Life Outside the Narrative is Wonderful

Sometimes somebody is born outside the mainstream narrative of their society, but lives in circumstances close enough to it that they think it’s possible for them to fit in if they try hard enough. And some people live in circumstances so wildly outside their society’s mainstream narrative that they are not concerned with trying to fit in the narrative.

As I discussed last week, my parents are never-married, white, middle-class, landlady-and-tenant. There is simply no place for our family in the mainstream narrative of the United States – they don’t fit the narrative for white middle-class people, and they don’t fit the narrative for people who have children out of wedlock, and they don’t even fit the narrative of landladies and tenants. While there are times when I do try to fit in, sometimes for emotional reasons, sometimes for Machiavellian reasons, I do not feel I have to fit in if I don’t want to.

One thing I notice about fiction is that relationships which best fit the ‘ideal’ (in the United States, white, married, romantic, faithful, middle-class, etc.) are depicted as being the most stable and happy, whereas relationships which stray from that ideal are more likely to be filled with melodrama. For example, if my parents were in a soap opera, the writers would treat them as oranges and juice out the angst.

In my experience, real life is often the opposite. My family has its share of drama – more than enough drama for several TV shows and some movies to boot – and my parents are just as inclined to get involved in the drama as anybody else in my family. Yet my parents’ relationship is just about the least dramatic in my family. They are one of the most stable couples I have ever met in my life. I think it is because they are not concerned with doing things the ‘proper’ way and simply found an arrangement which works for them, thus lack of drama. On the other hand, the couples in my family which make lots of drama together tend to be the ones who are aspiring to be whatever they think the social ideal is – ‘I won’t leave him because a husband and a wife should stick together’ ‘We need to get married because I’m pregnant’ and so forth.

I think my background is partially why my asexuality has never caused me angst. Sure, it took me years to finally come around to identifying as asexual, but even before I identified as asexual I felt my lack of sexual feelings/activity was okay. I never intended to marry (after all, things seemed to have worked out better for my parents than most couples who do marry). And generally, because I have do not feel bound to follow the mainstream social narrative, I feel free to make of life what I want.

Choosing not to get married and having me out of wedlock is one of the best gifts my parents ever gave me.

Birth out of Mainstream

Mainstream United States culture has not accepted birth out of wedlock. According to mainstream United States culture, if somebody has children out of wedlock, is must have been a mistake. The best ‘solutions’ to this ‘problem’ are marriage, adoption, or abortion … because raising a child out of wedlock simply will not do. And of course, according to mainstream United States culture, the only people who actually raise children out of wedlock are poor people, particularly if they are black, who cannot control themselves and are too shameless to ‘solve’ the ‘problem’ – hello classicism and racism!

There are of course some seeds of truth in this view, though I think it is more due to culture shaping reality than reality shaping culture. The majority of people in the United States who have children out of wedlock probably were not intending to have a child, though I suspect a significant proportion do intend to have a child. However, if having children out of wedlock were more socially acceptable, then more people would choose to have their children out of wedlock – that’s what happening in certain European countries. And black people do seem to have more children out of wedlock … but based on what I have seen and heard, this seems to be at least partially because they have a culture which, to some extent, accepts bearing children out of wedlock – some black people choose to have children out of wedlock by choice, not by mistake. In my experience (and opinion), black people tend to have more sensible views on birth out of wedlock than other people in the United States.

Of course, I haven’t seen Hollywood telling the stories of the black people who choose to have children out of wedlock – in fact, I do not see Hollywood telling any stories at all about people who choose to have children out of wedlock, let alone stories of families which raise children out of wedlock being happy or, dare I suggest, healthier than many families where the parents are married.

The idea that middle class, white people who choose to have children out of wedlock is so far outside of mainstream United States views that, since people can (usually) figure out pretty quickly that I am white and middle-class, I have trouble convincing them that my parents have never married. This is also so far outside of mainstream Taiwanese views that I have trouble convincing them too. And I have never read, heard, or seen any story about the child of a landlady and her tenant, even though, as the child of a landlady and her tenant, I know it happens.

This is, of course, wonderful, but that’s the subject of a different post.

In the mean time, if you know of any stories about the child of a landlady and her tenant, drop me a line.

