Book review: “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”

Amazing book. Truly. Read it.

End of review.


Okay seriously. The story is primarily about a female child growing up in rural Hunan Province China in the mid-1800s, at the height of foot binding and neo-Confucianism. It’s about the suffering of women in a society where a woman’s worth is literally measured by her ability to bear sons. But it’s also about the sisterhood that forms in the face of adversity through lifelong friendships, familial relationships, and a secret women’s-only writing that was used to communicate between villages. (That is a historical fact, by the way; nu-shu was developed by women as a sort of insider’s secret.

Though we are fortunate enough to live in a time where women have the potential for independence and other means for developing self-worth, womanhood is not defined by how much we suffer but by how we develop our character over time. For both men and women, the ways in which we grow and change over time are what defines our humanness.

Sure, there are cringe-worthy descriptions of foot-binding that made squeezing my toes into my cramped climbing shoes a squeamish experience for days after. There are depictions of sickness, death, squallor, and brutality that would force me to put down the book so as not to be consumed with anger at the injustice of it all. But I felt a duty to women who endured these and similar experiences (the author, Lisa See did an amazing job researching this story) to endure descriptions of their lives, because these were their lives.

Furthermore, this wasn’t what the book was really about; at the end, it was about how an unequal society pulls at the bonds between members of the oppressed group. It was about how the only way to overcome it was not to buy into the oppressive system in full. It was about just how far empathy and compassion can take us.

It made me cry because we all have struggles with friendships, and I thought back to all the times I was a bad friend. I thought about how life can throw these curveballs at us, how we’re all beholden to the whims of nature, and how friendships are, at the end, the most important bonds we have.

It’s less than 300 beautifully-written pages. Read it.



“Where the bois are” in NYMagazine evokes conflicting feelings, leaves much unanswered

This article about boi culture in NYMagazine is a really interesting read. Although this article covers a subculture that’s filling an important niche in the queer world, this article seems very dismissive and negative to me. Let’s see what lovely truth-nuggets this reporter has uncovered for us!

First off it’s funny when reporters delve into a subculture.

Secondly, the ageism here is really interesting, as is the rejection of queer politics while at the same time embodying the very same gender-defiance that was made possible by a previous generation of gender-rule-breaking women/womyn.

Boihood has nothing to do with earth mothers or sisterhood or herbal tea, and everything to do with being young, hip, “sex positive,” a little masculine, and ready to rock.

Also note how “sex positive” is in quotes: it’s not political sex positivity; it’s sex positivity in a perpetual-teenager sense.

Some hypothetical questions off the top of my head: Is it a positive thing to have this culture where you no longer have to be militantly political 24/7, this sense that most enemies of LGBT society are vanquished? Or is it an excuse to act like kids even into adulthood because growing up is just too hard? Does it come from a positive environment surrounding LGBT acceptance, or is it a result of a negative youth-oriented age-ist culture? Is it a redefinition of female masculinity in the same way effeminate men redefine masculinity? Or is it brattiness?

As one butch interviewed for the article said:

What’s new is seeing these kids who really seem to be striving for a certain kind of juvenilia, not just masculinity. They really want to be kids. This hit me when I saw this girl—this boi, I guess—barreling out of a store in Chelsea in huge, oversize jeans, a backpack, and a baseball cap pulled down low. And she was running as if she were late for the school bus . . . Her whole aura was so completely rough-and-tumble 8-year-old that I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had a slingshot in one pocket and a frog in the other.

Whether or not it’s necessarily a bad thing to reject “adult” queer culture is debatable. There does seem to be a flexibility in gender roles that is refreshing: some bois date butches, some date femmes, some date other bois, some transition and use male pronouns, some remain female-identified. It’s become non-political in terms of feminism and homosexuality, but in terms of gender they seem to be filling the spectrum from male to female and bridging the gender gap.

The article seems to have found “one of each” bois with douchey views: one that uses misogynistic rhetoric like “bros before hos”, one that is against transgender bois, one that thinks boi-on-boi or butch-on-butch is gross and that likewise femme-on-femme is “air”, one that thinks “butch-femme” is stupid. They also found a femme who is fed up with bois because of her perception that they represent the feminization of butch women.

Maybe this is a product of too many conflicting expectations put on people within the LGBT community, and a young generation even less concerned with rules and politics than their predecessors. The biggest take-away from this article for me was this subculture is about subverting the binary, generally: masculine-of-center dykes don’t have to be macho butch anymore, and male-identified people don’t have to medically transition anymore. But the other take-away is that this culture is associated with exclusion, artsiness, youth, insolence, and lack of respect for others, which seems to do a disservice to non-binary people who are older, more political, more butch, more femme, more traditional, less traditional, less promiscuous.

This article never purported to seek out a representative sample of lesbians, but it never made clear that not all young LGBT people are like this and that this subculture is a luxury in cities such as NYC and San Fran where politics have become so progressive as to render gay rights virtually obsolete, attracting LGBT youth to a scene promising an escape from the gravity of being outsiders in a heteronormative world.

And at the end of the day, having a less-masculine-yet-still-potentially-male-identified subculture is awesome: people female assigned at birth who transition/don’t transition but identify as male don’t have to prove their masculinity? Awesome!! It’ll be interesting to see how this movement evolves with time and becomes more age-inclusive.

What are your thoughts?