Tag Archives: book

Tentacle

I recently read Tentacle by Rita Indiana and now I want to talk about it. 

I can’t remember where I heard of this book, but I am really trying to read more books by authors of color, particularly women of color, and especially so if the author is in some way queer. Tentacle checked all those boxes, plus being written by someone from a different country than me which always makes for an interesting reading experience. 

And this was indeed an interesting reading experience. And by interesting I mean confusing. I was confused. A lot. The story takes place in The Dominican Republic – I place I have never been a know close to nothing about. The storytelling smoothly switches between past and present sometimes even within a single paragraph. 

After I finished reading it I proceeded to continue to be confused for a few more days, but eventually I pulled together various bits of it into something that had a lot of meaning for me personally. Before I get into that I do want to make clear – there is a LOT in this book. Really a lot. I am not trying to say what the story was about, only the meaning I pulled from it personally. 

Anyway. There are two characters who I found to be parallelling and contrasting each other – Acilde and Argenis. They are both queer characters living painful, closeted lives. They both struggle with their identity, who they are and who they want to be, and at least in Acilde’s case, trauma from their past. 

Then, they both find themselves with a community of people who are willing and able to support them, encourage them, and accept them for exactly who they are. 

What they do with that is where those two stories diverge. 

Acilde reaches out to his community. He allows himself to be helped by them, and simultaneously puts in so much work to follow his dream, to find his meaning, to become himself. 

Argenis, on the other hand, does not. He could, he has the opportunity and the support, but instead he spirals inwards and is consumed by his own bitterness. 

Acilde eventually reached a point where he was fully in himself, healed from his past trauma and able to let go of it all, choosing to live the life he had built for himself. Argenis was destroyed. 

And seriously, this speaks to me so deeply. For instance, I struggle with the importance of community, and I struggle with accepting help. I want to do everything alone. And I have, in fact, done many things more or less independently. Things I have gathered many people figure out with the help of a therapist, I figured out on my own. And now I am at a point where I am realizing I cannot heal from my past trauma alone, and I struggle with that. I feel like I should be able to. 

Except of course, community isn’t everything. No one can do your healing for you. All the help in the world won’t be enough if you aren’t willing to actually do the work. Which I can do – I am always trying to be better. I think anyone who knows me well could tell you that. 

Plus, just the acknowledgement that I can build my own life, from my own choices. And then, you know, I can live it.

This really is a remarkable book. I’ve read a few different blogs about it by different people, and what I’m gathering is that there is enough it in for everyone to pull something different from it. The meaning you get from it will almost certainly be different from the meaning I got. 

Maybe in a few years I should read it again and see how it speaks to me then. 

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Politics vs. Practicality

This is another one that I’ve only just started to think about, on a topic about which I am more that a little bit ambivalent. We’ll see how this post goes.

However, first things first, I want to tell a bit of a story. On some forums I used to participate in some people from New Zealand posted about how they were planning on vacationing in the US and were anxious about dealing with tips. Tip culture was entirely foreign to them and they had no idea who should be tipped or how much or why the US worked that way. Then one person in particular started to talk about how the entire tip culture that involves paying people very small amounts of money so that they depend on people being willing to pay more than what they technically owe was wrong, and how he thought the US shouldn’t do things that way.

The americans who read these posts interpreted them as him claiming that he was not going to participate in the tip culture, and immediately posted to say that regardless of his feelings on the matter it was important to play along. That not tipping harms the wrong people, the people who are paid so very little, and because of that tips must be figured into the costs of things ahead of time.

The New Zealander who had been complaining about tip culture read their responses as a defense of tip culture – as though they were saying that the system is right. As such, he more firmly rooted himself in what he was saying, which lead to the americans rooting themselves more firmly in what they were saying and it just kept going. Eventually someone was able to point out exactly what was going on and where the miscommunication was happening, and suddenly everyone was able to understand each other. It was a collision of politics and practicality, and I think it really let me see how easy it is for people to mistake them. Or, alternatively, how important it is to be very clear in which of the two things you are talking about.

