Category Archives: LGBTQIA Reads

Infinity Diary by Cyril Wong

Infinity Diary by Cyril Wong

Title: Infinity Diary
Author: Cyril Wong
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 9780857427427
Genre: Poetry, LGBTQIA Literature
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

If love is love, then why is it that gay love doesn’t feel like love sometimes? Why does it feel that it will leave? Is it because of my insecurity? Why do I feel that a man’s love will not be enough? When it will be. When it will stay. It will, won’t it?

Love between two men and all the dance that goes around it. The rulebook that isn’t there and is yet followed. There are no rules sometimes and everything is permissible. We are who we are. Cyril Wong shows us the mirror through his book of prose poems “Infinity Diary”. It is written for every gay man out there, for every man who loves another man and doesn’t want to express it, for every man who loves and is unabashed about it, and for every man who also maybe doesn’t want to love.

Cyril Wong’s poetry made me introspect about my relationships with men – the ones that were platonic, the ones not-so-platonic, the ones unrequited, and the ones requited but oh so toxic. His poems don’t just reflect Singapore as a city, and what goes on there behind closed doors between men – the reality of oppression, but makes you realize that it could play out in any city of the world. Even where same-sex love is legal. Even where there is supposed to be no discrimination, and we know there is. “Infinity Diary” is about all of us.

When Wong speaks of glances passed across the room, of desire, of madness in love, of those stolen kisses, of kinks we do not speak of in public, of sadness and heartbreak that never goes away – he speaks of all of this and more and beauty in the chaotic structure of emotions that does find its place, even the ones that aren’t beautiful. The ones that belong, nonetheless.

My favourite piece in this book is “Dear Stupid Straight People” – a poem, a list of instructions for the straight people on how to treat the ones who aren’t like them. It is brutal and perhaps most needed.

Wong’s poetry comes from so many places, and so many emotions. They take up so much room (as they should), and they merge with your emotions as well, and that’s difficult to contain. You see yourself in them, poem after poem. You get restless. You sigh. You get twitchy and fidgety. You sigh some more. You turn the page.

The Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes

The Times I Knew I Was Gay Title: The Times I Knew I Was Gay
Author: Eleanor Crewes
Publisher: Virago Books, Hachette UK
ISBN: 9780349013213
Genre: Graphic Memoir, LGBT Literature
Pages: 308
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I wish this book was out when I was coming out to my family and friends. I wish this book was out also when I was coming out to my colleagues at my first workplace, and then constantly as I moved jobs. Sometimes I think that for me, my life is a constant coming out process. Coming out so many times that I have probably lost count. Till I wrote a book about it and that was that. But that’s a different story.

The Times I Knew I Was Gay is a graphic memoir by Eleanor Crewes and how she came out to her friends, her brother, and finally to herself about being gay. This book hits you hard in the sense that if you’re on the spectrum, you can so understand how difficult it is to know and yet deny who you are. To know it deep down and keep putting that thought at the back of your head, or at best living two lives – one straight, and the other when you are all alone, when you finally acknowledge being gay out loud, to yourself.

The Times I Knew I Was Gay also makes you see how liberating coming out of the closet can be, and at the same time it also very subtly hints at how it is no one else’s business but yours if you’d like to come out or not. I will never understand why people speculate about someone’s orientation/identity. It will always baffle me why do some people want other people to come out the closet. What’s in it for them? How does it impact their lives?

This graphic memoir on so many levels felt so personal. It made me see my confusion when I came out at 18. It made me see how I was in denial for the longest time, and how I wanted to be someone else, and fit in, even if it meant being straight. The Times I Knew I Was Gay is a warm, personal, charming, and honest account of awkwardness, self-denial, fear of not belonging, and what it takes to come to your own being.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood Title: A Single Man
Author: Christopher Isherwood
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-1250239372
Genre: LGBT Classic Fiction, LGBT Fiction,
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Literature can save you; they say. Literature heals. Literature mends a broken heart, and literature also hurts. Literature takes a part of you and has the capacity to rip it apart as well. That’s the power of literature too.

 A Single Man is a reread for me. I think I read it again for the fourth time or so. I first read it in 2002 I think or was it 2003? I don’t remember the year. Sometime then, I suppose. Anyway, I then watched the film in 2009 and my heart was a mess. It was a wreck when I read the book and the movie did its bit as well. Of ruining and moving on.

 A Single Man when read in the 30s gives you a totally different perspective of what life might be as you age, and that too for a gay man. It will not be easy. The book set in 1962, tells the story of George – a middle-aged Englishman who is a professor at a Los Angeles university. It is a circadian novel (one that spans through a day), and a very effective one at that.

In all of this, the book takes us through George’s life – sometimes as a gay man, sometimes more than that, sometimes just as a man who is lonely and yearns for company, and at others a man who is almost done with the world and not quite so. Isherwood’s writing is fulfilling, brutal, and very real.