Round-up: The Condor Trilogy in Manhua

In case you missed it, here’s a roundup of the complete ‘Condor Trilogy in Manhua’ blog post series I wrote for Manga Bookshelf:

The Condor Trilogy in Manhua: Introduction
The Condor Trilogy in Manhua: Fighting
Tony Wong’s The Eagle Shooting Heroes
The Legendary Couple
The Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre
Return of the Condor Heroes
Lee Chi-Ching’s The Eagle-Shooting Heroes

Flora of Where I Live

When I see San Francisco in my mind, much of what defines the look of the city are the plants. Miner’s lettuce, nasturtium, French broom, Himalayan blackberry, eucalyptus, hollyhock, rosemary, Algerian ivy, jasmine, fennel, pines, ginkgo, olive, yellow oxalis, and so forth; these are all plants which are really common in San Francisco, and are plants which I powerfully associate with both the city and my childhood. For example, as a child, I would eat (or at least try to eat) most of the plants on the list with my school friends. Interestingly, out of all of those plants, only the miner’s lettuce and maybe the pines are native to California.

Taiwan has very different flora, having a totally different climate at all. In the less populated areas, lots of ferns, subtropical broad-leaf trees, ferns, bamboo, ferns and so forth. In the more populated areas, lots of rice, bananas, and vegetables. Outside of Taipei city itself, quite a bit of food gardening/farming happens within town/city limits – for example, just a 15-minute walk away from where I live there’s a rice field, and I live in downtown. And there are even still some farms within the city limits of Taipei itself – they tend to be in places like Neihu and Maokong. The lines between the urban and the rural seem blurrier in Taiwan than in California.

But sometimes I go to a place in Taiwan, and the flora makes me think of California.

Keelung makes me think of San Francisco and Oakland simply because it’s a hilly port city. Most of the flora in Keelung is of the low-elevation subtropical type, … but on Heping Island, the flora consists of coastal scrub. San Francisco also has plenty of coastal scrub, and while I’m sure the species are different, coastal scrub looks like coastal scrub. It made me think of California all the more as I looked out at the Pacific Ocean.

The first time I went through a patch of pine trees in Taiwan (I think it was in Pingxi) it also made me think of California, but pine trees are actually common in Taiwan at the higher elevations, and I’ve seen enough pine trees in Taiwan that they do make me think of California as much.

But last week, I went through an oak forest. In Taiwan. Specifically, I hiked the Wenshan trail in Hualien county, which runs from Wenshan to Lushui and is part of the path the Japanese made to help ‘pacify’ the Taroko people. I associate oak trees with the East Bay (Oakland and Berkeley), and I had never really seen oak trees in Taiwan before. So there were moments on that trail when I asked myself if I were really in California, not Taiwan. I even looked out for poison oak once or twice, even though I knew there is no poison oak in Taiwan.

Plants which I encounter frequently sprout and grow in my subconscious.

Menstrual Alternatives

Before the age of 19, almost all I knew about menstruation came from a) sex ed classes in public school and b) my mother. It was not all bad – both taught that menstruation was a natural biological process without any inherently positive or negative value. Teaching us how to use disposables was better than not teaching us anything. But I really, REALLY wish they had taught me about other options.

I choose pads because I did not want cotton/plastic objects spending extended periods of time inside my body. Not that my body liked disposable pads either. I got rashes all of the time. But the worst thing was that I had to get them, soil them, and throw them out. Bad to the environment coming in, bad to the environment going out. It made me feel horrible about myself that I had to be tied to the industrial trashing machine in such an intimate way. I knew that people menstruated long before the industrial trashing machine existed, but according to sex-ed and my mother, the industrial trashing machine was my only option.

It was my dad of all people who broke me out of this. My dad read something about menstrual cups, and he suggested that I could try it.

At first, I rejected the menstrual cup. It goes inside the vagina, which is scary enough to many menstruators who have lots of experience putting things in their vagina (including my mother – she said that it looked scary when she saw one, and my mother has had me come through her vagina). It was even more scary to me, having never had any object inside her vagina. But that suggestion made me research alternatives … and I discovered cloth pads.

Me and cloth pads were love at first touch. Far fewer rashes. Instead of relying on the ‘feminine care’ aisle, I became self-reliant. Instead of pouring my personal fluids into plastic thrown in the trash, I watched the pretty patterns the blood would form as I washed my pretty pads by hand.

I reconsidered the cup when I knew I was going abroad. Well … I went for it. It was painful and rough for the first couple months, but its painless now. And I learned a lot. For example, just as hair, feet, butts, noses, etc. come in different shapes and sizes … so do vaginas. Is this common knowledge among people who use their vaginas for sexual purposes, or is this just among cup users? I found my vagina had a very different shape than I had imagined, so that was cool.

My vagina, alas, does not allow for a complete seal, so I still need my cloth pads … but the cup does the heavy lifting these days, and it cuts down on the time I spend hand-washing. And I can now do useful things with the blood, like fertilize plants.

Menstrual alternatives are beautiful. Every menstruator should know about them.