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Not My Bag by Sina Grace

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Retail: many of us have been there, most of us survived, only few unscathed. Not My Bag is comic book artist Sina Grace’s autobiographical tale of clothing store misadventure, his brief stint in selling women’s apparel.

Grace begins his comic by asking, “What are we afraid of?” A cartoon image of him stands against a black background. He’s small, unsure. In the next panel there are two. The second Sina is wearing a suit and a smirk. In the following panel he admits, “I’m afraid of myself.” We soon learn the source of his anxiety, “What if being an artist isn’t in the cards for me?” This is a story of identity and what happens when our expectations don’t match our reality.

After a minor car accident that did more damage to his hybrid than anything else, Sina finds himself in debt to the insurance company. Shortly after he applies for a job at the local mall department store and is hired as a sales associate selling women’s clothes.

From the start we see that Sina is an overachiever; in the training session he offers the history of the company and within weeks spends hours studying the clothing line. Before too long he’s able to distinguish the different styles of stretch pants by sight alone. But, as with all ambitious types, this is not enough. He hopes to gain enough experience to “move over to a boutique, where [he] believed in the designer, where [he] saw the clothes as art pieces.”

Although it’s obvious that Sina likes clothes—he spends $800 on an Alexander McQueen wool fringe coat and takes pride in the accessories used to jazz up his work attire—retail is not where he’s supposed to be. It’s his art that is his true passion and both his boyfriend, only known to us as “The Lawyer,” and his friend, a fellow comic book artist, ask if he would rather not focus on his comics. The stress from juggling these two lives comes to a head when Comic-Con and a meeting with corporate headquarters collide.

Sina’s psychological decline becomes visible. In one scene we see him curled up on his boyfriend’s lap, lacking the energy to stay awake during a television show. Their “date nights” have gone from dinner and a movie to re-runs on the couch.

All the melodrama of working in retail is on display in Not My Bag, from an evil boss whose nature is depicted through grotesque facial renderings to the silent competition of fellow coworkers. More importantly, however, Not My Bag is a warning, it shows what happens when one forgoes their passion and, at best, chases after someone else’s dream.

::[Links]::
Buy Not My Bag at your local indie bookstore
See all of Sina Grace’s work at Image Comics
Sina Grace on Tumblr
Follow Sina on Twitter
Preview Not My Bag

Written by Gabrielle

November 20, 2012 at 6:58 am

Posted in books, reviews

Tagged with , , , , ,

What to Watch: Pariah

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It’s a commonly held belief that the African-American community is, when compared with the general population, less accepting of homosexuality at best and more homophobic at worst.

Recently, President Obama endorsed gay marriage and many wondered how black voters would respond in the upcoming election. However, on May 19th, in an outstanding display of solidarity with fellow human rights advocates, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) passed a resolution in support of marriage equality, a move that is bound to chip away at this persistent stereotype.

Amidst this flurry of news, it’s suiting that “Pariah,” a film about a young, black lesbian, was just released on DVD.

In this full-length feature from director Dee Rees, Brooklyn high school junior Alike [Ah-LEE-kay], played by Adepero Oduye, navigates her way through family, friends, and love as her sexual orientation becomes increasingly obvious. Early in the film, the audience becomes aware of an inner tension living inside Alike. On the one hand she knows she’s gay, has no need to question it, and actively pursues women as she’s dragged along to gay clubs by her out friend, Laura. On the other is her family. Alike’s mother, played by Kim Wayans, a devoutly religious woman, attempts to steer her daughter toward a more feminine lifestyle through pink blouses and forced friendships. Although one gets the sense that her father, played by Charles Parnell, has the potential to be more accepting — he’s more lenient of Alike’s personal style — there’s a reluctance to confront her homosexuality head on.

For Alike, finding ground between these two worlds is a struggle. “It’s about her trying to find herself and express herself in a way that’s authentic,” said Rees in an interview with KCRW’s film show, The Treatment.

“Pariah” is a reminder to those who may have forgotten the details of high school life just how tumultuous and tortured those years can be. Part of Alike’s charm is how she hangs on with the best of them — getting straight As, leaning on her friend, using poetry as an emotional outlet, and finding a mentor in a supportive English teacher.

Much of “Pariah” is informed by Rees’s life, although it shouldn’t be confused with autobiography. The opening scene where Alike is in a gay club is inspired by Rees’s experience when she first came out — she even used the same song that was first playing when she’d walked in her first time. Although much of the film deviates from Rees’s personal story, “Pariah” has a very real feel to it: there are no gimmicks, no formulaic feel. “Pariah” is one of the most original films I’ve seen this year.