For instance, this depiction of two men who are lovers and living together, is perfect. One might think it is written so simply and yet it conjures so many images:

“Think of two people, living together day after day, year after year, in this small space, standing elbow to elbow cooking at the same small stove, squeezing past each other on the narrow stairs, shaving in front of the same small bathroom mirror, constantly jogging, jostling, bumping against each other’s bodies by mistake or on purpose, sensually, aggressively, awkwardly, impatiently, in rage or in love – think what deep though invisible tracks they must leave, everywhere, behind them!”

A Single Man is a story of two Georges as well. The one who wants to say so much, and the one who doesn’t. The book is full of internal monologues – his life sometime in the past and in the present. I think the time in which the book is set is also so indicative of everything that was homophobic, xenophobic, and yet professing free love to the moon and back.

Isherwood writes as an insider, and yet it always seems he is an outsider looking in – maintaining a perfect balance, a dance almost, with wit intact, and prose that is poignant to the brim. The question of death and life are the core of this most beautifully rendered novel. It addresses bigger issues of loneliness and isolation, seen through the lens of a gay man is purely coincidental. There is also a lot of self-loathing for just being who he is that made my heart go out to George.

A Single Man is a book that needs to be looked at very closely – without bias, and read over and over again to make true sense of what Isherwood wants to tell us – of what it is to be single and left out, in a room full of people – in a world that is too crowded.

Dragman by Steven Appleby

Dragman by Steven ApplebyTitle: Dragman
Author: Steven Appleby
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Penguin Random House UK
ISBN: 9781787330177
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 336
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Let me just say this at the very onset: We need more books like Dragman. We need more representation of cross-dressing and for it to not be an anomaly. We need for children and teenagers to know that it is okay to want to dress a certain way and not go by what the world has prescribed for them. I wish I had a book like Dragman in my life when I was growing up.

I think it started when I was eleven or so. The desire to wear women’s clothes, but I wouldn’t dare tell anyone. Heck, I wouldn’t even try on anything. It was just a desire. I wanted to be Hawa Hawaii. I wanted to be Seema from Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja. As I grew up, I wanted to be Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I so wanted to be all of them. To dress and shine. To be someone else and feel empowered with the hair, the make-up, the clothes, the high-heels, and the confidence that I never had till I was way into my late 20s.

Dragman1

Dragman is about all of this and more. It is not just about a man who feels powerful when he wears women’s clothes. It is also about him not identifying as drag but as trans. It is so much more. It is also about what it means to be a superhero in times such as ours or at any time for that matter.

Dragman2

Within the first one-hundred and twenty-five pages you are transported to another world, with so many layers, it almost stuns the reader into awe and admiration for what’s going on in these pages. But let me not drift.

It does however take some time to get into the book, but once you do, you are hooked. August Crimp can fight crime when he is wearing women’s clothes, with his side-kick Dog Girl. This happened till he got married and had a kid. And now in the world an inventor has developed a device that can remove people’s souls and store them on small disks. People without souls continue living. However, they have no character or personality or perhaps even the will to live. In addition to this, trans women are being targeted by a serial killer.

Dragman3

Colour panels take over the current life, while the past is depicted in black and white. There are also sections of prose that describe violent encounters without any graphics, which helps propel the narrative. In all of this, I found Dragman to be so relevant, of course given the times we live in, and owing to the discrimination toward trans people and how they fight the battle head on. Dragman is a book that is most needed and I know that there will be more books such as this one. The balance of being a superhero and the dilemma of sorts, finally leading to acceptance of being trans is wonderfully depicted and illustrated.

More Trans comics and graphic novels: 

https://markham.bibliocommons.com/list/share/328250817/539938080

 

 

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi Title: The Death of Vivek Oji
Author: Akwaeke Emezi
Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN: 978-0571350988
Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming of Age Fiction, LGBTQIA Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is going to be a short note, because this book is under embargo and I cannot post a review as of now. All I can say is that you must read, “The Death of Vivek Oji” by Akwaeke Emezi when it’s out. They have written it with a lot of love and heart.

The story is about Vivek Oji and his death and life – and what led to his death. It is about his homosexuality or even gender fluidity (or so it seems at various points in the book) in a place where LGBT rights are not recognised, and it is a crime to be gay.

The book is set in Owerri, one of the largest cities in Nigeria. It is about the differences that exist – the Nigerwives (as they are called) – who don’t belong to Nigeria but marry men from there, their children, the lives they lead, and above all the patriarchy that doesn’t let you be. The patriarchy of the Nigerian society that is so deep-rooted with all its hypocrisy is mind-numbing to read.

Emezi in their writing brings so much to fore that it compels you to understand and read more of the culture the book is set in. The book then is not just about Vivek Oji and who he was, but all the other characters as well – each trying very hard to find themselves.

A longer review will be up in August when I can talk more about the book. For now, this will do. But please do read it when you get the chance to.