried to think of how I could articulate my own thoughts and changes and identities in ways that would be sincere and hopefully helpful for others. I was able to write some of the answers to Miyuki's basic questions the night before the interview. The rest is a large part of the conversation that we had over the phone.

Cori Wong, 6/2/11

Cori Wong grew up in Boise, Idaho, studied philosophy at Colorado State as an undergrad, and is currently a graduate student at Penn State University in Philosophy and Women's Studies. A large part of her academic work is motivated by the desire to make philosophical reflection accessible to people beyond the university setting and relevant to real-life experiences. Her approach to public philosophy, or doing philosophy more publicly, is reflected in her coinage of the term, "philifesophy." which aims to capture the interrelatedness of life and philosophy.

In addition to spending time on her own philosophical work, Cori has equally strong passions for food (cooking and eating), dancing, and sitting around cafes having long and enjoyable conversations with friends.

Who? name, age, what you identify as (or not)

Cori Wong, 24.

Though I think labels can do important political work and often help in terms of legitimating identities, I also think that they often are too limiting, inadequately capture one’s experiences, and can create unnecessary anxiety. As a result, I’m loosening up on my own identification. At different times I’ve called myself a lesbian, identified as just “sexual,” and have recently thrown around with the idea of being “pretty queered up.” The last one is funny and subversive all at once. I like that.

What? what do you do for a living or things you would like to do.

I’m a graduate student in Philosophy and Women’s Studies at Penn State University where I specialize in feminist and Continental philosophy. My research centers on affective experiences, embodiment, sexuality, gender, oppression and resistance. I passionately love to learn and to teach, so I hope to continue doing both after I graduate.

When did you come out? Any stories?

I started the slow process of coming out in college. It was relatively smooth for me given that my studies provided me with very helpful language and concepts over the years that enabled me to make sense of, and be really okay with, my own experiences. Once I started being explicit about it with friends hardly anyone was surprised. It took a while longer for my family to feel more comfortable, but again, I think that being able to articulate myself clearly helped our process along. There was one instance that I think counts as my “official,” public coming out moment—it was the last round of a slam poetry contest and I performed a steamy and sentimental poem about a woman (not really anyone in particular). As I walked away from the microphone, I sort of squealed into my friend’s ear, “Oh my, I think I just came out to 100 strangers!”

The strange thing about coming out, though, is that it’s not really just a one-time thing. There are many situations where one has to decide whether and how to repeatedly and continually come out. Sometimes these situations can be frustrating, nerve-wracking, or empowering, and the repetitive quality of coming out is something that many people under-appreciate.

How did coming out impact your career or relationships with others?

I’m fortunate to be on a career path that is pretty open with respect to acknowledging sexual identities. Because my work aims to resist oppressive attitudes about topics dealing with gender, sexuality, and sex (to name a few), I think that being out myself has allowed me to engage more deeply with these issues. Both professionally and personally, my own ability to be open, accepting, and positive about my own identity has probably helped to foster some unique connections with others. In a lot of ways, once I came out I started to “see” a lot more queer people around me (Maybe it’s better “gaydar,” or maybe it’s just the kind of recognition where you pass someone on the street and give each other the, “Hey, we’re cool, we’re family” look...) Other people started to find me, too. I have been approached by numerous others (friends and acquaintances) who have been in the process of trying to better understand their own identities, and I’ve been told that my own comfort and openness made them feel like they could approach me and ask more poignant questions.

Miyuki: Why did you start your youtube channel, "My Philifesophy" and the Think for a Change video series?

Cori: When the September suicides were happening with the young gay boys and Dan Savage started the “It Gets Better” project, I thought for a really long time. It took me over a month actually to finally upload a video to the project because I didn’t know what to say. I really wanted to do something but I just didn’t know what to say. So then I finally realized that I didn’t know what to say because just saying that if you wait and push through, things would get better, felt so empty to me and really dissatisfying. So I felt like we needed to be able to say something more.

For me, it was one particular class that introduced me to feminist and queer theory and so after that I started exploring both of them. That changed my life and I thought, “That was when I was in college. We have to get resources available to younger people when they can’t take the college class.” And so I thought, well, they’re on the internet. Maybe we can put some resources on the internet and maybe that would help. So in my “It Gets Better” video I say “Find resources” and since it’s hard to just say “find resources” without pointing to them, I decided that that was something I’d do--it’s now my task to make resources available. So I read from books that are really good and also try to demonstrate what it is to think and talk through these issues. I wanted to provide the material and lead the questions along.