“This is a film about identity … it’s about how to be yourself. … It’s not the typical coming out story, it’s more coming into,” Rees said; and if viewers are open to it, they’ll find that the film transcends the immediate subject matter, giving it a universal coming-of-age feel.

“Pariah,” with its lovable lead character, is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. This realistic piece of cinema will leave you wondering: where is the next Dee Rees production?

::[Links]::
Pariah, the official website
Dee Rees interviewed on KCRW’s The Treatment
Dee Rees and lead actress Adepero Oduye speaks with NPR
Dee Rees profiled on The Root
An interview with the Los Angeles Times
NAACP announcement on marriage equality
Behind the NAACP Equality Decision at The Root

Written by Gabrielle

June 12, 2012 at 7:00 am

On the Shelf: Unicorns Come to Life

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Recently, amidst a slew of publicity for Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America, a book by Christopher Bram, The Rumpus ran an essay about bisexuality called ‘Notes from a Unicorn’ by Seth Fischer. While the two events were purely coincidental, they formed a mini-moment in my mind. We live in a society that now celebrates the contributions of gay and lesbian writers but what about the people who live between the two?

Fischer, who once had political aspirations but has since moved on to teach and pursue a literary career, attempts to express the gray-scale in which his sexual identity sits. Although the motives for his silence in his previous profession raises questions about ongoing discrimination and cultural perceptions, what interested me was his inner conflict.

The title of the essay comes from a woman’s comment to him on an online dating site: “Finding a truly bi man is like finding a unicorn.” Her meaning? They don’t exist. This is a common belief when it comes to bisexuality, the person is either highly sexual and therefore undiscerning (or slutty, if you prefer) or they are going through “a phase” and will one day make a choice. Though many people on the inside of the issue talk about “fluidity,” few people  on the outside rarely believe them.

The first time Seth became aware of his own shifting preference he was in his early teens. A classmate’s gay uncle had just died of AIDS and in the school courtyard, as so often happens, the conversation was flip. “He was totally a fag,” Seth remembers the nephew saying. He went home that afternoon, ignored his hidden pile of girlie magazines, and came to the conclusion, “Fags like boys, so I’m a fag.”

The unsettling nature of this ambiguity haunted him for years, and only recently does it seem as if he’s come to terms with it. A year after the playground incident, while in the locker room, a teammate of his whom he had a crush on called him out for staring. At that moment he decided he would “grow the part of [himself] that liked women and kill the part that liked men.”

But it didn’t hold. Years later, after leaving politics, after acknowledging his continuing crushes on men, he thought, “Why don’t I just call myself gay?” As many can imagine, that wasn’t the answer either.

Seth’s years of torment made me wonder, what if there was celebration of bisexuals in the arts just as there is for their gay cousins? Maybe unicorns wouldn’t seem so mythical after all.

Here are just a few books by known bisexual writers. The comments are open. If you know of any other writers or of any books that engage the subject, please list them below.

The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott
It only seems appropriate to kick this off with a book by The Rumpus founder.

In this groundbreaking memoir, Stephen Elliott pursues parallel investigations: a gripping account of a notorious San Francisco murder trial, and an electric exploration of the self. Destined to be a classic, The Adderall Diaries was described by The Washington Post as “a serious literary work designed to make you see the world as you’ve never quite seen it before.” [via IndieBound]

She Came to Stay by Simone de Beauvoir
Set in Paris on the eve of World War II and sizzling with love, anger, and revenge, She Came to Stay explores the changes wrought in the soul of a woman and a city soon to fall. Although Francoise considers her relationship with Pierre an open one, she falls prey to jealousy when the gamine Xaviere catches his attention. The moody young woman from the countryside pries her way between Francoise and Pierre, playing up to each one and deviously pulling them apart, until the only way out of the triangle is destruction. [via IndieBound]

The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith
In a cruel twist of irony, Texas-born Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) is being recognized only after her death for her inestimable genius in her native land. With the savage humor of Waugh and the macabre sensibility of Poe, she brought a distinctly contemporary acuteness to her prolific body of noir fiction. Including over 60 short stories written throughout her career, collected together for the first time, The Selected Stories reveals the stunning versatility and terrifying power of Highsmith’s work.These stories highlight the remarkable range of Highsmith’s powers her unique ability to quickly, almost imperceptibly, draw out the mystery and strangeness of her subject, which appears achingly ordinary to our naked eye. [via IndieBound]

