On being bold, when you wrote this memoir, you were filling it with people who are connected to you in real life, how did you balance what to reveal and what to conceal?
I chose to write nonfiction because I knew that I wanted to document this story as ‘real’ and I wanted to visibilise it, as most queer stories are often made invisible. Although I also know that writing about someone’s life comes with ethical questions and one has to ask for permission, I didn’t do that because I knew that I wasn’t going to reveal any personal details of the characters in the story. But this begs the question, why did I write it? We teach in primary school that we have to write about things that give us strong feelings. While writing about my family, I began to write about certain family dynamics that was bothering me and I didn’t think about censoring, I just had to write it out, but it was only later in revising that I began to get anxious about these issues of sharing sensitive information. But how do you ask for permission from your family? It’s a tricky thing.
I can imagine, I mean, the father character. You explicitly write about his anger and your own. It was one of the things that drew me into your memoir because we don’t talk about anger as much as perhaps we should.
I struggled a lot with anger. Anytime I was in despair or depressed, my frustration would just short circuit to one person: my father. There was a time I remember when I was in New York, and say, I got really hungry, I would get angry at my father. If I missed a train, I would immediately think of my father and feel rage in me. And that I knew was not ‘normal’ because he was not even there and it was not his fault. So, what was that about? That needed investigation. When emotions don’t get processed properly, or when there’s depression and a history of not talking about it, the repressed stuff comes out, you know. I knew it was unfair to him, and that it was no one’s fault. So, I had to write them out and put things in front of me so that I could sift through them and understand better. Some of it was my fault and my immediate situation having a stressful job in New York, or that I was drinking too much… some of those, I had to take responsibility.
But sometimes anger is also important or useful because it moves things, it is an energy.
Some people have told me that sometimes when I am angry, I am my most honest and articulate self, and I say what needs to be said. Sometimes, anger can be a shortcut to get to the truth of a matter. The outburst that I wrote about in the memoir, it needed to happen because it was repressed emotions that had not found an outlet. I was a very angry child but I grew up never being able to express myself. And in New York, instead of finding an outlet, I was distracting myself with alcohol and clubbing. I didn’t write about this part in the book, but the morning after that outburst, my father came into my room and said that it was the first time he had seen that side of me.
The outburst was almost necessary.
Yes, and just the day before, I had another huge blowout with my father. So, I’ve had this anxiety with my memoir because my relationship with my father has shifted and it is better now. When I was writing, I felt like I didn’t care about anything or anyone, I only knew that I had to tell my story honestly. But later, the anxiety started brewing. Even throughout the book launch, I was anxious because I hadn’t told my father about the details of the book and I didn’t know how he was going to take it if he found out. It is also sad because I have written a book but I can’t even share it or celebrate it with him. That is, in many ways, I guess a very queer aspect about having written the memoir. But after this recent blowout, it is almost like that anger ate up that anxiety and I was able to own a little more of myself. This time round, I feel a lot more justified and I don’t feel anxious like before.
What I also loved that you were able to show to the readers was the tenderness of the father character and not just his anger. For instance, when he says “goodnight” or comes into your room the next morning after a blowout. It is a language, a gesture, a slight vulnerability.
The accountability issue is what gets me, though. I would be fine with my father having an anger issue if he were to come around and fix it. You must fix what you break. If only he knew how to apologise. But that just does not happen.