Tag Archives: junot diaz

The Venus Flytrap: Queer Eye For Reality

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Why is there a ceramic kitten under a grown man’s bed?” By the time I laughed out loud at this line, I’d already cried at least twice watching Queer Eye. I’d started watching it, a reboot of a makeover show I’d never seen called Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, because I’d wanted something as low-investment as possible, something that would let me mentally check out from everything that stress and distressed me in the world and within. What I found was that QE isn’t really about grooming, style and décor, but about the source of most of the turmoil itself: toxic masculinity. Even better, in its own sweet way, it addresses that source.

I first started watching around the time that author Junot Diaz published a powerful essay on being raped as a child, which he had kept secret. The flip side to this essay is that it was mostly about women he’d dated and subjected to emotional abuse because of his inability to come to terms with his trauma. Diaz was brave, but by no means heroic. The more I thought about the women he had hurt, the less the first seemed to matter. Was he only protecting himself, again, from being accused?

As I continued to watch QE – beautiful moments like one man talking to another about being comfortable with his own femininity; men vulnerably sharing how they built barriers so others couldn’t affect them and found themselves damaged anyway; men opening up to the possibility of self-love and self-scrutiny both; men crying from overwhelm, from grief, from joy – far worse events hit the headlines.

Still watching, my thoughts traced again one tender spot in the ways that cis-women, particularly cis-women who love men but do not love patriarchy, interact with cis-het men. On the one hand, we avoid giving them much rope unless they’ve jumped through burning hoops first. On the other, even as we strive to raise the standard for acceptable behaviour, it also takes very little for us to soften open to the possibility of goodness. This is not naïveté; it is belief in what one is working towards. It is belief that goodness is not idealistic, but something to nourish when found.

It is belief in a world unlike this one. This world in which a little girl took her horses to graze and never went home again, and so many believe that the brutality she underwent is fine. And then, if the situation could be more malicious, we learnt that web-users around India entered her name into search bars on pornographic websites, seeking pleasure in a child’s violation. This world in which each of them, in turn, is capable of the same crime. This world in which we weigh that against what Diaz must have done to the women who loved him, and we lick our own wounds and say “it’s not so bad” as though that can heal and not salt them.

I don’t owe it to them – the men of this world – to let a reality TV show be a balm for reality itself. But I owe to myself. We must breathe as we labour.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on April 19th 2018. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

A Too Brief Wondrous Book

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I had requested The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to review — and am so glad I didn’t get it, because I couldn’t possibly have savoured it properly if I had. The one and only thing I didn’t love about the book was that it was about half the length it should have been; it was that good. And now we’ll have to wait like a decade before the next. Sigh. Can someone please inject Junot Diaz with a serum that makes him uncontrollably prolific (look at me talking like Oscar)?

Junot Díaz

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Do you get frustrated by always being identified as a “Dominican” writer or a “Latino” writer, and never just as a straight-up “writer”?

No, because there’s no such thing as a straight-up writer. I think when people say a straight-up writer, what they really mean is a white writer. In other words, historically there has never been this concept of a nonracialized, nongendered writer. The fact that the word “writer” has to be modified so often is because everybody knows that when people speak of writers, we tend to mean, on an unconscious level, white males. And I don’t think that being a white writer and being a Dominican writer says anything about your talent with the material that you write about. That’s the important difference. People assume that if you put a tag on it, that immediately assumes that you’re a different kind of writer. But that’s not the case. Just because those of us that write in English in the United States are American writers, that doesn’t mean that we really have much in common.

I think that the reason I don’t mind being labeled or labeling myself is because I think the entire universe can be found in the Dominican experience. I don’t see the Dominican Republic as a limitation. People seem to think that coming from a tiny island with this really bizarre history in the Dominican Republic is somehow limiting. But in my mind, I think that the same way a small, cold, gray, drizzly island nation in the North Atlantic could imagine itself the center of the universe, I see no difference why a Dominican who comes from this tiny little place and time can’t also imagine himself the center of the universe.

From an interview in Newsweek.