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find — through love or through exacting maternal appraisal — a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves. A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multiethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humor and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence. [via IndieBound]

Are You Somebody?: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman by Nuala O’Faolain
Nuala O’Faolain attracted a huge amount of critical praise and a wide audience with the literary debut of Are You Somebody? Her midlife exploration of life’s love, pain, loneliness, and self- discovery won her fans worldwide who write and tell her how her story has changed their lives. There are thousands who have yet to discover this extraordinary memoir of an Irish woman who has stepped away from the traditional roles to define herself and find contentment. [via IndieBound]

Women Photographs by Annie Leibowitz, with an essay by Susan Sontag
The photographs by Annie Leibovitz in Women, taken especially for the book, encompass a broad spectrum of subjects: a rap artist, an astronaut, two Supreme Court justices, farmers, coal miners, movie stars, showgirls, rodeo riders, socialites, reporters, dancers, a maid, a general, a surgeon, the First Lady of the United States, the secretary of state, a senator, rock stars, prostitutes, teachers, singers, athletes, poets, writers, painters, musicians, theater directors, political activists, performance artists, and businesswomen. “Each of these pictures must stand on its own,” Susan Sontag writes in the essay that accompanies the portraits. “But the ensemble says, So this what women are now — as different, as varied, as heroic, as forlorn, as conventional, as unconventional as this.” [via IndieBound]

Written by Gabrielle

March 8, 2012 at 7:24 am

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

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In anticipation of Alison Bechdel’s forthcoming graphic novel, Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama, I recently read her award-winning 2006 release, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. In Fun Home Alison looks back on her relationship with her father, often juxtaposing her identity with his. Writing after his sudden death, the exact definition of which is inconclusive, Alison uses a non-linear narrative to weave his biography through time.

The book, compiled using memories, childhood journals, and second-hand accounts, opens with a young Alison playing “airplane” with her father. Balanced on his legs she holds her hands parallel to his. This touching moment, known to so many of us from our own childhoods, is cut short by her father’s obsessive maintenance of their Gothic Revival home. After just a few panels, he’s ordering Alison to get the vacuum and tack hammer. The rug is “filthy” and the strip of molding “loose”.

He was a moody man, capable of putting the household on edge. “The constant tension was heightened by the fact that some encounters could be quite pleasant. His bursts of kindness were as incandescent as his tantrums were dark,” Alison writes. Approaching her father’s life as one haunted by inner torment allows room for empathy and a desire to understand.

Although better known for Fun Home, Alison is the writer and illustrator of the longest running queer comic, Dykes to Watch Out For, a project she ended in 2008 after 25 years. Comparing her own experience as a lesbian — her self-discovery and coming out — she creates a bridge to her father’s homosexual tendencies.

In college, after mailing home a letter that read “I am a lesbian,” just four months before her father’s death, she learned about the life he tried to keep secret. On the phone with her mother, listening to stories of her father’s affairs, her childhood memories were given context: the young men who helped out around the house, her father’s arrest for giving beer to a teenage boy, and their trip to Greenwich Village for the Bicentennial. “This abrupt wholesale revision of my history . . . left me stupefied,” she writes.

Sharing her father’s love of literature, and its function as a window into the self, Alison analyzes the books most prominent in her father’s collection. The highlighted and underlined passages in Camus, his binge on Proust the year before (“Was that a sign of desperation?”), and his seeming identification with Fitzgerald characters.

Alongside the words, the artwork is an equal partner in Alison’s mind-blowing storytelling skills. According to Wikipedia’s sources, “She used extensive photo reference and, for many panels, posed for each human figure herself, using a digital camera to record her poses,” a process that would take her 7 years to complete. Her attention to detail extends to the handwriting in the letters her father wrote while in the army, the carefully placed cultural references, and the maps of her hometown.

It’s been 6 years since Fun Home’s publication and in April we’ll see the life of Alison’s mom through the same astute and questioning eyes. Falling neatly into the category of personal anthropology — an unsentimental, analytical view of one’s life with a focus on its wider cultural significance — Alison’s style should reveal a fascinating portrait of a woman who shared her husband’s burden.

::[Links]::
Buy Fun Home at IndieBound or your nearest indie bookstore
Pre-Order Are You My Mother? from IndieBound or your local indie
AV Club Interview
Bookslut interview
Guardian Interview
Graphic Novel Reporter Interview
NPR interview

Written by Gabrielle

February 28, 2012 at 7:17 am

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