You know, I really wish there was something more that I could do--and there are advocacy groups out there--but it takes such an effort on the part of a young person to put themselves in the position where they have resources available to them. I’m happy that I had the idea to do this and it’s been getting such good feedback but I also feel like it’s pretty minimal in its reach and capacity right now. The other really scary part of this is that a youtube video is such an insufficient way to have a dialogue.

Miyuki: Since my website is geared towards the coming out process and what it means to be Asian and gay do you have any thoughts on the intersectionality of those two identities? Also what would you advise someone to do to create change when they don’t have the resources that we do or the vocabulary to talk about queerness?

Cori: This question is complicated for a lot of different reasons. First, the intersectionality of those two identities is really complicated because I think Asian American identity is sophisticated and queer identity is sophisticated--bring those two together and it’s going to be a network of different nodes that match up and other ones that don’t. So for me personally, my answers are geared more towards coming out and queer identity because my Asian identity has been less central to my queerness. I’ve done separate work trying to figure out my Asian identity in a similar way that I have done with my sexual identity, because that is itself already another bucket of worms and is really confusing for me. So I think the intersection of the two is important and will be unique and specific for each person, and it can create a different set of challenges and issues that a person would have to work through. But, independent from one another, both identities are challenging enough on their own.

In terms of lacking resources and finding ways to articulate your own experiences, if you don’t have exposure, whether that’s classes or books, it’s such a hard thing because I think that having resources is one of the most important things we can do. I don’t think there’s much we can accomplish if we just sit alone in a room and ponder these things on our very own. You might be able to get yourself somewhere into thinking new ideas but we need to have the dialogue, different perspectives. We need different approaches to open us up to things that we couldn’t have imagined on our own. Like “wow people really do that?” or “people really live that way?” and “that’s possible? I had no idea.” We need to find resources--it doesn’t have to be in a book or in a classroom. And I think it’s just as important to be able to recognize what’s around us and what can possibly be a resource.

When I went to pride for the first time I was so happy that people were wearing leis around their necks because as we decided to go for lunch in downtown Denver, outside of the pride parade area, you’d see all these people wearing leis on the streets and in the restaurants. Anyone else might have thought, “here are a bunch of straight people” and it probably wouldn’t have even enter their minds, but you know that they’re wearing leis because they’ve been to pride! So, in that moment, the leis functioned as a kind of marker that helped me to see differently what is so easily assumed. Though we won’t all be wearing such obvious markers, I think that it is important and beneficial for everyone to be better able to recognize that there are other people with different kinds of relationships, with other identities.

On a similar note, I think that we can do our own work to try to first be able to recognize the differences that are available to us if we don’t have immediate stimulation from resources outside of ourselves. I think that your website and finding resources online and doing a bit of initial work is really important. That’s why I do what I do, and why I think you do what you do, because we need visibility. Not to persuade us and not to tell us what to think and not to give us a handbook on how to do certain things, but only to provoke new ways of thinking and understanding.

Miyuki: At the same time, I think that while we can provide all of these resources, if the person reading or being exposed to it isn’t open-minded, all of these ideas are just going to hit a brick wall. While I was talking to my mom about queer issues this afternoon, she explained her own thought process. We all have the ability to think but we also all have different lenses through which we think. So the lens through which my mom thinks is very much sculpted by traditional Japanese values so even though she thinks a lot as well, it’s hard for her to come to the same conclusions as I do, and that’s where we have our disagreements because I’ll try to explain the way that I see the world but she’ll say “yeah but you grew up here, you have different tools to use when you’re thinking about things.” So as a philosopher, how do you grapple with that kind of cultural difference in the ways that people think?

Cori: That’s a really good question... and it’s reminding me of one of the most difficult conversations I had with my mom during the first year when I came out. She said that she was frustrated and didn’t want to talk about it because she felt that whatever I said I would think that I was right and that she was wrong--that I had to correct her every statement. When you hit a wall like that you recognize that you don’t understand in the same way as another person.

Is it possible to bridge between the two of you and come to some sort of common understanding? When you come together and you say “I’m a thinker, you’re a thinker and we disagree,” you can reach a sort of stalemate and this is really tricky territory because as a philosopher I’m also really skeptical of what it means to be right, or to have a handle on the Truth. So I wouldn’t ever want to tell my mom “I’m right and you’re wrong.” Most importantly, I’ve become very pragmatic in the sense that I try to agree on the bare minimum of values like respect and life first. But, for example, I put values on things like pleasure and any sort of affirmation of enthusiastic joyfulness about life...and it might be that someone like my mom might disagree with me and say that they don’t believe in being able to do what you want to do with pleasure.