Ok, back to the subject matter at hand, and how this relates to Asperger’s/autism. (I wonder why AS is almost always capitalized, which autism generally isn’t. hrm) So I recently came across a new blog called Double Rainbow by Caroline Narby.  I have been finding her blog posts very interesting to read, but I also feel that there have been more collisions of politics and practicality going on.  I’ll try to highlight a few examples.

Narby wrote a post about the book “Aspergers and Girls.”  A none too flattering one, at that.  At one point, she takes on an author who talked about how girls should shave and said in response “Yes, teenage girls who don’t shave are likely to be teased and humiliated—which is wrong. Anyone might choose to shave or not, but the expectation that women their legs and underarms is arbitrary and oppressive.”

This is true.  I agree completely with Narby.  On the other hand, and I not 100% sure that the author was intending to defend a culture that pushes women to eliminate their body hair.  It could also be that she was explaining a culture that pushes women to eliminate their body hair, and saying that playing along with this culture is a way to avoid negative responses from people.  Which is also true, however much it is also unfortunate.

Another example is regarding the New York Times article “Navigating Love and Autism.”  One line from the article goes, “Her [Kirsten’s] blunt tip on dating success: “A lot of it is how you dress. I found people don’t flirt with me if I wear big man pants and a rainbow sweatshirt.””

Narby’s response to this is, “Gender normativity and backhanded homophobia in one “blunt tip.” […] Not only are gay, lesbian, and trans* autists ignored and erased in the piece, we’re actively shamed. […] There must have been young adults who are gay and/or genderqueer or trans*, or who are unsure of and are exploring their identities. The message they received was not that they are not alone and are worthy of love, but that they are undesirable.”

Once again, I find myself with mixed feelings, and once again on some level I find myself agreeing with both parties.  On a purely practical level, putting aside issues of what is or is not right, Kirsten is correct, especially for teenagers.  Conforming to gender norms widens one’s dating pool and makes the process easier.  Narby is also correct; it is important to remember that not everyone is the same, and it isn’t right to say that conforming to gender essentialism is the correct way to be.  That said, I really doubt that Kirsten was thinking along those lines.

I have no idea if the people in either of the examples I mentioned were intending to defend oppressive systems or claim that there is only one right way for women to be.  It certainly appears to me that Narby read them that way, though.  In which case, other people probably did too.  Ultimately, I think it’s really important for any such discussion to have room for both the politics and the practicalities, and that people need to be really super clear on which one they are intending to communicate about.  Both areas are important to explore, and ultimately people need to make their own choices about whether they prefer to stand by their own self-expression or conform to a world that is not always welcoming to significant differences, or, more probably, find a balance between the two.

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Aspergirls

Just recently I finished reading the book Aspergirls.  I had really high hopes for this book, and I was looking forward to writing a glowing review.  Unfortunately, I find I am more ambivalent about it, and I still can’t decide if I would recommend it for others to read.

In some ways, it was well put together.  It generally focused on practical advice, and helping to understand our oddities.  Every chapter had a section on advice targeted to aspergirls, and another section with advice targeted to parents of aspergirls.  A few chapters even had bits of practical advice that I am seriously thinking about doing myself.  It also happened to have the very best reason to refrain from attempting suicide that I have ever come across, and I really liked the author’s approach to medications.

Unfortunately, the chapter on gluten-free diets and related things really put me off.  I think at some point I should do some homework and put together a proper post about that whole topic.  For not, it suffices to say that whenever someone starts talking about undefined toxins which somehow hurt us in vague and indescribable ways and expects to be taken seriously, I roll my eyes and move on.  We might as well all start using detox foot pads and expect to get better.

Overall, if you read it, take it with a grain of salt.  Of course, I would advise that anyway with any informative book on Asperger’s, just because Asperger’s has so much scatter and variety, but with this one I advise it extra-hard.

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