Poetry / Chen Chen
:: how many coats does it take ::
to paint a car invisible & heroic? to keep each secret seat warm? what is the unit of measurement for your top-secret secrets? will they fit in a manila folder, a mahogany drawer, a gentleman’s drawers in Manila at noon? where is the room-sized ear for your bloom-shaped whisper? how & when does one privacy unfurl into another, into a promise, a worry, one sweaty why of who’s?
:: The School of More School ::
God is a honey flavored extra strength cough drop. I am another attempt to confess I have not read Ulysses. God is a webinar on how to be closer to your CV. I wear faux leather but engage in some real kinks. I talk to my neighbors’ cat. I carry 2 pencils & 1 purple pen at all times. I can’t decide whether the university is a refuge for the bookish lonely or a T-shirt store run by a soda company. Late at night I go out to check my mailbox as though a present has just been delivered. Tonight, a handsome bundle of air. Tonight, I am not my mucus. God is how difficult it is to stay calm.
From the writer
:: Account ::
I’ve been listening again to Perfume Genius’s 2014 album Too Bright. Perfume Genius is the stage name of Mike Hadreas, an artist who’s insisted that he’s making explicitly queer music. However, in many of the reviews for Too Bright, critics (mostly straight) suggest that Hadreas appeals to the universal and that’s what ultimately makes his music so resonant. At Pitchfork, the reviewer went so far as to add “regardless of sexual orientation” at the end of a sentence praising Hadreas’s bold explorations of alienation and resistance. But Hadreas has said over and over that he wants his listeners to acknowledge queer forms of strength and anger, to critique “gay panic,” to confront homophobia.
In a song from Too Bright, Hadreas declares, “I don’t need your love, I don’t need your understanding, I need you to listen.” Most reviewers seem to miss this point—Hadreas isn’t striving to be “relatable” or “universal” in some “regardless of sexual orientation” mode. Another line from the album: “No family is safe when I sashay.” Every review I’ve seen quotes this line (from lead single “Queen”), and yet few reviews seem to appreciate it fully. The music of Perfume Genius is deeply human because it is deeply queer; it isn’t human because it “transcends” sexual orientation. Why is the “human” usually talked about in terms of ignoring difference? I’m suspicious of people who routinely conclude political discussions with some “But we’re all human” escape pod of a claim.
As Hadreas has pointed out, many straight folks still seem uncomfortable with listening to and liking a queer artist who is making very queer art. They would rather think that they are listening to an artist who “happens to be gay” and that what they like is a “universal” expression of feeling outcast. However, “feeling outcast” is not the same as, say, systemic oppression. When Hadreas sings of getting fed up with playing the gay best friend/pet of a straight woman in the track “Fool,” he is singing about that situation. Of course, anyone can project all sorts of emotions onto that song (the lyrics specify a problem, but when have lyrics stopped people from knowing a song’s just for them?). It’s a particular kind of heartbreak, though, and a particular rage that boils up when I listen to “Fool.” A particularity that another queer person, including another gay cis man, might not experience. And Hadreas doesn’t speak to how my queerness is bound up with how I’ve been racialized as Asian in this country. But these differences form the basis for any real connection between people. Ignoring difference further serves the status quo; it’s always the marginalized who end up having to deny their own full aliveness.
So. I want to say I don’t buy into universality. I’m getting more and more okay with not hiding/repackaging my emotions, which are human because they are queer Asian American. I am not “just like you.” I don’t want that. Need that. I need you to listen.
Chen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and forthcoming spring 2017 from BOA Editions. A Kundiman Fellow, his work appears in two chapbooks and in publications such as Poetry, Gulf Coast, Buzzfeed, and The Best American Poetry. Chen is pursuing a PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. For more, visit chenchenwrites.com.