Actually after I had that conversation with my mom, I went to one of my role models, a philosopher, and I asked her “what do we do when people just don’t agree?” and she said “you have to pick your battles wisely.” And I think there’s some wisdom to that too...because if you’re coming from a completely different lens I would never want to impose that I’m right. The point isn’t to persuade another person, but rather to undergo the practice for ourselves* and if it comes down to that, than I can live without my mom fully agreeing with me. At least I can live! At least I can better understand for myself or I can go through this process for myself and whether or not my mom or whoever else wholeheartedly understands where I’m coming from, that’s really a lesser issue than me and my own existence and how I’m going to go about doing that.

I think it gets complicated and hard and dangerous and really conflictual if we think that what we have to do is convince all the haters that we are right or okay or normal. I think we’d be better off if we’re doing work for ourselves by understanding who we are and trying to better live our lives and not constantly trying to change the minds of others.

So when I say “think for a change” I mean it on a personal level of one’s self being able to think and live differently for one’s self, not so much “think for a change” just so that you can convince others that you deserve something, like their recognition or rights (though, of course, I think we do).

Miyuki: It’s interesting to look at the different ways we come to our own identities and affirmations of ourselves and because we’re always interacting with other people, often times it’s completely influenced by other people’s opinions of ourselves. And in Asian societies in particular, “face” is so important and the familial bond matters so much that your child’s actions tie directly back to the parents. And when everything is in relation to that core and keeping face, it changes the way that Asian people see themselves because they’re always comparing it to the ways that people see them. This is what my mom constantly tells me, that I’m able to tell people confidently what I’m all about without caring about people’s opinions because of my Western upbringing.

Cori: The Asian culture about keeping face and strong familial bonds is something that emphasizes the fact that I know I speak from a very different position but that I didn’t fully appreciate until I started dating my now ex-girlfriend who is Taiwanese. We had so many conversations about family expectations, and I even wrote a blog post about saving face because of our conversations. I had to really appreciate the cultural differences in our relationship. This is because growing up in Idaho, I was really Asian to a lot of people, but when I was dating someone from Taiwan I was made to feel like I wasn’t really that Asian in a lot of ways. I also taught Asian philosophies this semester to my students and when we got into different ways of understanding one’s self in relation to others like your family members or your society, I realized that it is hard to just talk to American born and raised citizens about these differences because they often don’t get it. It came down to the point where I said “You know what? this is where we have to say, we don’t get it. It’s different.” We can’t just say, “Well, just do this, or think this way,” because there are real, serious differences.

At the same time, it wasn’t until I started talking to more people from Asia and people with really strong Asian family identities, and when I started to see these differences, that I was also able to better recognize some elements of Asian influences in my own upbringing. So, again, it’s the same process for me (much like with sexual identity), I need to constantly try to see differently, think differently, learn to listen, talk to people, explore and investigate. Honestly, I’m still working through a lot of this stuff.

Is there any advice you can give to other Asian, Gay & Proud readers?

The most recent advice that I have given to others, and that I have taken to heart for myself, is to do whatever it is that you need to do to feel comfortable, strong, healthy, and confident. For me, delving into philosophy, feminism, and queer theory equipped me with important tools that helped me develop my own voice. On the more casual level of living day to day, I think that we all need to allow ourselves to do and be how we please, without restricting ourselves to labels and expectations that, unfortunately, can sometimes be quite stifling. I don’t think that there is a “true,” deeper core to who we are that we eventually discover, and in many ways I’m skeptical of the need to feel like one was always gay but just didn’t know it or know how to express it. However, I don’t think that it simply boils down to mere choice, either. This stuff is more fluid, more sophisticated, and more open than we often allow ourselves to think.

I think that we all—gay, bi, straight, whatever—would live better if we could openly embrace ourselves and others by encouraging freedom to live and relate and love in as many ways as are possible.

Nevertheless, if you feel like you are still trying to figure out how to be comfortable and confident in yourself, know that there are resources available. Find friends who think and talk about things in ways that encourage your own self-creation, expose yourself to sub- and counter-cultural media, if you can, take classes that aim to challenge social norms, and do your best to find other supportive resources that offer a different perspective on things than what you might have been given when you were growing up. I think this site is a good example that helps reveal that other people are out there living, loving, and doing well...and that there are a lot of ways to pursue those aims.

*Cori elaborates on this in her video called: Freedom to Think Differently, or At All
**Cori's response to Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" Project: It Gets Better--Think For a Change